In the New Year, after a close to the old one that was sort of terrible for our zombie markets, do prepare for a whole lot of stories about China (on top of Brexit and Yellow Vests and many more windmills fighting the Donald). And don’t count on too many positive ones that don’t originate in the country itself. Beijing will especially be full of feel-good tales about a month from now, around Chinese New Year 2019, which is February 5.
And we won’t get an easy and coherent true story, it’ll be bits and pieces stitched together. What will remain is that China did the same we did, just on steroids. It took us 100 years to build our manufacturing capacity, they did it in under 20 (and made ours obsolete). It took us 100 years to borrow enough to get a debt-to-GDP ratio of 300%, they did it in 10.
In the process they also accumulated 10 times more non-productive assets than us, idle factories, bridges to nowhere and empty cities, but they thought that would be alright, that demand would catch up with supply. And if you look at how much unproductive stuff we ourselves have gathered around us, who can blame them for thinking that? Perhaps their biggest mistake has been misreading our actual wealth situation; they didn’t see how poorly off we really are.
Xiang Songzuo, “a relatively obscure economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing”, expressed some dire warnings about the Chinese economy in a December 15 speech. He didn’t get much attention, not even in the West. Not overly surprising, since both Beijing and Wall Street have a vested interest in the continuing China growth story.
But with the arrival of 2019, that attention started slowly seeping through. Former associate professor of business and economics at the Peking University HSBC Business School in Shenzhen, Christopher Balding, left China 6 months ago after losing his job. At the time, he wrote: “China has reached a point where I do not feel safe being a professor and discussing even the economy, business and financial markets..”. And, noting a change that very much seems related to what is coming down the road:
”One of my biggest fears living in China has always been that I would be detained. Though I happily pointed out the absurdity of the rapidly encroaching authoritarianism, a fact which continues to elude so many experts not living in China, I tried to make sure I knew where the line was and did not cross it. There is a profound sense of relief to be leaving safely knowing others, Chinese or foreigners, who have had significantly greater difficulties than myself. There are many cases which resulted in significantly more problems for them. I know I am blessed to make it out.”
A few days ago, Balding wrote this on Twitter:
“Most experts dismissed the speech by Xiang Songzuo (claiming Chinese GDP growth could be as low as 1.67%) as implausible…”. No, we didn’t. The GS PE guy and the PKU dean have every reason to deny it. Car and mobile phone shipment down 2% and 16% are not a 6.5% growth economy.”
That certainly sets the tone of the discussion. GDP growth of 1.67% vs the official 6.5%; smartphone shipments down 16%, car sales slumping. Not the kind of numbers you’ll hear from Beijing. And Balding does know China, whether they like it or not. On Monday, Bloomberg, where he was/is a regular contributor, published this from his hand:
Officially, China lists its outstanding external debt at $1.9 trillion . For a $13 trillion economy, that’s not a major amount. But focusing on the headline number significantly understates the underlying risks. Short-term debt accounted for 62% of the total as of September, according to official data, meaning that $1.2 trillion will have to be rolled over this year .
Just as worrying is the speed of increase: Total external debt has increased 14% in the past year and 35% since the beginning of 2017 . External debt is no longer a trivial slice of China’s foreign-exchange reserves, which stood at just over $3 trillion at the end of November, little changed from two years earlier. Short-term foreign debt increased to 39% of reserves in September, from 26% in March 2016.
The true picture may be more precarious. China’s external debt was estimated at between $3 trillion and $3.5 trillion by Daiwa Capital Markets in an August report. In other words, total foreign liabilities could be understated by as much as $1.5 trillion after accounting for borrowing in financial centers such as Hong Kong, New York and the Caribbean islands that isn’t included in the official tally. Circumstances aren’t moving in China’s favor.
The nation’s companies rushed to borrow in dollars when there was a 3% to 5% spread between Chinese and U.S. interest rates and the yuan was expected to strengthen. Borrowing offshore was cheaper and offered the additional bonus of likely currency gains. Now, the spread in official short-term yields has shrunk to near zero and the yuan has been depreciating for most of the past year. Refinancing debt in dollars has become harder, and more risky.
Beijing’s policies have exacerbated the buildup of foreign debt. To promote Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the president’s landmark foreign policy endeavor, China has been borrowing dollars on international markets and lending around the world for everything from Kenyan railways to Pakistani business parks. With this year and 2020 being the peak years for repayments, China faces dollar funding pressure.
To repay their dollar debts, Chinese firms will either have to draw from the central bank’s foreign-exchange reserves (a prospect Beijing is unlikely to allow) or buy dollars on international markets. This creates a new set of problems. There are only 617 billion yuan ($90 billion) of offshore renminbi deposits in Hong Kong available to buy dollars . If China was to push firms to bring debt back onshore, this would necessitate significant outflows that would push down the yuan’s value against the dollar.
The Xiang Songzuo speech was also noted by the Financial Times this week. Their conclusions are not much rosier. Recent US imports from China look good only because both buyers and sellers try to stay ahead of tariffs. And whole some truce or another there may smoothen things a little, China must launch a massive stimulus against the background of twice as much investment being needed for a unit of GDP growth.
A relatively obscure economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing sparked a minor furore last month when he claimed a secret government research group had estimated China’s growth in GDP could be as low as 1.67% in 2018 — far below the officially published rate of 6.7% for the year up to September.
Most experts dismissed the speech by Xiang Songzuo as implausible, despite longstanding doubts about the reliability of China’s official GDP data. Yet although discussion of his claims was quickly scrubbed from the Chinese internet, the presentation has been viewed more than 1.2m times on YouTube — an indication of the raw nerve Mr Xiang touched with his doom-laden warnings.
[..] the question that is hanging over global markets is just how vulnerable is China to a much sharper slowdown? Ominously, the recent downturn has occurred even though the expected hit to Chinese exports from the trade war has not yet materialised. In fact, analysts say exports probably received a one-off boost in recent months as traders front-loaded shipments to beat the expected tariff rise from 10% to 25% that US president Donald Trump threatened would take effect in January. That rise is now on hold due to the 90-day truce that Mr Trump agreed with Chinese president Xi Jinping at the G20 meeting in Argentina last month.
[..] The amount of new capital investment required to generate a given unit of GDP growth has more than doubled since 2007 , according to Moody’s Analytics. In other words, investment stimulus produces little bang for Beijing’s buck, even as it adds to the debt levels.
[..] “They [Beijing] will soon have no choice but to launch massive stimulus,” says Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong. “They do not want to give away their credibility because they said they wouldn’t do it, but there is no time to be cautious any more. Not having growth is ultimately the worst outcome of all.”
Christopher Whalen picks up on Xiang Songzuo’s speech as well, and quotes him saying that “Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash”. Whereas the China Beige Book states that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. Which leads to the conclusion that deflation is, or should be, Beijing’s main worry.
Oh, and Chinese consumer demand has weakened, something we’ve seen more off recently. Reuters headlines “China To Introduce Policies To Strengthen Domestic Consumption” today, but that headline could have come from any of the past 5 years or so. Domestic consumption is precisely China’s problem, and they can’t achieve nearly enough growth there.
Foreign investors have convinced themselves that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is superior in terms of economic management, this despite ample evidence to the contrary, thus accepting the official view is easy but also increasingly risky. In a December 15 speech , Renmin University’s Xiang Songzuo warned that Chinese stock market conditions resemble those during the 1929 Wall Street Crash. He also suggested that the Chinese economy is actually shrinking.
China growth, Tesla profitability, or the mystical blockchain all require more credulity than ever before. For example, in the first half of 2016 global capital markets stopped due to fear of a Chinese recession. Credit spreads soared and deal flows disappeared. But was this really a surprise? In fact, the Chinese government had accelerated official stimulus in 2015 and 2016 to counter a possible slowdown and, particularly, ensure a quiet domestic scene as paramount leader Xi Jinping was enshrined into the Chinese constitution.
Today western audiences are again said to be concerned about China’s economy and this concern is justified, but perhaps not for the reasons touted in the financial media. The China Beige Book (CBB) fourth-quarter preview, released December 27, reports that sales volumes, output, domestic and export orders, investment, and hiring fell on a year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter basis. CBB is a research service that surveys thousands of companies and bankers on the ground in China every quarter.
Contrary to the positive foreign narrative about “growth” in China, CBB contends that deflation is the bigger threat compared to inflation. “Because of China’s structural problems, deflation has very clearly emerged as the bigger threat in a slowing economy than inflation. Consumer demand has weakened, and you see that reflected in retail and services prices,” CBB Managing Director Shehzad Qazi said in an interview.
So, China phone shipments are down 16%, as per Balding. But Tim Cook says Apple’s never done better. Still, if that 16% number is correct, either Apple or its Chinese suppliers are doing worse, not better. And 16% is a lot.
Apple Inc. stock has taken a beating in recent months, but Chief Executive Tim Cook defended his company Tuesday, and expressed optimism that trade tensions with China would soon ease. Apple shares have fallen by more than one-third since their peak on Oct. 3, and tumbled further last week after the tech giant warned of disappointing iPhone sales in its holiday quarter. But in an interview Tuesday with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Cook said the company was still going strong, and its naysayers were full of “bologna.” “Here’s the truth, what the facts are,” Cook said about reports of slow iPhone XR sales, according to a CNBC transcript.
“Since we began shipping the iPhone XR, it has been the most popular iPhone every day, every single day, from when we started shipping, until now. . . . I mean, do I want to sell more? Of course I do. Of course I’d like to sell more. And we’re working on that.” Slower sales in China also contributed to Apple’s lowered forecast, and Cook said Tuesday he believes that situation to be “temporary.”
“We believe, based on what we saw and the timing of it, that the tension, the trade-war tension with the U.S. created this more-sharp downturn,” he said. Cook said he’s “very optimistic” a trade deal between the U.S. and China will be reached . “I think a deal is very possible. And I’ve heard some very encouraging words,” he said.
16% fewer phones, that gets you the second production cut at Apple and its ‘magnificent ecosystem’ in short order. Now sure, Cook can try and blame the tariffs. but Samsung’s Q4 2018 sales fell 11%, and its operating profit fell by 29%. It’s a bigger and wider issue, and China is at the heart of it.
Apple, which slashed its quarterly sales forecast last week, has reduced planned production for its three new iPhone models by about 10% for the January-March quarter, the Nikkei Asian Review reported on Wednesday. That rare forecast cut exposed weakening iPhone demand in China, the world’s biggest smartphone market, where a slowing economy has also been buffeted by a trade war with the United States.
Many analysts and consumers have said the new iPhones are overpriced. Apple asked its suppliers late last month to produce fewer-than-planned units of its XS, XS Max and XR models, the Nikkei reported, citing sources with knowledge of the request. The request was made before Apple announced its forecast cut, the Nikkei said.
And very much not least there was this graph of Chinese investments in Africa. What are the conditions? At what point will they call back the loans? And when countries can’t pay back, what’s the penalty? How much of this has been provided by Beijing in US dollars it doesn’t have nearly enough of?
It’s like the much heralded Belt and Road project, or Silk Road 2.0, isn’t it, where the first batch of participating nations have started sounding the alarm over loan conditions. Yes, it sounds great, I admit, but I have long said that in reality Belt&Road is China’s ingenious scheme to export its industrial overcapacity and force other countries to pay for it. It’s like the model Rome had, and the US still do, just all in one single project. And this one has a name, and it can be expanded to Africa.
But no, I don’t see it. I think China’s debt, combined with the vast distance it still has from owning a global reserve currency, will call the shots, not Xi Jinping.
China won’t be taking over. At least, not anytime soon.
Well, it’s Kavanaugh day, and yesterday both sides did what was expected: double down. New allegations, denials, talk of restraining orders, gang rapes that went unreported, it was a circus. No telling what will happen today.
You can read the Senate Judiciary Committe interview with Kavanaugh here.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday night released a time of their efforts to responded to various accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh – including two men who say they they were the basis for the “groping” allegation. The claims also include a new allegation from a San Diego woman who alleges that Kavanaugh and others raped her in the backseat of a car, though it does not specify the place, date or identities of the alleged accomplices. [..] earlier Wednesday, another Kavanaugh accuser – Julie Swetnick, had an ominous cloud of doubt cast over her allegation that the Supreme Court nominee and a friend were operating a date-rape “gang bang” operation at 10 high school parties she attended as a legal adult three years older than Kavanaugh (yet didn’t report once).
Politico reports that Swetnick’s ex-boyfriend, Richard Vinneccy – a registered Democrat, took out a restraining order against her, and says he has evidence that she’s lying. “Right after I broke up with her, she was threatening my family, threatening my wife and threatening to do harm to my baby at that time,” Vinneccy said in a telephone interview with POLITICO. “I know a lot about her.” -Politico. “I have a lot of facts, evidence, that what she’s saying is not true at all,” he said. “I would rather speak to my attorney first before saying more.” Avenatti called the claims “outrageous” and hilariously accused the press of “digging into the past” of a woman levying a claim against Kavanaugh from over 35 years ago. Meanwhile, Swetnick has now been linked to Blasey Ford – as she utilized the law firm run by Ford to sue her previous employer, New York Life Insurance Co. for sexual harassment.
Rudy Havenstein on Twitter: All Argentina got from Paulie was protection from other guys looking to rip them off. That’s what it’s all about. What Paulie and the IMF offer is protection for the kinds of guys who can’t go to the cops. They’re like the police department for wiseguys.
Argentina has received the biggest loan package ever from the IMF, aimed at shoring up the country’s ailing finances: a whopping $57.1bn that will be disbursed over the next three years. “This is the biggest loan in the history of the IMF,” said the fund’s director, Christine Lagarde, on Wednesday as the final loan agreement was announced in New York. The loan – $15bn of which has already been received by Argentina – comes with stringent conditions, including a commitment to a zero deficit for 2019. Argentina had initially secured $50bn in a deal worked out in June after the South American country was battered by a currency crisis, a run on the peso and double-digit inflation. The economy minister, Nicolás Dujovne, said that at the last minute the IMF agreed to increase the lending package by $7.1bn.
Lagarde said that as part of the deal, Argentina’s central bank had agreed to intervene in currency markets only in case of extreme circumstances and that the new amount would help Argentina’s government face its challenges. The agreement will only allow Argentina’s central bank to intervene to stabilize its currency if the peso depreciates below 44 pesos to the dollar. It is currently at 39 pesos to the dollar after losing 50% of its value since the start of the year. The deal was announced just a day after the president of Argentina’s central bank, Nicolás Caputo, resigned unexpectedly, reportedly after disagreements with the IMF’s guideline limiting the bank’s future intervention to rescue the peso. Thousands of Argentinians joined in a nationwide strike on Tuesday to protest against economic turmoil and Mauricio Macri’s austerity measures.
With Ray Dalio predicting that the US has about 2 years until the next recession, earlier today the head of hedge fund Citadel, Ken Griffin, echoed the Bridgewater founder and predicted that there are “at least 18-to-24 months left in the market rally”, thanks to the “giant adrenaline shot” of the U.S. tax overhaul. Speaking at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York Wednesday, Griffin said that “we are in this debt-fueled buying binge.” He said that the U.S. economy is “running hot now” thanks to President Trump’s actions: “The Trump policies, whether deregulation or tax reform, are certainly pushing corporate America to go, go, go,” he said, citing low unemployment and meaningful wage growth.
That’s the “good” news. The bad new: the artificial “binge” that will extend what is already the longest bull market of all time is “laying the seeds of the next financial crisis”, said Griffin. And what may come as a surprise to many, Griffin admitted that that he’s already managing his fund for the next economic downturn. “My position today is very much focused on managing the tail risks for that… we are late in the cycle, the animal spirits have been unleashed and when these correction occur they happen with very little notice”, he said.
In terms of specific crisis catalysts, the hedge fund manager said his biggest worry is the European Union, where individual nations like Italy and Spain can’t print euros to rescue their own economies. “Every crisis in the West for the last 50 years has been ultimately solved by intervention of governments,” he said. “There has been a huge sea change that has taken place, which is in the EU, the individual governments can no longer issue debt in their own currency.” And thanks to Brussels’ monetary strait-jacket, the ability of “those countries as sovereigns to rescue their financial system in the next crisis is greatly diminished or not even there,” he said.
Emmanuel Macron has announced France will no longer accept “commercial agreements” with countries that do not “respect” the Paris Climate Accord during a fiery speech at the United Nations General Assembly. The French president called for the upholding of trade rules that “guarantee fair competition on equal footing” during his Tuesday speech, following a Monday afternoon meeting with Donald Trump and the US president’s speech on Monday morning. Mr Macron appeared defiant towards Mr Trump, suggesting he’d no longer negotiate trade deals with the US after its withdrawal from the climate agreement last year.
“We will no longer sign commercial agreements with powers that do not respect the Paris accord,” Mr Macron said without directly referencing Mr Trump or the US. The high-profile speech arrived a day after Mr Macron met with Mr Trump for a discussion involving trade. Officials from both sides described the meeting as “constructive”. The US is now reportedly the only nation in the world which remains opposed to the Paris Agreement, after Mr Trump decided to pull out of the accord in 2017.
The Labour leader offers no solution to the problems of Brexit, but that doesn’t matter. He knows all he has to do is look the part, sound the part and wait for the desire for change to come to him
It may well be that claims the Labour Party has been turned into a personality cult are not completely fair, and never before has Jeremy Corbyn worked harder to counteract this unjust narrative than when he, Corbyn, stood on stage before his leader’s speech, joining in with the crowds as they chanted “Oooaaah Jeremy Corrrr-byn”. They held aloft scarves reading “Oh Jeremy Corrr-byn”. They sang the words “Oaaaah Jeremy Corr-byn,” and there, both on the stage and towering above on gigantic television screens, Corbyn mouthed along to the song, of which 66 per cent of the lyrics are his own name. To Corbyn’s credit, it certainly placed on proceedings a Waco siege-style edge he would not otherwise have engendered through the power of oratory alone.
As he descended into a spiral of circular arguments on the “mainstream media”, furtive glances were made at the door, wondering when special forces might finally storm the place and liberate the captives. There was no clearer evidence of the civil war that still hides in plain sight in the party than the fact that its deputy leader, the now seven stone lighter Tom Watson, did not address the conference from its main stage. But it would be nice to think his contribution to the party did not go entirely unacknowledged as he led the shadow cabinet on to the stage to the sound of the Liverpool People’s Choir singing “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.
The government has appointed a minister to oversee the protection of food supplies through the Brexit process amid rising concerns about the effect of a no-deal departure from the European Union. The MP David Rutley, a former Asda and PepsiCo executive, was handed the brief at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier this month. Defra said that Rutley, who once ran home shopping and e-commerce businesses at Asda, was merely taking on responsibilities already held by other ministers. He said: “It is an honour to join the Defra ministerial team at such an important time. I am determined to ensure that we fully realise the opportunities of leaving the EU.” Food industry insiders welcomed his appointment after warnings that delays of only half an hour at UK ports and the Irish border would risk one in 10 British firms going bankrupt.
One food industry business leader said: “The issue at the ports is a big threat. The UK always has been a net importer of food. If the ports don’t work then exporters will be struggling and importers will have a challenge too.” The executive said that while some food manufacturers were already setting aside additional supplies, stockpiling was not possible for products with a short shelf life, such as milk or vegetables. Another industry insider said the appointment of Rutley was “totally welcome”. They added: “There has been a level of naivety that people can stockpile food which is completely impossible and shows a misunderstanding of how the supply chain works. We would welcome someone genuinely informed and engaged.”
The National Farmers Union has warned of “catastrophic” consequences for the industry if there is no Brexit deal, after being warned by the EU that the UK faces a six-month wait to be certified as an approved third-country supplier. This would be a major setback to the food and drink sector, where exports to the EU are worth £13.2bn a year. The NFU says it has been told informally that although Britain is in complete regulatory alignment with the EU, if there is no deal, the same health checks countries such as China and the US undergo will apply to UK suppliers. “What we are talking about in effect is a six-month trade embargo until such time we can get the product in, from that point we will face the European’s external tariff wall meaning we will be priced out of the market,” said the NFU’s director general, Terry Jones.
It has been told that 6,000 meat processing plants that export to the EU will have to undergo individual audits by British authorities. These will then be checked by EU officials and then put to a standing veterinary committee for approval, a process that the NFU has calculated will take six months “at a conservative reading”. These checks will also be conducted on any other companies supplying food and drink to the EU, including those exporting bottled water, honey, jam, dairy and other fresh foods. “‘No deal is unpalatable and catastrophic for the industry and the more we hear, the more certain we are that our lines all along are right,” said NFU president, Minette Batters.
UK farmers could be allowed to use powerful antibiotics in ways soon to be banned by the European Union, after the government was accused of using Brexit to avoid implementing tougher rules on animal health. New rules aimed at curbing overuse of the drugs are being brought in by the European commission, but they will not come into effect before the Brexit cut-off date in March. The Guardian understands that government animal health experts have been advising vets and farmers they will therefore not have to implement the change. A divergence from EU rules could allow farmers and vets in the UK to dose healthy animals through their feed, as well as those diagnosed with illnesses – while EU farmers will be prevented from doing so.
Campaigners say this is irresponsible misuse of antibiotics that can lead to resistance and should be stopped in line with European rules. At an event this summer held by the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), which regulates farm antibiotics, the VMD’s director of operations, Paul Green, said the UK would implement the new EU regulations “as fully as we see fit … there may be some clauses we wish to omit [or] alter”. According to a person present at the event, Green then went on to say the government would allow farmers in some circumstances to continue to mix antibiotics in feed and drinking water to groups of animals for disease prevention.
Antibiotic use in farming is controversial; livestock account for the majority of antibiotics consumed, and overuse on herds and flocks can build up resistant bacteria that can spread to humans. Rules on the medicines have been toughened by the EU over the past decade. Under the EU’s planned improvements, it would no longer be possible for vets and farmers to mix antibiotics with feed to be given to large numbers of animals at a time, except under exceptional circumstances. This is seen as essential to cutting the overuse of antibiotics, as currently whole herds or flocks can be treated at once because of one sick animal.
The government is coming under pressure from potential trade partners not to adhere to stringent EU animal welfare standards after Britain leaves the EU, in order to open up the UK market to imports from countries with weaker regulations. The US Department of Agriculture, which has a strong influence on trade deals, has been working on plans that would allow groups of healthy animals to be dosed with antibiotics, against World Health Organization guidelines. These plans could play a key part in future trade with the US.
Capitalism as we know it is over. So suggests a new report commissioned by a group of scientists appointed by the UN secretary general. The main reason? We’re transitioning rapidly to a radically different global economy, due to our increasingly unsustainable exploitation of the planet’s environmental resources and the shift to less efficient energy sources. Climate change and species extinctions are accelerating even as societies are experiencing rising inequality, unemployment, slow economic growth, rising debt levels, and impotent governments. Contrary to the way policymakers usually think about these problems these are not really separate crises at all. These crises are part of the same fundamental transition. The new era is characterised by inefficient fossil fuel production and escalating costs of climate change.
Conventional capitalist economic thinking can no longer explain, predict or solve the workings of the global economy in this new age. Those are the implications of a new background paper prepared by a team of Finnish biophysicists who were asked to provide research that would feed into the drafting of the UN Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR), which will be released in 2019. For the “first time in human history”, the paper says, capitalist economies are “shifting to energy sources that are less energy efficient.” Producing usable energy (“exergy”) to keep powering “both basic and non-basic human activities” in industrial civilisation “will require more, not less, effort”.
At the same time, our hunger for energy is driving what the paper refers to as “sink costs.” The greater our energy and material use, the more waste we generate, and so the greater the environmental costs. Though they can be ignored for a while, eventually those environmental costs translate directly into economic costs as it becomes more and more difficult to ignore their impacts on our societies. And the biggest “sink cost”, of course, is climate change: “Sink costs are also rising; economies have used up the capacity of planetary ecosystems to handle the waste generated by energy and material use. Climate change is the most pronounced sink cost.”
Watch Steve Keen discuss how mainstream economics acts more like a cult than a science, how mathematics has been misused by the economic discipline, and how with the right tools a grad student can make a better economic model than a central bank.
[..] present day #economics is based on mythomatics, not #mathematics! Economists belong to a cult that make fantastical assumptions and live in a dream world disconnected from real life.
The vast majority of state debtors (93.3 percent) owe amounts of up to 10,000 euros each, while just 1 percent are behind 90 percent of total debts to the state. This is according to data processed by the Independent Authority for Public Revenue that was published in Parliament following a question put to the finance minister. In total, about 3.8 million taxpayers and enterprises have arrears to the Greek state that add up to 101.5 billion euros, most of which have been run up since Greece resorted to the bailout mechanisms.
Data indicate that some 3.6 million Greeks owe up to 10,000 euros each, totaling 3.7 billion euros. About another 240,000 people owe 10,000-100,000 euros, totaling 6.6 billion euros, while major debtors number 41,232 but owe a total of 91.2 billion euros to the state. Notably, about a third of the debtors’ arrears to the state, some 33 billion euros, concerns fines concerning corporate taxation, that have a low collection rate. One of the reasons for this low rate is the particularly heavy fines imposed in the past, which have led to the closure of several enterprises.
Wetlands, among the world’s most valuable and biodiverse ecosystems, are disappearing at alarming speed amid urbanisation and agriculture shifts, conservationists said Thursday, calling for urgent action to halt the erosion. “We are in a crisis,” Martha Rojas Urrego, head of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, told reporters in Geneva, warning of the potential devastating impact of wetland loss, including on climate change. The convention, adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar nearly a half-century ago, on Thursday issued its first-ever global report on the state of the world’s wetlands.
The 88-page report found that around 35 percent of wetlands — which include lakes, rivers, marshes and peatlands, as well as coastal and marine areas like lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs — were lost between 1970 and 2015. Today, wetlands cover more than 12 million square kilometres (4.6 million square miles), the report said, warning that the annual rates of loss had accelerated since 2000. “We are losing wetlands three times faster than forests,” Rojas Urrego said, describing the Global Wetland Outlook report as a “red flag”. While the world has been increasingly focused on global warming and its impact on oceans and forests, the Ramsar Convention said wetlands remain “dangerously undervalued”.
Directly or indirectly, they provide almost all of the world’s consumption of freshwater and more than 40 percent of all species live and breed in wetlands. Animals and plants who call wetlands home are particularly vulnerable, with a quarter at risk of extinction, the report said. Wetlands also provide a livelihood for more than one billion people, while mitigating floods and protecting coastlines. They are also a vital source of food, raw materials and genetic resources for medicines.
“Trump said this week he’ll slap 25% tariffs on $50 billion to $60 billion in Chinese exports to the U.S., including aerospace, information and communication technology, and machinery. The move is aimed at countering Chinese cyber and intellectual property theft of U.S. technology . It also tries to push back against China’s demands for technology transfers from U.S. companies in return for access to China’s market.
The Chinese government, in turn, said it would hit U.S. shipments to China with $3 billion in tariffs, affecting goods such as pork, aluminum pipes, steel and wine.
“A family of four will end up paying about $500 more to buy (clothing, shoes, fashion accessories and travel goods) every year” if those products are subject to 25% tariffs, the American Apparel and Footwear Association says…
Retaliatory tariffs from China, meanwhile, could especially hurt American farmers. China is the world’s top soybean importer, with the U.S. providing close to 60% of the commodity. And the country is the second-largest purchaser of U.S. pork. Growing talk about a trade war has worried Iowa farmers. The state is the nation’s largest corn and pork producer and second-largest soybean grower.”
Historical background, when Clinton added China to the WTO, it opened the borders and U.S. markets to Chinese goods, but likewise, China promised to treat the exports of the U.S. fairly, which are driven by movies, patents, and intellectual property rights. In theory, that’s how the deal would be equitable. However for 20 years they have not been paying billions in patents or media royalties back to the U.S.. Stealing everything, patents, intellectual rights, ignoring international law, building a mile high tariff wall, and polluting their whole nation to boot, just like we did back in the 19th century when we were a wee country.
Guess what that shows? Tariffs work. It worked for us then and it works for China now. Go to a store and look for any item that isn’t made in China. That has devastated industry, and is arguably dumping, i.e. selling at a loss to ruin your competition. How? China isn’t a “capitalist” country, really. It’s an amalgam of communism and protectionism meant to rapidly modernize China in the footsteps of Stalin or Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” and it works. As such, factories are built of debt money printed by the Central State then protected from bankruptcy with more printing and bailing out hand-picked winners by the state — just like we do.
Just like Abe buying up the entire Nikkei or the Swiss Bank buying a trillion in foreign stocks. So in a roundabout way, China is creating all these products at a loss, but doesn’t care about profit because people are employed and their industry rockets into the 21st century. Since profit is not a motive and bankruptcy is not a possibility, the strategy to modernize and compete with the U.S. is enhanced not only by moving China forward, but also by moving the U.S. backward into the last century. So the very concept of WTO, “Free Trade”, “Fair Trade” does not and cannot exist with a centrally-planned, centrally-protected, non-free market economy – theirs and ours. Only national strategy remains.
When that’s the case, you see Trump merely advocating for consequences to China breaking the original treaty, the original parity of hard goods for intellectual property. And why shouldn’t breaking a treaty have consequences? The problem of course is what those consequences mean.
Since from the Chinese perspective, they have reduced U.S. wealth, production, capacity for production, and even the U.S. military to 3rd world levels, and the U.S. no longer has the bargaining power to reverse what was supposed to be a free-market trade, but was executed by China as a mercantile/protectionist trade. And good on them, well played!
Here in the States, we hear people say –still!—“well if they give us cheap goods at a loss, who are we not to take them?” Regardless of the jobs lost since that giant sucking sound started. Or worse, “Since rebuilding industry will cost money, any move to help ourselves should be avoided because it will raise prices.” Yes people, we already missed the 21st century, let’s move back from the 20th century into an 19th century African colony because fighting it would cost something and be inconvenient. Worked for Argentina, right?
“I don’t blame China – after all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens… I give China great credit,” said Mr. Trump while addressing a room of business leaders. Instead, the US leader said previous US administrations were responsible for what he called “a very unfair and one-sided” trade relationship with China.”
China seemed to understand this and take it pretty well: in the last 30 years 500 million were lifted out of poverty, they got everything they wanted, and are arguably already the largest, most modern economy, but the ride is over. Asia loves gold-plated show-boaters like Trump and their equanimity was unreported by the press.
It’s no surprise; I’m sure they knew it would end someday. Probably never dreamed it would go on this long. However, the way the game is played, China will still negotiate all they can as the inevitable ends. And with retaliatory tariffs, they negotiate their best deal, and as quoted, Trump understands that too. Nothing personal.
Daily news covered, let’s go Macro.
In the bigger sense, a lot of this is window dressing. We hear a lot about how “the world can’t feed itself if such and such,” but it’s feeding itself now: clearly it’s perfectly possible: if anything we may have too much! Same with trade and tariffs. So China refuses to buy American soybeans, but buys Brazilian, great: stick it to those farmers (mega corps actually) in the voting states! Show ‘em!
But here’s the thing: there are X hectares of soybeans grown on planet earth, and Y people who eat them. If China buys “The Beans of Brazil”™, then whoever bought Brazil last year won’t get theirs and will buy American. Same with steel, same with oil. If China now buys Saudi oil or Russian oil, then that oil is simply removed from Europe, and Europe must buy Norwegian or Venezuelan oil. But it’s the same oil, from the same wells, going to the same people: that is, FROM planet earth, TO planet earth, BY the people of planet earth.
There are strategies and prices, advantages and minutia down there, but in the big picture, the effect becomes more subdued than may appear. So China places tariffs, even boycotts Iowa corn, then that corn is sold to Europe instead. What kind of political pressure are they really bringing, aside from making headlines?
The same is with Trump attempting to change the composition of U.S. industry. It’s a lot harder and takes a lot longer to rotate out of services and back into hard goods than it seems. What’s more, to start making your own chips or medical equipment requires a constellation of support industries: power lines, rails, screw machines, sheet metal stamping, servo motors, and behind them the dirty, heavy industries we erased: mining, steel and aluminum smelting, and so on. Yet this has to be done. We can’t run a country by asking China, “pretty please sell us some steel so we can make battleships to bomb you with.”
But like the soybeans, this shift of capacity doesn’t work in the macro view: if we’re not buying Chinese goods because we’re making our own, what is China going to do with all their factories? That capacity exists. It’s going somewhere or it will collapse, we BOTH have a lot to lose. A cutoff of most retail goods, their factories idled and people in the streets, Mutual Assured Destruction.
This goes back to 2005 and something Ben Bernanke said about the “Global Savings Glut.” That is, the problem wasn’t that the U.S. spent too much, but the real problem was the darn Chinese were too productive, too responsible, and spent too little. You might recognize this same argument from Germany and Greece. As much as this deserves raucous laughter, the larger macroeconomic imbalance is only this: the U.S. imports instead of producing, and China exports instead of consuming.
That’s how we come to a $700B yearly trade deficit, a deficit that is not ours alone, but China’s too. This goes back to righting the trade imbalance, the tariffs, in fact the overall inequality of the present (former) globalism: the U.S. prints fake digits and the Chinese send us real goods. If the imbalances are righted, there is only one path: China must spend more and the U.S. must spend less.
What will China do with their own factories if the U.S. reindustrializes and makes their own goods? They’ll buy those Chinese products themselves.
This is a long time coming, too. For decades, China has worked hard and developed their country, so why should they make cheap products and get nothing for their work? They deserve the products of their labor — arguably more than the Americans do. They need to spend more, and as we see with input costs rising back home, we need to spend less. So let them buy their “Make-happy ginsu mango-mango slicer.” No one deserves it more.
What do you think Chairman-for-life Xi thinks of this? Trump is going to make China stop saving and force their middle class to start spending, to start behaving like the modern nation they are. Xi and his predecessors have been unable to convince China to spend. But now Trump can blame his problems on China and Xi can blame his problems on Trump. So do you think Xi is angry? Or happy?
This had to happen. A nation cannot live at the expense of everyone else forever, amen. The only question is when and how it ends. So if China makes and buys Chinese products, and the U.S. makes and buys U.S. products, and we trade equally, where’s the harm?
It’s no fun to re-industrialize, to fall back to the level of real production your country is capable of minus extractive, extortive credit, but there are only two choices: the Neocon’s one world unipolar empire of murder and force, or nation states with borders and the independence and the internal capacity to produce for and defend themselves on all fronts, agricultural, manufacturing, intellectual, and military.
That’s what the “America First” plan was and in the Asian tour, China showed they understand this. So since nation states are going to persist for now, the best we can do is rebuild, re-normalize, and re-localize independently as best we can.
As the imbalances are reversed, it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but if we can do it, it will be worthwhile. At the very least, better than the alternative (They tried). We can – it is possible – recover our nation again, and with it, what it means to be “America”, and that may be worth the work.
The world may have hit ‘peak trade,’ according to an expert who pointed to robotics, digitization and localization as major game-changers for the sprawling supply chains that have defined globalization. Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Wealth Management, said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s recently announced trade tariffs are not to blame. “I don’t think that the modest taxes imposed by Trump are a driver of peak trade, at this stage. Trade protectionism — mainly non-tariff barriers to trade — have been rising for some years,” he told CNBC. Rather, Donovan said, the peak trade argument is based on “a reversal of the structural way in which globalization took place in recent years.” Globalization as we know it has meant long cross-border supply chains, where many different countries and entities would take part in the production or processing of goods.
The resulting value of trade rose for each country as a proportion of GDP. Trade to GDP, therefore, rose as supply chains lengthened. “What is now happening is that robotics and digitization mean we can produce efficiently, locally,” Donovan said. As an example, he compared the purchase of a compact disc — whose components, intellectual property and packaging would come from different places — a decade ago to downloading music now, which requires only one transaction of intellectual property. This reduces the ratio of trade to GDP. [..] “Robotics, digitization and localization mean that trade wars today are fighting battles from the past,” Donovan said. “I think global trade in goods (not services) revert to something like the old ‘imperial model’ of importing raw materials and then processing close to the consumer.”
China’s exports unexpectedly surged at the fastest pace in 3 years in February, suggesting its economic growth remains resilient even as trade relations with the United States rapidly deteriorate. Trade tensions have jumped to the top of the list of risks facing China this year, with proposed U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium imports suggesting more measures may be on the way, Zhou Hao, senior emerging markets economist at Commerzbank, [said]. China’s February exports rose 44.5% from a year earlier, compared with analysts’ median forecast for a 13.6% increase, and an 11.1% gain in January, official data showed on Thursday. Imports grew 6.3%, the General Administration of Customs said, missing analysts’ forecast for 9.7% growth, and down from a sharper-than-expected 36.9% jump in January.
Analysts caution Chinese data early in the year can be heavily distorted by the timing of the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in February this year but in January in 2017. But combined January-February trade data also showed a dramatic acceleration in export growth. Exports rose 24.4% on-year in Jan-Feb, much better than 10.8% in December and 4% growth in Jan-Feb last year. The government also releases combined data for the first two months in an attempt to smooth out seasonal distortions. The deceleration in import growth for February may be payback for the previous month’s unusual strength, rather than a sign there has been an abrupt weakening in demand. Robust import growth in January was mostly led by commodities as factories scrambled to restock inventories ahead of the long holiday. Imports in the first two months of the year rose 21.7%, compared with 4.5% in December.
Jesse Colombo’s comment: “And what’s amazing is that these retirement stats are during a massive, Fed-driven asset bubble that has inflated the value of retirement accounts – and people STILL can’t retire! Stick a fork in it…we’re done.”
At this rate, retirement is more of a fantasy than a reality for many people in this country. About 42% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire, according to a study by GoBankingRates released Tuesday. The No. 1 reason most people cited for not stashing more away was because they didn’t earn enough to save, followed by the fact that they were already struggling to pay bills, GoBankingRates said. The personal finance site polled more than 1,000 adults online in February.
For those with little or no savings, a serious lack of proper investment income and planning, coupled with a longer life expectancy, has destroyed any retirement expectations. Although millennials are most likely to have less than $10,000 saved, older Americans are also becoming steadily more pessimistic about their future economic prospects, according to a separate study by United Income, a start-up that aims to apply big-data analysis to financial planning.
America relinquished its role as the world’s leading manufacturer in exchange for cheaper imported goods and services from other countries. The profits of U.S.-based manufacturing companies were enhanced with cheaper foreign labor, but the wages of U.S. employees were impaired, and jobs in the manufacturing sector were exported to foreign lands. This had the effect of hollowing out America’s industrial base while at the same time stoking foreign appetite for U.S. debt as they received U.S. dollars and sought to invest them. In return, debt-driven consumption soared in the U.S. The trade deficit, also known as the current account balance, measures the net flow of goods and services in and out of a country. The graph shows the correlation between the cumulative deterioration of the U.S. current account balance and manufacturing jobs.
Since 1983, there have only been two quarters in which the current account balance was positive. During the most recent economic expansion, the current account balance has averaged -$443 billion per year. To further appreciate the ramifications of the reigning economic regime, consider that China gained full acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. The trade agreements that accompanied WTO status and allowed China easier access to U.S. markets have resulted in an approximate quintupling of the amount of exports from China to the U.S. Similarly, there has been a concurrent increase in the amount of credit that China has extended the U.S. government through their purchase of U.S. Treasury securities as shown below.
To further understand why the current economic regime is tricky to change, one must consider that the debts of years past have not been paid off. As such the U.S. Treasury regularly issues new debt that is used to pay for older debt that is maturing while at the same time issuing even more debt to fund current period deficits. Therefore, the important topic not being discussed is the United States’ (in)ability to reduce reliance on foreign funding that has proven essential in supporting the accumulated debt of consumption from years past. Trump’s ideas are far more complicated than simply leveling the trade playing field and reviving our industrial base. If the United States decides to equalize terms of trade, then we are redefining long-held agreements introduced and reinforced by previous administrations.
In breaking with that tradition of “we give you dollars, you give us cheap goods (cars, toys, lawnmowers, steel, etc.), we will most certainly also need to source alternative demand for our debt. In reality, new buyers will emerge but that likely implies an unfavorable adjustment to interest rates. The graph below compares the amount of U.S. Treasury debt that is funded abroad and the total amount of publicly traded U.S. debt. Consider further, foreigners have large holdings of U.S. corporate and securitized individual debt as well. (Importantly, also note that in recent years the Fed has bought over $2 trillion of Treasury securities through QE, more than making up for the recent slowdown in foreign buying.)
There are many ways of assessing the value of the stock market. The Shiller PE (price relative to the past decade’s worth of real, average earnings) and Tobin’s Q (the value of companies’ outstanding stock and debt relative to their replacement cost) are likely the two best. That doesn’t mean those metrics are accurate crash indicators, or that one can use them profitably as trading signals. Expensive stocks can stay expensive or get more expensive, and cheap stocks can stay cheap or get cheaper for inconveniently long periods of time.
But those metrics do have a good record of forecasting future long-term (one decade or more) returns. And that’s important for financial planning and wealth management. Difficult though it is sometimes, everyone must plug in an estimated return into a formula for retirement savings. And if an advisor is plugging in a 7% or so return for a balanced portfolio currently, he or she is likely not doing their job well. Stocks will almost certainly return less than their long-term 10% annualized average for the next decade or two given a starting Shiller PE over 30. The long-term average of the metric, after all, is under 17.
[..] Companies are always manipulating items on income statements to arrive at a particular earnings number. Recently, record numbers of companies have supported net income numbers with non-GAAP metrics. That can be legitimate sometimes. For example, depreciation on real estate is rarely commensurate with reality. But it can also be nefarious[..] So I created a chart showing sales per share growth and price per share growth of the S&P 500 dating back to the end of 2008. From the beginning of 2009 through the end of 2016, companies in the index grew profits per share by nearly 4% annualized, a perfectly respectable number for a mature economy. But price per share grew by a whopping 14.5% over that time. Over that 8 year period, sales grew less than 50% cumulatively, while share prices tripled.
Anyone invested in stocks should worry about this chart. How do share prices get so divorced from underlying corporate sales? One likely answer is low interest rates. But there must be other reasons because we’ve had low interest rates and low stock prices before – namely in the 1940s. That was after the Great Depression, and stocks were still likely viewed as suspect investments. Today, by contrast, stocks are not viewed with much suspicion, despite the technology bubble peaking in 2000 and the housing bubble in 2008. Investors still believe in stocks as an asset class.
As if a brewing trade war wasn’t enough to worry about, investors also need to be alert to the threat of a major currency conflict. Norihiro Takahashi, president of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, dismissed Donald Trump’s tariffs plan as a “performance” for his supporters, and said U.S. assets are no longer expensive, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week. That marks a change in stance since the December quarter, when the world’s largest pension fund scaled back its exposure to foreign assets. Takahashi’s comments could well be a veiled expression of Japan’s displeasure at a stronger yen. The Japanese currency has soared 6.6% against the greenback this year — and we’re only three months into 2018. For a yen-based investor, Treasuries, in particular, do indeed look more reasonably priced than in December.
In theory, currency policy falls under the jurisdiction of Japan’s finance ministry. In practice, government agencies from the Bank of Japan to the GPIF co-ordinate their actions. Don’t forget that on Oct. 31, 2014, the central bank expanded its monetary policy on the same day the GPIF adopted a “new policy asset mix” that increased the fund’s exposure to foreign bonds. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda can deny it, but the central bank has every interest in seeking a weak yen. Japanese corporate earnings are highly cyclical: On a market-weighted basis, companies on the Topix index derive more than 37% of their revenue from abroad, data compiled by Gadfly show. A strengthening yen can cause stocks to plunge, depressing consumption and tipping the economy back into deflation.
With the Topix down more than 10% from its January high, that’s no idle threat. CPI ex-food, the BOJ’s inflation metric, was 0.9% in January, still nowhere near the 2% target that was last breached in 2015. Kuroda’s domestic toolbox, meanwhile, is starting to look empty. With a record 40% of government bonds already in its hands, the central bank is running out of assets to buy.
The financial commentariat and the robo-machines are all in a tizzy this morning because Gary Cohn up and quit. But we say good riddance: The man gave Trump bad advice on nearly every single issue – trade, taxes, fiscal policy and the Fed. We didn’t make any bones about that viewpoint during our appearance on Fox Business this AM. When Maria Bartiromo asked us about Cohn’s departure, our reply was: Hallelujah, the Goldman Sachs Regency in the White House is finally over! The fact is, we do have a trade crisis, but Gary Cohn and the Wall Street pseudo-free traders don’t care and never have. That’s because they fiercely support a perverted, self-serving monetary regime that systematically and massively inflates financial assets, even as it strip mines and deflates the main street economy.
As we have been pointing out in this series, there is a perverse symbiosis between the Fed and the Dirty Float central banks of the 10 major countries (China, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan, etc), which account for 90% of the nation’s $810 billion trade deficit (2017). Together they have ripped the guts out of the US industrial economy – effectively sending jobs and production abroad and cash flow and liquidated capital to Wall Street. For its part, the Fed has monkey-hammered US competitiveness. That’s the result of its insensible 2.00% inflation policy, which has fatally inflated nominal dollar wages in a world market drowning in cheap labor priced in artificially under-valued currencies. At the same time, its massive interest rate repression and price-keeping operations in the stock market have turned the C-suites of corporate America into financial engineering joints.
So doing, they have slashed real net business investment by nearly 3o% since the turn of the century, by 20% from the 2007 pre-crisis peak and, actually, to a level in 2016 that barely exceeded real net investment two decades earlier in 1997. Meanwhile, the C-suites shuttled upwards of $15 trillion of cash flow and debt capacity during the last decade alone into stock buybacks, vanity M&A deals and excess dividends and recaps.
The Trump administration will initially exclude Canada and Mexico from stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, an exemption they would lose if they fail to reach an updated Nafta agreement with the U.S., White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Wednesday. The two nations won’t be subject to tariffs on their steel and aluminum if they sign a new NAFTA that meets the satisfaction of the U.S., Navarro said, adding that other American allies could use a similar system to ask for an exemption. If Nafta talks fall through, Canada and Mexico would face the same tariff as other nations, expected to be 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. “Here’s the situation, and the president has made this public,” Navarro said. “There’s going to be a provision which will exclude Canada and Mexico until the Nafta thing is concluded one way or another.”
The decision-making process regarding the tariffs has evolved and more changes could be made before President Donald Trump formally approves them. China on Thursday vowed to retaliate, its most forceful comments yet on the threatened tariffs. “A trade war is never the right solution,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing. “In a globalized world, it is particularly unhelpful, as it will harm both the initiator and the target countries. In the event of a trade war, China will make a justified and necessary response.” Earlier Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the tariff plan would feature “potential carve outs for Canada and Mexico based on national security” considerations and also possible exclusions for specific countries. Australia is among those making the case for exemption, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop citing her nation’s status as a “close ally and partner” in a Sky News interview on Thursday.
Apple’s iPhone X may not have wooed Asian consumers during the Lunar New Year holiday — but the company has some new products in the pipeline, according to Rosenblatt Securities’ Jun Zhang. Zhang chopped 5.5 million units off expectations for iPhone X sales for the first half of this year in a Wednesday research note. But with sales of high-end smartphones shrinking, Apple could offset lower iPhone sales with new products. “We are not surprised with the quick cooldown of iPhone X sales following Chinese New Year,” Zhang wrote. “Further iPhone X cuts, in our view, suggest the high-end smartphone market upgrade cycle continues to extend. We are seeing similar issues for Samsung’s S9 model since our research suggests that preorders are weak.”
Apple and Samsung, like many tech companies, and rarely release data on new products or unit sales outside of quarterly reports or launch events. But, Zhang wrote, Apple could sell 6 million to 8 million iPad Pro units with more advanced 3-D sensing, as well as new phones in the fall. A new red iPhone model, lower-end iPhones and a lower-priced HomePod might also be in the works, Zhang said. (Apple has had a partnership with HIV/AIDS organization (RED) for over a decade, and often sells red-colored products to support AIDS research and prevention.) “Since we expect the overall smartphone market to be flat this year, particularly in the mid-to-high end markets, Apple’s upcoming lower priced iPhone model could drive Apple’s unit growth,” Zhang wrote.
Thousands of homes in Vancouver have been declared unused and liable for a new empty homes tax as part of a government attempt to tackle skyrocketing home prices and soaring rents. About 4.6% or 8,481 homes in the western Canadian city stood empty or underutilised for more than 180 days in 2017, according to declarations submitted to the municipality by 98.85% of homeowners. Properties deemed empty will be subjected to a tax of 1% of their assessed value. Vancouver has rolled out a raft of measures to cool prices and improve housing affordability in the country’s most expensive real estate market. Empty houses, also a big issue in the UK, are only one aspect of the problem. In 2017 the provincial government of British Columbia raised its foreign buyer tax from 15% to 20% to target offshore investors blamed for pushing up prices.
Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, followed suit with a 15% tax in April. Before the foreign buyer tax, sales agents said investors in Hong Kong, China and other parts of Asia were acquiring up to 40% of Vancouver condominium projects marketed abroad, absorbing the more expensive units that domestic buyers could not afford. Nearly 61% of the homes declared empty in Vancouver were condos, and other multi-family properties made up almost 6%, according to the city government. More than a quarter of the empty properties were in downtown Vancouver. Property owners who did not submit a declaration and those who claimed exemptions, such as for renovations or if the owner was in hospital or long-term care, were included in the empty homes number.
There are more people called David or Steve who head up FTSE 100 companies than there are women or ethnic minorities, underscoring the extent to which corporate Britain is still dominated by men. According to research conducted by INvolve, a group that champions diversity and inclusion in business, there are currently five ethnic minority and seven female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. Nine are named David and four are called Steve. Later this month Royal Mail, which is headed up by Moya Greene, is set to join the index of the UK’s biggest publicly listed companies, taking the total number of female-led firms to eight.
The number highlights how women and ethnic minorities are still dramatically underrepresented on corporate boards across the UK. According to the Government’s Hampton-Alexander Review into female leaders across FTSE companies published last November, only five FTSE 250 companies had at the time achieved a gender-balanced board. Speaking at an event in London to mark International Women’s Day this week, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said that women are now joining boards in greater numbers than ever, but often as non-executive directors.
President Vladimir Putin, who recently startled the world by unveiling Russia’s advanced nuclear arsenal, has again spoken of nuclear arms, clarifying the circumstances in which Moscow is prepared to enter a nuclear war. “Certainly, it would be a global disaster for humanity; a disaster for the entire world,” Putin said, in an interview for a Russian documentary “The World Order 2018,” adding that “as a citizen of Russia and the head of the Russian state I must ask myself: Why would we want a world without Russia?” Even though Putin admitted that any conflict involving the use of nuclear weapons would have dire consequences for humanity, he maintained that Russia would be forced to defend itself using all available means if its very existence is put at stake.
“A decision on the use of nuclear weapons may only be taken if our ballistic missile attack warning system not only detects a launch, but also predicts that the warheads would hit Russian territory. This is called a retaliation strike,” he said in the interview. Russia’s latest edition of its nuclear doctrine allows the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack against Russia or its allies, or to a conventional attack that threatens the existence of Russia. Putin also denied Russia was interested in pursuing a nuclear arms race, saying that “to begin with, we did not start this… nuclear bomb was first developed not by us but by the US,” he said in the interview, pointing out that “we have never used nuclear weapons [although] the US used them against Japan.”
Boris Johnson just about observed diplomatic protocol when he addressed MPs about the apparent poisoning of Sergei Skripal. He stopped short of accusing the Russian state directly. But his inference – a malevolent and unjustified inference for the Foreign Secretary of a country that harps on about the rule of law – was indeed of Russian guilt. And it was clearest in the parallel he invited MPs to draw with the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Now it may indeed be that Russia – or Russians (something rather different) – are responsible for whatever happened in Salisbury. And it is true that Russians in the UK seem disproportionately accident-prone. But it is premature in the extreme to blame the Russian state, and just as misleading to draw this particular parallel with the Litvinenko case.
Both men may have been Russians branded traitors by their homeland, and both may have been victims of poisoning, but there are important differences. In Russia, Litvinenko worked against organised crime; he was less a spy in the conventional sense than a criminal intelligence officer. He fled the country after blowing the whistle on his corrupt bosses, and applied for asylum in the UK. His first choice, the US, had turned him down on the apparent grounds that the information he had to offer was not valuable enough. Unlike Skripal, he started working for MI5/6 only after arriving in the UK, and even then seems to have had difficulty getting on the payroll. His widow, Marina, is still battling to get the intelligence agencies to pay a pension or recognise a duty of care. It is cruel to say so, but Litvinenko seems almost to have been more use to the UK in death – as a totem of Russia’s general badness – than he was in life.
[..] For the moment, though, I will resist the temptation to delve into my inner Le Carre and return to Litvinenko. As I said, there are crucial differences between the two – differences that should militate against state-sponsored assassination being the favoured explanation for Skripal’s plight. But there should be doubts, too, about this judgment in the case of Litvinenko. The conclusions of the Litvinenko inquiry, now treated as unimpeachable proof of Russian state culpability, are nowhere near as definitive – or credible – as they have since been presented. The much-trumpeted (and over-interpreted) conclusion of the judge, Sir Robert Owen, was that “the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev [then head of the FSB] and also by President Putin”. He said there was “a strong probability” that Andrei Lugovoy poisoned Litvinenko “under the direction of the FSB” and the use of polonium-210 was “at very least a strong indicator of state involvement”. What sort of proof is that?
Turkey’s prime minister has renewed a threat against efforts to search for offshore gas around Cyprus. Turkey opposes what it says are “unilateral” efforts to search for gas, saying they infringe the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the ethnically split island’s resources. Binali Yildirim said Wednesday during a joint news conference with Tufan Erhurman, the so-called “prime minister” of the breakaway north of Cyprus, that “provocative activities will be met with the appropriate response.” Yildirim’s comments were in response to reports that an ExxonMobil vessel was heading toward the Mediterranean, coinciding with exercises in the area involving the US Navy. Last month, Turkish warships prevented a rig from reaching an area southeast of Cyprus where Italian company Eni was scheduled to drill for gas.
The United States recognizes the right of Cyprus to develop the resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone, and discourages any actions or statements that provoke a rise in tensions in the region, a State Department official has said. In a statement late on Wednesday, the official said that Washington’s policy on Cyprus’ EEZ was longstanding and has not changed, noting that the US “recognizes the right of the Republic of Cyprus to develop its resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone.” “We continue to believe the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement,” the official said. “We discourage any actions or rhetoric that increase tensions in the region.” The official did not comment directly on threats from Ankara regarding the arrival in the region of a research vessel belonging to US company ExxonMobil.
A costly “ice wall” is failing to keep groundwater from seeping into the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, data from operator Tokyo Electric Power Co shows, preventing it from removing radioactive melted fuel at the site seven years after the disaster. When the ice wall was announced in 2013, Tepco assured skeptics that it would limit the flow of groundwater into the plant’s basements, where it mixes with highly radioactive debris from the site’s reactors, to “nearly nothing.” However, since the ice wall became fully operational at the end of August, an average of 141 metric tonnes a day of water has seeped into the reactor and turbine areas, more than the average of 132 metric tonnes a day during the prior nine months, a Reuters analysis of the Tepco data showed.
The groundwater seepage has delayed Tepco’s clean-up at the site and may undermine the entire decommissioning process for the plant, which was battered by a tsunami seven years ago this Sunday. Waves knocked out power and triggered meltdowns at three of the site’s six reactors that spewed radiation, forcing 160,000 residents to flee, many of whom have not returned to this once-fertile coast. Though called an ice wall, Tepco has attempted to create something more like a frozen soil barrier. Using 34.5 billion yen ($324 million) in public funds, Tepco sunk about 1,500 tubes filled with brine to a depth of 30 meters (100 feet) in a 1.5-kilometre (1-mile) perimeter around four of the plant’s reactors. It then cools the brine to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit).
The aim is to freeze the soil into a solid mass that blocks groundwater flowing from the hills west of the plant to the coast. However, the continuing seepage has created vast amounts of toxic water that Tepco must pump out, decontaminate and store in tanks at Fukushima that now number 1,000, holding 1 million tonnes. It says it will run out of space by early 2021. “I believe the ice wall was ‘oversold’ in that it would solve all the release and storage concerns,” said Dale Klein, the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the head of an external committee advising Tepco on safety issues.
In Canada, more than 500 doctors and residents, as well as over 150 medical students, have signed a public letter protesting their own pay raises. “We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations,” the letter says. The group say they are offended that they would receive raises when nurses and patients are struggling. “These increases are all the more shocking because our nurses, clerks and other professionals face very difficult working conditions, while our patients live with the lack of access to required services because of the drastic cuts in recent years and the centralization of power in the Ministry of Health,” reads the letter, which was published February 25.
“The only thing that seems to be immune to the cuts is our remuneration,” the letter says. Canada has a public health system which provides “universal coverage for medically necessary health care services provided on the basis of need, rather than the ability to pay,” the government’s website says. The 213 general practitioners, 184 specialists, 149 resident medical doctors and 162 medical students want the money used for their raises to be returned to the system instead. “We believe that there is a way to redistribute the resources of the Quebec health system to promote the health of the population and meet the needs of patients without pushing workers to the end,” the letter says.
“We, Quebec doctors, are asking that the salary increases granted to physicians be canceled and that the resources of the system be better distributed for the good of the health care workers and to provide health services worthy to the people of Quebec.” A physician in Canada is paid $260,924 ($339,000 Canadian) for clinical services by the government’s Ministry of Health per year on average, according to a report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information published in September 2017. On average, a family physician is paid $211,717 ($275,000 Canadian) for clinical services and a surgical specialist is paid $354,915 ($461,000 Canadian), according to the same report.
Japanese exports extended their losses to a 13th straight month in October, indicating that the world’s third-largest economy has yet to regain full fitness despite better-than-expected growth in the third quarter. Exports fell 10.3% from a year earlier in October to 5.870 trillion yen, figures released Monday by the Ministry of Finance showed. The reading came in worse than a 9.4% drop forecast by economists polled by WSJ. Exports decreased 6.9% in September. Despite the grim monthly figures, exports appear to be in better shape than in the spring, when Japan’s manufacturers were being buffeted by worries over a Chinese slowdown and other headwinds from abroad. Government estimates released last week showed that Japan’s economy grew 2.2% from the previous quarter in the July-September period, beating economists’ expectations.
Exports were stronger than in the previous three months. The near-term prospects for exports have also improved after Donald Trump’s victory of U.S. presidential election put the yen’s previous uptrend in reversal. The finance ministry said export volumes for October fell 1.4% from their year-earlier levels. That marked the first fall in three months. But seasonally adjusted month-on-month figures showed exports increased 1.6%. Imports declined 16.5% on year in October to Y5.374 trillion, the 22nd consecutive month of contraction, the ministry said. Japan’s trade balance came to Y496.2 billion in surplus, according to the data. Economists polled by the Nikkei expected a surplus of Y610.0 billion.
Anything reported as a ‘savings obsession’ can be filed under ‘fake news’. It takes this article a while to get to it, but then it does: “About 44% of all Europeans were unable to pay at least one bill on time during the last 12 months, mainly because of a lack of money..” Combine that with the accounting practice of filing ‘paying off debts’ under ‘saving’, and you know what’s really happening.
After years of turbo-driven central bank stimulus, most Europeans still want to leave their spare cash in savings accounts, even if those accounts pay zero interest. That’s the finding of a survey by Europe’s biggest debt collector, Stockholm-based Intrum Justitia AB. “After the financial crisis, people have felt a need – even if they have small means – to create some kind of security,” CEO Mikael Ericson said in an interview in Stockholm on Nov. 16. “It can’t be that people save in a bank account because of the fantastic returns, so it must be about a sense of security, having money in the bank.” Some 69% of Europeans put their savings into bank accounts, according to Intrum Justitia’s European Consumer Payment Report.
The survey is based on feedback gathered in September and covers about 21,000 people in 21 countries. The survey also shows that 26% of Europeans prefer keeping their surplus funds in cash, while 16% hold stocks. Only 14% turn to investment funds, 8% invest in real estate and 8% in bonds. In Denmark and Sweden, where central bank benchmark rates are negative, almost 80% of people put their surplus cash in bank accounts. In France, the U.K. and the Netherlands, the figure is above 80%. [..] The survey also revealed how financially fragile many Europeans continue to be almost half a decade after the region’s debt crisis. About 44% of all Europeans were unable to pay at least one bill on time during the last 12 months, mainly because of a lack of money, the survey found. Greece was worst, with 76% of households failing to pay on time.
According to the European Working Conditions Survey launched today more than one third of workers report some or great difficulty in making ends meet. This is the reality behind the rosier picture painted by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions which highlights an “increasingly skilled workforce, largely satisfied with work”. However, the study also reveals that • A shocking 1 in 5 workers “has a poor quality job with disadvantageous job quality features and job holders …. reporting an unsatisfactory experience of working life.” • Only 1 in 4 workers have “a smooth running job where most dimensions of job quality are satisfactory”.
Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation said “European workers are struggling to make ends meet. Work no longer assures a decent life. Is it any wonder that more and more voters are losing their faith in “the European Union and mainstream political parties? ”These results only strengthen the ETUC’s determination to fight for more public investment to create quality jobs, and for a pay rise for European workers to tackle poverty and drive economic recovery for all. Economic policies that result in 1 in 3 workers struggling to make ends meet are fundamentally wrong and must be radically changed.” “These are deeply worrying results that cannot be hidden by claiming that the world of work is increasingly complex. The survey actually shows that work is unsatisfactory or unrewarding for far too many workers.”
“The picture painted by the European Working Conditions Survey of widespread poverty in improving working conditions highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to tackle inequality across Europe. Improvements in labour markets and working conditions are modest and uneven at best; what’s more, these are being wiped out by spiralling costs of housing and austerity policies that drive insecurity for workers and their families.”
Debt is good. More debt is better. Funding consumer spending with debt is even better – that’s what economists have been preaching – because the consumed goods and services are gone after having been added to GDP, while the debt, which GDP ignores, remains until it is paid off with future earnings, or until it blows up. Corporations too have gone on a borrowing binge. Unlike consumers, they have no intention of paying off their debts. They issue new debt and use the proceeds to pay off maturing debts. Funding share-buybacks and dividends with debt is ideal. It’s called “unlocking value.” Debt must always grow. For that purpose, the Fed has manipulated interest rates to rock bottom. Actually paying off and reducing debt has the dreadful moniker, bandied about during the Financial Crisis, “deleveraging.”
It’s synonymous with “The End of the World.” At the institutional level, “debt” is replaced with more politically correct “leverage.” More leverage is better. Particularly if you can borrow short-term at near zero cost and bet the proceeds on risky illiquid long-term assets, such as real estate, or on securities that become illiquid without notice. Derivatives are part of this institutional equation. The notional value of derivatives in the US banking system is $190 trillion, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Four banks hold over 90% of them: JP Morgan ($53 trillion), Citibank ($52 trillion), Goldman ($44 trillion), and Bank of America ($26 trillion). Over 75% of those derivative contracts are interest rate products, such as swaps.
With them, heavily leveraged institutional investors that borrow short-term to invest in illiquid long-term assets hedge against interest rate movements. But Treasury yields and mortgage rates have moved violently in recent weeks, and someone is out some big money. These credit bubbles always unravel to the greatest surprise of those institutions and their economists. When they unravel, the above “End-of-the-World” scenario of orderly deleveraging turns into forced deleveraging, which can get messy. Assets that had previously been taken for granted are either repriced or just evaporate. But they’d been pledged as collateral. Suddenly, the collateral no longer exists….
Remember when bashing central banks and predicting financial collapse as a result of monetary manipulation and intervention was considered “fake news” within the “serious” financial community, disseminated by fringe blogs? Good times. In an interview with Swiss Sonntags Blick titled appropriately enough “A Recession Is Sometimes Necessary”, the former CEO of UBS and Credit Suisse, Oswald Grübel, lashed out by criticizing the growing strength of central banks and their ‘supremacy over the markets and other banks’. He claimed that the use of negative interest rates and huge positive balance sheets represent ‘weapons of mass destruction’. He calls for an end to the use of negative interest rates. Sounding more like a “tinfoil” blog than the former CEO of the two largest Swiss banks, Grübel warned that central banks have “crossed the point of no return” which will ultimately “end in a crash.”
Joining Deutsche Bank in slamming NIRP, Grubel said that banks are losing hundreds of millions of francs each year to negative interest rates paid to central banks. Worse, he warned that central banks will eventually lose their credibility in the markets but that this could take 10 years or more, at which point it will “all end in a crash.” What happens then? The former CEO believes that the final outcome will be wholesale financial nationalization: “after that all banks could belong to the state” Grubel also the doubted the wisdom of the Swiss National Bank’s balance sheet: “the Swiss National Bank’s balance sheet now accounts for 100% of GDP. Japan is also 100%, but mainly invested in its own state paper. The ECB and the Fed are 30%. Switzerland is far, far, far ahead. Is that wise?”
Grübel also touched on a point we have made ever since 2010 when we said that in a world of unprecedented political polarity, politicians now control the world almost exclusively through monetary policy, to wit: “After the financial crisis, politics has taken power in the banking sector: It has bound the banks into a regulatory corset and now they can no longer move. Politicians have told central banks: now you determine what is going on with the economy.” What are the implications of this power shift? “Previously, the risk was distributed to thousands of banks. They had to pay for their mistakes. The risk lay with the shareholders. Today, more and more the state carries the risk.” Which, of course, is another word for taxpayers. In other words, the next crash will be one where central – not commercial – banks are failing, and the one left with the bill will once again be the ordinary person in the street.
In a tangent, Grübel gave his thoughts on what makes a man rich: “rich is a man when he goes to bed in a carefree manner and wakes up without care.” He is then asked if, by that definition, a billionaire is rich to which he replied: “No. Money has little to do with wealth. The real rich are carefree. Those who are healthy, are not dependent. The greatest wealth is independence.”
Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, the new front-runner in France’s 2017 presidential election, is offering voters an economic-policy revolution inspired by Margaret Thatcher. Fillon, 62, vaulted from third position in most polls to win the first round of the Republican primary by 16 percentage points from the veteran Alain Juppe on Sunday with the most free-market platform among the seven candidates. They’ll face each other again in next Sunday’s runoff and the winner will be favorite to become president in May 2017. The lifelong politician is pledging to lengthen the work week to 39 hours from 35, to increase the retirement age to 65 and add immigration quotas. He’s vowed to eliminate half a million public-sector jobs and cut spending by €100 billion over his five years in office.
And he proposes a €40 billion tax-cut for companies and a constitutional ban on planned budget deficits. “Who is Fillon? The classic conservative, right-wing candidate,” Bruno Cautres, a political scientist at the Sciences Po Institute in Paris, said in an interview. “He wants a deep reform of the French model: shrinking the role of the state and cutting the welfare system.” Compared with the brash style of former boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, Fillon has a more low-key approach but he makes a virtue of telling it straight. When he took office as premier in 2007, he shocked even Sarkozy by announcing that France was a bankrupt state. Today he’s promising to reverse that, just like his role model when she became U.K. prime minister in 1979.
If the European dream is to die, it may be the Netherlands that delivers the fatal blow. The Dutch general election in March is shaping up to be a defining moment for the European project. The risk to the EU doesn’t come from Geert Wilders, the leader of anti-EU, anti-immigration Party for Freedom. He is well ahead in the polls and looks destined to benefit from many of the social and economic factors that paved the way for the Brexit and Trump revolts. But the vagaries of the Dutch political system make it highly unlikely that Mr. Wilders will find his way into government. As things stand, he is predicted to win just 29 out of the 150 seats in the new parliament, and mainstream parties seem certain to shun him as a coalition partner. In an increasingly fragmented Dutch political landscape, most observers agree that the likely outcome of the election is a coalition of four or five center-right and center-left parties.
Instead, the risk to the EU comes instead from a new generation of Dutch euroskeptics who are less divisive and concerned about immigration but more focused on questions of sovereignty—and utterly committed to the destruction of the EU. Its leading figures are Thierry Baudet and Jan Roos, who have close links to British euroskeptics. They have already scored one significant success: In 2015, they persuaded the Dutch parliament to adopt a law that requires the government to hold a referendum on any law if 300,000 citizens request it. They then took advantage of this law at the first opportunity to secure a vote that rejected the EU’s proposed trade and economic pact with Ukraine, which Brussels saw as a vital step in supporting a strategically important neighbor. This referendum law is a potential bomb under the EU, as both Dutch politicians and Brussels officials are well aware.
Mr. Baudet believes he now has the means to block any steps the EU might seek to take to deepen European integration or stabilize the eurozone if they require Dutch legislation. This could potentially include aid to troubled Southern European countries such as Greece and Italy, rendering the eurozone unworkable. Indeed, the Dutch government gave a further boost to Mr. Baudet and his allies when it agreed to accept the outcome of the Ukraine referendum if turnout was above 30%, even though it was under no legal obligation to do so. This was a major concession to the euroskeptics, as became clear when strong turnout among their highly motivated supporters lifted overall turnout to 31%. With Mr. Wilders’s party, currently polling above 25%, and both Mr. Baudet and Mr. Roos having launched their own parties, Dutch euroskeptics are confident they will be able to reach the 30% threshold in future referendums.
Do they mean things would have been even worse without free trade? (if they do, let them say so): “..the benefits of trade and open markets need to be communicated to the wider public more effectively, emphasizing how trade promotes innovation, employment and higher living standards.”
Leaders of 21 Asia-Pacific nations ended their annual summit Sunday with a call to resist protectionism amid signs of increased free-trade skepticism, highlighted by the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum also closed with a joint pledge to work toward a sweeping new free trade agreement that would include all 21 members as a path to “sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth,” despite the political climate. “We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight against all forms of protectionism,” the leaders of the APEC nations said in a joint statement. APEC noted the “rising skepticism over trade” amid an uneven recovery since the financial crisis and said that “the benefits of trade and open markets need to be communicated to the wider public more effectively, emphasizing how trade promotes innovation, employment and higher living standards.”
Speaking to journalists at the conclusion of the summit, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said the main obstacle to free trade agreements in Asia and around the world is the frustration felt by those left behind by globalization. “Protectionism in reality is a reflection of tough economic conditions,” said Kuczynski, the meeting’s host. Referring to Brexit and Trump’s election win in the U.S., he said those results highlighted the backlash against globalization in former industrial regions in the U.S. and Britain that contrasts with support for trade in more-prosperous urban areas and developing countries. “This is an important point in recent economic history because of the outcome of various elections in very important countries that have reflected an anti-trade, anti-openness feeling,” he said.
US President Barack Obama said Sunday that leaders from across the Asia-Pacific have decided to move ahead with a trade deal opposed by his successor Donald Trump. “Our partners made clear they want to move forward with TPP,” Obama said at a press conference after meeting leaders in Peru. “They would like to move forward with the United States.” It is unclear whether there is any future for the TPP, a vast, arduously negotiated agreement between 12 countries that are currently at different stages of ratifying it. It does not include China. Trump campaigned against the proposal as a “terrible deal” that would “rape” the United States by sending American jobs to countries with cheaper labor.
The agreement must by ratified in the US Congress – which will remain in the hands of Trump’s Republican allies when the billionaire mogul takes office on January 20. Without the United States, it cannot be implemented in its current form. However, some have suggested Trump could negotiate a number of changes and then claim credit for turning the deal around. Obama defended the increasing integration of the global economy at the close of his final foreign visit as president – a trade summit held against the backdrop of rising protectionist sentiment in the United States and Europe, seen in both Trump’s win and Britain’s “Brexit” vote. He said that “historic gains in prosperity” thanks to globalization had been muddied by a growing gap “between the rich and everyone else.” “That can reverberate through our politics,” he said.
Jim Quinn’s longtime series on the Fourth Turning continues. A problem might be that you can’t really know who’s who until afterwards. Maybe Mike Pence will turn out to be the real grey champion, or someone as yet unknown.
In September 2015 I wrote a five part article called Fourth Turning: Crisis of Trust. In Part 2 of that article I pondered who might emerge as the Grey Champion, leading the country during the second half of this Fourth Turning Crisis. I had the above pictures of Franklin, Lincoln, and FDR, along with a flaming question mark. The question has been answered. Donald J. Trump is the Grey Champion. When I wrote that article, only one GOP debate had taken place. There were eleven more to go. Trump was viewed by the establishment as a joke, ridiculed by the propaganda media, and disdained by the GOP and Democrats. I was still skeptical of his seriousness and desire to go the distance, but I attempted to view his candidacy through the lens of the Fourth Turning. I was convinced the mood of the country turning against the establishment could lead to his elevation to the presidency. I was definitely in the minority at the time:
“Until three months ago the 2016 presidential election was in control of the establishment. The Party was putting forth their chosen crony capitalist figureheads – Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. They are hand-picked known controllable entities who will not upset the existing corrupt system. They are equally acceptable to Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve, the military industrial complex, the sickcare industry, mega-corporate America, the moneyed interests, and the never changing government apparatchiks. The one party system is designed to give the appearance of choice, while in reality there is no difference between the policies of the two heads of one party and their candidate products. But now Donald Trump has stormed onto the scene from the reality TV world to tell the establishment – You’re Fired!!!”
Strauss and Howe wrote their prophetic tome two decades ago. [..] They did not know which events or which people would catalyze this Fourth Turning. But they knew the mood change in the country would be driven by the predictable generational alignment which occurs every eighty years. “Soon after the catalyst, a national election will produce a sweeping political realignment, as one faction or coalition capitalizes on a new public demand for decisive action. Republicans, Democrats, or perhaps a new party will decisively win the long partisan tug of war. This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis. Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention. The regeneracy will be solidly under way.” – Strauss & Howe – The Fourth Turning
Hillary Clinton has given us back our freedom. Only such a crushing defeat could break the chains that bound us to the New Democrat elites. The defeat was the result of decades of moving the Democratic party – the party of FDR – away from what it once was and should have remained: a party that represents workers. All workers. For three decades they have kept us in line with threats of a Republican monster-president should we stay home on election day. Election day has come and passed, and many did stay home. And instead of bowing out gracefully and accepting responsibility for their defeat, they have already started blaming it largely on racist hordes of rural Americans. That explanation conveniently shifts blame away from themselves, and avoids any tough questions about where the party has failed.
In a capitalist democracy, the party of the left has one essential reason for existing: to speak for the working class. Capitalist democracies have tended towards two major parties. One, which acts in the interest of the capitalist class – the business owners, the entrepreneurs, the professionals – ensuring their efforts and the risks they took were fairly rewarded. The other party represented workers, unions and later on other groups that made up the working class, including women and oppressed minorities. This delicate balance ended in the 1990s. Many blame Reagan and Thatcher for destroying unions and unfettering corporations. I don’t. In the 1990s, a New Left arose in the English-speaking world: Bill Clinton’s New Democrats and Tony Blair’s New Labour. Instead of a balancing act, Clinton and Blair presided over an equally aggressive “new centrist” dismantling of the laws that protected workers and the poor.
[..] .. let us be as clear about this electoral defeat as possible, because the New Democratic elite will try to pin their failure, and keep their jobs, by blaming this largely on racism, sexism – and FBI director Comey. This is an extremely dangerous conclusion to draw from this election. So here is our silver lining. This is a revolutionary moment. We must not allow them to shift the blame on to voters. This is their failure, decades in the making. And their failure is our chance to regroup. To clean house in the Democratic party, to retire the old elite and to empower a new generation of FDR Democrats, who look out for the working class – the whole working class.
The industrial midwest is the vast sweep, from western Pennsylvania through eastern Iowa, that drove the American economy for nearly a century. The great industrial cities, such as Chicago and Detroit, led the way, but it spread into hundreds of small towns and cities – from the steel mills of Ohio to the auto parts factories of Michigan and Wisconsin and the appliance makers of Iowa and Illinois. This was Hillary Clinton’s blue wall, the states she had to win to become president. Of the 11 swing states that decided the election, five – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa – lie in this battered old industrial heartland. If, as expected, Trump’s lead in Michigan holds, she lost them all. How did it happen? There are many reasons. The Clinton team barely campaigned there and in Wisconsin until it was too late.
Misogyny played a role. So did Clinton’s personal unpopularity and the relatively low turnout. But the real reason is that the industrial era created this region and gave a good middle-class way of life to the people who worked there. That economy began to vanish 40 years ago, moving first to the sun belt and then Mexico, before finally China. The good jobs that were left increasingly went to robots. Factories closed. So did the stores and bars and schools around them. The brightest kids fled to universities and then to the cities – to New York or Chicago or the state capital. Those left behind worked two or three non-union jobs just to stay afloat. Families broke up. Drug use increased. Life spans shortened. And nobody seemed to care – until Trump. But does he really? Who knows? He said he did.
His tirades – against trade, against elites, against Obamacare, against immigrants, against the Clintons – sounded like unhinged rants in cities and on campuses, which never took him seriously. In the old industrial zones and withering farm towns, he echoed their own resentments. Mitt Romney couldn’t do this; neither could John McCain. But Trump did, and so they embraced him. Why was this such a surprise? It’s impossible to overstate the alienation between the two Americas, between the global citizens and the global left-behinds, between the great cities that run the nation’s economy and media, and the hinterland that feels not only cheated but, worse, disrespected.
Tsipras goes from one blunder to the next. Still, as long as he’s there, the streets are quiet, amazingly quiet for a society that’s under such economic fire. But he is soon going to be voted out in favor of someone, anyone, who will then see things get much worse in the streets. A smouldering powder keg.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is prepared to make further concessions to Greece’s creditors in tough negotiations that are currently under way to ensure that there is no delay in launching crucial talks on relief for the country’s debt burden, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, Tsipras and his key ministers are ready to give in to calls by foreign auditors for more flexibility in the crucial area of labor laws. The government has already agreed to put off its demands for the restoration of collective wage bargaining, a key pledge of leftist SYRIZA before it came to power last year. It is unclear to what degree the Greek side is willing to concede on other issues – such as calls by foreign officials for facilitating mass layoffs for struggling employers and making it harder for unions to call strikes.
A source at the Labor Ministry said over the weekend that the Greek side has submitted its proposals for changes to labor laws and is awaiting the reaction of foreign officials. Tsipras is said to be set on a strategy of withdrawal despite the risks. The key danger is that cohesion in the ranks of leftist SYRIZA, which has already been tested by a series of concessions to foreign creditors, is further compromised, weakening the beleaguered coalition. The other risk is that the further concessions may boost the lead of conservative New Democracy over SYRIZA in opinion polls, which is already significant, thereby enhancing the sense that SYRIZA’s coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks is on its way out.
U.S. stocks on Monday had their best day since March on a%age basis after the Federal Bureau of Investigation said its review of a new batch of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails won’t lead to charges. Gains were broad, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average reclaiming the key 18,000 level and the S&P 500 snapping its nine-day losing streak, the longest since 1980. The slide had been attributed partly to polls showing a closer contest between Clinton and Republican rival Donald Trump. The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared 371.32 points, or 2.1%, to close at 18,259.60. The Dow’s rally marks its best session before a presidential election since Nov. 7, 1932, when the blue chip index rose 3.5%, according to Dow Jones data.
The S&P 500 index rose 46.34 points, or 2.2%, to finish at 2,131.52. The Nasdaq Composite climbed 119.80 points, or 2.4%, to end at 5,166.17. FBI Director James Comey informed lawmakers on Sunday that there were no new findings in the additional emails discovered on the computer of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose estranged wife is Clinton aide Huma Abedin. News that the FBI had discovered the new batch of emails just over a week ago jolted the presidential election race, taking a toll on Clinton’s lead in polls. “The rally is all about Clinton having a better chance of winning, though I don’t think the market is celebrating her policies so much as reflecting how markets, like many Americans, are fearful of the unknown that comes with Trump,” said James Meyer, CIO at Tower Bridge Advisors.
Some of the biggest investors are holding tight to their hedges against market swings should Donald Trump be elected U.S. president, even after the FBI absolved Hillary Clinton a second time of committing a crime. Millennium Global Investments is sticking to its view that the Republican candidate still has a 35% chance of winning the vote Tuesday. Old Mutual Global Investors says it’s keeping its protection as prospects of a surprise victory by the political novice can’t be ruled out. Janus Capital International echoes that view. Together they manage more than $500 billion. Polls still show a tight race hours after the FBI said it adhered to an earlier finding that absolved Clinton of crime in handling e-mails as secretary of state.
While that signaled a boost for her to become the first female president, investors continue to hark to the scenario of the U.K. Brexit referendum in June, saying they’re focused on not getting burned by underestimating a resurgent underdog vote. “I’m not sure if this is a game changer,” said Richard Benson, a London-based money manager at Millennium Global. “I haven’t changed my positions because of this new development. It may halt the Trump momentum that had seen a sharp narrowing of the polls. The issue now is how many quiet Trump supporters are out there.” Benson declined to reveal details of his stakes, saying he has “a number of good/risk reward positions with limited downside established,” to hedge the election outcome.
Get ready for some volatility. With polls opening nationwide in less than 24 hours, Wall Street is trying to grapple with what different election outcomes would mean for markets across the globe. If options markets are correct, the S&P 500 could move 3.7%, or roughly 80 points, the day after the election. “Implied volatilities surged across asset classes last week as investors grappled with the increasing probability of a Trump presidency,” Mandy Xu of Credit Suisse wrote in a note the day before the election. “S&P 500 Nov 7th vs. 9th options are implying a 3.7% one-day move for the election, which if realized, would be the 3rd-largest move on record in the past 70 years.”
A range of different assets have betrayed sensitivity to the odds of a Republican victory. The Mexican peso, for instance, surged on the recent news that the FBI is sticking to its prior conclusion that Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails as Secretary of State did not involve any criminal action. Other areas to watch are U.S. Treasuries, the U.S. dollar, and emerging-market stocks. Of course, there is reason to believe that these reactions will be short-lived. While the S&P 500 typically swings 1.5% the day after the vote, gains or losses over the first 24 hours predict the market’s direction 12 months later less than half the time, according to Bloomberg data.
Hillary has repeatedly said: “We should also work with the coalition and the neighbors to impose no-fly zones that will stop Assad from slaughtering civilians and the opposition from the air. Opposition forces on the ground, with material support from the coalition, could then help create safe areas where Syrians could remain in the country, rather than fleeing toward Europe.” This would mean that U.S. fighter-jets and missiles would be shooting down the fighter-jets and missiles of the Syrian government over Syria, and would also be shooting down those of Russia. The Syrian government invited Russia in, as its protector; the U.S. is no protector but an invader against Syria’s legitimate government, the Ba’athist government, led by Bashar al-Assad.
The CIA has been trying ever since 1949 to overthrow Syria’s Ba’athist government – the only remaining non-sectarian government in the Middle East other than the current Egyptian government. The U.S. supports Jihadists who demand Sharia law, and they are trying to overthrow and replace Syria’s institutionally secular government. For the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone anywhere in Syria would mean that the U.S. would be at war against Russia over Syria’s skies. Whichever side loses that conventional air-war would then have to choose whether to surrender, or instead to use nuclear weapons against the other side’s homeland, in order for it to avoid surrendering. That’s nuclear war between Russia and the United States. Would Putin surrender? Would Hillary? Would neither? If neither does, then nuclear war will be the result.
The dollar has strengthened against other currencies since mid-2014 as the Fed was tapering QE Infinity out of existence, and as it began flip-flopping about rate increases. Dollar strength should have done two things in terms of international trade: 1) Weaken exports as US goods would become less competitive for buyers using other currencies; 2) Strengthen imports as imported goods would be cheaper compared to US-made goods. The first has happened. But the second has not happened: Imports have been in a down-trend since mid-2015. This is something that should not happen when the dollar is strong, and it has flummoxed the folks at the New York Fed’s Liberty Street Economics: “The growth in US imports of goods has been stubbornly low since the second quarter of 2015, with an average annual growth rate of 0.7%. Growth has been even weaker for non-oil imports, which have increased at an average annual rate of only 0.1%.”
So oil imports cannot be blamed. This is in sharp contrast to the pattern in the five quarters preceding the second quarter of 2015, when real [inflation adjusted] non-oil imports were growing at an annualized rate of 8% per quarter. The timing of the weakness in import growth is particularly puzzling in light of the strong US dollar, which appreciated 12% in 2015, lowering the price of imported goods relative to domestically produced goods. The “recent slump” in imports of non-oil goods becomes clear in this chart that shows imports as a ratio of GDP, adjusted for inflation. The ratio of non-oil imports = red line; the ratio of total goods imports (including oil) = blue line:
[..] Imports of capital goods are “very highly correlated” with investment by businesses in equipment. Alas: “Equipment investment has been unusually weak, with its four-quarter%age change falling into negative territory, which is unusual outside a recession period. These data suggest that the slowdown in import growth likely stems from whatever is behind the weakness in equipment, rather than from trade-specific factors such as trade policies or higher trade costs.” This chart shows the deterioration of imports of capital goods and equipment, adjusted for inflation. Note how the declines in the prior two cycles were followed by recessions:
Consumer debt rose by $19.3 billion in September to $3.71 trillion, another record in a five-year series of records, the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors reported on Monday. Consumer debt is up 6% from a year ago, at a time when wages are barely creeping up and when consumer spending rose only 2.4% over the same period. This follows the elegant principle of borrowing ever more to produce smaller and smaller gains in spending and economic growth. Which is a highly sustainable economic model with enormous future potential, according to the Fed. Consumer debt – the Fed uses “consumer credit,” which is the same thing but sounds a lot less onerous – includes student loans, auto loans, and revolving credit, such as credit cards and lines of credit. But it does not include mortgages. And that borrowing binge looks like this:
Diving into the components, so to speak: outstanding balances of new and used vehicle loans and leases jumped by $22.6 billion from Q2 to $1.098 trillion, another record in an uninterrupted four-year series of records. They’ve soared 38% from Q3 2012, the time when auto loans regained the glory levels from before the Financial Crisis:
Then to the next-generation debt slaves, many of whom might not even know yet what that term means since they haven’t started to make payments on it. Total student loans, owned by the US government and by private-sector lenders, were $1.396 trillion at the end of September. The portion owned by private-sector lenders fell during the third quarter by $4.8 billion to $357.6 billion, as they’re pulling back from this business. But student loans owned by the government jumped by $14.2 billion in September alone, and by $37.5 billion in Q3, to a new record of $1.039 trillion. So here’s what’s coming at these hapless debtors:
China’s exports fell for a seventh month, leaving policy makers reliant on domestic growth engines to hit their economic expansion goals. Overseas shipments dropped 7.3% from a year earlier in October in dollar terms. Imports slipped 1.4%. Trade surplus widened to $49.1 billion. A depreciation of about 9% in the yuan since August 2015 has cushioned the blow from tepid global demand, but failed to give shipments a sustained boost. Rising input costs and surging wages have flattened exporter profit margins to the point where many can no longer discount and may raise prices, according to interviews at the Canton Fair last month. With global demand tepid, policy makers are relying on infrastructure investment and a property led pick up in local demand to reach their expansion goal of at least 6.5% this year.
“External demand remains sluggish across the board,” said Julia Wang, an economist at HSBC in Hong Kong. “On the import side, commodities demand is still holding up well, suggesting that domestic infrastructure investment likely remains strong.” “Trade’s contribution to China’s economy is now diminishing as the economy increasingly depends on domestic demand,” said Zhu Qibing, chief macro economy analyst at BOCI International (China) in Beijing. “With both global and domestic growth unlikely to accelerate much further, the medium-term outlook for Chinese trade remains challenging,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, an economist at Capital Economics in Singapore. “The ongoing cyclical rebound in China’s economy should support imports for another quarter or two but is unlikely to last.” Exports to U.S. slipped 5.6% in October and fell 8.7% to EU. Imports from U.S. fell 6.9%.
China’s policy makers are playing catch-up as investors get more creative in evading capital controls. The authorities are taking a series of steps to plug loopholes, such as a potential plan to curb transactions that use the bitcoin digital currency to take funds out of the country, as well as a statement from UnionPay Co. limiting mainlanders from using its cards to buy insurance in Hong Kong. These add to more traditional measures, including an order seen as asking mainland banks to reduce foreign-exchange sales. These measures, all reported in the past two weeks, follow a period during which Chinese officials and state media stepped up efforts to talk up the yuan even as the currency fell to six-year lows at home and overseas.
While the exchange rate received some relief last week as the dollar dropped on concern over the U.S. presidential election, the onshore yuan is still down about 4.2% for the year in Asia’s worst performance. The nation’s foreign-exchange reserves plunged $45.7 billion in October, the most since January, according to data released Monday. “The People’s Bank of China is doing this now because data show capital outflow pressures remain significant and there are no signs of a reversal,” said Ken Cheung, a currency strategist at Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Hong Kong. “It looks like the government will block outflow channels as and when they find them. This will slow the yuan’s internationalization and discourage foreign investment due to concern money will get locked up once invested.”
The yuan’s accelerated declines – it fell 1.53% last month in the biggest drop since a surprise devaluation in August last year – have worsened outflow pressures. This has prompted investors to find innovative ways to move their wealth overseas by bypassing a range of curbs set in place after the devaluation. A record $44.7 billion left the nation in September in yuan payments rather than in foreign exchange, official data show. Also, regulators have recently noticed that some investors bought bitcoins on local exchanges and sold them offshore, evading rules on foreign exchange and cross-border fund flows, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mainland investors have flocked to Hong Kong to buy insurance policies, which offer a way to skirt money controls. A Bloomberg News report in March this year cited an example from Hong Kong insurance agent Raymond Ng, who said he swiped the credit cards of a mainland Chinese client 800 times for the purchase of HK$28 million ($3.6 million) of insurance policies. Chinese firms have also accelerated overseas acquisitions, with spending on international acquisitions and investments reaching $222.8 billion so far this year, more than double last year’s amount.
The yuan weakened toward its lowest level in six years as the greenback strengthened and the government struggled to plug loopholes in capital controls. The exchange rate fell 0.03% to 6.7788 per dollar at 12:04 p.m. local time, extending a 0.3% slump on Monday that was the biggest in a month. The latest data show China’s foreign-exchange reserves dropped last month by the most since January while exports plunged 7.3%, adding pressure for further currency weakness. The yuan slid for a sixth day against a basket of peers. Officials have stepped up measures to curb outflows as investors seek to hedge against a weakening currency and traders ascribed a higher likelihood that Hillary Clinton will become the next U.S. president, boosting the dollar.
In recent weeks China limited the use of UnionPay’s cards to buy insurance products in Hong Kong, while Bloomberg News reported authorities are planning to curb transactions that use bitcoins to shift funds out of the country. “The larger-than-expected drop in reserves underscores capital outflows in October, and as we know central banks also intervene in the forward markets, the reserves data are hardly likely to give a full picture of fund exits,” said Fiona Lim, a senior currency strategist at Malayan Banking in Singapore. “And there is wide expectation for the yuan to weaken against the dollar beyond the U.S. presidential election result. So all in all, risks to the yuan really are to the downside.”
As anyone who has visited Japan knows, cash is still king. Even though many places now take credit cards, Apple Pay and other forms of cashless technology, the actual amount of notes and coins circulating in the country has doubled in 20 years. And that’s while the economy and population has shrunk. More than 101 trillion yen ($966 billion) of cash was circulating at the end of October. It was used for more than 80% of transactions by value in 2014. One problem with this preference for notes and coins is that it limits the central bank’s policy options. The tendency of Japanese to prefer cash means that any attempt to further lower negative interest rates or to impose them on private bank accounts might push people to take their money from the banking system and add it to their stash under the mattress.
The decision in Europe to stop printing the €500 note prompted concerns that governments were trying to make it harder to hold cash, and thus make it easier to impose deeper negative interest rates. In Sweden, where the vast majority of payments don’t use cash and many bank branches won’t even accept cash deposits and withdrawals, the central bank argued last year that negative rates function better in a cashless society. Rates are minus 0.5% in Sweden, but that isn’t an option in Japan, which “is a cash-based economy,” according to former BOJ board member Sayuri Shirai. The BOJ could maybe cut the negative interest rate to minus 0.2% or minus 0.3% at most, she said earlier this month. It’s currently minus 0.1%.
While the proxy war in the middle-east rages, a curious, and largely under the radar pivot has been taking place in one of the countries directly impacted by Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy: Egypt. In mid-October, we reported that, for the first time ever, Russia and Egypt would conduct joint military drills. This followed news that Russia will sell attack helicopters to the North African nation and invest billions in Egyptian infrastructure. These items, along with the fact that Egypt is eager to be re-granted Russian tourism rights for its citizens after recent bad blood between the countries, lead one to the logical conclusion that Egypt has every incentive to cooperate with Russia going forward.
This means when the Russian fleet reaches the Mediterranean – whether the intent is to park in those waters and bombard Aleppo, as some believe, or merely to project Russian might to the world, as others suggest – it will be flanked by friendlies on three sides. Turkey to the north, Syria to the east, and Egypt to the south. It appears, however, that the quiet Egyptian pivot has not gone unnoticed by the US and its mid-east allies, and on Monday, Saudi Arabia informed Egypt that critical shipments of oil products expected under a $23 billion aid deal have been halted indefinitely, which according to Reuters suggests a deepening rift between the Arab world’s richest country and its most populous.
The official narrative is that while Saudi Arabia has been a major donor to Egypt since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power in a violent countercoup in mid-2013, Riyadh has become frustrated with Sisi’s lack of economic reforms and his reluctance to be drawn into the conflict in Yemen. During a visit by Saudi King Salman in April, Saudi Arabia agreed to provide Egypt with 700,000 tonnes of refined oil products per month for five years but the cargoes stopped arriving in early October as festering political tensions burst into the open. What is curious is that the deal fell apart just weeks after Cairo suddenly became friendly with Moscow.
While Egyptian officials said since that the contract with Saudi Arabia’s state oil firm Aramco remains valid and had appeared to expect that oil would start flowing again soon, on Monday, however, Egyptian Oil Minister Tarek El Molla confirmed it had stopped shipments indefinitely. Aramco has not commented on the halt and did not respond to calls on Monday. “They did not give us a reason,” an oil ministry official told Reuters. “They only informed the authority about halting shipments of petroleum products until further notice.”
Tesco Bank was scrambling to restore services for customers on Monday after it admitted 40,000 customers had been affected by an online heist over the weekend when money was stolen from half the number of accounts targeted. Tesco immediately froze online transactions and pledged to refund the 20,000 customers whose current accounts had been plundered in one of the largest cyber-thefts ever to hit a UK bank. Benny Higgins, chief executive of the supermarket chain’s banking arm, said the decision to suspend some banking activities was an attempt to protect customers from “online criminal activity”. The National Crime Agency (NCA) is one of a number of organisations scrutinising what has taken place at a bank with more than 7 million customers.
“We apologise for the worry and inconvenience that this has caused for customers, and can only stress that we are taking every step to protect our customers’ accounts,” said Higgins. Refunds to customers – some of whom claimed they had lost thousands of pounds – were under way on Monday but Higgins was facing demands from MPs for an explanation of what had gone wrong in the face of repeated warnings about cybersecurity from regulators in recent years. It is thought to be the first time such a large group of UK bank customers have lost money as a result of a single cyber-crime incident and could prove costly for its parent supermarket group in reputational as well as financial terms.
There were also concerns of collateral brand damage for other digital and online banks attempting to compete with established high street players, as Tesco raced to keep pace with the deluge of complaints on social media about difficulty reaching its call centres in Glasgow and Newcastle. Higgins provided little explanation for what had gone wrong over the weekend, when the bank started to text customers to warn them it had detected suspicious activity. However, he told the BBC it was “a systematic, sophisticated attack”.
With the world currently in the process of tearing itself apart piece by piece as the failed Western neoliberal project succumbs to the internal contradictions and terminal imbalances of unfettered globalisation, finance capitalism, and residual and covert imperialism, you’d be forgiven for missing the devastating and cynical betrayal of young Australians that recently happened right under our noses. It escaped the attention of our myopic and clueless presstitute media for nearly four months. But before I discuss that betrayal, which at first glance seems to be just garden variety political neglect and bastardry, let’s first remind ourselves of the report released earlier this year by the University of Melbourne into the state of income and wealth equality, retirement outcomes and home ownership in Australia.
The HILDA (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey) report, which rightly garnered a huge amount of attention in the media and commentariat, laid bare exactly how far down the path of class warfare that Australia has travelled. Almost by stealth over several decades, short-sighted, self-interested and often corrupt decisions have been made in all offices of power in this nation to restructure our entire economy and society toward the extreme and nearly exclusive benefit of landowners, rentiers, and those that seek to extract unearned windfall gains from the fruits of our considerable prosperity. We have created a system wherein the tax burden for land speculators is less than that for workers, innovators and savers. Far less. Indeed, the tax burden on land is often negative.
We actually reward landowners and speculators while punishing workers, innovators and savers. This is a balance that has striking similarities with the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, wherein landowners, monopolists and creditors (the modern equivalent of the medieval ‘Robber Barons’) bled economies dry to such an extreme extent, that capitalism itself was reinvented, giving birth to the Progressive Era, which attempted to save the world from the grip of rentiers. Few today would recall that the origin of the term Progressive, as used in political context, was this tumultuous moment in the history of industrialisation. The leftwing or so-called progressive parties in today’s world have all but abandoned any pretence to protecting society and the economy from contemporary Robber Barons and rent-seekers.
Blame countries, blame the EU, for sure. But with €370 million having gone to (i)NGO’s, you MUST wonder what they have been doing with all that cash. Which is why the Automatic Earth supports O Allos Anthropos, which while it has no access to these funds, is far more effective. Give us just a fraction of that and we’ll be able to solve many of the issues that are still not being tackled.
I’m working on a Christmas fund raiser for Athens, but of course you can donate today as well. Any amount donated via our Paypal widget (top left corner) that end in $0.99 or $0.37 will as always go to Athens’ poor and homeless and refugees.
“Winter is coming” has become an anxious refrain among asylum seekers living in tented refugee camps across Greece, that offer no shelter from damp and cold. Ali, a 25-year-old father of three very young children from Afghanistan, including a 6-year-old who has a disability, was living with his family in a tent pinned to the ground of Elliniko camp in Athens, when I met him in late October. “Now that winter is coming, the conditions are not good… When it rains water gets inside our tent. And every morning, the inside of our tent is wet because of the damp,” he explained. We heard similar testimonies across Greece. Ali’s predicament reflects Europe’s utter failure to respond collectively and compassionately to people seeking protection.
More than 60,000 women, men, and children are stranded in Greece as a result of Western Balkan border closures and a poorly executed EU relocation plan. Thousands are restricted to abysmal and volatile conditions on the islands, while tens of thousands face deplorable conditions without access to services in the camps on the mainland. As part of a winterization plan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and Greek authorities are replacing tents with prefabricated housing units in some of the over 40 camps across Greece. At other sites, winter items are being distributed and in fifteen of them infrastructure improvements are planned, such as installing heating. However, many of the largest and worst camps where thousands of people live, will essentially remain unsuited for winter.
The government says it plans to close most of these facilities by January, but if the asylum seekers are not relocated to other appropriate sites, they will soon find themselves exposed to worsening weather conditions without proper shelter. On the islands, efforts are underway to transfer a small number of people, who are presently living in severely overcrowded and filthy conditions, to the mainland. But Greece is under pressure from the European Commission to contain most asylum seekers on the islands to prevent onward movement to other EU countries.
With winter approaching, there is an urgent need to transfer people to hardier facilities and in the short-term, fully adapt remaining camps for falling temperatures. In the long-term, the Greek authorities should end encampment. With almost €128 million provided by the European Commission to the Greek government and €370 million given to humanitarian aid agencies and international organizations, including the UNHCR, there’s no excuse for the failure to provide humane and dignified reception conditions to asylum seekers.
Japanese exports fell for a 12th consecutive month in September, rounding out a rough year for manufacturers struggling with a stronger yen and soft global demand. Yet the numbers were better than expected, and export volumes rose last month by the most in nearly two years, prompting some upbeat assessments by economists. “Today’s report confirmed that exports are on the rebound,” said Masaki Kuwahara, senior economist at Nomura. “Manufacturing activities are picking up globally, especially in Asian nations. That bodes well for Japanese exports.” Overseas shipments dropped 6.9% in September from a year earlier, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday. Imports fell 16.3% during the same period, resulting in a trade surplus of 498.3 billion yen ($4.8 billion).
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gotten little help from exports recently as he tries to revive Japan’s economy. Net shipments abroad shaved 0.3 percentage point off GDP growth in the second quarter. The yen has gained 16% since the start of the year, and soft global demand has made matters worse. This environment has made companies more reluctant to invest in domestic production, compounding the difficulty of creating economic growth. [..] Exports to the U.S. fell 8.7% from a year earlier. Those to the EU rose 0.7%. Exports to China, Japan’s largest trading partner, dropped 10.6%.
“..trade and investment peaked in 2007-2008. Since then international trade has declined by roughly half a%. Foreign direct investment, or FDI, has fallen by half. That is not half a percent. That is half.”
Global exports as a percentage of global GDP hit an all-time high of 30.8% in 2008. They fell precipitously during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and have since stabilised at just under 30%. These figures cap off a remarkable quarter-century of global export growth that began back in 1973. In that period global GDP roughly doubled, but global export volumes grew by a factor of 5.6 (based on inflation-adjusted data from the World Bank). China played a leading role in that story, but it was the rise in international trade that pulled the Chinese economy along, not the other way around. China rode the coat-tails of a quarter-century of globalisation.
Most people think of globalisation as a process that began in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the foundation of the World Trade Organization in 1995. But the roots of today’s global economy really go back to 1973, when the United States went off the gold standard and most countries moved from fixed to floating exchange rates. Floating exchange rates meant that the era of managed trade was over. The global economy moved into a new phase driven by market forces. The oil exporting countries of the Gulf were the first to benefit as the market price for oil quadrupled between 1973 and 1974. China came to the party just a few years later.
Since then the global economy has become more and more open. After the currency liberalisation of 1973 came a huge increase in international trade and then, in the 1990s, in foreign investment. Both trade and investment peaked in 2007-2008. Since then international trade has declined by roughly half a%. Foreign direct investment, or FDI, has fallen by half. That is not half a percent. That is half. Annual global FDI is down roughly 50% from its 2007 peak of just over $3 trillion. It’s still much larger than it was in the 1990s or earlier decades, but global FDI has stabilised at roughly the levels of the early 2000s. Unlike global FDI, foreign investment into China hasn’t fallen in absolute terms. But it too has stabilised and is no longer rising.
When a Chinese home-appliance company announced a plan in May to become the largest shareholder in one of Germany’s most advanced robot manufacturers, the backlash was immediate. German politicians and European officials denounced Midea’s offer for Frankfurt-listed Kuka, whose robotic arms assemble Airbus jets and Audi sedans. In a rare public appeal for alternative acquirers, Germany’s economy minister argued that Kuka’s automation technology needed to stay out of Chinese hands. And yet in two months, Midea pulled it off. Thanks to a combination of political courtship, guarantees on jobs and security, and support from influential customers like Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, Midea overcame knee-jerk opposition to the deal. By July the appliance maker had secured an 86% stake, valuing Kuka at €4.6 billion.
The experience showed how some Chinese firms are learning to soothe misgivings about the country’s record $207 billion overseas buying spree. While Sinophobia isn’t yet a thing of the past and practices among Chinese buyers vary widely, merger-and-acquisition professionals say a new generation of savvy dealmakers is starting to emerge from the world’s second-largest economy. “Many Chinese companies have become much more adept at navigating international deals in the last few years, and at soothing the concerns stakeholders might have,” said Nicola Mayo, a partner at London law firm Linklaters LLP who specializes in China-Europe transactions. “In many of the larger Chinese companies, you’re dealing with managers who were educated abroad or have worked in international firms. They understand the concerns about China and know they need to move carefully.”
Germany is seeking tighter control over foreign investment in European companies, in a sign of a growing protectionist reaction to China’s appetite for overseas acquisitions. Spurred by the purchase of German robot maker Kuka by China’s Midea, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy, Sigmar Gabriel, is calling for EU measures to give national governments expanded powers to block or impose conditions on shareholdings of non-EU companies. He’s found an ally in EU Digital Economy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, a German who’s a member of Merkel’s party. “It’s absolutely right to initiate this debate at the European level,” Oettinger said in an interview last week. “Everybody has to play by the same rules. Clearly, there are many countries, including big ones such as China, that make market access or corporate takeovers difficult or effectively impossible.”
While Merkel hasn’t publicly backed her vice chancellor’s push, Gabriel’s proposal reflects growing resistance within her government to unfettered Chinese investment in Europe’s biggest economy. In the latest potential Chinese bid, lighting maker Sanan Optoelectronics said it had held talks with Osram Licht on a possible acquisition of the almost century-old German company. The initiative by Gabriel, who also is Germany’s economy minister, calls for allowing EU member states to step in if a non-EU investor seeks to acquire more than 25% of the voting rights in a company [..] Chinese companies have announced or completed acquisitions of German companies worth a record $12.3 billion this year, almost eight times the level of 2015. That includes the purchase of Kuka by Midea, China’s biggest appliance maker, after Gabriel led a failed effort to find an alternative bid by a European suitor.
Hong Kong’s stock market is suffering from a post-holiday hangover. The flood of Chinese money into the city before the mainland’s National Day celebrations in early October has slowed to a trickle since traders returned from the week-long break. Investors in Shanghai spent more than $8 billion on Hong Kong shares in September, the biggest monthly inflow via the exchange link since it began in 2014. Net buying this month through last week was just 7% of that amount, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The narrowing valuation discount on the city’s dual-listed shares and concern about the Federal Reserve’s impending rate increase may have spurred mainland investors to turn off the taps, according to Hong Kong analysts, who also say they’re perplexed at the speed of the shift.
The change is a headwind for equities after the influx of Chinese money helped drive the Hang Seng Index up 12% last quarter for its best such gain in seven years. “It’s a bit of a mystery as to why this is happening,” said Mohammed Apabhai, head of Asia trading strategy at Citigroup. “Nobody has put forward a convincing explanation about exactly why the southbound flow has dried up and whether it’s a temporary phenomenon. That has removed one of the supports from the Hong Kong equity market.” China International Capital cut its rating on Hong Kong-listed mainland banks last week, citing the dwindling inflows. Trades from Shanghai made up as much as 17% of the total turnover in Hong Kong at one point last month, the highest on record. That ratio dropped to less than 7% on Oct. 20.
Given the parlous state of Europe’s economy, it’s hard to imagine that the investments of the region’s banks are among the safest in the world. Yet that is precisely what they would have regulators and investors believe. The banks’ safety has come into the spotlight as European officials – including German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and European Commission financial-services chief Valdis Dombrovskis – battle with global regulators over requirements for capital, the layer of loss-absorbing financing that prevents bad investments from turning into system-wide disasters. The dispute involves risk-weighting, a process in which the largest and most sophisticated banks assess the riskiness of their assets to figure out how much capital they need.
A loan to a struggling company might require a lot, safe government bonds none at all. Less capital means more leverage, which in good times boosts measures of profitability such as return on equity. Hence, banks have an incentive to make their assets look as safe as possible. Europe’s banks have excelled in this minimizing endeavor. On average for eight of the euro area’s most systemically important institutions, risk-weighted assets amounted to just 31% of total unweighted assets at the end of June – as if about seven out of every 10 euros in investments were risk-free. For Germany’s Deutsche Bank, among the world’s most thinly capitalized, the ratio was just 22%. That compares with averages of 35% and 45% for the largest U.K. and U.S. banks, respectively. Here’s how that looks:
To be sure, lower risk weights could mean that Europe’s banks actually do have safer assets. There’s plenty of evidence, though, to suggest this isn’t the case. The IMF estimates that banks in the euro area are sitting on more than $1 trillion in bad loans. Also, markets place a much lower value on each euro of European banks’ book assets than they do on each dollar of U.S. banks’.
This from a government that relies on soaring housing prices to make its economy appear viable. Australia’s problem is not the extravagant tax perks, or ultra low rates, or Chinese monopoly money pouring in. No, all that’s fine, and all that needs to be done is build build build.
Australian states need to remove or simplify residential land planning regulations that have made homes “increasingly unaffordable” in the nation’s biggest cities, Treasurer Scott Morrison said. Insufficient land releases and complex development regulations must be addressed, Morrison said in the text of a speech being given in Sydney Monday. He’ll use a December meeting with his state counterparts to urge a freeing up of housing supply, an issue which will be a key focus of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government, he said. “Of all the determinants of house prices in Australia, whether cyclical or structural, the most important factor behind rising prices has been the long running impediments to the supply side of the market,” Morrison said.
While a three-year surge in Australian home prices paused at the end of last year after banks raised mortgage rates, the market has taken off again as a growing population tries to squeeze into too few properties. Dwelling values in Sydney, which have almost doubled since the end of 2008, are up 14% this year through September, compared with a 9% gain across the nation’s other major cities, according to CoreLogic. The recent rise defies an assessment by real-estate listing firm Domain last year that the boom was over, and is posing a potential headache for new central bank Governor Philip Lowe, who said this month that that fewer properties were changing hands and “some markets have strengthened recently.” Housing in Australia’s three biggest cities – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – “is expensive and increasingly unaffordable,” Morrison said.
Other factors contributing to supply-side constraints are the cost and availability of infrastructure, transaction taxes and negative public attitudes toward urban development, he said. Still, Morrison is again ruling out his government stripping back some of the tax perks for landlords and property investors, known as negative gearing, which the Labor opposition blames for inflating house prices. “The key to addressing housing affordability is not to crash the housing market,” Morrison said. “Rather the objective is to have policies that mitigate the artificial inflation of asset prices, ensure that supply is not restricted from responding to genuine demand and that enable home-buyers, through their own efforts, to make more rapid progress to being able to enter the market.’’
“..the S-curve of “growth” can continue expanding even as the foundation weakens. As the foundations of real growth weaken – productivity, collateral, social mobility, etc. – the system becomes increasingly fragile and brittle.”
We are about to start a painful learning process about what is “impossible” and what is inevitable. Two charts illustrate Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform: this chart of the S-Curve of financialization, leverage, debt, central planning, regulatory capture and globalization – that is, the engines of modern “growth” – depicts the inevitable stagnation and decline of these dynamics as overcapacity, debt saturation and diminishing returns take hold. This chart illustrates the status quo’s insistence on doing more of what has failed spectacularly: since all this worked in the boost phase, the central planning Cargo Cult’s “leadership” is convinced it will all work magically again, if only we do more of it. Alas, this is magical thinking. One might as well paint radio dials on rocks and expect the rock to magically turn into a functioning radio.
The chart of the Seneca Cliff illustrates how the S-curve of “growth” can continue expanding even as the foundation weakens. As the foundations of real growth weaken – productivity, collateral, social mobility, etc. – the system become increasingly fragile and brittle. But this fragility is masked by the appearance of stability until a crisis cracks it wide open. Normalcy crumbles into instability, and people and systems accustomed to stable supply chains and political stability struggle to maintain their grip on income streams and resources as abundance slips into scarcity and dependence on central planning becomes a liability of learned helplessness.
The Seneca Cliff:
There are two sets of solutions as stability and financialized “growth” slide into instability and DeGrowth. 1. Acquire skills that will be increasingly scarce and a network of collaborators, customers and suppliers who value/make use of these skills. 2. Create a new mode of production that doesn’t rely on central banks, states and global finance to function: in effect, a decentralized, localized networked system that exists in parallel with the centralized hierarchies of the current mode of production which is centralized, industrialized, globalized, financialized, neofeudal, neoliberal, neocolonial, and dependent on ever-expanding leverage, debt, central planning, regulatory capture and fossil fuel consumption.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Then there are the allegations about the Clinton Foundation and pay to play, which I asked Secretary Clinton about in the debate, and she turned into an attack on the Trump Foundation. But, Bob, I want to go back to the conversation I was having with Robby Mook before. When – when you see what seems to be clear evidence that Clinton Foundation donors were being treated differently than non-donors in terms of access, when you see this new – new revelations about the $12 million deal between Hillary Clinton, the foundation, and the king of Morocco, are voters right to be troubled by this?
BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: I – yes, it’s a – it’s corrupt. It’s – it’s a scandal. And she didn’t answer your question at all. And she turned to embrace the good work that the Clinton Foundation has done. And she has a case there. But the mixing of speech fees, the Clinton Foundation, and actions by the State Department, which she ran, are all intertwined and it’s corrupt. You know, I mean, you can’t just say it’s unsavory. But there’s no formal investigation going on now, and there are outs that they have. But the election isn’t going to be decided on that. I mean Karl was making the point about this, I’m not going to observe the result of the election. I mean that’s – that’s absurd. I mean it has no consequence. If Trump loses, they’re not going to let him in the White House. He’s not going to have a transition team. And – and to focus on that, I think, is wrong. I think the issue is, what’s going to be the aftermath of this campaign. Can somebody govern…?
I’m proposing a package of ethics reforms to make our government honest once again.
First: I am going to re-institute a 5-year ban on all executive branch officials lobbying the government for 5 years after they leave government service. I am going to ask Congress to pass this ban into law so that it cannot be lifted by executive order.
Second: I am going to ask Congress to institute its own 5-year ban on lobbying by former members of Congress and their staffs.
Third: I am going to expand the definition of lobbyist so we close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisors when we all know they are lobbyists.
Fourth: I am going to issue a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.
Fifth: I am going to ask Congress to pass a campaign finance reform that prevents registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections.
Hours before the scheduled third and final debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas, The New York Times published an article in which it argued that the Republican presidential nominee in effect has no foreign policy beyond using and abusing global issues to elicit gut fears and hostile fantasies of his domestic followers, that foreign policy has in effect become a matter of domestic fear-mongering. The piece could not have been more timely and poignant – but not in the sense that The New York Times intended it further to discredit the liberal bete noire of this election. In a sense far more serious and accurate. For the World at large, Trump is America and America is Trump. What has now become domestic politics to the US has been its foreign policy for a much longer history.
There are decent Americans who insist Trump is “the worst of America”. But for the world at large and at the receiving end of American military might, Trump is the very quintessence of America because Trump is what America does to the world, and now it has come dangerously close to do unto itself what it has habitually done unto others. Liberal America is now scared that Trump will do to America what America has done to the world. It was just “foreign policy” when America set up lunatic puppet dictators just like Trump to torture, maim, and murder their own people around the globe to protect its “national security interest”. It was just something “Daddy” did at work. When he came home he was all good, kind, and cuddly – just like Obama.
Now the Daddy is about to become a nasty, vicious, domestic abuser – like Trump. Trump is the poetic justice of the world. So long as America was only doing to the world at large what America now fears Trump may do to America, there was no outcry. There was consensus. The world deserved what America did to the world. Now liberal America is up in arms to disown, to exorcise, to dispel this demonic spirit from itself and put it back in a bottle and hand it over to Hillary Clinton so she can continue the habitual exercise of doing it to the world and be a nice, lovely-looking grandma at home, as Ronald Reagan was its grandpa before her.
Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
The Yemen war uniquely combines tragedy, hypocrisy and farce. First come the casualties: around 10,000, almost 4,000 of them civilians. Then come those anonymous British and American advisers who seem quite content to go on “helping” the Saudi onslaughts on funerals, markets and other obviously (to the Brits, I suppose) military targets. Then come the Saudi costs: more than $250m (£200m) a month, according to Standard Chartered Bank – and this for a country that cannot pay its debts to construction companies. But now comes the dark comedy bit: the Saudis have included in their bombing targets cows, farms and sorghum – which can be used for bread or animal fodder – as well as numerous agricultural facilities.
In fact, there is substantial evidence emerging that the Saudis and their “coalition” allies – and, I suppose, those horrid British “advisers” – are deliberately targeting Yemen’s tiny agricultural sector in a campaign which, if successful, would lead a post-war Yemeni nation not just into starvation but total reliance on food imports for survival. Much of this would no doubt come from the Gulf states which are currently bombing the poor country to bits. The fact that Yemen has long been part of Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Shiites and especially Iran – which has been accused, without evidence, of furnishing weapons to the Shia Houthi in Yemen – is now meekly accepted as part of the Middle East’s current sectarian “narrative” (like the “good” rebels in eastern Aleppo and the “very bad” rebels in Mosul). So, alas, have the outrageous bombings of civilians. But agricultural targets are something altogether different.
A NATO Schengen zone means foreign soldiers can move into any country the command wishes. If that’s not a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is. Imagine deplying Turkish troops in Greece, or Polish in Britain, French in Germany.
NATO uses any pretext to accuse Russia of harboring aggressive intentions. It has raised ballyhoo over the recent deployment of Iskander short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missiles to the Kaliningrad region. Time and time again, the alliance reaffirms its bogus Russia narrative. “We see more assertive and stronger Russia that is willing to use force,” concluded NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg speaking at the round table in Passau, Bavaria on October 10. At the same time, NATO is pushing ahead with its military “Schengen zone” in Europe. “We are working to ensure that each individual soldier will not require a decision at the political level to cross the border,” said Estonian Defense Minister Hannes Hanso.
The idea is to do away with travel restrictions on the movement of NATO forces troops and equipment across Europe. There will be no need to ask for permissions to move forces across national borders. It will undermine the sovereignty of member states but facilitate the cross-continent operations instead. The Baltic States and Poland are especially active in promoting the plan. The restrictions in place hinder rapid movement of the 5,000 strong “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force”. Besides being the first response tool, it could be used for preventing Article 4 situations, such as subterfuge, civil unrest or border infractions, from escalating into armed conflict. The troops can move freely in time of war, but introducing a NATO Schengen zone is needed for concentrating forces in forward areas in preparation for an attack across the Russian border.
The formation of the much larger 40 thousand strong NATO Response Force (NRF) is on the way. Meanwhile, the US and Norwegian militaries are discussing the possibility of deploying US troops in Norway – a country which has a 200 km long common border with Russia. The deployment of US servicemen would be part of a rotating arrangement in the country that would fulfil a “long-standing US wish.” Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen reported on October 10 that 300 combat US Marines could soon be in place at the Værnes military base near Trondheim, about 1,000 kilometres from the Russian-Norwegian frontier. The air station also serves as part of Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway, a program that allows the Corps to store thousands of vehicles and other major pieces of equipment in temperature-controlled caves ready for combat contingency.
Several defence sources told the newspaper that the plans to put US troops at the military base have been underway for some time. According to Military.com, the information that the plans are underway was also confirmed by American Maj. Gen. Niel E. Nelson, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa. 300 Marines can be easily reinforced. The only purpose for the deployment is preparation for an attack against Russia. After all, the Marines Corps is the first strike force. And it’s not Russian Marines being deployed near US national borders, but US Marines deployed in the proximity of Russian borders. The provocative move is taking place at the time the Russia-NATO relationship is at the lowest ebb.
Lifelong anti-corruption campaigner Eva Joly has launched a bid to boot out the controversial EU president in yet another blow to his crumbling authority. The French magistrate and politician, who was born in Norway, blasted the eurocrat’s past as president of Luxembourg and vowed to lead an MEPs’ rebellion to “make him fall”. Ms Joly has accused Brussels’ top unelected official of favouring certain multinational corporations for “sweetheart” tax deals when he was head of the tiny European state. Mr Juncker has denied being corrupt, claiming that any decisions related to the tax arrangements of large companies during his time in office were “strictly a matter for the tax administration”. But the damaging row has seriously dented his already battered reputation and has added to the growing calls from across the continent for him to quit.
And Ms Joly, from the Green party, said the escalating scandal could finally finish off the “considerably weakened” Teflon bureaucrat. She said: “Everyone knows that this system was built while he was prime minister. It is a scandal that he leads the Commission. We, the Greens, we do not want it. “At the first opportunity, I will bring a motion [before the the European Parliament] to make him fall.” Such a vote would severely test MEPs’ loyalty towards the Brussels chief at a time when he has become the face and symbol of all Europe’s ills. Mr Juncker is seen as the centrepiece of a federalist European dream which has driven Britain to the exit door and angered many eastern European states, who are already calling for him to quit. He has also apparently lost the support of German leader Angela Merkel over Brussels’ farcical handling of the migrant crisis, making his position at the heart of the Brussels machine ever more tenuous.
On Tuesday, the government of Ecuador issued a statement saying that it had decided to not permit Mr. Assange to use the government of Ecuador’s internet connection during the US election citing its policy of “non interference.” Ecuador’s statement also clarified that it does not seek to interfere with WikiLeaks journalistic work and that it would continue to protect Mr. Assange’s asylum rights. Mr. Assange has asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where the United Nations has ruled he has been unlawfully deprived of liberty by the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Sweden for the last six years. He has not been charged. It is the government of Ecuador’s prerogative to decide how to best guard against the misinterpretation of its policies by media groups or states whilst ensuring that it protects Mr. Assange’s human rights.
WikiLeaks is a global, high volume publisher that publishes on average one million documents and associated analyses a year. WikiLeaks publishes its journalistic work from large data centers based in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, among others. Most WikiLeaks staff and lawyers reside in the EU or the US and have not been disrupted. WikiLeaks has never published from jurisdiction of Ecuador and has no plans to do so. Similarly Mr. Assange does not transmit US election related documents from the embassy. WikiLeaks is entirely funded by its readers, book and film sales. Its publications are the result of its significant investigative and technological capacities. WikiLeaks has a perfect, decade long record for publishing only true documents. It has many thousands of sources but does not engage in collaborations with states. Mr. Assange has not endorsed any candidate although he was happy to speak at the Green’s convention due to Dr. Jill Stein’s position [on] whistleblowers, peace and war.
Large parts of the eurozone are slipping deeper into a deflationary trap despite negative interest rates and €1 trillion of quantitative easing by the ECB, leaving the currency bloc with no safety buffer when the next global recession hits. The ECB is close to exhausting its ammunition and appears increasingly powerless to do more under the legal constraints of its mandate. It has downgraded its growth forecast for the next two years, citing the uncertainties of Brexit, and admitted that it has little chance of meeting its 2pc inflation target this decade, insisting that it is now up to governments to break out of the vicious circle. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said there are limits to monetary policy and called on the rest of the eurozone to act “much more decisively” to lift growth, with targeted spending on infrastructure.
“It is abundantly clear that Draghi is played out and we’re in the terminal phase of QE. The eurozone needs a quantum leap in the nature of policy and it has to come from fiscal policy,” said sovereign bond strategist Nicholas Spiro. Mr Draghi dashed hopes for an expansion of the ECB’s monthly €80bn programme of bond purchases, and offered no guidance on whether the scheme would be extended after it expires in March 2017. There was not a discussion on the subject. “The bar to further ECB action is higher than widely assumed,” said Ben May from Oxford Economics. The March deadline threatens to become a neuralgic issue for markets given the experience of the US Federal Reserve, which suggests that an abrupt stop in QE stimulus amounts to monetary tightening and can be highly disruptive.
The ECB has pulled out all the stops to reflate the economy yet core inflation has been stuck at or below 1pc for three years. Officials are even more worried about the underlying trends. Data collected by Marchel Alexandrovich at Jefferies shows that the percentage of goods and services in the inflation basket currently rising at less than 1pc has crept up to 58pc. This is a classic precursor to deflation and suggests that the eurozone is acutely vulnerable to any external shock. The figure has spiked to 67pc in Italy, and is now significantly higher that it was when the ECB launched QE last year. The eurozone should have reached economic “escape velocity” by now after a potent brew of stimulus starting last year: cheap energy, a cheaper euro, €80bn a month of QE, and the end of fiscal austerity. [..] “The euro is far stronger than they want, and stronger than the economy deserves, but they don’t know how to weaken it. This is exactly what happened to the Japanese,” said Hans Redeker, currency chief at Morgan Stanley.
The ECB left its €1.7 trillion stimulus unchanged at a policy meeting Thursday, brushing off concerns over economic shock waves from Britain’s vote to leave the EU and disappointing investors expecting the ECB to act again soon. The decision to stand pat, even as new forecasts showed the ECB missing its inflation target for years, underlines how central banks are approaching the limits of what they can achieve without support from other policy areas, notably governments. In China earlier this month, Group of 20 leaders warned that monetary policy alone can’t fix the world’s economic ills, and pledged to boost spending and adopt overhauls aimed at boosting growth.
At a news conference here, ECB President Mario Draghi said he was concerned about persistently low eurozone inflation, which has fallen short of the ECB’s near-2% target for more than three years. Fresh ECB staff forecasts, published Thursday, showed inflation rising very gradually, to 1.2% next year and 1.6% in 2018. Despite that, Mr. Draghi said policy makers didn’t even discuss fresh stimulus, and praised the effectiveness of the bank’s existing policy measures, which include negative interest rates and €80 billion a month of bond purchases. He also aimed an unusually direct rebuke at Germany, criticizing Berlin for not boosting spending to support the economy. “Countries that have fiscal space should use it,” Mr. Draghi said. “Germany has fiscal space.”
German imports and exports unexpectedly shrunk in July, with a sharp export contraction causing a surprise narrowing in Germany’s trade balance. Federal Statistical Office data showed seasonally adjusted exports fell by 2.6% – analysts had expected about 0.3% growth – whereas imports fell by 0.7%, as against expectations for a 0.8% rise. On the year exports slumped by 10% and imports shriveled by 6.5%. The foreign trade balance shrunk to €19.4 billion from €21.4 billion in June, as against expectations for a balance of €22 billion. The Federal Statistical Office said the pace of German exports to other EU countries fell by 7% in July, while imports from the region fell by 4.5%. The falls were slightly narrower for trade with other eurozone countries.
German trade outside the 28-nation EU fared worse, with exports plunging by 13.8% and imports by 10.1%. Faltering German exports amid lackluster worldwide growth and emerging-market volatility has long been a drag on German growth. But the sharper-than-expected export fall challenges expectations of a second-half pickup in German trade with the rest of the world, and the surprise – albeit small -import decline suggests domestic demand isn’t robust enough to step into the breach. The trade data come in a week that the statistics office reported weaker-than-expected industrial output and manufacturing production for July. But the euro held firm against the dollar after the figures and was recently up 0.11% at $1.1272.
For a long time when it came to Chinese loan creation, analysts would only look at the broadest reported aggregate: the so-called Total Social Financing. And, for a long time, it was sufficient – TSF showed that in under a decade, China had created over $20 trillion in new loans, vastly more than all the “developed market” QE, the proceeds of which were used to kickstart growth after the 2009 global depression, to fund the biggest capital misallocation bubble the world has ever seen and create trillions in nonperforming loans. However, a problem emerged about a year ago, when it was revealed that not even China’s TSF statistic was sufficient to fully capture the grand total of total new loan creation in China.
[..] according to Goldman, “a substantial amount of money was created last year, evidencing a very large supply of credit, to the tune of RMB 25tn (36% of 2015 GDP).” This massive number was 9% higher than the TSF data, which implied that “only” a quarter of China’s 2015 GDP was the result of new loans. As Goldman further noted, the “divergence from TSF has been particularly notable since Q2 last year after a major dovish shift in policy stance.” In short, in addition to everything else, China has also been fabricating its loan creation data, and the broadest official monetary aggregate was undercutting the true new loan creation by approximately a third. The reason for this is simple: China does not want the world – or its own population – to realize just how reliant it is on creating loans out of thin air (and “collateralized” by increasingly more worthless assets), as it would lead to an even faster capital outflow by the local population sensing just how unstable the local banking system is.
Here is the good news: compared to late 2015, the record credit creation has slowed down fractionally, and the gap with the TSF total has shrunk. The smaller gap seems to be in line with recent reports that listed banks’ “investment receivables” expanded less rapidly in 2016 H1, and it might partly reflect the regulators’ tougher stance against shadow lending in recent months. And now, the bad news: this “tougher stance” has not been nearly tough enough, because as the following chart shows on a 1-year moving average, nearly 40% of China’s “economic growth” is the result of new credit creation, or in other words, new loans. What this really means, is that China’s debt/GDP, estimated most recently by the IIF at 300%…
… is now growing between 30% and 40% per year, when one accounts for the unaccounted for “shadow” credit conduits. Here is how Goldman concludes this stunning observation: “The PBOC appears to have shifted to a less dovish, though still supportive, policy bias in the last few months. However, given the prospective headwinds from slower housing construction and tighter on-budget fiscal stance in the coming months, there remains a clear need to sustain a high level of infrastructure investment, which is credit intensive, to achieve the minimum 6.5% full-year growth target. This poses constraints on how much further the PBOC can keep reining in credit, in our view.”
Translating Goldman, some time around 2019, China’s total Debt/GDP will be over 400%, an absolutely ridiculous number, and one which assures a banking, if not global, financial crisis.
For six years, the General Motors factory that used to make Chevy Trailblazers in Moraine, Ohio, sat abandoned, a rusting monument to the decline of the American auto industry. These days, the plant is humming again, fueled by a resurgent U.S. consumer – but now under Chinese management. On the shop floor, Chinese supervisors in sky-blue uniforms that carry the logo of the new owners, Fuyao Glass, teach American employees how to assemble windshields. Drive along Interstate 75, through America’s industrial heartland, and you’ll find no shortage of Chinese-owned firms like Fuyao. They’re setting up shop in states such as Ohio and Michigan, key voter battlegrounds in November, where traditional manufacturing has been hollowed out – in many cases, by trade. With China.
[..] Fuyao acquired roughly half the old GM plant in 2014, spending $450 million to buy and remodel it. For a company that started out as a small producer of covers for water-meters and is now the world’s second-biggest auto-glass supplier, the acquisition capped a decade-long push into U.S. markets. For the Dayton area, it meant employment: the city, hometown of the Wright brothers, was hit hard by the shutdown of the GM plant two days before Christmas in 2008. [..] “Hey, 1,700 jobs is 1,700 jobs,” said Shawn Kane, a 28-year-old chef shopping at the Kroger grocery store in Moraine last month. “At least it’s not sitting empty anymore.” They’re jobs that tend not to pay as well as factory work once did, though – and there probably aren’t as many of them.
To keep its production in the U.S. viable, Fuyao uses more automation than it does in China, said John Gauthier, president of Fuyao Glass America. “Our customers, all they care about is that their cost doesn’t increase,” he said. A line worker at Fuyao starts at $12 per hour, equivalent to an annual salary of about $25,000. GM workers at the old Moraine plant could make at least twice that, topped off by perks like defined-benefit pensions, according to union officials and former employees. “When you don’t have enough protections for American workers, and when you’ve got a globalized economy, this is what happens,” said Chris Baker, a 40-year-old sales rep based near Moraine. “This is the new normal. It’s very sad.”
Japan’s central bank is facing a new problem: It could be running out of government bonds to buy. The Bank of Japan is snapping up the equivalent of more than $750 billion worth of government debt a year in an effort to spur inflation and growth. At that rate, analysts say, banks could run out of government debt to sell within the next 18 months. The looming scarcity is a powerful sign of the limits central banks face as they turn to ever-more aggressive means of stimulating their economies. The problem is mirrored in Europe, where self-imposed rules limit how many eurozone government bonds the ECB can buy from individual governments. Facing a diminishing supply of sovereign bonds, the ECB started buying corporate debt in June.
Some economists have even called for the ECB to start buying stocks. The central bank left its bond-buying program and interest-rate policy unchanged at its meeting Thursday. The Japanese central bank has fewer options if the country’s banks, which have to hold a certain amount of safe debt to use as collateral in everyday transactions, ever become unwilling to sell more of their holdings. Its most obvious alternatives—pushing rates deeper into negative territory or buying other types of assets—have practical limitations. Meanwhile, the BOJ’s economic goals remain out of reach: Inflation is stubbornly low, and the yen has strengthened about 18% this year.
Housing booms in New Zealand and Australia could be putting the neighbors’ currencies on course to reach parity for the first time ever. Both nations have seen house prices surge in recent years, but the underlying causes are fundamentally different, according to Deutsche Bank analysis. Australia’s boom is largely home-grown, whereas New Zealand’s is being fueled by record immigration. That’s affecting the countries’ current accounts differently. While Aussies are feeling richer due to house-price gains, prompting them to spend more on imports and boosting their current account deficit, New Zealand is sucking more offshore capital into its housing market, narrowing its current account gap. Currencies are sensitive to trends in the current account – a country’s balance with the rest of the world – because they are a gauge of risk for investors.
“The nature of the real estate boom in Australia should have bearish currency implications because it leads to deterioration in the basic balance,” Robin Winkler, a London-based strategist for Deutsche Bank, said in a research note. “This is not the case in New Zealand and adds to our conviction that AUD/NZD should drop to parity.” The two currencies have never converged in the free-floating era that began in the 1980s. They came close in April last year, when the kiwi briefly reached 99.79 Australian cents or, to express it the other way, the Aussie dollar fell below NZ$1.01. The New Zealand dollar was worth 96.8 Australian cents at 12:35p.m. in Wellington Friday.
For all the predictions about the death of coal, it’s now one of the hottest commodities in the world. The resurrection may have further to run. A surge in Chinese imports to compensate for lower domestic production has seen European prices jump to near an 18-month high, while Australia’s benchmark is set for the first annual gain since 2010. At the start of the year, prices languished near decade lows because of waning demand from utilities seeking to curb pollution and amid the International Energy Agency’s declaration that the fuel’s golden age in China was over. Now, traders are weighing the chances of extreme weather hitting major producers and China further boosting imports as factors that could push prices even higher.
“It’s a commodity that’s been on a slippery slide for the past four years and it’s making a remarkable recovery,” said Erik Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities in Oslo, who’s tracked the market for almost a decade. “There’s a strong pulse.” What could light up the market further is the occurrence of a La Nina weather pattern later this year. Last time it happened in 2010 and 2011, heavy rains flooded mines in Australia and Indonesia, the world’s two largest exporters. While some meteorologists have toned down their predictions for the weather phenomenon forming, “another strong forecast” would cause prices to rise further, according to Fitch’s BMI Research.
About two weeks after Denmark revealed it had lost as much as $4 billion in taxes through a combination of fraud and mismanagement, the minister in charge of revenue collection says that figure may need to be revised even higher. Speaking to parliament on Thursday, Tax Minister Karsten Lauritzen said he “can’t rule out” that losses might be bigger than the most recent public estimates indicate. It would mark the latest in a string of revisions over the past year, in which Danes learned that losses initially thought to be less than $1 billion somehow ended up being about four times as big. The embarrassment caused by the tax fraud, which spans about a decade of successive administrations, has prompted Lauritzen to consider debt collection methods not usually associated with Scandinavian governments.
Denmark has long had one of the world’s highest tax burdens – government revenue as a percentage of GDP – and a well-functioning tax model is essential to maintaining its fabled welfare system. “We’re entertaining new ideas, considering more new measures,” Lauritzen told Bloomberg. Danish officials are now prepared to pay anonymous sources for evidence from the same database that generated the Panama Papers. Jim Soerensen, a director at Denmark’s Tax Authority, says the first batch of clues obtained using this method is expected by the end of the month.
Project Fear began two years ago in the run up to Scotland’s national referendum. It then spread to the rest of the UK in the lead up to this summer’s Brexit referendum. But it keeps on moving. Its latest destination is Italy, where the campaign to instill fear and trepidation in the hearts and souls of Italy’s voters was just inaugurated by the world’s most influential investment bank, Goldman Sachs. It just released a 14-page report warning about the potentially dire consequences of a “no” vote in Italy’s upcoming referendum on the government’s proposed constitutional reforms. The reforms seek, among other things, to streamline Italy’s government process by dramatically restricting the powers of the senate, a major source of political gridlock, while also handing more power to the executive.
The polls in Italy are currently neck and neck, though the momentum belongs to the reform bill’s opponents. If the Italian public vote against the bill, the response of the markets could be extremely negative, warns Goldman, putting in jeopardy the latest attempt to rescue Italy’s third largest and most insolvent bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena. The rescue is being led by JP Morgan Chase and Italian lender Mediobanca, and includes the participation of a select group of global megabanks that are desperate to prevent contagion spreading from Italy’s banking system to other European markets, and beyond. In the event of a “no” vote, MPS’ planned €5 billion capital increase would have to be put on ice, while investors wait for the political uncertainty to clear before pledging further funds.
This being Italy, the wait could be interminable and the delay fatal for Monte dei Paschi and other Italian banks, Goldman warns. It also points out that Italy is the only European country where a substantial portion of its bank bonds are held in household portfolios (about 40% according to data from Moody’s, four times more than Germany and eight times more than France and Spain). In other words, things could get very ugly, very fast, if those bank bonds collapse! As for Italian government bonds and Europe’s broader debt markets, they would be insulated from any fallout by former Goldmanite Mario Draghi’s bond binge buying.
Humans have destroyed a tenth of Earth’s remaining wilderness in the last 25 years and there may be none left within a century if trends continue, according to an authoritative new study. Researchers found a vast area the size of two Alaskas – 3.3m square kilometres – had been tarnished by human activities between 1993 and today, which experts said was a “shockingly bad” and “profoundly large number”. The Amazon accounted for nearly a third of the “catastrophic” loss, showing huge tracts of pristine rainforest are still being disrupted despite the Brazilian government slowing deforestation rates in recent years. A further 14% disappeared in central Africa, home to thousands of species including forest elephants and chimpanzees.
The loss of the world’s last untouched refuges would not just be disastrous for endangered species but for climate change efforts, the authors said, because some of the forests store enormous amounts of carbon. “Without any policies to protect these areas, they are falling victim to widespread development. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around,” said lead author Dr James Watson, of the University of Queensland and Wildlife Conservation Society. The analysis defined wilderness as places that are “ecologically largely intact” and “mostly free of human disturbance”, though some have indigenous people living within them. The team counted areas as no longer wilderness if they scored on eight measures of humanity’s footprint, including roads, lights at night and agriculture.
Dorothea Lange Youngest little girl of motherless family 1939
We can, every single one of us, agree that we’re either in or just past a -financial- crisis. But that seems to be all we can agree on. Because some call it the GFC, others a recession, and still others a depression. And some insist on seeing it as ‘in the past’, and solved, while others see it as a continuing issue.
I personally have the idea that if you think central banks -and perhaps governments- have the ability and the tools to prevent or cure financial crises, you’re in the more optimistic camp. And if you don’t, you’re a pessimist. A third option might be to think that no matter what central bankers do, things will solve themselves, but I don’t see much of that being floated. Not anymore.
What I do see are countless numbers of bankers and economists and pundits and reporters holding up high the concept of globalization (a.k.a. free trade, Open Society) as the savior of mankind and its economy.
And I’m thinking that no matter how great you think the entire centralization issue is, be it global or on a more moderate scale, it’s a lost case. Because centralization dies the moment it can no longer show obvious benefits for people and societies ‘being centralized’. Unless you’re talking a dictatorship.
This is because when you centralize, when you make people, communities, societies, countries, subject to -the authority of- larger entities, they will want something in return for what they give up. They will only accept that some ‘higher power’ located further away from where they live takes decisions on their behalf, if they benefit from these decisions.
And that in turn is only possible when there is growth, i.e. when the entire system is expanding. Obviously, it’s possible also to achieve this only in selected parts of the system, as long as if you’re willing to squeeze other parts. That’s what we see in Europe today, where Germany and Holland live the high life while Greece and Italy get poorer by the day. But that can’t and won’t last. Of necessity. It’s an inbuilt feature.
Schäuble and Dijsselbloem squeezed Greece so hard they could only convince it to stay inside the EU by threatening to strangle it to -near- death. Problem is, they then actually did that. Bad mistake, and the end of the EU down the road. Because the EU has nothing left of the advantages of the centralized power; it no longer has any benefits on offer for the periphery.
Instead, the ‘Union’ needs to squeeze the periphery to hold the center together. Otherwise, the center cannot hold. And that is something those of us with even just a remote sense of history recognize all too well. It reminds us of the latter days of the Roman Empire. And Rome is merely the most obvious example. What we see play out is a regurgitation of something the world has seen countless times before. The Maximum Power Principle in all its shining luster. And the endgame is the Barbarians will come rushing in…
Still, while I have my own interests in Greece, which seems to be turning into my third home country, it would be a mistake to focus on its case alone. Greece is just a symptom. Greece is merely an early sign that globalization as a model is going going gone.
Obviously, centralists/globalists, especially in Europe, try to tell us the country is an exception, and Greeks were terribly irresponsible and all that, but that will no longer fly. Not when, just to name a very real possibility, either some of Italy’s banks go belly up or the upcoming Italian constitutional referendum goes against the EU-friendly government. And while the Beautiful Brexit, at the very opposite point of the old continent, is a big flashing loud siren red buoy that makes that exact point, it’s merely the first such buoy.
But Europe is not the world. Greece and Britain and Italy may be sure signs that the EU is falling apart, but they’re not the entire globe. At the same time, the Union is a pivotal part of that globe, certainly when it comes to trade. And it’s based very much on the idea(l) of centralization of power, economics, finance, even culture. Unfortunately (?!), the entire notion depends on continuing economic growth, and growth has left the building.
Centralization/Globalization is the only ideology/religion that we have left, but it has one inbuilt weakness that dooms it as a system if not as an ideology. That is, it cannot exist without forever expanding, it needs perpetual growth or it must die. But if/when you want to, whether you’re an economist or a policy maker, develop policies for the future, you have to at least consider the possibility, and discuss it too, that there is no way back to ‘healthy’ growth. Or else we can just hire a parrot to take your place.
So here’s a few graphs that show us where global trade, the central and pivotal point of globalization, is going. Note that globalization can only continue to exist while trade, profits, benefits, keep growing. Once they no longer do, it will go into reverse (again, bar a dictator):
Here’s Japan’s exports and imports. Note the past 20 months:
Japan’s imports have been down, in the double digits, for close to 3 years?!
Next: China’s exports and imports. Not the exact same thing, but an obvious pattern.
If only imports OR exports were going down for specific countries, that’d be one thing. But for both China and Japan, in the graphs above, both are plunging. Let’s turn to the US:
Pattern: US imports from China have been falling over the past year (or even more over 5 years, take your pick), and not a little bit.
And imports from the EU show the same pattern in an almost eerily similar way.
Question then is: what about US exports, do they follow the same fold that Japan and China do? Yup! They do.
And that’s not all either. This one’s from the NY Times a few days ago:
And this one from last year, forgot where I got it from:
Now, you may want to argue that all this is temporary, that some kind of cycle is just around the corner and will revive the economy, and globalization. By now I’d be curious to see how anyone would want to make that case, but given the religious character of the centralization idea, there’s no doubt many would want to give it a go.
Most of the trends in the graphs above have been declining for 5 years or so. While at the same time the central banks in these countries have been accelerating their stimulus policies in ways no-one could even imagine they would -or could- just 10 years ago.
All of the untold trillions in stimulus haven’t been able to lift the real economy one bit. They instead caused a rise in asset prices, stocks, housing, that is actually hurting that real economy. While NIRP and ZIRP are murdering 95% of the people’s hope to retire when they thought they could, or ever, for that matter.
No, it’s a done deal. Globalization is pining for the fjords. But because it’s become such a religion, and because its high priests have so much invested in it, it’ll be hard to kill it off even just as an -abstract- idea. I’d say wherever you live and whenever your next election is, don’t vote for anyone who promotes any centralization ideas. Or growth. Because those ideas are all in some state of decomposing, and hence whoever promotes them is a zombie.
Lastly, The Economist had a piece on July 30 cheerleading for both Hillary Clinton and ‘Open Society’, a term which somehow -presumably because it sounds real jolly- has become synonymous with globalization. As if your society will be hermetically sealed off if you want to step on the brakes even just a little when it comes to ever more centralization and globalization.
The boys at Saxo Bank, Mike McKenna and Steen Jakobsen, commented on the Economist piece, and they have some good points:
[..] The biggest problem facing globalism, however, is neither its hypocrisy nor its will-to-power – these are ordinary human failings common to all ideologies. Its biggest problem is much simpler: it’s very expensive. The world has seen versions of the wealthy, cosmopolitan ideal before. In both Imperial Rome and Achaemenid Persia, for example, societies characterised by extensive trade networks, multicultural metropoli and the rule of law (relative to the times) eventually succumbed to rampant inequality, inter-community strife, and expensive foreign wars in the case of Rome and a death-spiral of economic stagnation and constant tax hikes in the case of Persia.
That’s the center vs periphery issue all empires run into. US, EU, and all the supra-national organizations, IMF, World Bank, NATO, (EU itself), etc, they’ve established. None of that will remain once the benefits for the periphery stop. McKenna is on to this:
It seems near-axiomatic that, in the absence of the sort of strong GDP growth that characterised the post-World War Two era, the pluralist ideal might begin to show strains along the seams of its own construction. Such strains can be inter-ethnic, ideological, religious, or whatever else, but the legitimacy of The Economists’s favoured worldview largely came about due to the wealth and living standards it was seen to provide in the post-WW2 and Cold War era. Now that this is beginning to falter, so too are the politicians and institutions that have long championed it. In Jakobsen’s view, the rising tide of populist nationalism is in no way the solution, but it is a sign that globalisation’s elites have grown distant from the population as a whole.
I’d venture that the elites were always distant from the people, but as long as the people saw their wealth grow they either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
“The world has become elitist in every way,” says Saxo Bank’s chief economist. “We as a society have to recognise that productivity comes from raising the average education level… the key thing here is that we need to be more productive. If everyone has a job, there is no need to renegotiate the social contract.” Put another way, would the political careers of Trump, Le Pen, Viktor Orban, and other such nationalist leaders be where they are if the post-crisis environment had been one of healthy wage growth, inflation, an increase in “breadwinner” jobs, and GDP expansion?
Here I have to part ways with Steen (and Mike). Why do ‘we’ need to be more productive? Why do we need to produce more? Who says we don’t produce enough? When we look around us, what is it that tells us we should make more, and buy more, and want more? Is there really such a thing as “healthy wage growth”? And what says that we need “GDP expansion”?
Most people do not spend a great deal of time imagining ideal economic and political systems. Most just want to live satisfying lives among their friends and family, and to feel as if their leaders are doing all they can to enable such a situation. What matters are the data, and if these are not made to become more encouraging, calls for this particular empire’s downfall will come with the same fervour and the same increasing frequency that they have throughout history.
The problem is not that people are choosing the wrong system, it is that they are unhappy enough to want to change course at all. Unless the developed world can find a way to reform itself out of its present malaise, no amount of media-class vituperation over xenophobia, insularity or “the uneducated” will be sufficient to turn the tide.
McKenna answers my question, unwillingly or not. Because, no, ‘Most just want to live satisfying lives among their friends and family..’ is not the same as “they want GDP expansion”, no matter how you phrase it. That’s just an idea. For all we know, the truth may be the exact opposite. The neverending quest for GDP expansion may be the very thing that prevents people from living “satisfying lives among their friends and family”.
How many people see the satisfaction in their lives destroyed by the very rat race they’re in? Moreover, how many see their satisfaction destroyed by being on the losing end of that quest? And how many simply by the demands it puts on them?
The connection between “satisfying lives” and “GDP expansion” is one made by economists, bankers, politicians and other voices driven by ideologies such as globalization. Whether your life is satisfying or not is not somehow one-on-one dependent on GDP expansion. That idea is not only ideological, it’s as stupid as it is dangerous.
And it’s silly too. Most westerners don’t need more stuff. They need more “satisfying lives among their friends and family”. But they’re stuck on a treadmill. If you want to give your kids decent health care and education anno 2016, you better keep running to stand still.
Mike McKenna and Steen Jakobsen seem to understand exactly what the problem is. But they don’t have the answer. Steen thinks it is about ‘more productivity’.
And I think that may well be the problem, not the solution. I also think it’s no use wanting more productivity, because the economic model we’re chasing is dead and gone. A zombie pushing up the daisies.
But since it’s the only one we have, and even smart people like the Saxo Bank guys can’t see beyond it, it seems obvious that getting rid of the zombie idea may take a lot of sweat and tears and, especially, blood.
I’m not here to argue whether the July report was lousy or not. The US economy may well be spawning big numbers of crappy low paying jobs. Withholding tax collections were huge in the last 4 weeks of July. We know that that didn’t come from big wage gains by existing workers. They’re running at about a 2.5% annual growth rate. So when tax collections increase by a significant margin over a similar period a year ago, it suggests that there were new jobs, maybe a lot of them. I’m also not here to argue that the headline number bears any semblance of reality. The headline number is the seasonally adjusted month to month gain in the estimated number of jobs. The whole process of seasonal adjustment is a bogus attempt to smooth a jagged trend with peaks and valleys into a continuous modified moving average.
The number is a fiction. Because it’s based on a moving average it has a built in lag, for which statisticians try to compensate with a bunch of statistical hocus pocus. That includes constantly revising the number based first on subsequent surveys, and then on benchmarking the data with actual tax collections in the 5 subsequent years. Not only is the number revised twice after the first month it’s issued, but it’s then fit to the curve of actuality for the next 5 years until the reading is finalized. July’s reading won’t be final until July 2021. The process is really “seasonal finagling.” It’s abstract impressionism. It’s a joke. What I have come to argue here is that the not seasonally adjusted (NSA) numbers, which I have always relied upon in my analysis of the jobs trend, is probably also a joke.
Look at this chart. Do those railroad tracks look like the real world to you, or are these some kind of computer generated auto-numbers that merely make a pretense of reality. Law of Large Numbers or not, I have never seen any other economic series behave with such regularity. This is a joke, a farce, a sham. But it doesn’t matter because the economy doesn’t matter. The world’s central banks have attempted, and largely succeeded, in rigging the financial markets. One of the consequences, intended or unintended, is that the bulk of the benefit of that rigging flows to the US financial markets. That has been so been since 2009. The US market has been and remains today, the Last Ponzi Game Standing. All roads lead to the US.
Saxo Bank’s Mike McKenna comments on an Economist cheerleading piece on ‘Open Society’, which somehow -presumably because it sounds positive- has become synonymous to globalization. McKenna’s conclusion: the world can’t afford globalization. Which is what I’ve been saying: without growth there can be no centralization. The Saxo boys seem to think that a return to growth is still possible/desirable. I think not.
The biggest problem facing globalism, however, is neither its hypocrisy nor its will-to-power – these are ordinary human failings common to all ideologies. Its biggest problem is much simpler: it’s very expensive. The world has seen versions of the wealthy, cosmopolitan ideal before. In both Imperial Rome and Achaemenid Persia, for example, societies characterised by extensive trade networks, multicultural metropoli and the rule of law (relative to the times) eventually succumbed to rampant inequality, inter-community strife, and expensive foreign wars in the case of Rome and a death-spiral of economic stagnation and constant tax hikes in the case of Persia.
It seems near-axiomatic that, in the absence of the sort of strong GDP growth that characterised the post-World War Two era, the pluralist ideal might begin to show strains along the seams of its own construction. Such strains can be inter-ethnic, ideological, religious, or whatever else, but the legitimacy of The Economists’s favoured worldview largely came about due to the wealth and living standards it was seen to provide in the post-WW2 and Cold War era. Now that this is beginning to falter, so too are the politicians and institutions that have long championed it. In Jakobsen’s view, the rising tide of populist nationalism is in no way the solution, but it is a sign that globalisation’s elites have grown distant from the population as a whole.
“The world has become elitist in every way,” says Saxo Bank’s chief economist. “We as a society have to recognise that productivity comes from raising the average education level… the key thing here is that we need to be more productive. If everyone has a job, there is no need to renegotiate the social contract.” Put another way, would the political careers of Trump, Le Pen, Viktor Orban, and other such nationalist leaders be where they are if the post-crisis environment had been one of healthy wage growth, inflation, an increase in “breadwinner” jobs, and GDP expansion?
In the first six months of 2005, the US imported 27.2% more in Chinese goods than the first six months of 2004, and that was 28.8% more than the first six months of 2003. In the first six months of 2016, the US imported 6.5% less than the first six months of 2015, itself only 6.1% more than the first six months of 2014. The US actually imported slightly less from China so far this year than two years ago.
As we know very well from US production levels it’s not as if some native “buy American” grassroots opposition has successfully convinced American buyers to ditch the cheaper Chinese alternatives, redistributing “strong” consumer spending toward American products. There is much less goods being produced and traded with and within the United States – alarmingly so. Further, as you can see above and below, the timing of this most recent change from plain weakness to dangerous weakness is significant.
Starting September 2015, meaning dating back to August, US imports from China have dropped off a cliff. While year-over-year growth was slightly positive in September, it has been negative in every month since except February 2016 and that was due to calendar effects here and holiday weeks there (and was easily wiped out by the massive contraction in March). The mainstream reading of the payroll reports up to that point indicated that US demand would and should be nothing but strong. Instead, it has been much worse than it already was.
It isn’t just China that is feeling the increasing absenteeism of the US consumer. US imports from Europe contracted for the third straight month, where the -1.8% 6-month average is the lowest since 2010 and the initial recovery from the Great Recession. Imports from Japan were up for the first time in three months, but overall for the first half of 2016 are down nearly 5% in total.
China’s exports and imports fell more than expected in July in a rocky start to the third quarter, suggesting global demand remains weak in the aftermath of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. Exports fell 4.4% from a year earlier, the General Administration of Customs said on Monday, while adding that it expects pressure on exports is likely to ease at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Imports fell 12.5% from a year earlier, the biggest decline since February, suggesting domestic demand remains sluggish despite a flurry of measures to stimulate growth. That resulted in a trade surplus of $52.31 billion in July, versus a $47.6 billion forecast and June’s $48.11 billion.
China’s crude imports fell to the lowest level in six months as demand from independent refineries eased. Net fuel exports surged to a record. The world’s biggest energy user imported 31.07 million metric tons of crude in July, according to data released by the General Administration of Customs on Monday. That’s about 7.35 million barrels a day, the slowest pace since January. Meanwhile, net fuel exports jumped to 2.49 million tons last month.
The nation’s appetite for overseas crude, which increased 14% in the first half year from the same period of 2015, may be weaker in the near term as insufficient infrastructure and scheduled maintenance at some independent refiners will likely hinder their crude purchases, BMI Research said in a report dated Aug. 4. “Teapots’ crude buying has slowed in the third quarter amid maintenance,” Amy Sun, an analyst with ICIS China, said before data were released. “Some plants have also seen their crude-import quotas filling up.”
There’s a river of steel flooding from China despite the best efforts of governments around the world to dam the flow from the world’s top producer, with data on Monday showing that overseas shipments held above 10 million tons in July. Sales increased 5.8% on-year to 10.3 million metric tons last month, compared with 10.9 million tons in June, according to China’s customs administration. Exports in the first seven months expanded 8.5% to 67.4 million tons, a record volume for the period. That’s in line with what South Korea, the world’s sixth-largest producer in 2015, makes in an entire year.
The robust export showing by China’s mills contrasts with the country’s broader performance last month, which fell in dollar terms, and risks further stoking trade tensions with partners from India to Europe after they imposed curbs to keep out the alloy. Premier Li Keqiang has defended the country’s growing presence in overseas steel markets, saying last month that overcapacity isn’t the fault of a single country. “Orders from abroad have held up relatively well as steelmakers in China have a cost advantage,” Dang Man, an analyst at Maike Futures Co. in Xi’an, said before the data. “Attention is still on global trade friction as the number of cases against Chinese exports is quite large.”
The graph illustrates one thing alright. Food, Alcohol and Tobacco prices rise only because of taxes. That suggests governments could get rid of deflation just by raising taxes. Which, really, is nonsense. Therefore, so is the graph and the methodology it is based on. Rising prices don’t equal inflation.
Whenever Mario Draghi clears a hurdle on his path to higher inflation, a new one appears. Just as the 19-nation economy sends encouraging signals that challenges from Brexit to terrorism won’t derail the modest recovery, a new decline in oil prices is casting a shadow over an expected pick-up in inflation. With growth not strong enough to generate price pressures, the ECB president may have to revise his outlook yet again. Inflation remains far below the ECB’s 2% goal after more than two years of unprecedented stimulus and isn’t seen reaching it before 2018.
Staff will begin to draw up fresh forecasts in mid-August, and while officials are in no rush to adjust or expand their €1.7 trillion quantitative-easing plan in September, economists predict Draghi will have to ease policy before the end of the year. “Now that the euro-area economy seems to have shrugged off the Brexit vote, focus will again shift on inflation, against the background of those negative news from oil prices,” said Johannes Gareis, an economist at Natixis in Frankfurt. “Yes, the ECB has managed to dispel deflation fears, but all the uncertainty means inflation will stay lower for longer – and Draghi will have to take notice.”
For Kaoru Sekiai, getting steady returns for his pension clients in Japan used to be simple: buy U.S. Treasuries. Compared with his low-risk options at home, like Japanese government bonds, Treasuries have long offered the highest yields around. And that’s been the case even after accounting for the cost to hedge against the dollar’s ups and downs – a common practice for institutions that invest internationally. It’s been a “no-brainer since forever,” said Sekiai, a money manager at Tokyo-based DIAM. That truism is now a thing of the past. Last month, yields on U.S. 10-year notes turned negative for Japanese buyers who pay to eliminate currency fluctuations from their returns, something that hasn’t happened since the financial crisis.
It’s even worse for euro-based investors, who are locking in sub-zero returns on Treasuries for the first time in history. That quirk means the longstanding notion of the U.S. as a respite from negative yields in Japan and Europe is little more than an illusion. With everyone from Jeffrey Gundlach to Bill Gross warning of a bubble in bonds, it could ultimately upend the record foreign demand for Treasuries, which has underpinned their seemingly unstoppable gains in recent years. “People like a simple narrative,” said Jeffrey Rosenberg at BlackRock. “But there isn’t a free lunch. You can’t simply talk about yield differentials without talking about currency differentials.”
China’s ambition to revive an ancient trading route stretching from Asia to Europe could leave an economic legacy bigger than the Marshall Plan or the EU’s enlargement, according to a new analysis. Dubbed ‘One Belt, One Road,’ the plan to build rail, highways and ports will embolden China’s soft power status by spreading economic prosperity during a time of heightened political uncertainty in both the U.S. and EU, according to Stephen L. Jen, CEO at Eurizon SLJ Capital, who estimates a value of $1.4 trillion for the project. It will also boost trading links and help internationalize the yuan as banks open branches along the route, according to Jen.
“This is a quintessential example of a geopolitical event that will likely be consequential for the global economy and the balance of political power in the long run,” said Jen, a former IMF economist. Reaching from east to west, the Silk Road Economic Belt will extend to Europe through Central Asia and the Maritime Silk Road will link sea lanes to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. While China’s authorities aren’t calling their Silk Road a new Marshall Plan, that’s not stopping comparisons with the U.S. effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. With the potential to touch on 64 countries, 4.4 billion people and around 40% of the global economy, Jen estimates that the One Belt One Road project will be 12 times bigger in absolute dollar terms than the Marshall Plan.
China may spend as much as 9% of GDP – about double the U.S.’s boost to post-war Europe in those terms. “The One Belt One Road Project, in terms of its size, could be multiple times larger and more ambitious than the Marshall Plan or the European enlargement,” said Jen. It’s not all upside. Undertaking an expansive plan like this one will inevitably run the risk of corruption, project delays and local opposition. Chinese backed projects have frequently run into trouble before, especially in Africa, and there’s no guarantee that potential recipient nations will put their hand up for the aid. In addition, resurrecting the trading route will need funding during a time of slowing growth and rising bad loans in the nation’s banks. Sending money abroad when it’s needed at home may not have an enduring appeal.
Still, at least China has a plan. “The fact that this is a 30-40 year plan is remarkable as China is the only country with any long-term development plan, and this underscores the policy long-termism in China, in contrast to the dominance of policy short-termism in much of the West,” said Jen. And that’s a win-win for soft power. “The One Belt One Road Project could be a huge PR exercise that could win over government and public support in these countries,” he said.
Investors shouldn’t be fooled by this season’s “better-than-expected” earnings—they are still pretty bad. With nearly 90% of the S&P 500 companies having reported second-quarter results through Friday morning (437 out of 505), aggregate earnings-per-share for the group are on course to decline 3.5% from a year ago, according to FactSet. Many Wall Street strategists are pleased, because that is a lot better than expectations of a 5.5% decline on June 30, just before earnings reporting season kicked off. So are investors, as the S&P and Nasdaq Composite Index closed in record territory Friday, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed less than 0.3% away. But that is like saying you should be happy with the “D” you got, because it would really be a “B” if the teacher changed the scale to grade on a curve.
“The beat on earnings is due at least in part to negative earnings revisions heading into earnings season, similar to what we have seen for the last 29 quarters with aggregate upside to expectations,” Morgan Stanley equity strategists wrote in a recent note to clients. Earnings might be beating lowered expectations, but they are still worse than the aggregate FactSet consensus of a 3.1% decline at the end of the first quarter on March 31. It also means S&P 500 earnings will suffer the fifth-straight quarter of year-over-year declines, the longest such streak since the five-quarter stretch from the third quarter of 2008 through the third quarter of 2009, the heart of the Great Recession.
One central fact about the global economy lurks just beneath the year’s remarkable headlines: Economic growth in advanced nations has been weaker for longer than it has been in the lifetime of most people on earth. The United States is adding jobs at a healthy clip, as a new report showed Friday, and the unemployment rate is relatively low. But that is happening despite a long-term trend of much lower growth, both in the United States and other advanced nations, than was evident for most of the post-World War II era. This trend helps explain why incomes have risen so slowly since the turn of the century, especially for those who are not top earners. It is behind the cheap gasoline you put in the car and the ultralow interest rates you earn on your savings.
It is crucial to understanding the rise of Donald J. Trump, Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, and the rise of populist movements across Europe. This slow growth is not some new phenomenon, but rather the way it has been for 15 years and counting. In the United States, per-person gross domestic product rose by an average of 2.2% a year from 1947 through 2000 — but starting in 2001 has averaged only 0.9%. The economies of Western Europe and Japan have done worse than that. Over long periods, that shift implies a radically slower improvement in living standards. In the year 2000, per-person G.D.P. — which generally tracks with the average American’s income — was about $45,000.
But if growth in the second half of the 20th century had been as weak as it has been since then, that number would have been only about $20,000. To make matters worse, fewer and fewer people are seeing the spoils of what growth there is. According to a new analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute, 81% of the United States population is in an income bracket with flat or declining income over the last decade. That number was 97% in Italy, 70% in Britain, and 63% in France.
Economics is a bit like musical chairs. In a recession, the economy takes a hit and there are some casualties. Some players fail to get a chair in time and are out of the game. The game then goes on without them. The economy eventually recovers. But a depression is a different game entirely. Since 2007, the world has been in an unacknowledged depression. A depression is like a game of musical chairs in which ten children are walking around, but suddenly nine of the chairs are taken away. This means that nine of the children will soon be out of the game. But it also means that all ten understand that the odds of them remaining in the game are quite slim and that desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s time to toss out the rule book and do whatever you have to, to get the one remaining chair.
Of course, the pundits officially deny that we have even been in a depression. They regularly describe the world as “in recovery from the 2008–2010 recession,” but the “shovel-ready jobs” that are “on the way” never quite materialize. The “green shoots” never seem to blossom. So, what’s going on here? Depressions do not occur all at once. It takes time for them to bottom and, if an economy is propped up through economic heroin (debt), the Big Crash can be a long time in coming. In that regard, this one is one for the record books. As Doug Casey is fond of saying, a depression is like a hurricane. First there are the initial crashes, then a calm as the eye of the hurricane passes over, then, we enter the trailing edge of the other side of the hurricane.
This is the time when things really get rough—when even the politicians will start using the dreaded “D” word. We have entered that final stage, as the economic symptoms demonstrate, and this is the time when the game of musical chairs will evolve into something quite a bit nastier. In normal economic times, even including recession periods, we observe financial institutions maintaining their staunchly conservative image. For the most part, they deliver as promised. But, as we move into the trailing edge of the second half of the hurricane, we notice more and more that the bankers are rewriting the rule book in order to take possession of the wealth that they previously held in trust for their depositors.
And they don’t do this in isolation. They do it with the aid of the governments of the day. New laws are written in advance of the crisis period to assure that the banks can plunder the deposits with impunity. Since 2010, such laws have been passed in the EU, the US, Canada and other jurisdictions. Trial balloons have been sent up to ascertain to what degree they will get away with their freezes and confiscations. Greece has been an excellent trial balloon for the freezes and Cyprus has done the same for the confiscations. The world is now as ready as it’s going to be for the game to be played on an international level.
So what will it look like, this game of musical chairs on steroids? Well, first we’ll see the sudden crashes of markets and/or defaults on debts. Shortly thereafter, one Monday morning (or more likely one Tuesday after a long weekend) the financial institutions will fail to open their doors. The media will announce a “temporary state of emergency” during which the governments and banks must resolve some difficulties in order to “assure a continued sound economy.” Until that time, the banks will either remain shut, or will process only small transactions.