Dec 252018
 
 December 25, 2018  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Caravaggio Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence 1600

 

The Stock Market Just Booked Its Ugliest Christmas Eve Plunge — Ever (MW)
Japan’s Nikkei Drops 5% After Wall Street Slide Deepens (CNBC)
US Crude Plunges 6.7%, Settling At 18-Month Low At $42.53 (CNBC)
‘The Worst Is Yet To Come’: Experts Say Global Bear Market Coming (CNBC)
In Defense of the Fed (Stephen S. Roach)
Trump, Annoyed By Resignation Letter, Pushes Out Mattis Early (R.)
Mnuchin Holds Calls With Heads Of America’s 6 Biggest Banks Amid Shutdown (F.)
Facebook Is The ‘Biggest Concern’ Among The FAANGs (CNBC)
China Won’t Resort To Massive Monetary Stimulus Next Year – PBOC (CNBC)
Gatwick Drones Pair ‘No Longer Suspects’ (BBC)
Gatwick Police Say They Cannot Discount Possibility There Was No Drone (Ind.)
‘Home Alone’: Bored Trump Tweets Up Storm During Christmas Shutdown (RT)

 

 


Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were not each other’s biggest fans

 

 

I kid you not: plenty people are blaming this on Trump, too.

The Stock Market Just Booked Its Ugliest Christmas Eve Plunge — Ever (MW)

Never mind finding coal in your stocking for the holidays. Wall Street investors scored a rare — and unwanted — gift this year. The S&P 500 index fell by 2.7% Monday, marking the first session before Christmas that the broad-market benchmark has booked a loss of 1% or greater — ever. That statistic has been confirmed by Dow Jones Market Data, which said the largest decline in the index on the trading day before Christmas was Dec. 23 in 1933.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 653 points, or 2.9%, representing its worst decline on the session prior to Christmas in the 122-year-old blue-chip gauge’s history. Check out the table below from Dow Jones Market Data:

U.S. stock indexes ended trading at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on Christmas Eve and will be closed on Christmas. The current dynamic in the market has it set for its worst monthly and yearly decline in about a decade, amid nagging concerns that the Federal Reserve is normalizing interest rates too rapidly, and that a continuing tariff dispute between China and the U.S. could devolve and help lead to a domestic recession, as international economies are already demonstrating signs of a slowdown. Also stoking anxiety was a tweet from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to assess the health of the banking system, which has raised some questions about liquidity among those institutions that had not previously been raised. Treasury officials insist that the calls to bank executives were just a routine checkup.

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The ongoing success of Abenomics.

Japan’s Nikkei Drops 5% After Wall Street Slide Deepens (CNBC)

Japan’s Nikkei retreated to a 20-month low on Tuesday after a slide on Wall Street deepened with a series of unnerving U.S. political developments. The Nikkei share average ended the day down 5.01 percent at 19,155.74 after brushing its lowest since late April 2017. The day’s performance put the index well into bear market territory — off more than 20 percent since its October high. Japan’s broader Topix closed 4.88 percent lower at 1,415.55 after touching 1,412.90, its weakest since November 2016.

Meanwhile, in China, the Shanghai Index posted losses of more than 2 percent by mid-day, but then gained some ground back into the afternoon. Chinese sectors lost ground across the board, led by financial shares and energy firms as oil prices slumped. So far this year, the Shanghai stock index is down about 24 percent. Those Asia moves followed Wall Street stocks extending their steep sell-off on Monday, with the S&P 500 down nearly 15 percent so far this month, as investors were rattled by the U.S. Treasury secretary’s convening of a crisis group and by other political developments.

Many financial markets in Asia, Europe and North America are closed on Tuesday for Christmas Day. “Negative sentiment has replaced logic, as is often the case during a sell-off. A third of the selling is induced by panic, another third by loss-cutting and the remaining third by speculators trying to make a profit from the market rout,” said Takashi Hiroki, chief strategist at Monex Securities in Tokyo. “The sell-off is triggered almost entirely by developments in the U.S. markets, rather than by negative factors unique to the domestic market.”

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Oil swings too much to be safe.

US Crude Plunges 6.7%, Settling At 18-Month Low At $42.53 (CNBC)

U.S. crude plunged nearly 7 percent on Monday, hitting its lowest levels in a year and half, as the oil market fell in tandem with equities amid deepening turmoil in Washington DC. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted more than 600 points, while the S&P 500 closed in bear market territory. Both stock indexes were buffeted by headlines out of Washington, including a government shutdown and President Donald Trump’s reported desire to fire Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell over the central bank’s interest rate increases.

The selling in global risk assets on Christmas Eve deepened a nearly three-month slide in oil prices. From peak to trough, U.S. crude has fallen nearly 45 percent from its 52-week high at the start of October. Brent has fallen as much as 42 percent over the same period. “For now, there’s no place to hide in any of these markets. Oil’s being taken down with the stock market and the negative sentiment that’s sweeping across really everything, and for now the downward pressure is going to persist,” John Kilduff, founding partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital told CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Friday.

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The so-called experts see themselves as mighty smart when all they’ve done is suck from the fed’s trough. Humbug!

‘The Worst Is Yet To Come’: Experts Say Global Bear Market Coming (CNBC)

Volatility on Wall Street has led shares across the globe on a wild ride in recent months, resulting in a number of stock markets dipping into bear territory. That’s set to worsen in the new year, experts told CNBC on Monday. Bear markets — typically defined as 20 percent or more off a recent peak — are threatening investors worldwide. In the U.S., the Nasdaq Composite closed in a bear market on Friday and the S&P 500 entered one on Monday. Globally, Germany’s DAX and China’s Shanghai Composite have also entered bear market levels. Major market risks remain, experts said. The Federal Reserve is likely to continue raising interest rates and worries about a global economic slowdown — made worse by a trade war between the U.S. and China — are mounting.

“I would love to be more optimistic but i just don’t see too many positives out there. I think the worst is yet to come next year, we’re still in the first half of a global equity bear market with more to come next year,” Mark Jolley, global strategist at CCB International Securities, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” For Jolley, the big risk lies in the credit markets. With the Fed projecting another two interest rate hikes in 2019, companies will find it increasingly difficult to service their debt causing some to default or get downgraded, he said. Such weakness in the credit markets will spill over to stocks, noted Jolley. “My core scenario will be a credit event, which will further weigh on equity markets, which will definitely weigh on high growth sectors like tech,” he said.

More generally, investors have fewer reasons to be optimistic now because the Fed tightening monetary policy means there will be less money for investments, said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank. “There is really no conviction for markets to buy back because they’re not sure this is the bottom, and so they are thinking this is the proverbial falling knives,” Varathan told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

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The Fed spent the past 10 years making sure its member banks kept on making indecent amounts of money. And now they need to be defended?

In Defense of the Fed (Stephen S. Roach)

I have not been a fan of the policies of the US Federal Reserve for many years. Despite great personal fondness for my first employer, and appreciation of all that working there gave me in terms of professional training and intellectual stimulation, the Fed had lost its way. From bubble to bubble, from crisis to crisis, there were increasingly compelling reasons to question the Fed’s stewardship of the US economy. That now appears to be changing. Notwithstanding howls of protest from market participants and rumored unconstitutional threats from an unhinged US president, the Fed should be congratulated for its steadfast commitment to policy “normalization.”

It is finally confronting the beast that former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan unleashed over 30 years ago: the “Greenspan put” that provided asymmetric support to financial markets by easing policy aggressively during periods of market distress while condoning froth during upswings. Since the October 19, 1987 stock-market crash, investors have learned to count on the Fed’s unfailing support, which was justified as being consistent with what is widely viewed as the anchor of its dual mandate: price stability. With inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index averaging a mandate-compliant 2.1% in the 20-year period ending in 2017, the Fed was, in effect, liberated to go for growth.

And so it did. But the problem with the growth gambit is that it was built on the quicksand of an increasingly asset-dependent and ultimately bubble- and crisis-prone US economy. Greenspan, as a market-focused disciple of Ayn Rand, set this trap. Drawing comfort from his tactical successes in addressing the 1987 crash, he upped the ante in the late 1990s, arguing that the dot-com bubble reflected a new paradigm of productivity-led growth in the US. Then, in the early 2000s, he committed a far more serious blunder, insisting that a credit-fueled housing bubble, inflated by “innovative” financial products, posed no threat to the US economy’s fundamentals. As one error compounded the other, the asset-dependent economy took on a life of its own.

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Someone better collect some pieces on Mattis from 2 years ago. Won’t look anything like the sainthood declarations he’s getting today.

Trump, Annoyed By Resignation Letter, Pushes Out Mattis Early (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday said he was replacing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis two months earlier than had been expected, a move officials said was driven by Trump’s anger at Mattis’ resignation letter and its rebuke of his foreign policy. On Thursday, Mattis had abruptly said he was quitting, effective Feb. 28, after falling out with Trump over his foreign policy, including surprise decisions to withdraw all troops from Syria and start planning a drawdown in Afghanistan. Trump has come under withering criticism from fellow Republicans, Democrats and international allies over his decisions about Syria and Afghanistan, against the advice of his top aides and U.S. commanders.

The exit of Mattis, highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike, added to concerns over what many see as Trump’s unpredictable, go-it-alone approach to global security. Trump said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan would take over on an acting basis from Jan. 1. In announcing his resignation, Mattis distributed a candid resignation letter addressed to Trump that laid bare the growing divide between them, and implicitly criticized Trump for failing to value America’s closest allies, who fought alongside the United States in both conflicts. Mattis said that Trump deserved to have a defense secretary more aligned with his views.

Trump, who tweeted on Thursday that Mattis was “retiring, with distinction, at the end of February,” made his displeasure clear on Saturday by tweeting that the retired Marine general had been “ingloriously fired” by former President Barack Obama and he had given Mattis a second chance.

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The only interesting question: why go public with something so ordinary?

Mnuchin Holds Calls With Heads Of America’s 6 Biggest Banks Amid Shutdown (F.)

No need to panic. That was the message Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought to convey after holding unscheduled Sunday afternoon calls with the heads of the largest banks in America, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, Brian Moynihan of Bank of America, Michael Corbat of Citigroup, Tim Sloan of Wells Fargo, David Solomon of Goldman Sachs and James Gorman of Morgan Stanley. In a statement released by Treasury, Mnuchin said these CEOs confirmed “markets continue to function properly.” These bankers also assured Mnuchin their firms have the liquidity to fund themselves and their lending activities, and reported no clearance or margin issues on their trades, Treasury said.

A decade ago, such calls and terse press releases were routine Sunday events as Treasury officials, the Federal Reserve, and bank heads worked together to stem the worst financial panic since the Great Depression. This time, however, Mnuchin’s unusual efforts come amid a growing economy where credit is flowing freely. Instead of a financial panic, his comments seemed aimed at market concerns coming from political turmoil in Washington.

On Monday, Mnuchin will convene a call with the President’s Working Group on financial markets “to discuss coordination efforts to ensure normal market operations,” bringing together the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission.

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They’re all grossly overvalued.

Facebook Is The ‘Biggest Concern’ Among The FAANGs (CNBC)

One industry analyst has sounded the alarm on Facebook, calling the company the “biggest concern” among the so-called FAANG stocks. “The digital economy operates on trust, and they’ve broken trust on so many levels,” Ray Wang, principal analyst and founder at Silicon Valley-based Constellation Research, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday. The FAANG stocks consist of Silicon Valley tech giants Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google-parent Alphabet.

Wang said many of Facebook’s trust woes have been “centralized” around Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who was in the spotlight after a New York Times report in mid-November about the executive and the social media company’s internal operations. The Times report came on the back of a series of scandals and incidents which have mired Facebook in controversy and sent its stock sinking in 2018. As of its last close after extended hours trade on Dec. 21, the company’s stock price was more than 40 percent off its 52-week high. Asked about the possibility of Sandberg departing from Facebook, Wang said it was “in the rumor category.”

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China’s afraid of the exchange rate.

China Won’t Resort To Massive Monetary Stimulus Next Year – PBOC (CNBC)

China will not resort to “flood-like” stimulus in monetary policy next year, although it will consider more cuts as needed to reserves held at commercial banks, local media quoted a central bank adviser as saying in a report on Tuesday. The Chinese economy will face downward pressure in 2019, while the pace of growth will gradually stabilize, the 21st Century Business Herald quoted Sheng Songcheng, an advisor to the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), as saying. “Monetary policy will remain prudent and won’t be a ‘flood.’ Otherwise, funds will likely flow into the property sector again,” Sheng was quoted as saying by the state-backed newspaper.

There remains room for further cuts in banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRRs), and Sheng does not recommend broad-based reductions in interest rates, it said. China will bolster support next year for its economy, the world’s second-largest, by cutting taxes and keeping liquidity ample, the official Xinhua news agency said after last week’s Central Economic Work Conference, an annual closed-door gathering of party leaders and policymakers. [..] On exchange rates, the central bank adviser said China should defend the yuan at the key seven-per-dollar level. “The key threshold of seven per dollar is very important. If the yuan weakens past that crucial point, the cost of stabilizing the exchange rate will be greater,” Sheng was quoted as saying.

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The level of incompetence is sobering.

Police tell BBC News they “cannot discount the possibility that there may have been no drone at all”.

Gatwick Drones Pair ‘No Longer Suspects’ (BBC)

A man and woman arrested in connection with drone sightings that grounded flights at Gatwick Airport have been released without charge. The 47-year-old man and 54-year-old woman, from Crawley, West Sussex, had been arrested on Friday night. Sussex Police said there had been 67 reports of drone sightings – having earlier cast doubt on “genuine drone activity”. Det Ch Supt Jason Tingley said no footage of a drone had been obtained. And he said there was “always a possibility” the reported sightings of drones were mistaken.

However, he later confirmed the reported sightings made by the public, police and airport staff from December 19 to 21 were being “actively investigated”. “We are interviewing those who have reported these sightings, are carrying out extensive house-to-house inquiries, and carrying out a forensic examination of a damaged drone found near the perimeter of the airport.” Det Ch Supt Tingley said it was “a working assumption” the device could be connected to their investigation, but officers were keeping “an open mind”.

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‘We are working with human beings saying they have seen something..’ Cue 150,000 ruined holidays.

Gatwick Police Say They Cannot Discount Possibility There Was No Drone (Ind.)

Detectives investigating the Gatwick drone attacks which caused three days of chaos for passengers say it is possible there never were any drones. Police do not have any footage of the flying machines at the airfield and are relying on accounts from witnesses and the discovery of a damaged device. The revelation by Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Tingley came after the couple arrested by Sussex Police on Friday night were released without charge. Asked about speculation there never was a drone, he said: “Of course, that’s a possibility. We are working with human beings saying they have seen something. “Until we’ve got more clarity around what they’ve said, the detail – the time, place, direction of travel, all those types of things – and that’s a big task.”

Mr Tingley said one of the “working theories” was that the damaged drone found close to the airport in Sussex was responsible for causing the disruption. “Always look at it with an open mind, but actually it’s very basic common sense that a damaged drone, which may have not been there at a particular point in time has now been seen by an occupier, a member of the public, and then they’ve told us, ‘we’ve found this’. “Then we go and forensically recover it and do everything we can at that location to try and get a bit more information.” [..] Gatwick Airport has offered a £50,000 reward through Crimestoppers for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the chaos.

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It doesn’t matter what anybody does, Trump still hoards the attention.

‘Home Alone’: Bored Trump Tweets Up Storm During Christmas Shutdown (RT)

With the US government shut down due to the dispute over funding President Donald Trump’s border wall, and his family in Florida, the chief executive has chosen to spend the Christmas holiday taking potshots at critics on Twitter. Funding for about a quarter of US government services ran out on Friday at midnight, as Senate Democrats refused to endorse a House funding bill that would’ve given Trump $5.7 billion for the border wall. Trump was supposed to celebrate Christmas at Mar-a-Lago with his family, but elected to stay in the White House instead, tweeting up a storm.

Trump tweeted twenty times on Thursday, as the shutdown loomed. He continued posting on Friday (ten), Saturday (seven) and Sunday (eight), then ramped up the schedule on Monday, with ten tweets by the early afternoon. In addition to his usual complaints about “Fake News” and Democrats, Trump has also taken aim at the Federal Reserve, praised Saudi Arabia, and dismissed Washington’s envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition as an “Obama appointee” who gave Iran $1.8 billion “in CASH” as part of the “horrific” nuclear deal. He also complained, tongue firmly in cheek, about being “all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security.”

Though Trump’s Twitter tirades usually trigger the trolls, that last one brought up a multitude of call-backs to the president’s cameo in 1992’s Christmas comedy ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.’

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Mar 292018
 
 March 29, 2018  Posted by at 9:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 29 2018


Paul Gauguin The wave 1888

 

Trump Approval At 11-Month High – Will The Dollar Follow? (ZH)
Amazon Loses $53 Billion in Market Value, Becoming FAANG’s Biggest Loser (BBG)
Fed Mistakes Could Spark ‘Unusually Fast’ Bear Market (MW)
Tesla Bonds Are in Free Fall (BBG)
The New Warlord in the White House (Jacobin)
Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say (G.)
May Considers Banning City Of London From Selling Russian Debt (G.)
Ecuador Cuts Off Julian Assange’s Internet Access At London Embassy (G.)
The Debt We Don’t Talk About (Vague)
The European Realistic Disobedience Front (WSJ)
Concern On Greek Islands As Hundreds Of Refugees Reach Lesbos (K.)
Greek President Vows Country Will Defend Itself Against Turkey (K.)
Guardian Pulls Greek Crisis Porn Holiday Package (KTG)

 

 

Stormy Daniels boosts Da Donald’s stats. What’s not to like?

Trump Approval At 11-Month High – Will The Dollar Follow? (ZH)

The last few days have seen a rapid rush to the ‘safe-haven’ dollar, stalling a seemingly non-stop drop in the world’s reserve currency.

Which raises the question, is the correlation between President Trump’s approval rating and ‘king dollar’ about to reignite?

President Trump’s approval rating has been rising since the start of the year, and the results from the most recent presidential job approval survey by CNN shows that Donald Trump is now at an 11-month high. Although he still has majority disapproval, 42% of respondents are currently giving him a thumbs up – the highest rate recorded by CNN since March 2017 where the president was on 44%. So how, during a time of seemingly endless scandals trying to burst their way into the public sphere, is Trump seemingly on the up? [..] Despite being criticized from some corners for his protectionist approach, Trump following through on his America First campaign promises is seemingly helping to win some voters back around. In many ways, the road ahead is looking far from smooth for the president, but having come through scandal and controversy relatively unscathed in the past, who knows where this current wave will lead.

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Just on rumors Trump doesn’t like them. Wait till he starts tweeting on the topic.

Amazon Loses $53 Billion in Market Value, Becoming FAANG’s Biggest Loser (BBG)

Move over, Facebook. U.S. investors have a new punching bag among the FAANGs: Amazon.com, Inc. Facebook Inc. gave up the top loser spot to Amazon.com, which lost $53 billion in market value on Wednesday after Axios reported that President Donald Trump is “obsessed” with regulating the e-commerce behemoth. The social media giant had previously underperformed the tech megacap group amid concern over the company’s handling of its users’ personal information. The FAANG stocks, once assumed to be a monolith of performance, have suffered degrees of decoupling recently, including the outperformance by Netflix Inc. earlier in the year.

Amazon.com fell as much as 7.4% Wednesday before paring some losses to close 4.4% lower after a Stifel Nicolaus & Co. analyst said the weakness created a buying opportunity. Facebook diverged from the group in early trading, rallying 0.5% after announcing it’s redesigning a menu of privacy settings in response to public outrage over the user data practices. Netflix was the second-biggest loser in the FAANG group of stocks, sliding 5% on the heels of the #DeleteNetflix campaign. “Netflix and Amazon haven’t really experienced the intense selling that Facebook did,” said Michael Antonelli, an institutional equity sales trader and managing director at Robert W. Baird & Co. “The ‘flu’ that Facebook got is now spreading to the others.”

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There’s only one real mistake here: the Fed itself.

Fed Mistakes Could Spark ‘Unusually Fast’ Bear Market (MW)

Uncertainty over trade policy may be the primary driver of the U.S. stock market at the moment, but the real policy risk facing equities could be coming from the Federal Reserve, with the potential downside a lot more pronounced than investors are currently anticipating. Last week, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the economic outlook had strengthened, but he painted a mixed picture about what policy might look like going forward. The U.S. central bank raised interest rates but indicated it would only do a total of three rate hikes in 2018, which some saw as a dovish signal given that a number of investors had expected four this year. However, the Fed pushed up its expected rate path in 2019 and 2020.

Barry Bannister, head of institutional equity strategy at Stifel, said it was a concern that the Fed’s view for 2019 and 2020 had grown more hawkish, which raised the risk of the central bank making a policy mistake. “What matters for investors is that any decline is likely to be unusually rapid and occur as a result of P/E compression, resulting from policy risks not weak GDP,” he wrote in a research report. “Investors need a bit more acrophobia, as our best model points to a bear market and lost decade for stocks.” Bannister argued the new Fed, under Powell, “wishes to fade the ‘Fed put,’” or the idea that the central bank would step in to prop up falling equity prices. “The cost may be a 16% P/E drop,” he wrote, referring to price-to-earnings, a popular measure of equity valuation.

The Fed is expected to regularly raise rates over the coming years, and some investors think it may hasten its pace of increases to rates in the event that inflation returns to the market in a more pronounced fashion. “Maybe it is not that the Fed has actually made an error, perhaps it is fear the Fed may make an error,” Stifel wrote (emphasis in original). “The late-2010s echo the late-1990s as ‘bookends’ for global imbalances. Unlike the yield curve inversion in [the first half of the 2000s] in anticipation of 2% inflation that led to an S&P 500 peak, investors may simply worry that the same outcome is possible in this cycle, causing equities to decline.”

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And now I can’t get that song out of my head anymore.

Tesla Bonds Are in Free Fall (BBG)

Elon Musk’s creditors are suddenly having a serious bout of buyer’s remorse. In August, they lined up for the chance to finance Tesla’s ambitious rollout of its Model 3 sedan. Wooed by Musk’s personal appeals, bond investors pretty much ignored the carmaker’s prolific cash burn and repeated failures to meet production targets and lent it $1.8 billion at record-low interest rates. But now, after a spate of fresh setbacks in the past week, including a fatal Tesla crash and a credit-rating downgrade, bondholders are asking hard questions about whether Musk can deliver on his bold promise to bring electric cars to the masses before the company runs out of cash. On Wednesday, Tesla’s notes plunged to a low of 86 cents on the dollar, the clearest sign yet creditors aren’t totally sure the company will be money good.

“It’s getting worse and worse every single day” for Tesla, said Bill Zox at Diamond Hill Investment Group. “That’s the nature of being in this negative feedback loop. Everyone is worried.” The consequences are significant. Tesla’s woes have played out most visibly in the stock market, with its shares suffering a two-day, 15% drop that’s the biggest since 2016. But surging borrowing costs, which are now near 8%, could hamper the carmaker’s ability to finance itself at a critical time. The company, which has never shown an annual profit in the 15 years since it was founded, will need to raise over $2 billion to cover not only its cash burn this year, but also about $1.2 billion of debt that comes due by 2019, Moody’s Investors Service analyst Bruce Clark said in a report Tuesday.

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One of a million pieces denouncing Bolton. Can’t we send Stormy Daniels to his hotel room?

The New Warlord in the White House (Jacobin)

There is no daylight between the ethos of a thug with a lead pipe shaking down a pedestrian for money and John Bolton, except that one has a J.D. from Yale. Bolton is particularly dangerous because he combines devotion to the ruthless exercise of power for American interests with a glassy-eyed faith in the durability of that same power. Anyone even remotely in touch with reality will have viewed the past two decades as a profound lesson in the limits of American military might — a fact that, ironically, helped Trump come to power. Not Bolton. Despite the ever worsening failure of the war he so desperately wished for, he has been heedlessly slavering for ever more destruction, still entranced by schoolboy myths about American power that the Right long ago turned into a near-evangelical worldview.

Unless Trump grows tired of Bolton’s mustache in record time, the Korean peninsula or the Middle East is very likely headed for war. Yet despite what Bolton thinks — and despite the Democrats’ abdication of this responsibility under Obama — a president cannot declare war without congressional authorization. The question is whether Congress will finally reassert this role under Trump or simply line up behind him. The good news is that Democrats are poised to make significant gains in this year’s midterms, including possibly retaking the House. The bad news is that if they do, they will do so with one of the most conservative and militaristic batch of new Democrats in modern memory.

Whatever happens, Bolton’s dismaying rise to power couldn’t have happened without the Reagan and Bush presidencies that liberals and centrists are now so eager to rehabilitate. Nor could it have happened without the many news outlets that have provided him a platform and legitimized him as a serious foreign policy thinker, instead of the deluded fanatic that he is. Perhaps this will spur some soul-searching, but let’s take things one day at a time.

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Yeah. No. This does it for me. They’re making it up one chapter at a time.

Skripals Poisoned From Front Door Of Salisbury Home, Police Say (G.)

Detectives investigating the attempted murders of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal have said they believe the pair were poisoned with a nerve agent at the front door of his Salisbury home. Specialists investigating the poisoning of the the Skripals have found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address, police said. Counter-terrorism detectives will continue to focus their inquiries on the home address for the coming weeks, and possibly months, after the father and daughter were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury earlier this month.

Local police have retaken control of The Maltings shopping centre, where the Skripals were first discovered, and London Road cemetery from counter-terrorism detectives, where officers focused their investigation into the nerve agent attack in previous weeks. More than 130 people could have been exposed to the chemical weapon in the aftermath of the poisoning in Salisbury, which the UK government believes was committed by the Russian state. In response to the poisoning, more than 150 Russian officials have been expelled from more than 25 countries, and the UK government is considering further measures to punish Russia, including a ban on the City of London from selling Russian sovereign debt.

Public health experts are still working to establish whether the nerve agent attack presents a long term risks to Salisbury’s residents, which will receive a £1m support package from central government to help recover. Deputy assistant commissioner Dean Haydon, the senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, said: “At this point in our investigation, we believe the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent from their front door. “We are therefore focusing much of our efforts in and around their address. Those living in the Skripals’ neighbourhood can expect to see officers carrying out searches as part of this but I want to reassure them that the risk remains low and our searches are precautionary.”

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Translation: City tells May what to do.

May Considers Banning City Of London From Selling Russian Debt (G.)

Theresa May has agreed to look into imposing a ban on the City of London from helping Russia to sell its sovereign debt, which prop ups the Russian economy. Last month, City clearing houses, working alongside a major sanctioned Russian bank, helped issue $4bn (£2.83bn) of eurobonds to finance Russian sovereign debt, of which nearly half was sold in London markets. Nearly half the debt was bought by London-based investors, predominantly institutional investors. A loophole in EU and UK legislation has allowed sanctioned Russian banks, primarily VTB bank, to act as the main organisers – known as book runners – for the issuance of Russian debt.

A public call for the loophole to be closed has been made three times in the past week by the foreign affairs select committee chairman, Tom Tugendhat. On each occasion ministers seemed to be unaware of the issue, but the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, last week described the idea as interesting. Speaking to the liaison committee of MPs on Tuesday, the prime minister said she would report back on the policy options. The foreign affairs select committee is setting up an inquiry into how the UK financially props up Vladimir Putin’s allies, and the measures the UK has taken to clamp down on corrupt Russian money in London.

Tugendhat has been briefed by a British research fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, Emile Simpson, who has argued Russia’s greatest weakness is its dependence on western investors. He contends a policy blindness leads the west to sanction individuals, and sometimes sectors, but not to look at sanctioning the Russian state as a whole. He said: “At present, Russia can borrow in EU and US capital markets despite western sanctions and then can support the sanctioned Kremlin-linked banks and energy companies that can no longer do so”. Tugendhat has proposed that Russian bond sales are no longer made available to key western clearing houses such as Euroclear and Clearstream, making them effectively untradeable on the secondary market and so deterring the majority of EU and US investors from buying them.

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Know why? Skripal.

Ecuador Cuts Off Julian Assange’s Internet Access At London Embassy (G.)

Ecuador has cut Julian Assange’s communications with the outside world from its London embassy, where the founder of the whistleblowing WikiLeaks website has been living for nearly six years. The Ecuadorian government said in statement that it had acted because Assange had breached “a written commitment made to the government at the end of 2017 not to issue messages that might interfere with other states”. It said Assange’s recent behaviour on social media “put at risk the good relations [Ecuador] maintains with the United Kingdom, with the other states of the European Union, and with other nations”. The move came after Assange tweeted on Monday challenging Britain’s accusation that Russia was responsible for the nerve agent poisoning of a Russian former double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury earlier this month.

The WikiLeaks founder also questioned the decision by the UK and more than 20 other countries to retaliate against the poisoning by expelling Russian diplomats deemed spies. Assange has lived in the embassy since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over allegations of sex crimes he denies. Sweden has dropped the case but Assange remains subject to arrest in the UK for jumping bail and fears he will be extradited to the US for questioning about WikiLeaks’ activities if he leaves the embassy building.

[..] Assange’s comments on the nerve agent attack on double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia prompted the British foreign office minister Alan Duncan to call him a “miserable little worm” during a Commons debate on Tuesday. Duncan said he should leave the embassy and surrender to British justice. Assange replied: “Britain should come clean on whether it intends to extradite me to the United States for publishing the truth and cease its ongoing violation of the UN rulings in this matter. “If it does this disgraceful impasse can be resolved tomorrow. I have already fully served any theoretical (I haven’t been charged) ‘bail violation’ whilst in prison and under house arrest. So why is there a warrant for my arrest?”

The former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and the music producer Brian Eno said in a statement they had heard “with great concern” about Assange’s lost internet access. “Only extraordinary pressure from the US and the Spanish governments can explain why Ecuador’s authorities should have taken such appalling steps in isolating Julian,” they pair said, adding Assange had only recently been granted citizenship. “Clearly, Ecuador’s government has been subjected to bullying over its decision to grant Julian asylum, support and ultimately, diplomatic status.”

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In the end, it’s simple.

The Debt We Don’t Talk About (Vague)

How do you know a major financial crisis is coming? Look for a spike in privately held debt, by households and corporations. That’s the argument of Richard Vague, author of The Next Economic Disaster: Why It’s Coming and How to Avoid It. Having worked for more than 30 years in consumer banking, Vague describes how he saw the build-up of private debt in the mortgage and credit card industries first hand–even though it’s an issue that neoclassical economists like Milton Friedman barely acknowledge. To avoid another crisis, Vague says firms and governments need to take debt forgiveness–the biblical “jubilee”–seriously. As he says, after the financial crisis “We helped the banks, we didn’t help the households.”

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We wish Yanis godspeed.

The European Realistic Disobedience Front (WSJ)

Yanis Varoufakis is back to rescue Greece and rock the European establishment again. Or so he hopes. On Monday night the flamboyant former finance minister, who enraged European authorities at the height of Greece’s debt crisis in 2015, launched his new Greek political party at a theater here. That year, his country bowed to strict austerity demands. Now his solution to Greece’s sky-high debt is the same as his unsuccessful push before: to show creditors who’s boss. If elected, he told the gathering of around 300 people, he will run looser budgets. Greek banks will be revived with public money. He will swap Greece’s bonds for new ones whose payments depend on economic growth.

These and other policies to end Greece’s “debt colony status” will be implemented on day one, he said. And this time, unlike in 2015, he vowed there will be no negotiation with Europe, no surrender. His party is called the European Realistic Disobedience Front. His refrain is that Europe’s establishment is unrealistic, not him. “When they start sending orders, they will receive strong disobedience,” he said. “They will have to bear the cost of defenestrating us from the euro, or accept our policies,” he said to warm applause.

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Here comes Merkel’s biggest nightmare. She deserves it. The refugees do not.

Concern On Greek Islands As Hundreds Of Refugees Reach Lesbos (K.)

Authorities on the Aegean islands were on standby on Wednesday after nearly 300 migrants reached Lesvos on eight boats following several days without new arrivals from neighboring Turkey. Apart from the 295 people who landed on Lesvos, another 50 migrants arrived on Kos. Sources at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry expressed concern about the spike in arrivals, noting that no boats reached the islands on Monday, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was meeting with European Union leaders in Varna, Bulgaria, for talks that touched on an EU-Turkey migration pact signed in March 2016. The diplomatic stance struck by Erdogan in Varna was in sharp contrast to a string of threats and hostile language against Greece last week. Ministry sources said the next few days would indicate whether the increase in arrivals represents a new trend or not.

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I’ve said it many times before: this risks getting terribly out of hand. He doesn’t mention Turkey by name of course.

Greek President Vows Country Will Defend Itself Against Turkey (K.)

President Prokopis Pavlopoulos on Wednesday sought to send another firm message to Ankara amid increasingly hostile rhetoric from across the Aegean as a Greek military readiness exercise got under way in the southern Aegean. “Greece will strongly support its borders and those of Europe,” Pavlopoulos said during a visit to the Salamina naval base, repeating that “there are no gray zones” in the Aegean. Defending “international legitimacy… is not simply our right, it is also our duty to the international community,” he said. The president, who was accompanied by Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, once again called on Turkey to respect international laws and treaties, noting that the only issue of dispute between the two countries relates to the delineation of the continental shelf.

Pavlopoulos said he observed the “readiness of the country’s navy to defend our national sovereignty and borders, and consequently the borders of the European Union.” Kammenos had ordered the one-day exercise, code-named Pyrpolitis (Fire-raiser), to be carried out in the Aegean, northwest of Rhodes, following a long meeting with military officials on Tuesday night, during which the recent activity of Turkish armed forces in the region was discussed. The exercise involved a Hellenic Navy frigate, assault and transport helicopters and a Zubr military hovercraft carrying members of the special forces, and also saw the participation of Hellenic Air Force planes.

The aim of the exercise was to test the readiness of Greek armed forces in a crisis scenario, such as the need to recapture an islet. It was completed successfully at the end of the day without any signs of Turkish transgressions of Greek air space or territorial waters. However, Turkey’s National Security Council issued a stern message on Wednesday, toward Greece as well as the European Union and US, declaring that it will not give up its claims in the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean and northern Syria, where Turkish troops have occupied Afrin.

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Well, that was fast… Did make a screenshot last night though.

Surprised? Neh… Some people are just so lost they will never be found.

Guardian Pulls Greek Crisis Porn Holiday Package (KTG)

The Guardian has taken down its Greece crisis-porn holiday package “Greece and the Euro” after a shitstorm on social media. Not only Greeks but also foreigners, among them many from UK, slammed the daily for offering a vacation tour to the debt-ridden country under the perspective meet the suffering Greeks at £2,500 for 7 days. The tour package was taken down sometime late on Wednesday evening. In a statement to Greek media correspondent in London, Thanassis Gavos, the Guardian said: “The Guardian has been working with Political Tours to provide informative trips to Greece and other countries for people who wish to develop their understanding of the political and social landscapes in these places. On reflection we have now paused this project in order to reconsider our approach. All Political Tours/Guardian packages to Greece, Bosnia, Ukraine have been removed from site.”

In other words what the daily says is we will find other ways, less obviously insulting to exploit the suffering of people in areas of economic crisis and wars in the future. In the company of journalists, including the daily’s correspondent in Athens, the happy but crisis conscious traveler will swill wine and then go visit Greek families who will unfold their daily drama in front of people they have never seen before and who have paid to listen to them. It is unknown whether the Greek crisis victims will get a small commission for being live witnesses of an 8-year-old economic crisis. NGOs on the island of Samos and the port of Piraeus will explain every facet of the Refugee Crisis and drama.

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