Jun 092018
 
 June 9, 2018  Posted by at 8:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper Summertime 1943

 

Why Trump Is Targeting G-7 Nations On Trade (MW)
More Than Half Of American Homes Are Overvalued, CoreLogic Warns (ZH)
America Is House-Rich But Cash-Poor (MW)
Cities Struggle To Fend Off “Unstoppable Juggernaut” Of Chinese Homebuyers (ZH)
The Summer of Discontent (Jim Kunstler)
Facebook Shared Sensitive User Info Via “Secretive” Data Deals (ZH)
Canada First G7 Nation To Make Marijuana Legal (G.)
Trump Voices Support For Bipartisan Pot Legislation (Pol.)
7 In 10 Americans Are Overwhelmed By News, More Among Republicans (ZH)
Berlin Still Has ‘No Evidence’ From UK That Moscow Is Behind Skripal Case (RT)
Tourists To Med Told To Ditch Plastic To Avoid Huge Rise In Beach Litter (G.)
Microplastics In Our Mussels: The Sea Is Feeding Human Garbage Back To Us (G.)

 

 

Deficits and reserve currencies. Joined at the hip.

Why Trump Is Targeting G-7 Nations On Trade (MW)

President Trump has threatened Canada and France with higher tariffs if they don’t ease up on what he considers unfair policies, sparking fresh worries that a simmering dispute over trade will boil over and damage the world’s leading economies. The president clashed with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron in an extraordinary series of tweets ahead of meeting of G-7 leaders in Quebec. The G-7 consists of the U.S., U.K., Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy. The U.S. has run huge trade deficits for years through both Republican and Democratic presidents. In 2017, the trade gap in goods rose to a nine-year high of $807 billion (the deficit was a smaller $552 billion if services are included).

China accounted for 47% of the U.S. trade deficit in goods in 2017, but the G-7 countries were responsible for another quarter. Germany ran the biggest trade surplus with the U.S., followed by Japan and Italy. The U.S. runs smaller deficits in goods with France and Canada, according to government figures. The U.S. actually posted a small surplus with Canada in 2017 if services are included, largely reflecting how much Canadians spend when visiting the 50 states. The U.K. is the only country with which the U.S. ran a goods and overall surplus.

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Long time pal Jesse Colombo posted this on Twitter. I wrote back:

“Sorry, my friend Jesse, but every single US home is overvalued. It just depends on the vantage point you look from. All prices have been distorted by the Fed’s policies, not just half of them. Arguably some more than others, but can that be the core argument here?”

More Than Half Of American Homes Are Overvalued, CoreLogic Warns (ZH)

A history of economic cycles dating back to the mid-1800s reveals a troubling outlook for today’s Central Bank induced bull market of hopes and dreams, which could be in the later innings. It is quite evident that Americans have quit saving as their gig-economy jobs have left them in financial ruin – now being squeezed by the higher cost of living. The charades of economic stability could continue for a little longer, with President Trump’s stealth quantitative easing program to Wall Street via debt-financed tax reform, which has induced a massive wave of more than $2.5 trillion in stock buybacks — a gift to corporate America.

No matter where one looks, the valuation of many financial assets are overextended, and new evidence today from CoreLogicshows this troubling picture very late into an economic cycle: More than half of U.S. residential real estate markets were overvalued in April. CoreLogic reports that residential real estate prices nationwide increased 6.9% year over year from April 2017 to April 2018. The firm’s Home Price Index (HPI) also shows a 1.2% rise on the month-over-month basis from March to April 2018. This has certainly sparked the debate of housing affordability across the nation with many millennials struggling to achieve the American dream.

CoreLogic Market Condition Indicators showed that 40% of the 100 largest metropolitan areas were overvalued in April, compared to 28% undervalued, and 32% in line with valuations. The report uncovers a shocking discovery that of the nation’s top 50 largest residential real estate markets, 52% were overvalued in April.

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Since they’re all overvalued, any talk of house-rich is shaky.

America Is House-Rich But Cash-Poor (MW)

The very same day Lindsay learned he wouldn’t qualify for a refinance, help arrived. It was a direct mail solicitation, in the form of a fake check “payable to Michael Lindsay for $186,000.” A company called Unison was offering money in exchange for an ownership stake in the Lindsay house. Lindsay investigated, and found Unison’s process both “professional” and “informative,” he said. “It had come down to the fact that the only other option I had was to sell the house,” Lindsay told MarketWatch. He hated that idea, since his two boys, who’d already been through so much, were thriving in their school district. And while he didn’t want to rule out downsizing, there was just too much emotion attached to the home where the boys had been born, where he and Vanessa had tracked their growth through pencil marks in the garage.

Ultimately, Lindsay said, “It just felt crazy that there was so much equity in the home and I couldn’t get at it.” He signed on with Unison. After just three weeks, the company had dispersed $200,000 in cash to pay off Lindsay’s creditors and allow him to do much-needed deferred maintenance on the house. Unison’s product, which it calls HomeOwner, has been around for years, but it’s really hit its stride in the past year or so. The housing market has not only recovered from the Great Recession, it’s heated up. According to an analysis from Attom Data, nearly 14 million Americans are now “equity rich” – meaning they have at least 50% equity in their homes. It bears repeating that many owners and communities are not so lucky: over a million Americans are underwater, and some cities and towns are still reeling under the weight of abandoned and vacant homes and stagnant micro-economies.

But for most of the country, rapidly rising home prices and a dearth of anything else to buy means people are staying in their homes longer, allowing them to accrue more and more equity: $15 trillion worth, to be exact. That may sound like a first-world problem, but as Lindsay’s example illustrates, all the equity in the world is worthless if it’s locked in an untouchable asset while medical bills, home improvement costs, and other expenses are mounting. And since home equity is usually most concentrated among those who’ve lived in their homes the longest, that’s often retirees – the people most in need of certain cash flow.

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Central banks and Chinese buyers.

Cities Struggle To Fend Off “Unstoppable Juggernaut” Of Chinese Homebuyers (ZH)

As we’ve pointed out time and time again, foreign – mainly Chinese – buyers seeking to park their ill-gotten gains beyond the reach of the Communist Party have – in addition to global capitals like New York City and London – favored a handful of cities in the Pacific Northwest, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Many of these cities – for example, Vancouver – have seen property values rise to levels that are unaffordable for local buyers. While the influx of capital helped fuel an economic recovery in the aftermath of the crisis, home values soon reached crisis levels that demanded action by local officials. Some places have tried to use taxes to deter foreign buyers. In some instances, the taxes worked – at least temporarily.

But with the flow of buyers refusing to slow despite efforts by the Chinese government to stop money moving offshore, many of these cities are getting desperate. And after years of occasional headlines, it appears the crisis has finally become dire enough for the mainstream press to start paying attention. To wit, government officials in Canada and Australia who spoke with the Wall Street Journal for a story about how Chinese homebuyers expressed concern that widespread foreign ownership has created bubbles in local real-estate markets. Even as Australia and New Zealand and some Canadian cities have raised taxes on foreign buyers, many are worried that home values will continue to climb, foiling policy makers best efforts to control them.

Since it passed an 8% foreign buyers tax last summer, Sydney says foreign buying hasn’t let up. Jon Ellis, chief executive of Investorist, an online portal for cross-border property transactions, said Chinese property buyers are an “unstoppable juggernaut”. In some markets with large Mandarin-speaking populations, locals can spot real-estate ads in Mandarin at bus stations and benches in the surrounding area. In response, Vancouver imposed a 15% foreign buyers tax back in 2016. When that didn’t work, city officials worked with the province on something more aggressive.

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“We’ll be fortunate if we can turn out brooms and scythes twenty years from now, let alone flying Teslas.”

The Summer of Discontent (Jim Kunstler)

The ill-feeling among leaders of the G-7 nations — essentially, the West plus Japan — was mirrored early this morning in the puking financial market futures, so odious, apparently, is the presence of America’s Golden Golem of Greatness at the Quebec meet-up of First World poobahs. It’s hard to blame them. The GGG refuses to play nice in the sandbox of the old order. Like many observers here in the USA, I can’t tell exactly whether Donald Trump is out of his mind or justifiably blowing up out-of-date relationships and conventions in a world that is desperately seeking a new disposition of things. The West had a mighty good run in the decades since the fiascos of the mid-20th century. My guess is that we’re witnessing a slow-burning panic over the impossibility of maintaining the enviable standard of living we’ve all enjoyed.

All the jabber is about trade and obstacles to trade, but the real action probably emanates from the energy sector, especially oil. The G-7 nations are nothing without it, and the supply is getting sketchy at the margins in a way that probably and rightfully scares them. I’d suppose, for instance, that the recent run-up in oil prices from $40-a barrel to nearly $80 has had the usual effect of dampening economic activity worldwide. For some odd reason, the media doesn’t pay attention to any of that. But it’s become virtually an axiom that oil over $75-a-barrel smashes economies while oil under $75-a-barrel crushes oil companies.

[..] There is also surprisingly little critical commentary on the notion that Mr. Trump is seeking to “re-industrialize” America. It’s perhaps an understandable wish to return to the magical prosperity of yesteryear. But things have changed. And if wishes were fishes, the state of the earth’s oceans is chastening to enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. Anyway, we’re not going back to the Detroit of 1957. We’ll be fortunate if we can turn out brooms and scythes twenty years from now, let alone flying Teslas. This will be the summer of discontent for the West especially. The fact that populism is still a rising force among these nations is a clue of broad public skepticism about maintaining the current order. No wonder the massive bureaucracies vested in that order are freaking out. I’m not sure Mr. Trump even knows or appreciates just how he represents these dangerous dynamics.

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Since this is their business model, period, it’s time to stop them.

Facebook Shared Sensitive User Info Via “Secretive” Data Deals (ZH)

If you feel like there’s been a new embarrassing revelation about Facebook’s privacy practices every day this week, well, you’re not entirely wrong. In the third bombshell report to drop since Moday, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Facebook struck customized data-sharing deals with a select group of companies, granting several of them special access to user records well after the point in 2015 when Facebook said it had shifted its privacy policies in response to learning that a researcher had improperly taken Facebook user data and sold it to Cambridge Analytica. The unreported agreements were known internally as whitelists.

They reportedly allowed certain companies to access sensitive information like phone numbers and a metric called “friend that measured the degree of closeness between users and others in their network,” the people said. The whitelist deals were struck with companies as diverse as Nissan and RBC Capital. The deals represented Facebook bending over backwards to allow special data access to a broader universe of companies, many of whom were valuable advertisers. Others needed the access to wind down unfinished projects after the new developer regulations. But some were granted the special access for “unspecified reasons” that WSJ apparently couldn’t crack.

WSJ also raises further questions about who had access to the data of billions of Facebook users and why they had access – and, what’s more, why didn’t Mark Zuckerberg mention any of this during the Congressional hearings? Facebook said companies were granted this special access as something of a workaround after Facebook stopped granting unfettered access to developers in 2015. Many of the details published in the report appeared vague – for example, WSJ couldn’t pin down how many Facebook clients had been granted this privilege. Perhaps that’s why they published it after 4 pm Eastern on a June Friday.

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Pot and opioids. Many more questions than answers.

Canada First G7 Nation To Make Marijuana Legal (G.)

Even places that have already taken the legalization plunge are hoping Canada will solve some mysteries. After Colorado legalized marijuana five years ago, for example, organized crime reacted by ramping up supplies of “black tar heroin, opiates and harder drugs”, said Dr Larry Wolk, the state’s top public health official. But Wolk says he is interested to watch that process unfold on a bigger scale in Canada, where the new law is expected to deal a much more significant blow to the black market. Any new mix of illicit drugs in the country could have new effects on public health. “What’s the impact of marijuana legalization on the opioid crisis?” he asked as an example.

“Does it actually act as a substitute so that people can get off opiates for chronic pain? Is there a positive impact? Or is it a negative impact, because as a result there’s more opiates in the black market? Is [pot] a gateway? We don’t really have an answer.” One delicate balance for Canadian authorities has been guessing at what kind of pricing will be low enough to eradicate illicit sales – yet not so low as to entice new users. Canada’s finance minister, Bill Morneau, recently said the goal is “keeping cannabis out of the hands of kids and out of the black market. That means keeping the taxes low so we can actually get rid of the criminals in the system”.

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The end of Sessions as AG? We’ll take it. While thinking about all the young black kids whose lives have been screwed for small amounts of pot.

Trump Voices Support For Bipartisan Pot Legislation (Pol.)

President Donald Trump said Friday he “probably will end up supporting” bipartisan legislation to bar the federal government from interfering with marijuana legalization laws at the state level, putting him at odds with efforts by his own Justice Department to crack down on the substance nationwide. The bill, unveiled by Sens. Cory Gardner of (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), lawmakers of two states that have voted to legalize certain types of pot use, would in effect give states the right to determine their own approach to regulating the drug.

Pressed on whether he supports the measure while addressing reporters outside the White House on Friday, the president said he supports it now and will “probably” support it going forward. “I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” Trump said of the lawmaker’s bill. “I know exactly what he’s doing, we’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.” The remarks stand in contrast to the actions of his own Justice Department, which under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has moved aggressively to crack down on the proliferation of laws to decriminalize and legalize cannabis.

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The less news people read, the more exhausted they are?!

7 In 10 Americans Are Overwhelmed By News, More Among Republicans (ZH)

In a period in which most Americans feel mentally exhausted by news flow — from Facebook’s trending stories to Twitter’s hashtags to Trump’s spontaneous tweeting — and of course, how could we not forget, the mainstream media’s constant barrage of very fake news, approximately 70% of Americans feel “overwhelmed by the amount of news there is,” according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted from Feb. 22 to March 04, 2018. Nearly 68% of Americans feel mentally exhausted by the high-rate of news in the modern era, compared with just 30% of Americans who enjoyed the amount of news they get.

Pew said today’s “feelings of information overload” is similar to how Americans felt during the 2016 presidential election. While it certainly seems like Americans are consuming too much media, Republicans are experiencing more news fatigue than anyone else. Roughly 77% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are mentally drained from the constant bombardment of news headlines, compared with just 61% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, said Pew. The report detailed that avid news watchers were less likely to experience mental fatigue than those who sparingly read headlines. For those who chase headlines “most of the time,” 62% reported psychological exhaustion, meanwhile, 78% of those who less frequently get news say they are overwhelmed.

The human brain which created this modern world is just not wired to process the vast amounts of information from news networks and social media. Americans are sleepwalking into a period of too much stimulation in tense periods, which could result in irrational decision making. America is stressed — its people are stressed — and there is just too much damn news. What could go wrong from here?

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That’s a surprise…NOT.

Berlin Still Has ‘No Evidence’ From UK That Moscow Is Behind Skripal Case (RT)

The German government has zero evidence from the British authorities that could back London’s claims that Moscow was behind the poisoning of the Skripals, German media reports. More than three months since the start of the probe into the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, the UK is still conspicuously tight-lipped when it comes to any real evidence that could prove its accusations against Russia. On Wednesday, the German government informed a parliamentary oversight committee during a closed hearing that it still has not received any evidence suggesting that Russia might well be behind the incident that took place in early March, German TV station RBB reports.

“It is [still] only known that the poison used in the attack was a nerve agent called Novichok, which was once produced in the Soviet Union,” Michael Goetschenberg, a correspondent of German ARD and an expert on security services, told RBB, commenting on the results of the hearing, which he is familiar with. Apart from this information, which was released by the British authorities soon after the incident, no new data on Russia’s alleged implication in this case was provided to Germany so far, he added. German intelligence has also found no Russian trace in this case so far, Goetschenberg said. “The BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence… has also contacted its own sources and tried to verify the information [about Russia’s potential involvement] in some way,” he told RBB, adding that it eventually failed to find any evidence pointing to Moscow as well.

Following the poisoning, which London blamed on Moscow using the now infamous wording “highly likely,” the UK and its allies expelled dozens of Russian diplomats, with Moscow giving a mirror response. Russia has categorically denied any involvement, and has complained that the victims were not allowed visits by Russian lawyers and diplomats, and the results of the investigation were kept secret. The Russian envoy to the UK has on several occasions alleged that London was even trying to “destroy” evidence in the probe.

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It is very easy for governments to simply ban the stuff. But for some reason they don’t. Selling the stuff and then asking people not to use it seems Kafkaesque. At best.

Tourists To Med Told To Ditch Plastic To Avoid Huge Rise In Beach Litter (G.)

Tourists are being urged to reduce their use of plastic as new figures reveal holidaymakers cause a 40% spike in marine litter in the Mediterranean each summer. Nearly all the waste created by the surge in tourism over the summer months in countries like Italy, France and Turkey is plastic litter, says WWF in a new report. In a matter of weeks over the holiday season the rise in plastic marine pollution contributes to the estimated 150m tonnes of plastic in the ocean. WWF said in its report the majority of plastic waste polluting the Mediterranean Sea comes from Turkey and Spain, followed by Italy, Egypt and France – countries to which more than 34 million British holidaymakers are preparing to travel this year.

Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF, said holidaymakers were leaving behind a toxic legacy of plastic waste. “The birds, fish and turtles of the Mediterranean are choking on plastic … plastic is ending up in the fish and seafood we eat on holiday. “We’re asking people to think about how they can cut down on the amount of single-use plastic they use and throw away on holiday,” she said. Steele urges holidaymakers to drink tap water where it is safe to do so, refuse plastic straws and skip the purchase of inflatable pool toys. “We can all be part of the solution and not the problem,” she said. In Europe plastics account for 95% of the waste in the open sea, posing a major threat to marine life, says WWF.

After China, Europe is the second largest producer of plastic in the world, producing 27m tonnes of plastic waste. The continent dumps up to an estimated 500,000 tonnes of macroplastics and 130,000 tonnes of microplastics in the sea every year, the report says. But delays and gaps in plastic waste management in most Mediterranean countries mean only a third of the 60m tonnes of plastic produced is recycled. Half of all plastic waste in Italy, France and Spain ends up in landfills. Home to almost 25,000 plant and animal species – of which 60% are unique to the region – the Mediterranean holds only 1% of the world’s water but contains 7% of all of the world’s microplastic waste. Plastics have also been found in oysters and mussels, while crisp packets and cigarettes have been found in large fish, WWF says.

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“Shakespeare’s Ariel looked down into the ocean and saw “something rich and strange”; we look down and see our consuming society reflected back at us.”

Microplastics In Our Mussels: The Sea Is Feeding Human Garbage Back To Us (G.)

Shellfish are the natural filter systems of our seas, mechanisms of purity. So, to discover in a report released on World Oceans Day that mussels bought from UK supermarkets were infested with microplastic seems like a final irony in the terrible story of the plasticisation of the sea. According to the study by the University of Hull and Brunel University London, 70 particles of microplastic were found in every 100 grams of mussels. There’s a vital disconnection here – highlighted by the bottled water you drink to wash down your moules-frites, and the fact that 89% of ocean trash comes from single-use plastic. No sea is immune from this plague, nor any ocean creature, from the modest mussel or zooplankton to the great whales.

I have just returned from Cape Cod, where, due to pollution and other anthropogenic effects, the North Atlantic right whale may be extinct by 2040 – a huge mammal about to vanish from the sight of the shores of the richest, most powerful nation on Earth. On the pristine, remote Cisco Beach on Nantucket, I watched a grey seal watching me – only to realise the sleek pelage of its midriff was bound with an orange plastic bag. Last month, off St Ives in Cornwall, I saw a cormorant tugging helplessly at a monofilament of fishing line that had trussed its bill to its arched neck. The underwater photographer Andrew Sutton sends a selfie from Costa Rica: he is holding miles of illegal plastic long line, tangled like a grotesque bouquet.

From Sri Lanka to the Mediterranean, our summer holiday idylls become places of mortality. That we cannot look underneath what Herman Melville called “the ocean’s skin” is part of the problem. It is as if, defeated by the sea’s mystery, we punish it for defying our dominion. And so, it wreaks its revenge, feeding our own rubbish back to us. Shakespeare’s Ariel looked down into the ocean and saw “something rich and strange”; we look down and see our consuming society reflected back at us.

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Jun 052018
 
 June 5, 2018  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan East Entrance, City Hall, Philadelphia 1901

 

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)
The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)
US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)
India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)
China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)
Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)
Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)
Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)
Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)
Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)
A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)
Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)
Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

 

 

Don’t think it will happen without an overall economic collapse.

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)

Trillions of dollars of fossil fuel wealth will be wiped out at some point over the next 17 years even if governments fail to impose binding carbon emissions limits on industry to curb global warming, according to a major new study. Environmentalists and policymakers have long warned of the threat of a “carbon bubble” and “stranded assets” for listed energy companies, based on the possibility they will never be able to realise the value of their vast stores of oil, gas and coal if politicians actually deliver on their decarbonisation promises.

But today a group of scientists and analysts from Cambridge, Nijmegen, Macao and the Open University take that warning a step further by arguing that these assets are destined to be stranded regardless of official policies to discourage the use of fossil fuels because clean energy technologies are now developing so rapidly that those polluting assets will be worthless in any case. “Our analysis suggests that, contrary to investor expectations, the stranding of fossil fuels assets may happen even without new climate policies. This suggests a carbon bubble is forming and it is likely to burst,” said Professor Jorge Viñuales from Cambridge University. If policymakers did deliver on the decarbonisation programmes, the loss for investors would be even more rapid.

The research is at odds with work from the International Energy Agency, which projects steady price rises for fossil fuels until 2040. And Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change has also done nothing to persuade most investors to take the stranded assets warning seriously. But the researchers’ new “simulation-based, energy-economy-carbon-cycle climate” model suggests investing in fossil fuel firms today is likely to prove a disastrous bet, suggesting that between $1 trillion and $4 trillion could be wiped off the value of global fossil fuel assets by 2035.

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Steel and concrete prices better not rise.

The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)

Electricity production is heavily dependent on materials like steel, concrete, copper and aluminum, for both producing electricity and moving it around to where it’s needed (see figure). Solar and Wind energy take more steel than any other energy source. Natural gas and nuclear take the least. Solar needs 1,600 tons of steel per MW, wind energy needs over 400 tons of steel, while gas and nuclear need only 4 and 40 tons, respectively. Wind and solar also require ten times more transmission, also heavily steel-intensive, since they are usually sited far away from where the energy is used.

The average high-voltage transmission tower includes about 30 tons of steel and transmission wire contains about a ton of steel per mile. Going from our biggest solar array, located in the Mohave Desert, to Los Angeles is almost 300 miles, requiring on the order of 10,000 tons of steel depending on specific design. While we tend to think of renewables as associated with Blue States, they are actually growing faster in Red States. Four of the five states with the most installed wind energy are Texas (20,321 MW), Iowa (6,917 MW), Oklahoma (6,645 MW) and Kansas (4,451 MW). The only Blue State in the top five is California (5,662 MW).

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Prop up your stock some more.

US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)

Money is pouring into the U.S. economy and in turn helping provide support for the otherwise struggling stock market. If current conditions persist, corporations are likely this year to inject more than $2.5 trillion into what UBS strategists term “flow” — the combination of share buybacks, dividends, and mergers and acquisitions activity. The development comes as companies find themselves awash in cash, thanks primarily to years of stashing away profits plus the benefits of a $1.5 trillion tax break this year that slashed corporate rates and encouraged firms to bring back money idling overseas. Companies have nearly $2.5 trillion in cash parked domestically, according to the Federal Reserve, and as much as $3.5 trillion overseas, various estimates have shown.

When all is said and done for 2018, UBS expects dividend issuance to top $500 billion, buybacks to range from $700 billion to $800 billion, and M&A to constitute about $1.3 trillion. If the numbers pan out, they would equate to about 10% of the S&P 500’s market cap and 12.5% of GDP. “Assuming improving growth and stable rates, we expect the positive positioning/flow backdrop to support US equities, which is important as the daily corporate flow slows from mid-June to mid-July,” UBS strategist Keith Parker said in a note. Parker pointed out that the firm has overweight positions in both tech and health care as the two sectors are leading the buyback boom.

Buybacks specifically have been on a torrid pace and are helping provide a floor to a market that for much of 2018 had looked tired and volatile after a 20% S&P 500 gain the year before. Repurchases are up 83% year to date, far ahead of the 9% gain in dividends, while M&A activity involving U.S. companies has surged 130%, according to UBS. [..] UBS estimates that the combination of buybacks, dividends and demand flows account for some 40% in performance this year. The S&P 500 has nudged 2.6% higher and the Dow industrials are just ahead of breakeven.

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The Fed retreats and the Treasury issues new debt.

India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)

In an op-ed published overnight in the FT, a central banker writes that when it comes to the turmoil gripping the world’s Emerging Markets, whether it is the acute, idiosyncratic version observed in Argentina and Turkey, which according to JPM may be doomed, or the more gradual selloffs observed in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico and India, don’t blame the Fed’s rate hike cycle. Instead blame the “double whammy” of the Fed’s shrinking balance sheet coupled with the dollar draining surge in debt issuance by the US Treasury.

That’s the message from the current Reserve Bank of India, Urjit Patel, who writes that “unlike previous turbulence, this episode cannot be attributed to the US Federal Reserve’s moves on interest rates, which have been rising steadily since December 2016 in a calibrated manner.” But does that mean that the Fed is not to blame for what increasingly looks like another budding EM crisis? Not at all: according to Patel, the dollar funding shortage “upheaval” stems from what he sees as the confluence of two significant events of which the Fed’s balance sheet reduction is one, while the second is the dramatic increase in US Treasury issuance to pay for Trump’s tax cuts; what is notable is that both events are drastically soaking up dollar liquidity.

As a result, Patel blames a lack a coordination between the Fed and Treasury on the adverse flow through across global funding markets as a result of this decline in dollar liquidity, and writes that “given the rapid rise in the size of the US deficit, the Fed must respond by slowing plans to shrink its balance sheet. If it does not, Treasuries will absorb such a large share of dollar liquidity that a crisis in the rest of the dollar bond markets is inevitable.” Putting these two parallel processes – which threaten to materially impair dollar funding markets – in context, on one hand there is QT, or the gradual decline in the Fed’s balance sheet which is set to peak at a rate of $50BN/month by October, while at the same time US net Treasury issuance is set to jump to $1.2 trillion in 2018 and 2019 to cover the forecasted budget deficit of $804BN and $981BN in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

And in a curious coincidence, the withdrawal of dollar funding by the Fed in monthly terms, as it reduces its reinvestment of income received, is proceeding at roughly the same pace as that of net issuance of debt by the US government. Furthermore, both processes are open ended which means that over the next few years, the government’s net issuance will stabilize, albeit at a high level, whereas the Fed’s balance-sheet reduction will keep rising. Both are terrible news for Emerging Markets, which are in desperate need of reversing the ongoing dollar outflows; however as long as Trump continues to make America great, and funds said stimulus with excess debt issuance, emerging market turmoil is virtually guaranteed.

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China retreats, too.

China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)

China’s debt crackdown is a key risk to the country’s economic growth and will have significant knock-on effects for the global economy, particularly emerging markets with high commodity dependence or close Chinese trade links, Fitch Ratings said. Beijing’s campaign to put a lid on debt could also lead to a sharp slowdown in business investment, Fitch said late on Sunday, forecasting that growth in the world’s second-biggest economy would slow to around 4.5% over the medium term. Fitch said the implications of this scenario for the global economy would be significant but not dramatic, unlike a full-scale hard landing.

One of the most significant effects would be on commodity prices, with Fitch expecting oil and metal prices to fall 5 to 10% from its baseline scenario, reflecting China’s large role as a commodity consumer. In April, a Reuters poll of 72 institutions showed economists expected China’s economic growth to slow to 6.5% this year and 6.3% next year as Beijing extends its crackdown on riskier lending practices. GDP in 2017 expanded 6.9% in real terms and 11.2% in nominal terms. Beijing’s financial crackdown, now in its third year, has slowly pushed up borrowing costs and is choking off alternative, murkier funding sources for companies such as shadow banking.

The ratio of Chinese corporate debt to GDP is already very high by international standards – at 168% in 2017 – and is expected to start rising again as nominal GDP growth declines towards 8% from the unusually high rate of more than 11% in 2017, Fitch said. If the government aims to stabilize its corporate debt ratio by 2022, Fitch said China’s nominal economic growth rate could fall by 1 percentage point a year over the medium term while business investment growth would drop 5percentage points per year.

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Restructuring Target2. That should be fun.

Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)

The political upheaval and social unrest fueling the current crisis in Italy should surprise no one. On the contrary, the only uncertainty was when exactly matters would come to a head. Now they have. Italy’s per capita GDP in 2018 is about 8% below its level in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis triggered the Great Recession. And the International Monetary Fund’s projections for 2023 suggest that Italy will still not have fully recovered from the cumulative output losses of the past decade. Among the 11 advanced economies that were hit by severe financial crises in 2007-2009, only Greece has suffered a deeper and more protracted economic depression.

Greece and Italy were the two economies carrying the highest debt burdens at the outset of the crisis (109% and 102% of GDP, respectively), leaving them poorly positioned to cope with major adverse shocks. Since the crisis erupted a decade ago, economic stagnation and costly banking weaknesses have propelled debt burdens higher still, despite a decade of exceptionally low interest rates. Greece has already faced more than one “credit event” and, while Italy has also had a couple of close calls, the spring of 2018 is turning out to be its most tumultuous episode yet. The summer will probably be worse, bringing Italy closer to a sovereign debt crisis. On the surface, general government debt appears to have stabilized since 2013, at around 130% of GDP. However, as I have stressed here and elsewhere, this “stability” is misleading.

General government debt is not the whole story for Italy, even setting aside the private debt loads and the recent renewed upturn in nonperforming bank loans (a daunting legacy of the financial crisis). When evaluating Italy’s sovereign risk, the central bank’s debts (Target2 balances) must be added to those of the general government. As the most recent available data (through March) show, these balances increase the ratio of public-sector debt to GDP by 26%. With many investors pulling out of Italian assets, capital flight in the more recent data is bound to show up as an even bigger Target2 hole. This debt, unlike pre-1999, pre-euro Italian debt, cannot be inflated away. In this regard, it is much like emerging markets’ dollar-denominated debts: it is either repaid or restructured.

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What the euro has meant for Greece and Italy: lower wages, higher unemployment and higher current account deficit.

Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)

[..] we thought it would be a good idea to remind readers why the euro exists in the first place. The briefest possible answer: to make sure the Deutsche Mark does not. As presented in the chart below – which shows the performance for each of the EU12 countries against the German DEM in every decade from the 1950s to the start of the Euro in 1999 – apart from a small revaluation of core countries in the 1990s, every country devalued to Germany in every decade between the 1950s and the start of the Euro. Said otherwise, the Deutsche Mark appreciated in value against all of its European peers for 5 consecutive decades, a condition which if left unchanged, would have led to an economic and trade crisis.

And as a bonus chart, here is same data (with the US and UK added) from the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 to the start of the Euro (Lira -82% devaluation to German DM) and during the 1990s (-24% devaluation) – the decade immediately leading up to the Euro start. As can be seen Italy is amongs the weakest performers relative to the German DM over these periods and showed the momentum that existed in the period leading up to the start of the Euro.

And while the fixed exchange of the Euro for European nations allowed the German export industry to go into overdrive, the lack of the possibility for an external, i.e. currency, devaluation, meant that Italy has been forced to do it all by engaging in internal devaluation, i.e., lower wages, higher unemployment and boosting its current account deficit, which however is made virtually impossible given Italy’s deteriorating demographics. This is what DB’s Jim Reid said of Italy’s potential future: Looking forward, Italy will not find it easy to grow out of its problems as its facing one of the worst set of demographics of the G20 countries. Its population size has peaked (according to the UN) and is expected to decline out to 2050. Its working age population (15-64 year olds as a proxy) is set to fall -24% over the same period and is again one of the worst placed in the G20.

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“Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago..”

Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)

Housing in the Greater Toronto Area is, let’s say, retrenching. Canada’s largest housing market has seen an enormous two-decade surge in prices that culminated in utter craziness in April 2017, when the Home Price Index had skyrocketed 32% from a year earlier. But now the hangover has set in and the bubble isn’t fun anymore. Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago, to 7,834 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). It affected all types of homes, even the once red-hot condos: • Detached houses -28.5% • Semi-detached houses -29.4% • Townhouses -13.4% • Condos -15.5%.

It was particularly unpleasant at the higher end: Sales of homes costing C$1.5 million or more plummeted by 46% year-over-year to 508 homes in May 2018, according to TREB data. Compared to the April 2017 peak of 1,362 sales in that price range, sales in May collapsed by 63%. But it’s not just at the high end. At the low end too. In May, sales of homes below C$500,000 – about 68% of them were condos – fell by 36% year-over-year to 5,253 homes. The TREB publishes two types of prices – the average price and its proprietary MLS Home Price Index based on a “composite benchmark home.” Both fell in May compared to a year ago.

The average price in May for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) fell 6.6% year-over-year to C$805,320, and is now down 12.3%, or an ear-ringing C$113,000, from the crazy peak in April 2017. There are no perfect measures of home prices in a market. Each has its own drawbacks. Average home prices can be impacted by the mix and by a few large outliers – but over the longer term, it gives a good impression of the direction. The chart below shows thepercentage change in average home prices in the GTA compared to a year earlier:

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Because the boom was a bubble.

Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)

It doesn’t feel all that long ago that Australian banks were the envy of the world. In March 2009, when stress-testing of US financial institutions drove the final spasm of the previous year’s credit crisis, you could have bought all the shares in Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays with their $US8.4 trillion ($11 trillion) of gross assets for less than you’d pay for the equity of Westpac, with $US347 billion of assets. Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s share price peaked six years later just a sliver south of three times the value of its net assets, an extraordinary level in a business where price-book ratios have struggled to break above one times over the past decade.

With the current Royal Commission inquiring into practices in the country’s financial services industry and a slew of court cases, those high-flyers have come to earth with a bump. CBA on Monday agreed to pay $700 million to settle a money laundering case in which it admitted that a software update allowed about 54,000 reportable transactions to go unreported over a period of almost three years. On Friday, ANZ and local units of Deutsche Bank and Citigroup announced they were facing possible criminal cartel charges over their handling of a $2.5 billion placement of ANZ shares in 2015. Having executives hauled up before government inquiries and paying out hundreds of millions in court settlements isn’t great for headlines, but it would be a mistake to see the declines in Australia’s banking sector as purely a result of this.

When your annual net income is in the region of $10 billion, as CBA’s is, a $700 million charge is more than just a rounding error. But the 1.2 per cent jump in the company’s stock after the settlement was announced Monday is an indication that the cost is worth less to shareholders than the benefit of putting the issue firmly in the past. The greater risk to Australia’s banks lurks not in the papers of regulators and inquisitors, but on the streets of the country’s sprawling suburbs. As we’ve argued before, the most ominous indicator to watch is also a favourite one of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Rents, as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, have been increasing at less than 1 per cent for nine consecutive quarters , the worst performance for the measure since the housing crash of the early 1990s.

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The spirit of Steve Jobs?!

Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)

Apple will attempt to frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users, within the next version of its iOS and Mac operating systems. “We’re shutting that down,” declared Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi, at the firm’s developers conference. He added that the web browser Safari would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity. The move is likely to add to tensions between the two companies. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook had previously described Facebook’s practices as being an “invasion of privacy” – an opinion Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg subsequently denounced as being “glib”.

At the WWDC conference – held in San Jose, California – Mr Federighi said that Facebook keeps watch over people in ways they might not be aware of. “We’ve all seen these – these like buttons, and share buttons and these comment fields. “Well it turns out these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not.” He then pointed to an onscreen alert that asked: “Do you want to allow Facebook.com to use cookies and available data while browsing?” “You can decide to keep your information private.”

One cyber-security expert applauded the move. “Apple is making changes to the core of how the browser works – surprisingly strong changes that should enable greater privacy,” said Kevin Beaumont. “Quite often the changes companies make around privacy are small, incremental, they don’t shake the market up much. “Here Apple is allowing users to see when tracking is enabled on a website – actually being able to visually see that with a prompt is breaking new ground.”

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Building on the Ring of Fire.

A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)

It’s only been in the last thirty years that Seattle hoisted up its tombstone cluster of several dozen office and condo towers. That’s what cities do these days to demonstrate their self-regard, and Seattle is perhaps America’s boomingest city, what with Microsoft’s and Amazon’s headquarters there — avatars of the digital economy. A megathrust earthquake there today would produce a scene that even the computer graphics artistes of Hollywood could not match for picturesque chaos. What were the city planners thinking when they signed off on those building plans?

I survived the journey through the Seattle tunnel, dogged by neurotic fantasies, and headed south to California’s Bay Area, another seismic doomer zone. For sure I am not the only casual observer who gets the doomish vibe out there on the Left Coast. Even if you are oblivious to the geology of the place, there’s plenty to suggest a sense of impossibility for business-as-usual continuing much longer. I got that end-of-an-era feeling in California traffic, specifically driving toward San Francisco on the I-80 freeway out in the suburban asteroid belt of Contra Costa County, past the sinister oil refineries of Mococo and the dormitory sprawl of Walnut Creek, Orinda, and Lafayette.

Things go on until they can’t, economist Herb Stein observed, back in the quaint old 20th century, as the USA revved up toward the final blowoff we’ve now entered. The shale oil “miracle” (so-called) has given even thoughtful adults the false impression that the California template for modern living will continue indefinitely. I’d give it less than five years now.

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Snowden deserves as much support as Assange does.

Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)

Edward Snowden has no regrets five years on from leaking the biggest cache of top-secret documents in history. He is wanted by the US. He is in exile in Russia. But he is satisfied with the way his revelations of mass surveillance have rocked governments, intelligence agencies and major internet companies. In a phone interview to mark the anniversary of the day the Guardian broke the story, he recalled the day his world – and that of many others around the globe – changed for good. He went to sleep in his Hong Kong hotel room and when he woke, the news that the National Security Agency had been vacuuming up the phone data of millions of Americans had been live for several hours.

Snowden knew at that moment his old life was over. “It was scary but it was liberating,” he said. “There was a sense of finality. There was no going back.” What has happened in the five years since? He is one of the most famous fugitives in the world, the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, a Hollywood movie, and at least a dozen books. The US and UK governments, on the basis of his revelations, have faced court challenges to surveillance laws. New legislation has been passed in both countries. The internet companies, responding to a public backlash over privacy, have made encryption commonplace.

Snowden, weighing up the changes, said some privacy campaigners had expressed disappointment with how things have developed, but he did not share it. “People say nothing has changed: that there is still mass surveillance. That is not how you measure change. Look back before 2013 and look at what has happened since. Everything changed.” The most important change, he said, was public awareness. “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance. But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.”

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Bayer-Monsanto: “It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits..”

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

Unless there is a major hiccup in the next few days, an incredibly powerful company will shortly be given a licence to dominate world farming. Following a nod from Donald Trump, powerful lobbying in Europe and a lot of political arm-twisting on several continents, the path has been cleared for Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, to be taken over by Bayer, the second-largest pesticide group, for an estimated $66bn (£50bn). The merger has been called both a “marriage made in hell” and “an important development for food security”.

Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get. It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.

Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds. You might think that these mergers would alert the government, but because political parties in Britain are so inward-looking, and because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard.

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May 252018
 


Wassily Kandinsky Moscow Red Square 1916

 

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)
When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)
Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)
North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)
Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)
About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)
Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)
Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)
EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)
Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)
Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)
How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

 

 

Perhaps not a good time to chase yield?

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)

High-grade corporate bonds have had a hard time. Yields have surged as prices have fallen. The S&P bond index for AA-rated corporate bonds is down 3.2% so far this year. Losses are concentrated on bonds with maturities of 15 years and over. They’re down 7%, according to Bloomberg. As prices have declined, yields have surged, with the average AA yield now at 3.47%, up from around 2.2% in mid to late-2016:

In the chart above of the ICE BofAML US AA Effective Yield Index, I marked some key events, in terms of the bond yield:
• The election in November 2016, after which the yield spiked.
• In December 2016, the Fed’s second rate hike in this cycle. This was when the Fed got serious and added an increasingly more hawkish – or less dovish – tone. But the market blew it off, yield fell again, and bonds returned to la-la-land.
• In September 2017, the Fed announced details of its QE unwind, and yields began to rise again and then started spiking in late-2017. This was when the bond market got serious.

But at the riskiest end of the spectrum, with corporate bonds rated CCC or below (deep into junk), there is no such pain. In fact, the S&P bond index for CCC rated bonds is up 4.3% so far this year. They’ve had a blistering 82%-run since February 2016, when Wall Street decided that the oil bust was over and plowed new money into junk-rated energy companies. The average yield of bonds rated CCC or lower is now at 9.78%, down from 12.5% in December 2016, when the Fed got serious, and down from 22% during the peak of the oil bust:

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Looking for the third victim.

When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)

When rates go up sharply, stuff blows up, because lots of people are negatively exposed to higher rates. Households, corporates, and governments are all negatively exposed to higher rates, in different degrees. Back in 1994, we found that it was Mexico, Procter & Gamble, and Orange County, California who all suffered because of higher interest rates. Where does the risk live today? We will soon find out. There is a playbook for when interest rates go up. Rising interest rates do not necessarily cause a recession per se, but they are usually found at the scene of the crime. There was no recession in 1994, but the financial world shivered. Today, we have rising rates and a more-hawkish Fed which has shown no signs of letting up.

As usual, emerging markets are puking their guts out. I was in Argentina last week and saw the carnage first-hand. The Argentine peso declined a smooth 20% in a week. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Erdogan is calling himself an “enemy of interest rates.” He is an FX trader’s dream. Of course, there are idiosyncratic things going on in Argentina and Turkey, but all EM currencies and stock markets have been getting hit hard. Emerging markets was a consensus pick at the beginning of 2018, so it is making some people look a bit foolish.

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“..the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever..”

Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)

Many consumers are debt free and have lots of money and good jobs. Other consumers have large amounts of debt, lousy jobs or no jobs, and are paying for groceries by charging them on their credit cards. Credit problems always involve the most vulnerable consumers. During the mortgage crisis, the delinquency rate peaked at 11.5% in 2010. It wasn’t the 60% of homeowners that had significantly payed down their mortgages or owed no money on their homes who triggered that event. It was the financial mayhem among the smaller portion of the most exposed and most vulnerable. For a different view of the burden of debt, let’s look at non-housing consumer debt, because this is where the music is playing right now.

To eliminate for a moment the impact of interest rates, let’s look at the amount of debt – not the monthly payments – as percent of disposable income. And suddenly, the risks emerge a little more clearly. At year-end 2017, the ratio of non-housing debt – revolving credit such as credit card balances, plus auto loans and student loans – to disposable income reached a new record of 26.3%, up from 23% at the end of 2010, and up from 24% in 2007, the peak before it all came apart during the Great Recession:

So the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever, and only historically low interest rates have kept it manageable. But interest rates are now rising, and many of these consumer debts have variable rates. This explains a phenomenon that is already appearing: How this toxic mix – rising interest rates and record high consumer debt in relationship to disposable income – has now started to bite the most vulnerable consumers once again. And for them, debt service is getting very difficult. In Q1, the delinquency rate on credit card debt at banks other than the largest 100 – so at the 4,788 smaller banks – spiked to 5.9%, higher than at the peak during the Financial Crisis, and the credit-card charge-off rate spiked to 8%.

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They seem more than open.

North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)

North Korea responded on Friday with measured tones to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to call off a historic summit with leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, saying Pyongyang hoped for a “Trump formula” to resolve the standoff over its nuclear weapons program. On Thursday, Trump wrote a letter to Kim to announce his withdrawal from what would have been the first-ever meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s announcement came after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out of the summit over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials. Friday’s response by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan was more conciliatory, specifically praising Trump’s efforts. “We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit,” Kim said in a statement carried by state media. “We even inwardly hoped that what is called “Trump formula” would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said, without elaborating.

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Caitlin: “..Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon. ..”

Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)

Three days before President Trump announced him as the new National Security Advisor, deranged mutant death walrus John Bolton appeared on Radio Free Asia and said of negotiations with North Korea, “I think we should insist that if this meeting is going to take place, it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago.” Bolton has been loudly and publicly advocating “the Libya model” with the DPRK ever since. “I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004,” Bolton said on Face the Nation last month, and said the same on Fox News Sunday in case anyone failed to get the message.

Bolton never bothered to refine his message by saying, for example, “Without the part where we betray and invade them and get their leader mutilated to death in the streets.” He just said they’re doing Libya again. This was what John Bolton was saying before he was hired, and this was what John Bolton continued to say after he was hired. This was what John Bolton was hired to do. He was hired to sabotage peace and facilitate death and destruction. That is what he does. That is what he is for. Can openers open cans, John Bolton starts wars. You don’t buy a can opener to rotate your tires, and you don’t hire John Bolton to facilitate peace. It should have surprised no one, then, when the administration saw Bolton’s Libya comments and raised him a canceled peace talk.

“You know, there were some talk about the Libya model last week,” Vice President Pence told Fox News on Saturday. “And you know, as the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn’t make a deal.” “Some people saw that as a threat,” Fox’s Martha MacCallum replied, because there is no other way it could possibly be interpreted. Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon.

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The comments here on GDPR are at least as interesting.

About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)

Criminals have stolen about $1.2 billion in cryptocurrencies since the beginning of 2017, as bitcoin’s popularity and the emergence of more than 1,500 digital tokens have put the spotlight on the unregulated sector, according to estimates from the Anti-Phishing Working Group released on Thursday. The estimates were part of the non-profit group’s research on cryptocurrency and include reported and unreported theft. “One problem that we’re seeing in addition to the criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering using cryptocurrencies is the theft of these tokens by bad guys,” Dave Jevans, chief executive officer of cryptocurrency security firm CipherTrace, told Reuters in an interview. Jevans is also chairman of APWG.

Of the $1.2 billion, Jevans estimates that only about 20 percent or less has been recovered, noting that global law enforcement agencies have their hands full tracking down these criminals. Their investigations of criminal activity will likely take a step back with the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect on Friday. “GDPR will negatively impact the overall security of the internet and will also inadvertently aid cybercriminals,” said Jevans. “By restricting access to critical information, the new law will significantly hinder investigations into cybercrime, cryptocurrency theft, phishing, ransomware, malware, fraud and crypto-jacking,” he added.

GDPR, which passed in 2016, aims to simplify and consolidate rules that companies need to follow in order to protect their data and to return control of personal information to EU citizens and residents. The implementation of GDPR means that most European domain data in WHOIS, the internet’s database of record, will no longer be published publicly after May 25. WHOIS contains the names, addresses and email addresses of those who register domain names for websites.

WHOIS data is a fundamental resource for investigators and law enforcement officials who work to prevent thefts, Jevans said. He noted that WHOIS data is crucial in performing investigations that allow for the recovery of stolen funds, identifying the persons involved and providing vital information for law enforcement to arrest and prosecute criminals. “So what we’re going to see is that not only the European market goes dark for all of us; so all the bad guys will flow to Europe because you can actually access the world from Europe and there’s no way you can get the data anymore,” Jevans said.

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Facebook makes contradictory claims: First, it says it’s a neutral platform. But then it also wants full freedom to edit.

Interesting court case: the claim is Facebook stiffed 40,000 (!) companies. Reason why? It completely missed the shift to smartphones, and its ads were not ready for that at all.

Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)

Mark Zuckerberg faces allegations that he developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit vast amounts of private data to earn Facebook billions and force rivals out of business. A company suing Facebook in a California court claims the social network’s chief executive “weaponised” the ability to access data from any user’s network of friends – the feature at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.A legal motion filed last week in the superior court of San Mateo draws upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives including Mark Zuckerberg. He is named individually in the case and, it is claimed, had personal oversight of the scheme.

Facebook rejects all claims, and has made a motion to have the case dismissed using a free speech defence. It claims the first amendment protects its right to make “editorial decisions” as it sees fit. Zuckerberg and other senior executives have asserted that Facebook is a platform not a publisher, most recently in testimony to Congress. Heather Whitney, a legal scholar who has written about social media companies for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said, in her opinion, this exposed a potential tension for Facebook. “Facebook’s claims in court that it is an editor for first amendment purposes and thus free to censor and alter the content available on its site is in tension with their, especially recent, claims before the public and US Congress to be neutral platforms.”

The company that has filed the case, a former startup called Six4Three, is now trying to stop Facebook from having the case thrown out and has submitted legal arguments that draw on thousands of emails, the details of which are currently redacted. Facebook has until next Tuesday to file a motion requesting that the evidence remains sealed, otherwise the documents will be made public.

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Somewhat oddly similar to the article above, also Guardian. Facebook is up against people who actually DO understand the field.

Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)

Facebook used its apps to gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones, a court case in California alleges. The claims of what would amount to mass surveillance are part of a lawsuit brought against the company by the former startup Six4Three, listed in legal documents filed at the superior court in San Mateo as part of a court case that has been ongoing for more than two years. A Facebook spokesperson said that Six4Three’s “claims have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously”. Facebook did not directly respond to questions about surveillance.

Documents filed in the court last week draw upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives, which are currently sealed. Facebook has deployed a feature of California law, designed to protect freedom of speech, to argue that the case should be dismissed. Six4Three is opposing that motion. The allegations about surveillance appear in a January filing, the fifth amended complaint made by Six4Three. It alleges that Facebook used a range of methods, some adapted to the different phones that users carried, to collect information it could use for commercial purposes.

“Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls,” one court document says.

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All over the place.

EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)

Brexit negotiations have begun to dramatically sour after months of deadlock, with exasperated EU officials tearing into Britain’s “fantasy” negotiating strategy and warning that Theresa May’s latest customs plan would ruin any chance of progress. This week’s latest meetings are understood to have produced no progress on the core issues of the Northern Ireland border and customs, with last year’s business-like start to discussions having given way to bitter behind-the-scenes briefings. One senior EU official said the UK still lacked negotiating positions on a wide variety of issues and that in others it was “chasing the fantasy of denying the consequences of Brexit in a given policy area” – while a UK government source accused Brussels of trying to “insult” the British negotiating team.

Another Brussels official close to talks told The Independent they had been warned internally that there would probably be no progress by the June meeting of the European Council – which would throw off the timetable and raise the risk of a disastrous “no deal”. News that Theresa May wants to align the whole UK with the customs union and single market on a time-limited basis until 2023 as a backstop to solve the Irish border issue was particularly poorly received in Brussels. The Prime Minister is due to actually announce the new policy in the comings weeks, but people familiar with the talks confirmed it had already been raised by UK negotiators. The European Commission’s negotiators have already rejected the plan before its public announcement

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Then agan, Tsipras folded too…

Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)

As Giuseppe Conte is asked to form Italy’s next government, I walk out of a screening of Loro, the controversial portrayal of Silvio Berlusconi by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino. With images of drug-fuelled sex parties still in my mind, the uproar that accompanies the announcement about Conte appears odd. Italy has endured more than 30 years of dreadful governments. For much of the last two decades the country was led by a convicted tax fraudster. Before that, it was led by Bettino Craxi, a politician so corrupt that he ended his days as a fugitive in Tunisia. Why worry now? Part of the answer lies in the outsider nature of the new governing parties. Italian elites have traditionally been very adept at assimilating political newcomers.

Who, in turn, have been willingly co-opted by the system. But the new coalition of the Five Star Movement and far-right League appears peculiarly unconnected to Italy’s high establishment: the risk of loss of influence is real enough. Previous governments were quick to guarantee policy continuity, maintaining a neoliberal economic stance, overall respect for EU obligations, and a US-aligned foreign policy. The coalition promises to break away from this consensus, ushering in an era of fiscal expansion, resentment at Italy’s eurozone membership and closer ties to Russia. The key question now is: will the new government abandon its fiery stance or stick to it? Both alternatives are unfortunately dreadful.

The capitulation scenario is a familiar one. Just like Alexis Tsipras, who turned into a reliable implementer of austerity measures in Greece, so Conte’s government might decide to set aside its promises. The gulf is wide: the coalition programme contains at least €60bn of additional yearly expenses, or 3.5% of Italy’s GDP, while the EU is demanding a 0.6% deficit reduction for 2018. A bargain might look strikingly similar to what Matteo Renzi has achieved in recent years: a moderate loosening of deficit targets allowing for an insignificant fiscal expansion. In other words: business as usual.

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Cuts, cuts, cuts, taxes and sell-offs.

Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)

The sweeping agreement for the conclusion of the fourth bailout review, publicized early on Thursday by the European Commission, contains binding commitments for Greece until 2022. It more or less constitutes an extension to the bailout agreement for another four years, but without the inflow of money, while rendering the coalition government’s rhetoric regarding a “clean exit” and its so-called “holistic plan for growth” irrelevant. The text uploaded by the Commission on its website leaves open the possibility for the income tax discount reduction to be brought forward by 12 months to January 2019, and provides for the monitoring of the deal’s implementation in the context of the enhanced surveillance to be agreed in the next Eurogroup meeting on June 21.

Besides the almost 90 milestones that need to be implemented in the next three weeks for the completion of the program, the government is undertaking at least 20 post-program obligations to be applied by 2022. The post-program milestones start from the fiscal side: Apart from the well-known primary budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP, the adjusted bailout agreement calls for additional interventions should any court decisions annul any austerity measures in place.

The text also contains the reduction of pensions from 2019 to save 1% of GDP, the full abolition of the EKAS benefit for people on low pensions, the completion of the National Cadaster by June 2021, the implementation of privatizations such as the gas network operator (DESFA), the 17% stake in PPC, and the Elliniko development, among others, and ceilings on civil servant employment and salaries by 2022. The document further refers to the need to improve labor mediation to avert recourse to arbitration, the completion of the process for hiring general and special secretaries for ministries, and the immediate transfer of railway property company GAIAOSE and the company managing the Olympic Sports Center of Athens to the privatizations hyperfund.

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Don’t let accountants run your health care.

How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

It makes sense to sell this old place now, but he can’t bring himself to leave her ashes. Barry Gibbs lives alone in a single-story home among the loblollies of Hyde County in eastern North Carolina. The army veteran collects a small disability check after he tore tendons in his shoulder during a fall at his maintenance job at the local school. He winces every time he stands up. He’s 64 years old and the closest hospital is more than an hour away, a distance he came to understand too damn well on the day she needed help. Their wedding portrait still hangs on the living room wall. It’s one of those 1980s shots with the laser beam backgrounds, her hair big and his mustache combed, his hand on her shoulder.

The interior of the house is almost as she left it four years ago: white oak floors, paintings of black bears, family Christmas photos on end tables. Outside along the driveway, a line of cypress trees shades a headstone that marks where Barry cut a ditch and spread Portia’s ashes, right where she asked to be. Everybody called her Po. She was picking up sticks from the yard on 7 July 2014, five days shy of her 49th birthday, when she felt a sharp pain in her chest. Six days earlier, their community hospital had closed. Pungo district hospital was 47 miles west of their house, in Belhaven, and had served the county since 1949, back when crab-picking plants and lumber mills kept these small waterfront communities working.

If you’re an accountant, hospitals are only as good as the number of paying patients. Belhaven’s population is about half what it was then. And Hyde county is now the fifth-sparsest county on the east coast, with nine people per square mile. This spongy stretch of North Carolina’s inner banks represents the suffering side of a modern migration pattern in which southern cities are flourishing, but rural areas are shrinking and losing healthcare options. Since 2010, 53 rural hospitals have closed in 11 southern states, compared with 30 in the other 39 states.

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May 202018
 
 May 20, 2018  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roman Vishniac Isaac Street, Krakow 1930s

 

Stefan Halper: The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign (GG)
IG Horowitz Finds FBI, DOJ Broke Law In Clinton Probe (ZH)
China Agrees To Bolster Purchases Of US Goods (CNBC)
With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are (RT)
Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran (R.)
Now Facebook Serves NATO’s Agenda (McDonald)
Hedge Funds Bet On Big Turnaround By Italy’s Mid-Tier Banks (R.)
Companies Are Now Paying Off Their Employees’ Student Loans (CNBC)
What Happens In An Internet Minute In 2018? (WEF)
Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving (HBR)

 

 

Why not just call him a spy?

Stefan Halper: The FBI Informant Who Monitored the Trump Campaign (GG)

An extremely strange episode that has engulfed official Washington over the last two weeks came to a truly bizarre conclusion on Friday night. And it revolves around a long-time, highly sketchy CIA operative, Stefan Halper. Four decades ago, Halper was responsible for a long-forgotten spying scandal involving the 1980 election, in which the Reagan campaign – using CIA officials managed by Halper, reportedly under the direction of former CIA Director and then-Vice-Presidential candidate George H.W. Bush – got caught running a spying operation from inside the Carter administration. The plot involved CIA operatives passing classified information about Carter’s foreign policy to Reagan campaign officials in order to ensure the Reagan campaign knew of any foreign policy decisions that Carter was considering.

Over the past several weeks, House Republicans have been claiming that the FBI during the 2016 election used an operative to spy on the Trump campaign, and they triggered outrage within the FBI by trying to learn his identity. The controversy escalated when President Trump joined the fray on Friday morning. “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” Trump tweeted, adding: “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”

In response, the DOJ and the FBI’s various media spokespeople did not deny the core accusation, but quibbled with the language (the FBI used an “informant,” not a “spy”), and then began using increasingly strident language to warn that exposing his name would jeopardize his life and those of others, and also put American national security at grave risk. On May 8, the Washington Post described the informant as “a top-secret intelligence source” and cited DOJ officials as arguing that disclosure of his name “could risk lives by potentially exposing the source, a U.S. citizen who has provided intelligence to the CIA and FBI.”

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Excellent from Zero Hedge. Things are going to change. Read the whole thing.

IG Horowitz Finds FBI, DOJ Broke Law In Clinton Probe (ZH)

As we reported on Thursday, a long-awaited report by the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog into the Hillary Clinton email investigation has moved into its final phase, as the DOJ notified multiple subjects mentioned in the document that they can privately review it by week’s end, and will have a “few days” to craft any response to criticism contained within the report, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Those invited to review the report were told they would have to sign nondisclosure agreements in order to read it, people familiar with the matter said. They are expected to have a few days to craft a response to any criticism in the report, which will then be incorporated in the final version to be released in coming weeks.” -WSJ

Now, journalist Paul Sperry reports that “IG Horowitz has found “reasonable grounds” for believing there has been a violation of federal criminal law in the FBI/DOJ’s handling of the Clinton investigation/s and has referred his findings of potential criminal misconduct to Huber for possible criminal prosecution.” Sperry also noted on Twitter that the FBI and DOJ had been targeting former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn before his December 2016 phone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, stemming from photos of Flynn at a December 2015 Moscow event with Vladimir Putin (and Jill Stein). As we reported in March, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appointed John Huber – Utah’s top federal prosecutor, to be paired with IG Horowitz to investigate the multitude of accusations of FBI misconduct surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The announcement came one day after Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirmed that he will also be investigating allegations of FBI FISA abuse. While Huber’s appointment fell short of the second special counsel demanded by Congressional investigators and concerned citizens alike, his appointment and subsequent pairing with Horowitz is notable – as many have pointed out that the Inspector General is significantly limited in his abilities to investigate. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) noted in March “the IG’s office does not have authority to compel witness interviews, including from past employees, so its investigation will be limited in scope in comparison to a Special Counsel investigation,” Sessions’ pairing of Horowitz with Huber keeps the investigation under the DOJ’s roof and out of the hands of an independent investigator.

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You’ll need to put meat on that bone.

China Agrees To Bolster Purchases Of US Goods (CNBC)

China and the U.S. have mutually agreed to “substantially reduce” the yawning trade imbalance between the two countries, a joint statement read on Saturday, in a move that will involve the Chinese boosting more of what they buy from American producers. Amid fears of a global trade war and rising tensions between the world’s two largest economies, both China and the U.S. have entered bilateral talks to bolster cooperation. In a statement issued by the White House, both parties forged a “consensus on taking effective measures to substantially reduce the United States trade deficit in goods with China.”

Just a day ago, both countries were sharply at odds over a claim, made by White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow, that China would move to cut its trade deficit with the U.S. by $200 billion annually. That characterization was disputed by Chinese officials. Left unclear was exactly how much the Chinese would boost its purchases of U.S. goods. The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that China’s delegation rebuffed American demands to commit to an exact deficit reduction figure, and the two sides bickered all night over the statement’s language. The trade imbalance has long been a thorny and intractable topic in the Sino-US relationship.

Commerce Department data recently showed that imbalance between what China buys from the U.S. and vice versa hit a record in 2017 at over $375 billion. However, President Donald Trump has staked a resolution of the dispute on his personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. This week, Kudlow stated that China was “meeting many” Trump administration demands to cut its U.S. surplus. The statement released on Saturday struck a conciliatory tone. “To meet the growing consumption needs of the Chinese people and the need for high-quality economic development, China will significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services. This will help support growth and employment in the United States,” it read.

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John Laughland: “..the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally ..”

With Iran Sanctions Trump Made Europeans Look Like The Fools They Are (RT)

First, the links between the EU and the US are not only very long-standing, they are also set in stone. NATO and the EU are in reality Siamese twins, two bodies born at the same time which are joined at the hip. The first European community was created with overt and covert US support in 1950 in order to militarize Western Europe and to prepare it to fight a land war against the Soviet Union; NATO acquired its integrated command structure a few months later and its Supreme Commander is always an American.

Today the two organizations are legally inseparable because the consolidated Treaty on European Union, in the form adopted at Lisbon in 2009, states that EU foreign policy “shall respect” the obligations of NATO member states and that it shall “be compatible” with NATO policy. In other words, the constitutional charter of the EU subordinates it to NATO, which the USA dominates legally and structurally. In such circumstances, European states can only liberate themselves from US hegemony, as Donald Tusk said they should, by leaving the EU. It is obvious that they are not prepared to do that.

Second, EU leaders have burned their own bridges with other potential partners, especially Russia. Angela Merkel traveled to Russia on Friday but only a few weeks ago more than half of the EU member states expelled scores of Russian diplomats and encouraged non-EU European states like Ukraine and Montenegro to do the same, in retaliation for the poisoning in Salisbury of Sergei and Julia Skripal.

How is Mrs Merkel going to convince Mr Putin to join her in keeping Iran’s nuclear program under control if she officially thinks that Mr Putin is guilty of secretly stockpiling and using chemical weapons for assassinations in the West? Only a few weeks later, in mid-April, Britain and France, together with the US, attacked Syria on the basis that its army had used chemical weapons at Douma with Russian backing. If they try to turn on the charm now in Sochi or in Moscow, do they really expect the Russians can take them seriously?

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It might yet work.

Europe, China, Russia Discussing New Deal For Iran (R.)

Diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development and meddling in the region, in the hope of salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal, a German newspaper reported on Sunday. The officials will meet in Vienna in the coming week under the leadership of senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said, citing senior EU sources. Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China would participate in the meeting, but the United States would not, it said. It was not immediately clear if Iran – which has resisted calls to curb its ballistic missile program in the past – would take part.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists. Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran’s activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said. “We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

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CIA, military, they all want in.

Now Facebook Serves NATO’s Agenda (McDonald)

Facebook has engaged a think tank funded by weapons manufacturers, branches of the US military and Middle-Eastern monarchies to safeguard the democratic process. It’s akin to hiring arsonists to run the fire brigade.
If Facebook truly wanted to “protect democracy and elections worldwide,” it would build a broad coalition of experts and activists from a wide and disparate range of the countries it serves. Instead, the American social media giant has outsourced the task to NATO’s propaganda wing. For the uninitiated, the Atlantic Council serves as the American-led alliance’s chief advocacy group. And its methods are rather simple: it grants stipends and faux academic titles to various activists that align with NATO’s agenda.

Thus, lobbyists become “fellows” and “experts,” while the enterprise constructs a neutral sheen, which is rarely (if ever) challenged by Western media outlets – often reliant on its employees for easy comment and free op-eds. While that has always been ethically questionable, Facebook’s latest move, given its effective monopoly position, is far more sinister. Because it is now tied to a “think tank” which has proposed terrorist attacks in Russia and has demanded Russian-funded news outlets be forced to register as “foreign agents” in the United States. Make no mistake: this is a dream scenario for NATO and those who depend on it for their livelihoods and status. Because the Atlantic Council is now perfectly positioned to be the tail wagging the Facebook dog in the information space.

On Thursday, the social network announced how it was “excited to launch a new partnership with the Atlantic Council, which has a stellar reputation looking at innovative solutions to hard problems.” It then added that “experts” from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) will liaise closely with Facebook’s “security, policy and product teams” to offer “real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world.” Now, this sort of talk would be fine if Facebook had assembled a diverse group, comprised of stakeholders from a wide range of democracies. But, by selecting a clearly biased actor to police “misinformation and foreign interference” during “elections and other highly sensitive moments” and also work to “help educate citizens as well as civil society,” Mark Zuckerberg’s team has essentially made their company a tool of the US military agenda.

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Wonder what the new government will do to this.

Hedge Funds Bet On Big Turnaround By Italy’s Mid-Tier Banks (R.)

Major hedge funds have picked Italian mid-tier banks as one of Europe’s few remaining recovery plays, betting they will shed billions of euros in bad loans. Europe’s 2010-2012 debt crisis left Italy’s banks with among the euro zone’s biggest hangovers, some 285 billion euros ($338 billion) of soured debt on their balance sheets. But when Credito Valtellinese sold new shares in a February rights issue for eight times its market value, they were lapped up by hedge funds in the United States and Britain. Now the mid-sized Italian bank counts Algebris Chief Investment Officer Davide Serra, Toscafund Asset Management and a hedge fund run by Eurizon Capital SGR among its biggest investors, Thomson Reuters data shows.

So far the bet seems to be paying off as Italy’s bank shares have risen 15% year-to-date against a fall of 1% for European banks, while Credito Valtellinese stock has risen 7.5% since the rights issue completion. Although the price-to-book ratio of Italian banks has improved since Rome announced a state bailout fund in 2016, it trades around 8% below the European sector average. Even the possible formation of a new government comprising two anti-establishment parties has not put off many of the funds contacted by Reuters, some of whom invested in Greek government bonds on a similar bet, who said the investment stacked up despite the vagaries of Italian politics.

Italy’s bad loans are a legacy of the recession that followed the debt crisis and with small and medium-sized businesses heavily dependent on bank lending, the soured loans have long been a drag on the third biggest euro zone economy. But pressure from regulators has begun to have an impact and the ratio of gross impaired loans to total loans has fallen to 14.5% from 17.3% a year ago, Bank of Italy data shows ..

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But move away from paying for the education.

Companies Are Now Paying Off Their Employees’ Student Loans (CNBC)

Student loan assistance, which started as a niche offering by a handful of companies, is finding its way into the mainstream menu of workplace benefits. “This is certainly emerging as a new and very important benefit,” said David Pratt, a professor at Albany Law School who studies employee benefits. This year, Fidelity began to offer businesses a way to contribute to their workers’ education debt. Since then, more than two dozen companies have signed up and it expects that number to double by the year’s finish. “This is going to grow rapidly over time,” said Asha Srikantiah, vice president of workplace emerging products at Fidelity. “We’re seeing so many more people who have debt and who are overwhelmed by that.”

Indeed, 7 in 10 college graduates have student loan debt. The average person leaves school $30,000 in arrears, while nearly 20% owe more than $100,000. Americans are now more burdened by education loans than they are by credit card or auto debt. [..] one of the factors likely contributing to the nation’s swelling student loan debt is that the number of employers helping their workers with their original education costs is shrinking. Company contributions to undergraduate education expenses dropped to 53% in 2017, from 61% in 2013, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. During that same time period, graduate school assistance at work also fell, to 50% from about 60%.

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100 trillion emails per year.

What Happens In An Internet Minute In 2018? (WEF)

In your everyday life, a minute might not seem like much. But when it comes to the vast scale of the internet, a minute of time goes much further than you ever could have imagined. That’s because the internet has a degree of scale that our linear human brains are unaccustomed to operating on. Today’s infographic is from Lori Lewis and Chadd Callahan of Cumulus Media, and it shows the activity taking place on various platforms such as Facebook or Google in each 60 second span. It really helps put an internet minute in perspective.

The numbers for these services are so enormous that they can only be shown using the 60 second time scale. Any bigger, and our brains can’t even process these massive quantities in any useful capacity. Here are just a few key numbers scaled to a monthly basis, for fun: • 42,033,600,000 Facebook logins • 159,840,000,000 Google searches • 1,641,600,000,000 WhatsApp messages sent • 8,078,400,000,000 emails sent On an annualized basis, the data becomes even more ridiculous, with something close to 100 trillion emails sent.

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The world’s biggest problems are solved in bars.

Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving (HBR)

Professor Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University and colleagues served vodka-cranberry cocktails to 20 male subjects until their blood alcohol levels neared legal intoxication and then gave each a series of word association problems to solve. Not only did those who imbibed give more correct answers than a sober control group performing the same task, but they also arrived at solutions more quickly. The conclusion: drunk people are better at creative problem solving.

JAROSZ: You often hear of great writers, artists, and composers who claim that alcohol enhanced their creativity, or people who say their ideas are better after a few drinks. We wanted to see if we could find evidence to back that up, and though this was a small experiment, we did. We gave participants 15 questions from a creative problem-solving assessment called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT—for example, “What word relates to these three: ‘duck,’ ‘dollar,’ ‘fold’?”; the answer to which is “bill.” We found that the tipsy people solved two to three more problems than folks who stayed sober. They also submitted their answers more quickly within the one-minute-per-question time limit, which is maybe even more surprising.

HBR: So alcohol doesn’t slow us down mentally after all? It still does, but we think that creative problem solving is one area in which a key effect of drunkenness—loss of focus—is a good thing. In an exercise like the RAT, it’s important not to fixate on your first thought, and alcohol seems to help that seemingly irrelevant stuff slip in. When we asked participants how much they relied on strategic thinking versus sudden insights to solve the problems, the intoxicated people reported solving via insight on 10% more problems than their sober counterparts did.

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May 122018
 
 May 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pieter Bruegel the Elder Dulle Griet, also known as Mad Meg 1563

 

If Real Consumer Spending Doesn’t Reverse Course, Look Out Retail Stocks (Street)
Apple Made More Profit In 3 Months Than Amazon In Its Entire Lifetime (CNBC)
Facebook Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Collecting Texts And Call Logs (G.)
Mark Zuckerberg’s Control Of Facebook Is Like A Dictatorship: CalSTRS (CNBC)
Facebook ‘Very Serious’ About Launching Its Own Cryptocurrency (CNBC)
There Will Be No Trade War With Germany, New US Ambassador Promises (R.)
Turkey Remains A “Priority Market” For British Weapons (MEE)
Erdogan Slams Rating Agencies For Upgrading ‘Bankrupt’ Greece (K.)
PDVSA To Shut Curacao Refinery Amid Fight With Conoco (R.)
Canada Sued Over Years Of Experimentation On Indigenous People (G.)
Maasai Herders Driven Off Land To Make Way For Luxury Safaris (G.)
Plastic Bag Found At The Deepest Point In The Ocean (SA)

 

 

Remember, 70% of US GDP. Coming from a population whose majority are maxed out.

If Real Consumer Spending Doesn’t Reverse Course, Look Out Retail Stocks (Street)

With the Amazon beast breathing down their necks, the last thing struggling retailers need is a cautious U.S. consumer. Yet, that’s exactly what they have gotten in recent months — and if it persists, retail stocks are likely to take it on the chin this summer. Real consumer spending took a nosedive in the first quarter (chart below) as consumers assessed the impact President Trump’s tax reform plan. Not helping matters was a more volatile stock market, rising inflation and a cooling U.S. labor market. In turn, consumer sentiment has remained stuck in a range since February. Retail stocks have followed suit.

The VanEck Vectors Retail ETF (RTH) is down about 7% since hitting a high on Jan. 29. This week has brought bearish notes on department stores like Macy’s from Wall Street shops, citing fears of online competition and challenging first quarter sales conditions. Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette will be speaking at TheStreet’s sister publication, The Deal’s, big corporate governance in June. “We think that real consumption growth will firm from 1.1% annualized in 1Q to 2.3% in 2Q. We continue to see similarities between this year and last that likely are related to abnormal patterns of tax refunds, and like last year, we expect real consumer spending to firm noticeably between 1Q and 2Q,” says JPMorgan & Chase strategist Daniel Silver. But even Silver doesn’t sound 100% convinced.

“But inflation likely will be much stronger in 2Q18 than it was in 2Q17, and higher prices should dampen real spending and erode some of the benefits associated with lower taxes.”

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But Bezos is the richest of them all.

Apple Made More Profit In 3 Months Than Amazon In Its Entire Lifetime (CNBC)

One word may explain Warren Buffett’s investment decisions on Apple and Amazon: profit. Last week Buffett both lamented on not investing in Amazon shares and revealed how he added massively to Berkshire Hathaway’s stake in Apple. The Oracle of Omaha’s moves may be explained by his philosophy of emphasizing a company’s historical financial track record versus putting credence in aggressive future forecasts from analysts. “I think it’s fair to say, we’ve never looked at a [analyst] projection in connection with either a security we’ve bought or a business we’ve bought,” Buffett said during a Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting in 1995, according to remarks found using CNBC’s Warren Buffett Archive.

Apple “is an unbelievable company,” Buffett told CNBC on May 3. “If you look at Apple, I think it earns almost twice as much as the second most profitable company in the United States.” The smartphone maker generated a $48.35 billion in profit during its fiscal 2017 and made $13.8 billion in net income during the March 2018 quarter. In comparison, Amazon’s total net income since inception is about $9.6 billion. The number was calculated by adding up all of Amazon’s annual net income figures since its inception to the company’s $1.6 billion profit in the March 2018 quarter.

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Will a US court now sanction Facebook’s spying?

Facebook Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Collecting Texts And Call Logs (G.)

Facebook is facing a class action lawsuit over the revelations that it logged text messages and phone calls via its smartphone apps. In the lawsuit filed in Facebook’s home of the northern district of California, the primary plaintiff, John Condelles III, states that the social network’s actions “presents several wrongs, including a consumer bait-and-switch, an invasion of privacy, wrongful monitoring of minors and potential attacks on privileged communications” such as those between doctor and patient. Facebook collected the logs of text messages and calls, including the recipients and duration of the communications, through its apps for Android including Messenger when users opted into being able to send SMS from the app or give access to their contact lists.

“Facebook has collected and stored information in a scope and manner beyond that which users knowingly authorised. The practice is ongoing,” states the filing first reported by the Register. The extent of the collection was revealed when users began downloading and sifting through the data Facebook held on them following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The plaintiffs allege that Facebook’s collection of the data from users’ phones breaches California’s Unfair Competition Law on three counts – including fraudulent business practice – in addition to the Consumer Legal Remedies Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. [..] Facebook is also facing a class action lawsuit from both British and US lawyers as part of a case against the social network, Cambridge Analytica and two other companies for allegedly misusing the personal data of 71 million people.

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But they won’t sell their shares.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Control Of Facebook Is Like A Dictatorship: CalSTRS (CNBC)

The capital markets are a democracy, but that’s not how Facebook is being run, said Christopher Ailman, the chief investment officer of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, known as CalSTRS. “There is something wrong,” he said Thursday on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” “When Facebook changed its structure to take public money in, they should have changed their structure to a more open board structure, and we think that there’s a problem with having one person in charge of the company,” he added. CEO Mark Zuckerberg owns a majority of the voting rights to the company. That’s because the tech giant has dual-class shares.

Facebook’s Class B shares are controlled by Zuckerberg and a small group of insiders and have 10 votes per share. Class A shares only have one vote per share. The end result is that Zuckerberg and those insiders control almost 70 percent of the voting shares in Facebook. CalSTRS took on the issue in a recent op-ed in the Financial Times. CalSTRS portfolio manager Aeisha Mastagni wrote, “Why does Mr. Zuckerberg need the entrenchment factor of a dual-class structure? Is it because he does not want governance to evolve with the rest of his company? If so, this American dream is now akin to a dictatorship.”

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A long way from Satoshi.

Facebook ‘Very Serious’ About Launching Its Own Cryptocurrency (CNBC)

Facebook is “very serious” about launching its own cryptocurrency, according to a report from Cheddar. It’s not the first time the idea of a Facebook coin has been floated, but the plans take on some greater meaning in light of Facebook’s recently reshuffled executive structure and newly formed blockchain group. Blockchain, the decentralized record-keeping system, could help tackle some of Facebook’s most bothersome problems, like identity verification or advertising sales. It’s also the technology behind most cryptocurrencies, logging ownership and transfers of the digital tokens.

“Like many other companies Facebook is exploring ways to leverage the power of blockchain technology. This new small team will be exploring many different applications,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. It would likely be years before Facebook’s work on blockchain and cryptocurrency became anything material, Cheddar reports, citing anonymous sources. The business news site also reports Facebook has no plans to hold an ICO, or initial coin offering.

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The cover of the new Der Spiegel doesn’t seem convinced.

There Will Be No Trade War With Germany, New US Ambassador Promises (R.)

The new U.S. ambassador to Germany said the row over Washington’s planned imposition of punitive tariffs on European goods would not trigger a trade war, adding that U.S. President Donald Trump only wanted “a level playing field”. In an interview with the Funke newspaper group, Richard Grenell insisted that the United States was awaiting proposals on how punitive tariffs could be averted. “Germans are doing a phenomenal job on trade,” he said. “There will be no trade war … We are talking with our friends to solve a problem.” The United States wanted to see Europe’s proposals before deciding what would follow the expiry of an already extended June 1 deadline to impose tariffs, he added.

Less than a week into the job, Grenell has already triggered headlines with his demand in a tweet that German companies in Iran should “wind down operations” immediately after Trump withdrew the United States from an international nuclear deal. In the interview, Grenell maintained the hard line on Iran that has caused dismay in Europe’s capitals, restating the U.S. government’s position that Europe must re-impose sanctions on Iran. “We expect our friends and allies to help us to bring Iran back to the negotiating table,” he said, adding that the United States had proof Iran had violated its commitment not to enrich uranium.

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Who’s going to protest Erdogan’s visit?

Turkey Remains A “Priority Market” For British Weapons (MEE)

Theresa May is set to roll out the red carpet for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this weekend, as new figures reveal that Britain has sold more than $1bn of weapons to Ankara since the failed 2016 coup and subsequent crackdown under emergency powers, Middle East Eye can reveal. Turkey remains a “priority market” for British weapons, despite concerns from human rights groups and EU officials over the erosion of the country’s rule of law. Turkey is a fellow member of NATO and has cooperated with the EU in tackling the refugee crisis, but critics say that Erdogan’s government has arrested or sacked more than 100,000 state workers and members of the military in the wake of the coup attempt.

Unlike many other Western allies, London spoke out quickly after the coup, in which fighter jets bombed the Turkish parliament and troops opened fire on civilians. But the UK has remained largely silent as Turkey targeted not only the alleged plotters but also political dissidents, journalists and members of pro-Kurdish parties for “supporting terrorism”. Erdogan will meet the Queen and the prime minister during his three-day visit to the UK, starting on Sunday. It comes as the UK is making a Brexit push to boost trade with Ankara, but also in the middle of a snap Turkish parliamentary and presidential campaigns conducted under a state of emergency.

UK weapons sales since the attempted coup include a $667m deal for military electronic data, armoured vehicles, small arms, ammunition, missiles, drones, aircraft and helicopters. It also includes a $135m deal for BAE Systems to fulfil Erdogan’s plan to build a Turkish-made fighter jet. The jet deal was signed by May in January 2017 under an “open licence” to ease the transfer of military technology, and UK officials now reportedly wish to expand the deal by pushing for Rolls-Royce to win the engine contract. Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour MP who recently travelled to northern Syria, where Turkey is involved in operations against the Kurdish YPG militia, told MEE: “The government has been increasing arms sales to Turkey as it has fallen into authoritarianism at home and warmongering abroad.

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When under fire…

Erdogan Slams Rating Agencies For Upgrading ‘Bankrupt’ Greece (K.)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a fresh swipe at rating agencies on Friday over the recent downgrade and the negative outlook they have assigned for the Turkish economy, using “bankrupt” Greece as an example. “Don’t pay attention to them [the rating agencies]. They upgraded a neighbour [of Turkey] that has gone bankrupt by four points. They receive new debts and live with them,” he reportedly told the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) Conference Hall. “Excuse me, but we are talking about a country that cannot pay its civil servants. How is this possible? I am talking about Greece”, he said.

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And the Dutch government is just standing by?!

PDVSA To Shut Curacao Refinery Amid Fight With Conoco (R.)

Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA is preparing to shut a Caribbean refinery that is running out of crude amid threats by ConocoPhillips to seize cargoes sent to resupply the facility, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. Conoco of the United States last week began legal actions in the Caribbean to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) over the 2007 nationalization of its projects in Venezuela. The moves have disrupted fuel deliveries throughout the Caribbean, much of which depends on PDVSA. The PDVSA-operated 335,000 barrel-per-day Isla refinery in Curacao, which has not received new shipments from PDVSA since last week, plans to exhaust existing inventories in the coming days, the two sources said.

PDVSA is seeking ways to sidestep legal orders to hand over assets. The Venezuelan firm has transferred custody over the fuel produced at the refinery to the Curacao government, the owner of the facility, the sources said. In another legal move to avoid oil being seized, PDVSA transferred ownership of crude to be refined at Isla to its U.S. unit, Citgo Petroleum, one of the sources added. “The seizure in Curacao was enforced on Thursday, so the inventories’ custody was transferred. The refinery will eventually stop (operations),” the source said.

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Until the 1980s.

Canada Sued Over Years Of Experimentation On Indigenous People (G.)

A class action lawsuit has been filed in a Canadian court on behalf of the thousands of indigenous people alleged to have been unwittingly subjected to medical experiments without their consent. Filed this month in a courtroom in the province of Saskatchewan, the lawsuit holds the federal government responsible for experiments allegedly carried out on reserves and in residential schools between the 1930s and 1950s. The suit also accuses the Canadian government of a long history of “discriminatory and inadequate medical care” at Indian hospitals and sanatoriums – key components of a segregated healthcare system that operated across the country from 1945 into the early 1980s.

“This strikes me as so atrocious that there ought to be punitive and exemplary damages awarded, in addition to compensation,” said Tony Merchant, whose Merchant Law Group filed the class action. The lawsuit, which has not yet been tested in court, alleges that residential schools – where more than 150,000 aboriginal children were carted off in an attempt to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society – were used as sites for nutritional experiments, where researchers tested out their theories about vitamins and certain foods. “The wrong here is that nobody knew it was happening. Their families didn’t know it was happening,” Merchant said. As the diet at the schools was known to be nutritionally deficient, the children were considered “ideal experimental subjects”, according to court documents.

It cites six schools, stretching from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, and links them to experiments carried out from 1948 to 1953. At times, researchers would carry out what Merchant described as trials aimed at depriving the children of nutrients that researchers suspected were beneficial. “So what they did on a systemic basis … they would identify a group of indigenous children in schools where they were being compulsorily held and they would not give them the same treatment,” said Merchant. “They used them as a control against experiments that they were doing in other places and they also used them to test certain kinds of foods and drugs.”

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Ban all hunting in Africa. Just stop it.

Maasai Herders Driven Off Land To Make Way For Luxury Safaris (G.)

The Tanzanian government is putting foreign safari companies ahead of Maasai herding communities as environmental tensions grow on the fringes of the Serengeti national park, according to a new investigation. Hundreds of homes have been burned and tens of thousands of people driven from ancestral land in Loliondo in the Ngorongoro district in recent years to benefit high-end tourists and a Middle Eastern royal family, says the report by the California-based thinktank the Oakland Institute. Although carried out in the name of conservation, these measures enable wealthy foreigners to watch or hunt lions, zebra, wildebeest, giraffes and other wildlife, while the authorities exclude local people and their cattle from watering holes and arable land, the institute says.

The report, released on Thursday highlights the famine and fear caused by biodiversity loss, climate change, inequality and discrimination towards indigenous groups. “Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever” uses previously unpublished correspondence, official documents, court testimonies and first-person testimony to examine the impact of two firms: Thomson Safaris based in the United States, and Otterlo Business Corporation based in the United Arab Emirates. It says Thomson’s sister company, Tanzania Conservation Limited, is in a court battle with three Maasai villages over the ownership of 12,617 acres (5,106 hectares) of land in Loliondo which the company uses for safaris.

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20 years ago already. Imagine today.

Plastic Bag Found At The Deepest Point In The Ocean (SA)

Humanity’s toxic addiction to plastic has reached stunning depths, and we only wish we were speaking figuratively. A new study analysing over 30 years’ worth of data on human-made trash found in the deepest parts of the ocean reveals almost 3,500 pieces of plastic and other debris have been discovered littering these remote, fragile ecosystems. If proof were ever needed that there are no more untouched places left on our poor, polluted planet, we now have it in one perfect, twisted symbol: amongst this litany of garbage, the deepest-lurking refuse was a fragmented single-use plastic bag, discarded at a depth of 10,898 metres (35,754 ft) in the Mariana Trench.

The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the entire ocean, home to distant, alien forms of marine life we know next to nothing about, but its remote, almost unreachable location doesn’t mean we haven’t found ways to carelessly spoil it [..] In the thousands of debris images and videos the researchers compiled in their database, deep-sea organisms were observed in 17% – damning evidence that our throwaway culture entangles, intermingles, and generally affects ocean life in ways we’re not aware of. Because the team’s dataset only includes a visual record of what’s on the sea floor – not what’s drifting and sinking above it – the researchers say they’ve only scratched the (deep) surface of the problem here, although simple physics suggests more garbage is headed this way.

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May 022018
 


Brassaï The Sun King 1930

 

There’s a New Curve in Town and It’s Flashing Red (BBG)
Trump Says Kim Summit Details To Be Unveiled Within Days (AFP)
Apple Delivers Best-Ever Second Quarter Despite Sales Worries (G.)
More Evidence Emerges That Apple Is Killing iPhone X – Analyst (CNBC)
Nissan Shocks With 28% Sales Plunge (BBG)
The Biggest Player in the History of the World (Alistair Crooke)
Debt Is The Great Threat To China’s Development (Michael Hudson)
China’s Petro-Yuan Isn’t Dislodging the Dollar Yet (Barron’s)
China Weakens Its Currency Before US Trade Talks Begin (BBG)
Europeans Cast Doubt On Israel’s Claims About Iran Nuclear Breaches (G.)
Inside Theresa May’s Brexit War Cabinet, Tory Battles Rage (BBG)
UK Home Office ‘Mistakenly Deported 7,000 Foreign Students’ (Ind.)
Theresa May Vetoed Cabinet Pleas Over Visas For NHS Doctors (St.)
OECD Calls For Even Tighter Greek Fiscal Policy To Bolster Growth (K.)
Greece’s Debt Deal To Show How Europe Treats Its Less Fortunate Nations (CNBC)
Facebook’s Dating App Finally Makes Privacy Invasion Sexy (G.)
More Than 90% Of Air Pollution Deaths Occur In Poorer Countries (Ind.)

 

 

The trouble is in corporate bonds.

There’s a New Curve in Town and It’s Flashing Red (BBG)

The private sector may hold the real clues to recession risk. While the flattening U.S. yield curve – the difference between short- and longer-dated Treasuries – has been closely-watched as a potential indicator of a looming contraction, investors might do better to watch a measure of the cost of private credit, according to Charles Gave of Gavekal Capital. An inverted yield curve is thought to signal the “market rate of interest,” (shorter-term rates) exceeding the “natural rate of interest” (longer government rates), but may not be a good proxy for economic activity given that the government can always borrow, Gave said.

Instead, he suggests looking at the corporate credit market. Here, the U.S. economy’s natural rate could be represented by the yield of a longer-dated, seasoned industrial bond rated Baa by Moody’s, and the market rate by the prime lending rate charged by U.S. banks. “The private sector yield curve reading stands at zero, or right on the threshold where trouble can be expected to begin,” Gave wrote in a note published on Tuesday. “Should this spread move into negative territory, I would expect a financial accident to occur outside of the U.S., a U.S. recession, or possibly both.” Either a U.S. recession has taken place within a year of the private sector yield curve inverting, or a “financial accident” has occurred in other economies with currency links to the greenback, according to Gave’s data.

Prime rates below the natural rate of corporate credit have allowed banks to generate “artificial” money, kept “zombie” companies alive, and enabled other corporates to engage in “financial engineering” predicated on cheap borrowing costs that risk toppling over if the curve inverts, Gave said.

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Trump wants to meet in the DMZ. Reportedly, White House officials want Singapore or Mongolia.

Trump Says Kim Summit Details To Be Unveiled Within Days (AFP)

US President Donald Trump seemed pleased Tuesday by a suggestion he should get the Nobel Peace Prize for his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, promising that a time and place for the historic meeting will soon be announced. “Nobel Peace Prize? I think President Moon was very nice when he suggested it,” Trump said, referring to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “The main thing, I want to get peace. It was a big problem and I think it’s going to work out well,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. Trump has proposed holding the summit at the truce village in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, adding that two or three locations were under consideration.

“We’re setting up meetings right now and I think it’s probably going to be announced over the next couple of days, location and date,” Trump said. The summit, which has come together rapidly after months of tense saber-rattling over the North’s nuclear and missile programs, would be the first ever between a US president and a leader of North Korea. On Monday, Moon had demurred when asked about the prospect of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, suggesting Trump should get it instead. “President Trump can take the Nobel prize. All we need to take is peace,” he said. Trump said it was “very generous of President Moon of South Korea to make that statement and I appreciate it but the main thing is to get it done.” “I want to get it done,” he added.

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Apple has become a capital allocation venture.

Apple Delivers Best-Ever Second Quarter Despite Sales Worries (G.)

Apple on Tuesday shook off worries that its $1,000 iPhone had failed to live up to the hype – but sales of the world’s most valuable company’s most valuable product are slowing, and Apple has announced a plan to buy its way out of trouble. Releasing its latest quarterly report, Apple announced it had sold 52.2m iPhones in the quarter ending 31 March, at an average price of $728.54. Sales were up 3% compared to last year and slightly lower than analysts had expected, but numbers beat the gloomiest forecasts and were enough to deliver Apple its best second quarter ever, with revenues of over $61bn. That beat the record of $58bn set in 2015.

“We’re thrilled to report our best March quarter ever, with strong revenue growth in iPhone, services and wearables,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer. “We are very bullish on Apple’s future,” Cook told analysts after the news broke. Apple sold 9.11m iPads and 4.08m Macs over the quarter. Analysts had worried that the high-priced iPhone X would dent sales. The results came after Apple suppliers including AMS and Taiwan Semiconductors have reported slowing revenues in a sign seen by analysts as proof of shaky demand for iPhone X.

The company announced it would be adding $100bn to its stock buyback programme, plus a 16% increase in its quarterly dividend. Taking advantage of the Trump administration’s new tax laws, Apple is in the process of repatriating the majority of the $252bn in profits it currently holds overseas. The buyback helped Apple’s shares rise over 5% in after-hours trading. The company’s stock has risen by about 80% in the past two years, setting it on course to battle Amazon to become the first company to be valued at $1tn. But Apple’s share price has stumbled recently as fears about slowing iPhone sales took their toll.

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These reports about the ‘second tier’ just won’t stop.

More Evidence Emerges That Apple Is Killing iPhone X – Analyst (CNBC)

More earnings reports from companies linked to Apple have resulted in further evidence that the technology giant could be winding down or stopping production of the iPhone X. Nasdaq-listed Cognex is the latest company to provide clues that Apple may be going down this path. It reported first quarter earnings on Monday that were up 22% year-on-year, a slowdown from the 40% growth seen in the first quarter of 2017. On top of that, guidance for second quarter revenue of between $200 million and $210 million was below Wall Street expectations, according to Neil Campling, co-head of the global thematic group at Mirabaud Securities.

Cognex sells technology that assists factories that assemble the iPhone. Apple’s supply chain relies on this technology to get the OLED screen on the iPhone X fitted perfectly. Campling told CNBC on Tuesday that Apple accounts for about 20% of Cognex revenues, so the slowdown can be attributed to Apple killing off the iPhone X. “Cognex results provide further evidence that the smartphone cycle has turned south, the OLED overcapacity bites and Apple’s iPhone X is over,” Campling wrote in a note Tuesday. “If Apple is stepping back from the iPhone X production cycle, then Cognex is lead indicator of when that is taking place,” the analyst said in a follow-up phone call with CNBC.

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Remember Japanese cars?

Nissan Shocks With 28% Sales Plunge (BBG)

Nissan’s U.S. sales plunged last month, shocking some analysts and dragging on what was otherwise a strong April for auto demand. The Japanese automaker’s deliveries declined 28% in April, with almost every model in the Nissan and Infiniti lineups falling. Nissan shares fell as much as 1.8% in Tokyo trading Wednesday. While Ford and Fiat Chrysler beat analysts’ estimates, their shares reversed gains after Nissan’s report. “Our eyes are bugging out here,” Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for researcher Autotrader, said of the Nissan’s numbers. “They’ve been very heavy with rental-car sales and rich incentives. It looks like they’re pulling back.”

Automakers were going to have a difficult time reporting sales gains in April due to a quirk of the calendar. There were two fewer selling days – which excludes Sundays and holidays – last month than a year ago. So while almost all major carmakers posted declining deliveries, as analysts expected, the annualized sales rate accelerated to 17.1 million, according to researcher Autodata. Calculating the annualized sales pace, which topped last April’s 17 million, is becoming more difficult. General Motors announced last month that it would report U.S. sales only on a quarterly basis, complicating efforts to gauge the health of the world’s most lucrative auto market.

Sales of the Altima sedan, usually Nissan’s top car, dropped by almost half compared with a year ago. And the company’s leading sport utility vehicle, the Rogue, dropped 15%. While deliveries to both retail and fleet customers declined, the automaker expects that its results will improve when the new Kicks crossover and redesigned Altima reach dealers, spokesman Chris Keeffe said.

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Perhaps.

The Biggest Player in the History of the World (Alistair Crooke)

Xi Jinping lies at the apex of the Chinese political system. His influence now permeates at every level. He is the most powerful leader since Chairman Mao. Kevin Rudd (former PM of Australia and longtime student of China) notes, “none of this is for the faint-hearted … Xi has grown up in Chinese party politics as conducted at the highest levels. Through his father, Xi Zhongxun … he has been through a “masterclass” of not only how to survive it, but also on how to prevail within it. For these reasons, he has proven himself to be the most formidable politician of his age. He has succeeded in pre-empting, outflanking, outmanoeuvring, and then removing each of his political adversaries. The polite term for this is power consolidation. In that, he has certainly succeeded”.

And here is the rub: the world which Xi envisions is wholly incompatible with Washington’s priorities. Xi is not only more powerful than any predecessor other than Mao, he knows it, and intends to make his mark on world history. One that equates, or even surpasses, that of Mao. Lee Kuan Yew, who before his death in 2015, was the world’s premier China-watcher, had a pointed answer about China’s stunning trajectory over the past 40 years: “The size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.”

[..] Made in China 2025 is a broad industrial policy that is receiving massive state R & D funding ($232 billion in 2016), including an explicit potential dual-use integration into military innovation. Its main aim, besides improving productivity, is to make China the world’s ‘tech leader’, and for China to become 70% self-sufficient in key materials and components. This may be well-known in theory, but perhaps the move towards self-sufficiency by both China and Russia suggests something more stark. These states are moving away from the classic liberal trade model to an economic model based on autonomy, and a state-led economy (such as advocated by economists like Friedrich List, before becoming eclipsed by the prevalence of Adam Smith-ian thinking).

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Very long essay from Hudson. Always good.

Debt Is The Great Threat To China’s Development (Michael Hudson)

Subjecting economies to austerity, economic shrinkage, emigration, shorter life spans and hence depopulation, it is at the root of the 2008 debt legacy and the fate of the Baltic states, Ireland, Greece and the rest of southern Europe, as it was earlier the financial dynamic of Third World countries in the 1960s through 1990s under IMF austerity programs. When public policy is turned over to creditors, they use their power for is asset stripping, insisting that all debts must be paid without regard for how this destroys the economy at large. China has managed to avoid this dynamic. But to the extent that it sends its students to study in U.S. and European business schools, they are taught the tactics of asset stripping instead of capital formation – how to be extractive, not productive.

They are taught that privatization is more desirable than public ownership, and that financialization creates wealth faster than it creates a debt burden. The product of such education therefore is not knowledge but ignorance and a distortion of good policy analysis. Baltic austerity is applauded as the “Baltic Miracle,” not as demographic collapse and economic shrinkage. The experience of post-Soviet economies when neoliberals were given a free hand after 1991 provides an object lesson. Much the same fate has befallen Greece, along with the rising indebtedness of other economies to foreign bondholders and to their own rentierclass operating out of capital-flight centers. Economies are obliged to suspend democratic government policy in favor of emergency creditor control.

The slow economic crash and debt deflation of these economies is depicted as a result of “market choice.” It turns out to be a “choice” for economic stagnation. All this is rationalized by the economic theory taught in Western economics departments and business schools. Such education is an indoctrination in stupidity – the kind of tunnel vision that Thorstein Veblen called the “trained incapacity” to understand how economies really work.

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“The trade in renminbi is still a minuscule part of the world currency market..”

China’s Petro-Yuan Isn’t Dislodging the Dollar Yet (Barron’s)

The timing seemed perfect. On March 26, four days after the Trump administration called for new tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, Beijing launched an oil-futures contract denominated in yuan. The move seemed logical enough. China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s top oil importer last year, so why not start paying in its own currency? But against the backdrop of a brewing trade war, the newly born “petro-yuan” took on the aspect of a nuclear option, at least to Washington’s many ill-wishers around the globe. China’s initiative would put an end to dollar dominance of the $2 trillion annual oil trade, and thus its hegemony as a global reserve currency, so the argument ran. “Petro-Yuan to Kneecap Petro-Dollar,” crowed a headline from Russian state news service RT.

In fact, the petro-yuan is off to a slow start, and the greenback looks destined to remain almighty for a while yet. The reason is contradictions within China, which wants to play a new global role that is co-equal with the U.S. but maintain the old economic controls that got it there. Chinese exchanges have already co-opted much of the global trade in copper and other basic metals. But China is itself a leading copper producer, and volumes in the metal are one-twentieth the size of oil markets. To grab serious real estate from the petrodollar, the yuan would have to be freely convertible on the order of the greenback, euro, or yen—which it assuredly is not. “The trade in renminbi is still a minuscule part of the world currency market,” says Prakash Sharma, China research director for commodities consultant Wood Mackenzie, using an alternative name for the national coin.

“Paying for oil in Chinese currency looks nearly impossible at this stage.” Beijing authorities seemed bent on convertibility until 2015, when a stock market panic in China spurred some $700 billion in capital flight—from families pouring into Western real estate to corporations snapping up overseas acquisitions. The nation’s reserves shrank to a mere $3.3 trillion, and the yuan fell 10% against the dollar over 18 months. President Xi Jinping’s bureaucrats reacted decisively, limiting individuals to $50,000 a year in currency exchange and informally reeling in corporate globalization. “The events of 2015-16 were quite a surprise to the authorities,” says Jens Nordvig, CEO of FX consultant Exante Data. “They nearly lost control of the currency.”

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Because the US will demand it strengthen it.

China Weakens Its Currency Before US Trade Talks Begin (BBG)

China weakened its daily currency fixing by more than traders and analysts had expected before high-ranking U.S. officials arrive in the country to discuss trade issues. The People’s Bank of China cut the reference level to 6.3670 per dollar, weaker than the average estimate of 6.3610 in Bloomberg survey of 21 traders and analysts. The deviation is the biggest since Feb. 7 and continues a pattern set in April when the fixing was weaker than expected on all but one day, according to Bloomberg calculations. “The move in the fixing today is aggressive,” said Ken Cheung at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong. “China may want to weaken the yuan pre-emptively before the trade talks with the U.S., so that they have room to strengthen the currency” if needed, Cheung said, adding that policy makers may also be keen to arrest the yuan’s advance against a basket of peers.

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Netanyahu plays games with his credibility.

Europeans Cast Doubt On Israel’s Claims About Iran Nuclear Breaches (G.)

European leaders have pushed back against Israel’s claims that it has new evidence showing that Iran is breaching the nuclear deal with the west which was signed in 2015. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, hailed the Israeli claims as significant, as the 12 May deadline approached for the US president, Donald Trump, to decide whether to pull out of the deal. But Pompeo declined to say whether they represented proof that Iran was violating the deal. The overall initial view in European capitals was that the documents did reveal new material about the scale of Iran’s programme prior to 2015 but that there was nothing showing a subsequent breach of the deal.

The French foreign ministry said that the details needed to be “studied and evaluated” but that the Israeli claims reinforced the need for continuation of the deal – which entails Iran accepting nuclear inspections in return for a loosening of economic sanctions. “The pertinence of the deal is reinforced by the details presented by Israel,” a statement said. “All activity linked to the development of a nuclear weapon is permanently forbidden by the deal.” [..] In a bid to push back against Israel, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, said Netanyahu’s allegations had “not put into question” Tehran’s compliance with the deal and that the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) had produced 10 reports saying Iran had met its commitments.

“The International Atomic Energy Authority is the only impartial international organisation in charge of monitoring Iran’s nuclear commitments,” Mogherini said. “If any country has information of non compliance of any kind it should address this information to the proper legitimate and recognised mechanism.” The IAEA said a report by its director in 2015 “stated that the agency had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009”, and that the IAEA’s board of governors “declared that its consideration of this issue was closed”. A German government spokesman said it would analyse the Israeli documents, but added that the JCPOA had unprecedentedly strong monitoring mechanisms. The spokesman said: “It is clear that the international community had doubts that Iran was pursuing an exclusively peaceful nuclear programme. That is why the nuclear agreement was reached in 2015.”

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Britain better get rid of all these people.

Inside Theresa May’s Brexit War Cabinet, Tory Battles Rage (BBG)

The prime minister and her inner circle refer to it simply as “The SN.” To everyone else it is Theresa May’s “Brexit war cabinet,” the group of senior ministers who set the U.K.’s course out of the European Union. These eleven Cabinet members meet regularly in closely-guarded privacy to decide the detail of Brexit policies. On Wednesday afternoon, they convene once again to address an explosive question that could blow up May’s government. What to do about the Irish border and the future customs arrangements between the U.K. and the EU? Unless a satisfactory answer can be found soon, it could be enough to derail the negotiations entirely, forcing Britain out of the bloc with no meaningful deal at all.

The key to understanding the dynamic in the room had been that half of them campaigned to stay in the EU during the 2016 referendum, while the other five voted to leave — with the premier herself having the deciding vote. All that changed this week. Until she resigned as Home Secretary on Sunday, Amber Rudd was among the loudest voices in favor of keeping close ties to the EU. She’s been replaced by Sajid Javid, who is far closer to the pro-Brexit lobby, although he did – reluctantly – campaign for Remain two years ago.

Also on the pro-EU side are Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark — both have been keeping low profiles of late. Pro-Brexit ministers are led by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, both figureheads of the Leave campaign.

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They deported tens of thousands of students. On the basis of a questionable test.

UK Home Office ‘Mistakenly Deported 7,000 Foreign Students’ (Ind.)

The government may have mistakenly deported more than 7,000 foreign students after falsely accusing them of cheating in English language tests. Most of the students were not allowed to appeal the Home Office decision; nor were theyt able to obtain evidence against them, or given the opportunity to prove the proficiency in English Some were detained by immigration officials, lost their jobs, and were left homeless as a result, despite being in the UK legally, the Financial Times reported. The students’ treatment has been blamed on the “hostile environment” policy introduced by Theresa May during her time as home secretary.

The approach, which aims to push illegal immigrants to leave Britain by making their lives difficult, led to the Windrush scandal that forced Ms May’s successor Amber Rudd to resign. The foreign students were targeted by the Home Office after an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama in 2014 exposed systematic cheating at some colleges where candidates sat the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). The test is one of several that overseas students can sit to prove their English language proficiency, a visa requirement. After the Panorama broadcast, the government asked the US-based company which runs the test to analyse sound files to investigate whether studies had been enlisting proxies to sit the tests for them.

The firm, English Testing Services, identified 33,725 “invalid” tests taken by students it was confident confident had cheated. The students’ visas were revoked and they were told to leave the country. Another 22,694 test results were classed as “questionable”, meaning the students who sat them were invited for an interview before any action was taken against them.

By the end of 2016, the Home Office had revoked the visas of nearly 36,000 students who took the test. However, when ETS’s automated voice analysis was checked against human analysis, its computer programme was found to be wrong in 20% of cases, meaning that more than 7,000 students were likely to have been wrongly accused of cheating. [..] Immigration barrister Patrick Lewis, who represented several students in successfully appealing their deportation, told the Financial Times: “The highly questionable quality of the evidence upon which these accusations have been based and the lack of any effective judicial oversight have given rise to some of the greatest injustices that I have encountered in over 20 years of practice.”

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NHS is 10,000 doctors short, patients dying on trolleys in hallways.

Theresa May Vetoed Cabinet Pleas Over Visas For NHS Doctors (St.)

Theresa May faces a new immigration crisis after it emerged that she overruled Cabinet ministers pleading for more doctors from overseas to fill empty NHS posts. At least three government departments lobbied for a relaxation of visa rules to let in desperately needed doctors as well as specialist staff sought by businesses, the Evening Standard has learned. The issue erupted on Friday when several NHS trusts went public about fears that patient safety was being put at risk by doctor shortages. The crisis came as then home secretary Amber Rudd was fighting for her political life over the Windrush scandal — but No 10’s hard line meant her hands were tied.

Sources have disclosed that Downing Street was lobbied for several months before the NHS went public to allow a relaxation of the rules. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Ms Rudd are understood to be among those urging No 10 to lift the quota for special cases such as NHS doctors. At the same time Business Secretary Greg Clark was pressing for more exceptions to help firms cope with specialist skills shortages. A Whitehall source said Mrs May “absolutely refused to budge” when asked to lift the cap in recent months. “I think Jeremy and Amber were on the same page on this but No 10 were in a different place entirely,” said a separate source.

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No, really, these people DO understand the effect will be the opposite of what they claim.

OECD Calls For Even Tighter Greek Fiscal Policy To Bolster Growth (K.)

Greece needs to further extend its real age of retirement and to abolish all kinds of tax exemptions, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has recommended in a report published on Monday, so that the growth rate accelerates, fiscal revenues expand and the national debt becomes sustainable. Although the report, presented in Athens on the occasion of OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria’s visit, does speak of a return to growth, it undercuts the official forecast for a 2.3% economic expansion this year, pointing instead to a 2% increase. It adds that a series of reforms could considerably strengthen gross domestic product in the future.

According to the OECD, a four-year rise in the real age of retirement up to 2030 (instead of the already scheduled three-year rise to the age of 65 by the same year) will boost GDP by 10.4 percent points (against 7.5 points with the scheduled extension). The modernization of the public administration and the improvement of the justice system up to OECD standards by 2030 would have an even greater impact, the report says. That would signify a GDP impact of 25.6 percent points, compared to the current plans for a 14.7 percent-point increase.

The organization further recommends new reforms in the commodity markets so that they reach up to Belgium’s level by 2020, and an increase in family benefits to meet the European Union average by 2025. In total, the reforms the OECD has proposed would bolster GDP by 46.1 percent points or almost 100 billion euros per year, against 25.4 percent points projected by the currently planned reforms. Those proposed reforms would also cut the national debt to just 100% of GDP by 2060, the report projects.

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It’s about political control, not finance.

Greece’s Debt Deal To Show How Europe Treats Its Less Fortunate Nations (CNBC)

Speaking in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia last week, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici told me the EU believes its models may be more accurate, but argued that the best way to win an IMF buy-in would be to agree on a debt repayment mechanism first proposed by his countrymen — and one of his successors as French finance minister — Bruno Le Maire. Macron’s finance chief told me separately that he hoped to win over opponents to his plan, a “growth adjustment mechanism” that would automatically link future debt repayments to Greece’s relative economic success: Athens would repay larger installments if its economy expands quickly, and reduce payments if it slows, a process that its proponents claim provides market participants with greater clarity and transparency.

Arrayed against the French plan is the desire on the part of authorities in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Austria to maintain a degree of political control over Greece’s required repayments. This might mean the size and scope of future repayments could be assessed by national parliaments, rather than automatically calculated based on factors like GDP growth. The publicly espoused view in Berlin is that such an approach would force the Greeks to continue with their structural reforms and austerity measures that have helped transform what was a 15% budget deficit in 2009 into a recent surplus.

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“Who better to entrust with the most intimate parts of our lives than Mark Zuckerberg, the king of privacy?”

Facebook’s Dating App Finally Makes Privacy Invasion Sexy (G.)

Thank God Facebook is finally offering a dating app. Who better to entrust with the most intimate parts of our lives than Mark Zuckerberg, the king of privacy? I assume Zuck will be building it off of one of the early projects that established him as a wunderkind: FaceMash. You may remember it – it’s the one where he hacked into campus websites, collecting pictures that allowed Harvard students to rank each other by hotness. With Facebook dating, the FaceMash dream is at last becoming reality. This should make it easy for Facebook’s hottest people – if there are any left; my understanding is most hot people have migrated to Instagram – to match with equally attractive people, leaving the rest of us trolls and gnomes to mingle with each other.

And after a few months, you can bet the data will leak, offering us all an opportunity to find out, based on rigorous computer analyses, how hot we are. I’m a four at best, you’re a seven. But those numbers won’t be based just on looks. What this app has over Tinder is its existing knowledge of every facet of our lives. Romance is, of course, transactional, and Zuckerberg can finally determine a precise formula based on the value each person brings to a potential match. How much money does it take to compensate for suboptimal physical attractiveness? How often do I have to post about working out to balance out my penchant for Ben and Jerry’s? How often do you have to donate to charities to make up for the fact that you bought an alarming amount of toilet paper on Amazon last month?

Then there’s the possibility that Facebook engagement could come into play. Will active users get more profile views than those of us who have largely abandoned the site? Would that mean we’re more likely to end up on dates with the kind of person who posts constantly on Facebook? Sign me up.

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7 million per year. That’s just a start.

More Than 90% Of Air Pollution Deaths Occur In Poorer Countries (Ind.)

Air pollution is involved in the deaths of around seven million people every year, with the vast majority of fatalities taking place in poorer countries. The latest figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that nine out of 10 people are breathing air containing dangerous levels of pollutants. These results largely echo those released in another global air pollution report in April, and experts have once again pointed to the particular burden falling on the world’s most vulnerable people. “Air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the burden,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.

The new figures come as reports emerge concerning residents of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, drinking “oxygen cocktails” in an effort to ward off the harmful effects of air pollution. Ranked by Unicef as the most polluted capital city in the world, Ulaanbaatar is one of the many Asian and African cities highlighted as particularly susceptible to the toxic effects of air pollution by WHO. According to Dr Maria Neira, who leads public health efforts at WHO, many of the world’s megacities – such as Beijing, Delhi and Jakarta – exceed guideline levels for air quality by more than five times.

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Apr 302018
 
 April 30, 2018  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Chicago, Illinois 1942

 

Ministers Rally Round Theresa May After Amber Rudd Resigns (G.)
UK Home Office Charter Secret Removal Flight To Jamaica With Grandmothers (TLE)
Amber Rudd: Felled By Claims, Counterclaims, Leaks And Denials (G.)
Theresa May Has Lost Her Human Shield (G.)
Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit (Jacobin)
Tesla Doesn’t Burn Fuel, It Burns Cash (BBG)
JPMorgan, National Bank Of Canada, Others Test Debt Issuance On Blockchain (R.)
A T-Mobile-Sprint Merger Could Be ‘Devastating’ For Consumers (MW)
Marathon To Purchase Rival Refiner Andeavor For More Than $20 Billion (WSJ)
Facebook’s Censorship in Germany (Frank)
Greece Reinforces Land Border With Turkey To Stem Flow Of Migrants (G.)
Australia’s Ancient Language Shaped By Sharks (BBC)

 

 

What does it say about our times, our Zeitgeist even, when a new record for global revenue is set by a movie named Infinity War?

Doublespeak in action. Rudd left because she lied, but is now lauded for being honorable, acting on principle.

Ministers Rally Round Theresa May After Amber Rudd Resigns (G.)

Ministers have moved swiftly to try to protect Theresa May after the resignation of Amber Rudd, insisting the home secretary only stood down because she inadvertently misled MPs, not because of the wider Windrush migration scandal. With the prime minister set to announce a replacement for Rudd later on Monday, amid another forced cabinet reshuffle, the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, rejected the idea that May was facing pressure over her own position. “This is about sorting out a problem,” he told Sky News. “The prime minister has apologised to these people, and we’re going to get on with the job of fixing it.”

[..] Rudd was facing a bruising appearance in the House of Commons on Monday, having to explain again why she told the home affairs select committee last week that she did not know of any deportation targets. Grayling said Rudd had spoken “in good faith” and had stepped down because “she had inadvertently misled parliament, that she should have known a bit more about the issue of targets”. He added: “It doesn’t often happen in politics, and people criticise when it doesn’t happen. What we’ve got here is a former home secretary who acted on principle.”

Grayling insisted her departure had nothing to do with the wider issue of members of the Windrush generation of arrivals from the Caribbean being wrongly targeted by immigration authorities, or with the hostile environment immigration policy initiated by May when she was home secretary. “The Windrush issue is something we all regret,” he said. “It’s a mistake, the government’s apologised, the prime minister has apologised, the former home secretary apologised for it. That isn’t the issue that led to her resignation. The issue is about her inadvertently misleading the house in good faith.”

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, disputed this, and said May also should come to the Commons to explain herself to MPs. “Fundamentally, the reason she had to resign was because of the Windrush fiasco,” Abbott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Somebody had to take responsibility. It happened on her watch, therefore I think it’s right she has resigned.” On May addressing MPs, Abbott said: “In the first instance we’d like to know if she herself knew about the targets and would therefore be in a position to say whether Amber Rudd misled the house. “More fundamentally, we want to talk to her about the aspects of the so-called hostile environment, which she was responsible for, and led to the Windrush fiasco.”

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This is what this is about: indefinite detention for elderly ladies, taken from their families while awaiting deportation, in really bad conditions. It’s criminal.

UK Home Office Charter Secret Removal Flight To Jamaica With Grandmothers (TLE)

After a week of repeated apologies to the victims of the Windrush scandal and assurances by Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd that they would not be facing any more deportations, we have discovered evidence of a special chartered removal flight to Jamaica next week. We know of at least three grandmothers with British families who were due to be removed on the secretive flight. One, Yvonne Williams, a 59-year old grandmother of seven, whose mother arrived from Jamaica in 1962, had been detained in the scandal-ridden Yarl’s Wood detention centre for OVER EIGHT MONTHS since last August. She had been given removal directions by the Home Office for next week’s flight despite all her family being based in Britain and having none in Jamaica.

Thankfully, on Friday, the Home Office told Yvonne after she had been incarcerated for months away from her elderly mother, 82, and from the grandchildren that she had been caring for, that she would not be removed on the flight and that she could finally be released from detention. [..] Another grandmother incarcerated at Yarl’s Wood detention centre has not been as fortunate. Yvonne Smith, 63, remembers waving to the Queen when she visited Jamaica. She was born a citizen of the UK and Colonies eight years before Jamaican independence. Yvonne’s father and mother came to the UK in the 1950’s. Yvonne stayed behind with her grandmother joining her British siblings and father in Birmingham after her mother and grandmother passed away.

Her brother, sisters, nephews, nieces, children, grandchildren are all British and she has no family left in Jamaica. Yvonne has been making attempts to regularise her stay since 2010 as the main carer for her 92 year old father. The Home Office insists that she has not got enough significant family ties and has incarcerated Yvonne since last August. She says it breaks her heart talking to her father on the phone: “He starts crying, he doesn’t want the NHS to look after him, he wants me, it’s too hard to hear him cry.” Being detained for over eight months has also taken its toll on Yvonne’s health. She has been diagnosed with Diabetes since being locked up, complains of pain and her eyes fading.

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No, by lies. Her own.

Amber Rudd: Felled By Claims, Counterclaims, Leaks And Denials (G.)

When Amber Rudd agreed to appear in front of political journalists at a Westminster lunch last week, it was an opportunity to demonstrate her leadership credentials. But by the time the event actually came around the fallout from the Guardian’s reporting on the Windrush scandal was in full flow and she was, as she put it, “just thinking about staying in the game”. She had already had a hellish week involving several appearances at the dispatch box, a brutal session at the hands of the home affairs select committee and what felt like countless apologies.

But while much of the anger directed at the home secretary over the preceding days had been a result of the mishandling of the Windrush generation of migrants, it was her confusion over the rather more arcane matter of targets for deporting illegal immigrants that eventually brought her down. The key moment in Rudd’s dramatic fall from grace was when she was summoned to explain herself – and her department – in front of the committee last Wednesday. Almost as an afterthought, committee chair Yvette Cooper asked about earlier evidence from the immigration officers’ union about targets for the number of people who should be deported from the UK. “We don’t have targets for removals,” Rudd replied, kicking off the series of claims and counterclaims, leaks and denials, that eventually led to her departure.

The next day it emerged that immigration officials in her own department had been given targets after all. She was summoned to the Commons to clarify. “I was not aware of them,” she insisted. By Friday, her claims were unravelling after a secret internal Home Office document boasting of the targets in 2017 was leaked to the Guardian. Damningly, Rudd had been copied in. More than eight hours after the Guardian approached the Home Office with details of the memo – as speculation swirled around Westminster about her future – she finally responded in a series of defiant late-night tweets. The home secretary insisted she had not seen the leaked memo, even though it had been sent to her office and that she wasn’t aware of the specific removal targets. “But I accept that I should have been and I’m sorry that I wasn’t.”

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The longer May stays on, the more of a joke she becomes. And her office too, which is much worse.

Theresa May Has Lost Her Human Shield (G.)

Beleaguered, embattled, hapless – as the Windrush scandal worsened over recent days, these doom-laden adjectives had begun attaching themselves irresistibly to Amber Rudd’s name. To the last, she and her allies continued to insist that she didn’t know about deportation targets – they maintain the government’s “ambition” for boosting the number of people sent home is not a “target”. But crucially in her resignation letter, Rudd admitted “information provided to my office”did “make mention of numerical targets”. She didn’t see that information, shesaid – but admitted she should have done.

[..] The second reason Rudd remained in post was that with fresh Windrush injustices still emerging almost daily, she was a lightning rod for public anger, more of which may now be directed at the prime minister. Rudd loyally made repeated public apologies without allowing the blame to fall on the prime minister and the tone and policies that May set in her six years at the Home Office. Rudd had been deemed a potential leadership rival. Allowing her to continue to take incoming fire, particularly as it undermined her reputation for brisk, well-briefed competence, must have been highly tempting. On Sunday night, May was left to turn her thoughts to who should replace her.

She may feel obliged to appoint another remainer, to avoid upsetting the delicate balance at the top table. But in the key arguments inside Cabinet, a newbie may lack the power base to be influential for some time – and Britain’s Brexit negotiating position is being fought over right now.

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Thomas Fazi and Bill Mitchell.

Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit (Jacobin)

Nothing better reflects the muddled thinking of the mainstream European left than its stance on Brexit. Each week seems to produce a new chapter for the Brexit scare story: withdrawing from the EU will be an economic disaster for the UK; tens of thousands of jobs will be lost; human rights will be eviscerated; the principles of fair trials, free speech, and decent labor standards will all be compromised. In short, Brexit will transform Britain into a dystopia, a failed state — or worse, an international pariah — cut off from the civilized world. Against this backdrop it’s easy to see why Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is often criticized for his unwillingness to adopt a pro-Remain agenda.

[..] In the months leading up to the referendum, the world was flooded with warnings — from the IMF, the OECD, and other bastions of contemporary economics — claiming that a Leave vote in the referendum would have immediate apocalyptic consequences for the UK, causing a financial meltdown and plunging the country into a deep recession. The most embarrassing forecast on “the immediate economic impact of a vote to leave the EU on the UK” was published by the Tory government. The aim of the “study” in question, released in May 2016 by the UK Treasury, was to quantify “the impact … over the immediate period of two years following a vote to leave.”

Within two years of a Leave vote, the Treasury predicted that GDP would be between 3.6 and 6 percent lower and the number of people unemployed would rise by as much as 820,000. The predictions in the May 2016 “study” sounded dire, and were clearly aimed at having the maximum impact on the vote, which would be held a month later. Just weeks before the referendum, the then-chancellor George Osborne cited the report to warn that “a vote to leave would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy” and that “the shock would push our economy into recession and lead to an increase in unemployment of around 500,000.”

Nonetheless, the majority of voters opted for Brexit. In doing so, they proved economists wrong once again, since none of the catastrophic scenarios predicted in the run-up to the referendum have occurred. As Larry Elliott, Guardian economics editor, wrote: “Brexit Armageddon was a terrifying vision — but it simply hasn’t happened.” With almost two years having passed since the referendum, the economic data coming out of the UK makes a mockery of those doom-laden warnings — and of the aforementioned government report in particular. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shows that by the end of 2017, British GDP was already higher by 3.2 percent relative to its level at the time of the Brexit vote — a far cry from the deep recession we were told to expect.

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How much longer?

Tesla Doesn’t Burn Fuel, It Burns Cash (BBG)

The company that Elon Musk built to usher in the electric-car future might not have enough cash to make it through the calendar year. The anxieties that lurk beneath the tremendous ambition of Tesla Inc. moved into the forefront in recent weeks. The company again fell far short of its own production targets for the mass-market Model 3 sedan, another person died in a crash involving its assisted-driving feature and Musk entered into a public dispute with federal safety regulators. Tesla’s once high-flying stock, buffeted by a downgrade from credit analysts, has dropped 24 percent from its peak in September.

There’s a good reason to worry: No one has raised or spent money the way Elon Musk has. Nor has any other chief executive officer of a public company made a bankruptcy joke on Twitter at a time when so much seemed to be unraveling. Tesla is going through money so fast that, without additional financing, there is now a genuine risk that the 15-year-old company could run out of cash in 2018. The company burns through more than $6,500 every minute, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Free cash flow—the amount of cash a company generates after accounting for capital expenditures—has been negative for five consecutive quarters. That will be a key figure to watch when Tesla reports earnings May 2.

Tesla makes three cars—the Model S and Model 3 sedans and the Model X SUV—at its only auto assembly plant, located in Fremont, California. There are aggressive plans to add an electric semi truck, a new roadster sports car and crossover to the production lineup in the next few years. While Musk’s vision for the future once called for extreme automation, the present day is all about manpower. Back in 2010, Tesla had just 899 employees. Today, the company has nearly 40,000 workers. The ongoing hiring binge is probably contributing to Tesla’s financial straits. Tesla has added employees faster than it has boosted revenue in three of the last four years. This includes more than doubling the workforce in 2017, when the company was scaling up for Model 3 production and took on employees from SolarCity.

[..] Tesla ended 2017 with $3.4 billion in cash on hand and $9.4 billion in outstanding debt, a testament to Musk’s borrowing prowess. Many analysts believe that Tesla will need to raise money again—and soon. Bruce Clark of Moody’s Investors Service recently warned that Tesla will need an additional $2 billion this year, and he noted that $1.2 billion of existing debt will come due by 2019. Short sellers remain convinced that Tesla is on the verge of an epic meltdown. Famed investor Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates has predicted the company is headed for a “brick wall.”

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They want a piece of the action.

JPMorgan, National Bank Of Canada, Others Test Debt Issuance On Blockchain (R.)

JPMorgan Chase has tested a new blockchain platform for issuing financial instruments with the National Bank of Canada and other large firms, they said on Friday, seeking to streamline origination, settlement, interest rate payments and other processes. The test on Wednesday mirrored the Canadian bank’s $150 million offering on the same day of a one-year floating-rate Yankee certificate of deposit, they said in a statement. The platform was built over more than a year using Quorum, a type of open-source blockchain that JPMorgan has developed inhouse and is in discussions to spin off. Participants in the experiment included Goldman Sachs Asset Management, the fund management arm of Goldman Sachs, Pfizer and Legg Mason’s Western Asset and other investors in the certificate of deposit.

Banks have poured millions of dollars to develop blockchain, the software first created to run cryptocurrency bitcoin, to streamline processes ranging from cross-border payments to securities settlement. “Blockchain-related technologies have the potential to bring about major change in the financial services industry,” David Furlong, senior vice president of artificial intelligence, venture capital and blockchain at National Bank of Canada, said in a statement.

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A $26 billion deal, but it results in “a telecom giant with a $146 billion enterprise value which will serve some 127 million customers.”

A T-Mobile-Sprint Merger Could Be ‘Devastating’ For Consumers (MW)

A merger between Sprint and T-Mobile US has been officially announced—and for consumers that is certainly something to phone home about. The two companies agreed to an all-stock merger on Sunday that, if allowed by antitrust enforcers, would leave the U.S. wireless market dominated by three national players, and comes after the telecommunication companies renewed M&A discussions earlier in April after thrice failing to complete a tie-up. Speculation had previously mounted about a potential merger in September, months after Bloomberg originally reported “informal contact” between the two companies last May. But Japanese telecommunications firm SoftBank, which owns more than 80% of Sprint’s shares, announced back in October that it would cease its efforts to merge the wireless carrier with T-Mobile.

Before all that, discussions were on hold due to the government’s spectrum auction (where the government sells the rights for companies to transmit signals over certain bands of the electromagnetic spectrum). The combined company, if the proposed $26 billion dollar deal is consummated, would have more than 127 million customers. Consequently, a combined T-Mobile-Sprint likely could usher in industrywide changes that would affect consumers of various carriers across the country, telecom analysts said. “It would be devastating for consumers in the long run,” said Chris Mills, news editor at BGR, a news website focused on mobile technology and consumer electronics.

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It’s big merger time. While debt is still cheap.

Marathon To Purchase Rival Refiner Andeavor For More Than $20 Billion (WSJ)

Marathon Petroleum plans to buy logistics and refining company Andeavor for more than $20 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. The cash-and stock deal, which values Andeavor at about $150 a share, is expected to be announced Monday. That would be a roughly 23% premium over Andeavor’s closing price Friday after the stock surged about 50% in the past year. Marathon, based in Findlay, Ohio, is the second-largest refiner in the U.S., according to its website. Marathon-branded gasoline is sold in 20 states, and its Speedway unit owns the nation’s second-largest convenience-store chain.

It also owns a midstream master limited partnership with about 11,000 miles of crude oil and light-product pipelines. Andeavor, based in San Antonio, operates 10 refineries in the western U.S. with total capacity of more than 1.2 million barrels a day. Part of the rationale of the deal centers on the companies’ complementary footprints; with Marathon in the East and Andeavor in the West, regulatory approval could be easier to win.

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That should indeed be the question: who are these companies to censor us? Under what law is that possible?

Facebook’s Censorship in Germany (Frank)

A court in Berlin has issued a temporary restraining order against Facebook. Under the threat of a fine of 250,000 euros (roughly $300,000 USD) or a jail term, Facebook was obliged to restore a user’s comment that it had deleted. Moreover, the ruling prohibited the company from banning the user because of this comment. This is the first time a German court has dealt with the consequences of Germany’s internet censorship law, which came into effect on October 1, 2017. The law stipulates that social media companies have to delete or block “apparent” criminal offenses, such as libel, slander, defamation or incitement, within 24 hours of receipt of a user complaint.

As many critics pointed out, this state censorship makes freedom of speech subject to the arbitrary decisions of corporate entities that are likely to censor more than absolutely necessary, rather than risk a crushing fine of up to 50 million euros ($65 million USD). According to a newspaper report, Facebook’s censors have just ten seconds to decide whether to delete a comment or not. The case with which the court in Berlin had to deal was that on January 8, 2018, the Swiss daily Basler Zeitung posted an article with the title “Viktor Orban speaks of Muslim ‘invasion'” on its Facebook site. The blurb read: “Viktor Orban wonders how in a country like Germany… chaos, anarchy and illegal crossing of borders can be celebrated as something good.”

Facebook user Gabor B. posted a comment: “Germans are becoming increasingly stupid. No wonder, since the left-wing media litters them every day with fake news about ‘skilled workers,’ declining unemployment figures or Trump.” This comment quickly received the most “likes”, until Facebook deleted it, due to an alleged infringement of Facebook’s “community standards.” In addition, Gabor B. was banned from Facebook for 30 days. “One may share the commenter’s opinion or may deem it polemic or unobjective”, Gabor B.’s attorney Joachim Nikolaus Steinhöfel told Gatestone. “The important thing is: The comment is covered by the right to freedom of speech.”

He added that before going to court, his law office had sent a written warning to Facebook. “Facebook partly gave in and lifted the ban but did not restore the comment. Facebook’s lawyers notified us that ‘a thorough reexamination came to the result that the community standards had been applied correctly and that therefore the content could not be restored’ – an assessment we cannot share.”

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The land border does not fall under the EU/Turkey agreement.

Greece Reinforces Land Border With Turkey To Stem Flow Of Migrants (G.)

Greece has rushed to reinforce its land border with Turkey as fears mount over a sharp rise in the number of refugees and migrants crossing the frontier. Police patrols were augmented as local authorities said the increase in arrivals had become reminiscent of the influx of migrants on the Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast. About 2,900 people crossed the land border in April, by far surpassing the number who arrived by sea, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said. The figure represents half of the total number of crossings during the whole of 2017. Speaking from the frontier town of Orestiada, the local mayor, Dimitris Mavrides, told the Guardian: “Our reception facilities are overwhelmed and things are on the verge of spinning out of control. Far more are coming than are actually being registered.

“The government has just sent 120 extra police, but they are temporary and simply not enough. Frontex also has to intervene,” he added, referring to Europe’s border and coastguard agency. The area’s sole reception centre has capacity to process 240 people. In the absence of accommodation, authorities are placing newcomers, including children, in inappropriate police detention facilities where access to interpreters and other services are severely restricted. “Some of those in police detention have been held for more than three months,” UNHCR said in a statement. “Conditions are dismal … the hundreds of people kept include pregnant women, very young children and people in need of medical and psychosocial care.”

[..] The abrupt rise reflects a switch in tactics by people smugglers circumventing the controversial agreement the EU struck with Turkey in a bid to stem migration flows at the height of the crisis when more than a million people entered the bloc through Greece. [..] The land border does not fall under the agreement and is said to be easier to traverse. “In a boat it can take as little as three minutes to cross and is far cheaper,” said Mavrides. “They are coming precisely because it is not part of the deal and because word has got out the situation on the islands is dramatic. If they get here and are processed, they are free to go anywhere on the mainland. We have four buses a day to Athens and Thessaloniki and they are full.”

Read more …

What a delight to read.

“It’s especially unusual because men and women speak different dialects..”

“Although the shark may not be seen much in these waters anymore, it is still spoken of with respect, as the giver of life and creator of this land.”

Australia’s Ancient Language Shaped By Sharks (BBC)

The tiger shark was having a really bad day. Other sharks and fish were picking on him and he was fed up. After fighting them, he met up with the hammerhead shark and some stingrays at Vanderlin Rocks in the waters of Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria to speak of their woes before they set out to find their own places to call home. This forms one of the oldest stories in the world, the tiger shark dreaming. The ‘dreaming’ is what Aboriginal people call their more than 40,000-year-old history and mythology; in this case, the dreaming describes how the Gulf of Carpentaria and rivers were created by the tiger shark. The story has been passed down by word of mouth through generations of the Aboriginal Yanyuwa people, who call themselves ‘li-antha wirriyara’ or ‘people of the salt water’.

As we sailed past the rocks and sandstone cliffs of Vanderlin Island, heading towards the mouth of the Wearyan River, dugongs and fish swam by. We were searching beneath the waves for a glimpse of shark fins, following in the path of the tiger shark in this creation story. The tiger shark’s journey was challenging as he forged his way through the Gulf, creating the water holes and rivers in the landscape. He was turned away by many other angry animals who did not want him to live with them. A wallaby even hurled rocks at him when he asked if he could stay with her. But as he swam, the dreaming story explains, the shark helped create the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria that we see today.

“Tiger sharks are very important in our dreaming,” said Aboriginal elder Graham Friday, who is a sea ranger here and one of the few remaining speakers of Yanyuwa language. Some people here still believe the tiger shark is their ancestor, and the Yanyuwa are known for their ‘tiger shark language’, as they have so many words for the sea and shark. [..] today conservationists are concerned about tiger shark numbers, with them currently listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “Not many sharks any more. But this dreaming story shows there were once,” Friday said. [..] Although the shark may not be seen much in these waters anymore, it is still spoken of with respect, as the giver of life and creator of this land.

Read more …

Apr 292018
 


John Collier Lady Godiva c1897

 

The Stock Market That’s Never Satisfied (Forsyth)
Kim Pledges to Invite Media to Witness Nuclear Site Shutdown in May (BBG)
North Korea To Wind Clocks Forward By 30 Minutes (UPI)
Are European Companies Ready for Life Without Draghi? (DQ)
Millennial Housing Crisis Engulfs Britain (G.)
Twitter Sold Information To Researcher Behind Facebook Data Scandal (ZH)
Early Facebook Investor, Mentor: “They’ve Done Bupkis To Protect Us” (ZH)
Facebook’s Global Monopoly Poses A Deadly Threat In Developing Nations (G.)
Future Uncertain For Assange In Wake Of US-Ecuador Military Deal (DisM)
‘Caravan’ Migrants Weigh Staying In Mexico Or Risking US Expulsion (R.)
In The Opioid Epidemic, White Means Victim, Black Means Addict (G.)
Australia Pledges Half A Billion To Restore Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

 

 

Why own stocks?

The Stock Market That’s Never Satisfied (Forsyth)

If anything, the stock market is being extraordinarily critical of what it’s being served, notably earnings that are exceeding already high expectations. Take Caterpillar, which initially rallied Tuesday after reporting better-than-expected results. But on the post-earnings conference call, its chief financial officer called the first quarter the farm- and construction-equipment maker’s “high-water mark for the year.” So, if it doesn’t get any better than that, the stock market’s response isn’t to savor the moment, but to sell it. CAT ended up losing 6.2% in reaction to that comment, leading a massive retreat in industrial and material names that helped the Dow industrials shed over 400 points in the trading session.

That isn’t an entirely irrational response, given data that show growth is slowing, while inflation is picking up. To those late-cycle symptoms add rising rates, both the ones administered by the Federal Reserve and those set by the bond market. On the latter score, the benchmark Treasury 10-year note briefly peaked just over 3%, a psychologically significant but otherwise not terribly meaningful number. Arguably far more significant is that investors and savers can get 2% on six-month Treasury bills and almost 2.5% on a two-year note. Two years ago, dividend stocks provided investors a one-percentage point advantage over risk-free rates, says Danielle DiMartino Booth in her Money Strong missive. Now those places have been swapped.

Adds David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist for Gluskin Sheff, this ability to get a “safe yield” for the first time in a decade, with no risk from falling stock or bond prices, represents a “seminal shift and a huge source of competition for the dividend allure of the stock market.” The prospect of higher rates may cheer savers, but poses greater risk to an economy never more dependent on debt, DiMartino Booth says. But that’s the direction the Fed is headed, given the rise in inflation and signs of slowing growth, an unpleasant combination that suggests stagflation; if not 1970s-style double-digit inflation and unemployment, then an economy expanding more slowly than prices are rising.

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He claims it’s all still intact.

Kim Pledges to Invite Media to Witness Nuclear Site Shutdown in May (BBG)

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un has promised to close his main nuclear weapons test site in May and said he will invite South Korean and American media to witness the shutdown. Ahead of an historic meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump expected within the next three to four weeks, Kim told South Korea’s president that two tunnels at the nuclear test site are still in good condition, playing down international speculation that the site was so badly damaged by nuclear explosions that it can no longer be used. Kim’s pledges to Moon at their historic summit on Friday were detailed in Seoul on Sunday by Moon’s chief communication official.

Kim told President Moon Jae-in on the disputed Korean border that Trump will learn at their meeting that North Korea has no intention of using its nuclear arsenal toward South or the Pacific or to target the U.S. The North had no reason to own nuclear weapons if it and the U.S. promise non-aggression against each other, he said, according the the Seoul briefing. Trump said Saturday night that he expects his historic meeting with Kim will take place “over the next three or four weeks.” “Strength is going to keep us out of nuclear war, not get us in,” Trump told a rally in Washington, Michigan. Earlier, he said details of the summit are being ironed out, and that he’d spoken with the leaders of South Korea and Japan about preparations for the meeting.

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Symbols are important.

North Korea To Wind Clocks Forward By 30 Minutes (UPI)

North Korea has decided to wind its clock forward half an hour to match its time with the South’s, two years and eight months after it decided to adopt its own standard time, News 1 reported. Seoul’s presidential official Yoon Young-chan told reporters Sunday that in talks between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, Kim said he would shift time in Pyongyang to Korea Standard Time (UTC+9:00) Accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, Kim is said to have pointed to the two clocks hanging inside the Peace House, located on the South’s side of Panmunjom truce village, and said that this “pained his heart,” before suggesting to Moon that the South and North “first unify the time.”

Until 2015, Pyongyang used the same time (135 degrees East) as Seoul but adopted its own standard time which was thirty minutes behind KST. The North Korean leader said, as Pyongyang was the one that changed the time, it should be the one to make the adjustment again, JoongAng Ilbo reported. Yoon said this indicates Kim’s willingness to actively coordinate with the international community.

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A continent full of zombies.

Are European Companies Ready for Life Without Draghi? (DQ)

[..] there are signs that the ECB has quietly begun to taper its corporate-bond buying program. The rate of purchases under the Corporate Sector Purchase Programme dropped 50% in April to about €700 million per week, down from €1.4 billion during the first quarter, analysts at Deutsche Bank pointed out. That could mean the ECB is starting a “stealth taper” in order to wean the European bond market off the corporate debt purchases it began in June 2016, Deutsche Bank said. But are the companies that benefited from the ECB’s largesse ready for life without Draghi? There’s no doubting the ECB’s bond buying has exacerbated distortions in the corporate bond market — distortions that were first engendered by the central bank’s low interest rate policy. Yields came crashing down and spreads narrowed.

At the peak of ECB’s bond buying binge, the average yield of the Iboxx non-financials index fell as low as 0.69%. For German blue-chip companies such as BASF, Continental, Linde, SAP and Siemens, yields fell to less than 0.5%. France’s pharmaceutical company Sanofi and German consumer goods manufacturer Henkel even managed to issue bonds at slightly negative yields, effectively helping pay off their debts. But that was then. Now, the average yield of the Iboxx non-financials index is back above 1.10%. As Reuters reports, some of Europe’s biggest money managers are reducing their exposure to corporate bonds. Some are even shorting them, betting that stress is building in a market that was buoyed by years of rock-bottom borrowing costs. Some new bond issues have even struggled to find buyers, when not so long ago they were flying off shelves.

Bank of America guesstimated last year that as many as 50 of the euro zone’s 600 biggest companies deserve to be classified as “zombies,” as they pay far too much interest in relation to their profits. For these companies the ECB’s bond-buying program was a godsend, allowing them to continue refinancing their debt and stave off default. But interest rates are beginning to rise again. Whether or not the ECB has already begun to taper its corporate bond buying on the quiet, the program will likely be phased out later this year. And yields have already been rising ever so gradually in anticipation. That means that the companies that have benefited from the central bank’s monetary support are going to soon find themselves facing a whole new, more challenging reality. For some it’s unlikely to be a pleasant one.

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That’s what happens when you try and run an economy on a housing bubble.

Millennial Housing Crisis Engulfs Britain (G.)

Home ownership among young families has plummeted across every corner of Britain over the past 35 years, according to a devastating inquiry into the housing crisis facing millennials. The proportion of families headed by a 25- to 34-year-old that own their own home has more than halved in some regions, showing that the crisis goes far beyond London. Analysis conducted as part of a two-year investigation into intergenerational fairness in Britain, chaired by a former Tory minister, found that millennials are being forced into increasingly cramped and expensive rented properties that leave them with a longer commute and little chance of saving for a home. It also finds an increasing proportion of the young living in overcrowded housing.

The commission, which has been overseen by the Resolution Foundation thinktank and includes the former universities minister David Willetts, is expected to conclude that new taxes on property wealth may be the only way to restore fairness and prepare the country to pay the care and support costs of an ageing population. Ownership among 25- to 34-year-olds has plummeted in Greater Manchester from 53% in 1984 to 26% last year. It has fallen from 54% to 25% in south Yorkshire, from 45% to 20% in the West Midlands, from 50% to 28% in Wales and from 55% to 27% in the south-east. In outer London, the proportion has collapsed from 53% to just 16%. Out of 22 regions analysed by the commission, in only one – Strathclyde in Scotland – has home ownership among the young remained stable. It stood at 32% in 1984 and 33% last year, having peaked at 45% in 2002.

Ownership in London has fallen consistently over the past 30 years, whereas rates in some other parts of the country declined more slowly before the early 2000s, but very rapidly thereafter. Even favourable economic conditions are likely to result in millennials catching up with the home ownership levels of the previous cohort only by the age of 45. Fast-growing inheritances will help some, but nearly half of young non-homeowners have parents who do not own either.

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We need an overall ban on data harvesting for profit.

Twitter Sold Information To Researcher Behind Facebook Data Scandal (ZH)

Twitter has now also become embroiled in the Facebook data harvesting scandal – as the Sunday Telegraph reveals that the social media giant sold user data to Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge University researcher and director of Global Science Research (GSR), who created an app which harvested the data of millions of Facebook users’ without their consent before selling it to political data firm Cambridge Analytica. “Aleksandr Kogan, who created tools for Cambridge Analytica that allowed the political consultancy to psychologically profile and target voters, bought the data from the microblogging website in 2015, before the recent scandal came to light. -Sunday Telegraph”

Kogan says that the data was only used to generate “brand reports” and “survey extender tools” which were not in violation of Twitter’s data policies. While most tweets are public information and easy for anyone to access, Twitter charges companies and organizations for access to information in bulk – though Twitter bans companies which use the data for political purposes or to match with personal user information found elsewhere. A Twitter spokesman confirmed the ban and said: “Twitter has also made the policy decision to off-board advertising from all accounts owned and operated by Cambridge Analytica. This decision is based on our determination that Cambridge Analytica operates using a business model that inherently conflicts with acceptable Twitter Ads business practices.

The company said it does not allow “inferring or deriving sensitive information like race or political affiliation, or attempts to match a user’s Twitter information with other personal identifiers” and that it had staff in place to police this “rigorously”.-Sunday Telegraph Data licensing made up 13% of Twitter’s 2017 revenue at $333 million. In a March blog post, Citron Research said that Twitter’s 2018 data-licensing business will generate $400 million (analysts polled by FactSet say $387 million) and that it represents the fastest-growing segment of the company’s operations (which it is, according to FactSet).

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“..I feel like my baby has turned out to be something horrible, and these people I trusted and helped along have forgotten where they came from..”

Early Facebook Investor, Mentor: “They’ve Done Bupkis To Protect Us” (ZH)

Even if Facebook’s stellar Q1 earnings report hadn’t helped erase some of the losses that Facebook shares incurred in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sanderberg would still believe that the company’s troubles are largely behind them and that the company had essentially repaired the damage done to its reputation. That was the assessment delivered by early Facebook investor and one-time Zuckerberg mentor Roger McNamee, who warned during an appearance at an event organized by Quartz in Washington DC last week that the company’s leaders are deeply complacent and still haven’t accepted the fact that Facebook has badly mislead its users about how the company profits off their data.

Despite Zuckerberg’s warning, embedded in his opening statement to Congress earlier this month, that the company planned to make changes that could “significantly impact” profitability, McNamee believes it’s likely Facebook is “going to get away” with the bad things that it has done, which is “particularly dangerous” considering the 2018 midterm elections are only months away. McNamee said he’s deeply disappointed in how Zuckerberg and Sandberg have responded to the crisis by refusing to accept responsibility. During their post-crisis media tour, both executives insisted on blaming Cambridge Analytica for “misleading” Facebook, even though Facebook never bothered to alert users whose data had been affected. “They’ve done bupkis to protect us,” McNamee said.

The whole affair has left McNamee – who considers his involvement with Facebook during its early days to be the “highlight of a long career” – deeply saddened. “Every part of this has made me sadder and sadder and sadder. I feel like my baby has turned out to be something horrible, and these people I trusted and helped along have forgotten where they came from,” he said in a conversation with Kevin Delaney, Quartz’s editor-in-chief. McNamee has become an outspoken critic of the company, comparing its role in the 2016 US election to “the plot of a sci-fi novel” while at the same time admitting that he has “profited enormously” by backing Facebook early on. The organization he helped found, the Center for Humane Technology, has made it a mission to expose Facebook’s multiple flaws, and to try to fix them.

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Facebook facilitates ethnic cleansing. But profits are more important.

Facebook’s Global Monopoly Is A Deadly Problem In Developing Nations (G.)

[..] Facebook is a new kind of monopoly. We’re accustomed to the idea of companies becoming dominant in some jurisdictions. But we have never before encountered a corporation that has a global monopoly. Because wherever you go on the planet these days, Facebook is the only social-networking game in town. It has no serious competitors – anywhere. The implications of this are only now beginning to dawn on us. In the past two years, we have woken up to Facebook’s pernicious role in western democratic politics and are beginning to think about ways of addressing that problem in our bailiwicks. To date, the ideas about regulation that have surfaced seem ineffectual and so the damage continues.

But at least liberal democracies have some degree of immunity to the untruths disseminated by bad actors who exploit Facebook’s automated targeting systems – provided by a free press, parliamentary inquiries, independent judiciaries, public-service broadcasters, universities, professional bodies and so on. Other societies, particularly the developing countries now most assiduously targeted by Facebook, have few such institutions and it is there that the company has the capacity to wreak the most havoc. We’ve had intimations of this for a while, notably after it became clear that Facebook was a medium for anti-Muslim hysteria in Myanmar, hysteria that was subsequently translated into full-blown ethnic cleansing.

One of the key figures in all this was the ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, who used Facebook to broadcast his views about the Rohingya after he was banned from preaching by the government. Wirathu compared Muslims to mad dogs and posted gruesome pictures of dead bodies that he claimed were killed by Muslims – with predictable consequences. United Nations officials now say that social media has had a “determining role” in anti-Rohingya Muslim violence in Myanmar, which the UN itself has called “ethnic cleansing”. For “social media”, read Facebook, because there’s no competition to it in Myanmar.

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Torture.

Future Uncertain For Assange In Wake Of US-Ecuador Military Deal (DisM)

Late yesterday, Telesur reported that Ecuador had signed a “security deal” with the United States, which is expected to result in a US military presence in that country. Telesur wrote: “Ecuador signed Wednesday a cooperation agreement with the United States to fight transnational organized crime and drug trafficking…. Moreno’s move is a further shift away from the policies of his left-wing predecessor and former ally, Rafael Correa, who has criticized and refused to participate in the U.S.-sponsored Plan Colombia, arguing peace is not obtained with helicopters and weapons but rather by promoting economic and social development.”

The news comes as a new blow to hopes that Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno would heed calls from around the globe to end the solitary confinement of Julian Assange. Tomorrow, the arbitrarily confined journalist will have been totally isolated for one month. The latest news of a military agreement struck between Moreno’s government and the US comes as yet another major shift away from the policies of Ecuador’s prior administration. It is also a distinct pivot away from Ecuador’s decision, made just a few months prior, to confer citizenship and diplomatic status on the Wikileaks Editor-In-Chief.

This writer previously expressed the opinion that the ongoing solitary confinement of Assange by his own government constitutes torture. Disobedient Media has also reported consistently on the numerous online and physical vigils, petitions and other efforts to encourage Ecuador to return the Ecuadorian embassy in London to a place of refuge, as intended when the previous administration bravely granted Assange political asylum from the threats to his life and work emanating from the United States.

In our previous report, Disobedient Media noted that enforced isolation is not only torture in the opinions of those who have experienced it, but has also been labeled as such by the UN. Rick Raemisch wrote in an opinion piece published by The New York Times that, according to the Nelson Mandela rules, solitary confinement lasting more than 15 days constitutes torture. This means that the length of time for which Julian Assange has been cut off from the outside world would now have almost doubled the official benchmark for being considered torture.

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if the US would simply clean ita back yard, and stop stoking tensions there, it wouldn’t have these problems.

‘Caravan’ Migrants Weigh Staying In Mexico Or Risking US Expulsion (R.)

Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans who drew the wrath of President Donald Trump in a month-long caravan to the U.S. border will make hard decisions on Sunday whether to risk being deported all the way home by trying to cross, or to build a life in Mexico. After angry tweets from Trump, U.S. border authorities said some people associated with the caravan had been caught trying to slip through the fence, and encouraged the rest to hand themselves in to authorities. “We are a very welcoming country but just like your own house, we expect everyone to enter through our front door, and answer questions honestly,” San Diego Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott said in a statement.

Most of the group of about 400 travelers who arrived in border city Tijuana on buses over the past couple of days said they intended to legally seek asylum in San Diego later on Sunday, but lawyers advising the group gave them stark advice – not everyone will be successful. After the grueling journey, a somber mood took hold as the reality sank in that many of them would be separated from their families. Lovers and parents with slightly older sons and daughters could be forced to split up. At venues around the city, U.S. immigration lawyers working on a pro bono basis on Saturday listened to harrowing tales of life in the immigrants’ home countries.

Death threats from local gangs, the murder of family members, retaliatory rape, and political persecution back home prompted them to flee, the migrants and lawyers say. Many of the immigrants who spoke at length with Reuters at various points during their trip through Mexico had been short on knowledge of their legal rights, but at least 24 recounted detailed stories of facing death threats.

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How true.

In The Opioid Epidemic, White Means Victim, Black Means Addict (G.)

My cursor is hovering over the “unfriend” button, but I haven’t clicked it. Today, my relationship-severing finger is poised to get rid of Matt. Matt is a friend with whom I spent a lot of time about six years ago. We were close in rehab, but I haven’t seen him since. I entered Greenbriar treatment center in Washington, Pennsylvania, just a few days after he’d arrived, and he showed me the ropes. For the next few weeks, we were virtually inseparable. Rehab can be a frightening place when you first arrive. With any luck, you’ve already had some sort of “come to Jesus” moment with yourself and you’ve realized that you need to be there or else you’re going to die. I had had no such moment and was fully convinced that this was all a big mistake.

Once I got through the door into the facility, I heard it lock electronically with a loud buzz and a finality that shook my bones. I immediately regretted it. There is no lonelier feeling on this Earth than sitting there, abandoned and broken. You’ve burned all your bridges on the outside and your life feels as though it’s half a world away. This is the moment when you really need a guy like Matt to walk up to you, thrust out his hand and say: “Hi! I’m Matt! What’s your name?” Over the next few weeks, he and I attended group therapy sessions together and stayed up late talking about our problems, our addictions and our families. We ugly-cried in front of each other as we shared our darkest secrets, what we had done for drugs and how deeply unhappy we were.

Matt is a man who, in many ways, helped me to take my recovery seriously in rehab and, in the first few weeks after my release, he helped me to remain sober on the outside. And, today, I sit in front of my monitor poised to cancel him forever because whiteness is apparently more addictive than any drug could ever be. We sobered up in the same facility, but he was a victim. I was an addict. Matt is a Christian. I am not. Matt is a Republican. I am not. And, most significantly, Matt is white. I am not. And these facts make all the difference in America.

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First you destroy it, then you spend taxpayers’ money to restore it. It’s called a profit model.

Australia Pledges Half A Billion To Restore Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

Australia pledged half a billion dollars to restore and protect the Great Barrier Reef Sunday in what it said would be a game-changer for the embattled natural wonder, but conservationists were not convinced. The World Heritage-listed site, which attracts millions of tourists, is reeling from significant bouts of coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change.It is also under threat from the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, which has proliferated due to pollution and agricultural runoff.Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said more than Aus$500 million ($400 million) would go towards improving water quality, tackling predators, and expanding restoration efforts.

Turnbull said it was the “largest ever single investment — to protect the reef, secure its viability and the 64,000 jobs that rely on the reef”.”We want to ensure the reef’s future for the benefit of all Australians, particularly those whose livelihood depends on the reef,” he added.The reef is a critical national asset, contributing Aus$6.4 billion a year to the Australian economy.Canberra has previously committed more than Aus$2.0 billion to protect the site over the next decade, but has been criticised for backing a huge coal project by Indian mining giant Adani nearby.With its heavy use of coal-fired power and relatively small population, Australia is considered one of the world’s worst per-capita greenhouse gas polluters.

Canberra insists it is taking strong action to address the global threat of climate change, having set an ambitious target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030.

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Apr 272018
 
 April 27, 2018  Posted by at 7:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Curtis Red Hawk 1905

 

Moon and Kim’s Unprompted DMZ Dance (AFP)
Sophisticated North Korean Diplomacy Rewards Kim Jong-un (Pieraccini)
China Open To Trade Negotiations With United States – Li (R.)
BOJ Maintains Stimulus While Removing Language on Timing of 2% (BBG)
What’s The Most Important Chart For Investors? (MW)
A New Type Of Poverty Is Hurting The Middle Class (SMH)
Amazon Cloud Revenue Jumps 49% In First Quarter (CNBC)
Facebook Profits Soar 63% Despite Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)
EU Doesn’t Need The City Of London, Says Chief Brexit Negotiator (G.)
Turkey Crackdown Suffocates Society, Creates Climate Of Fear (Amnesty)
Greece’s Economic Crisis Is Over Only If You Don’t Live There (WaPo)
Greece: Economic Health In Grim State (EN)
Solar And Wind Really Do Increase Electricity Prices (F.)
EU Member States To Vote On Near-Total Neonicotinoids Ban (BBC)

 

 

Kim needs money.

Moon and Kim’s Unprompted DMZ Dance (AFP)

It was a historic handshake that Koreans had waited more than a decade to see — and it sparked a completely unscripted dance with the two leaders hopping back and forth over the border that divides their nations. Everything about the inter-Korean summit had been minutely choreographed and rehearsed but the North’s Kim Jong Un went off-script when he invited his southern counterpart Moon Jae-in to join him over the border. After a prolonged clasp lasting almost half a minute over the Military Demarcation Line that acts as the border, a beaming Moon invited his guest over to South Korea. They posed for pictures as Kim became the first Northern leader to set foot in the country since Korean War hostilities ceased in 1953.

Kim then beckoned Moon over to the other side. Moon seemed initially hesitant but the North’s jovial young leader was not taking “no” for an answer, grabbing his hand and accompanying him across the border before they warmly shook hands again. Grinning broadly, the pair then crossed back to the South hand-in-hand, to be presented with flowers by children from a village in the buffer area next to the Demilitarized Zone. It all went to show that even for a moment as carefully planned as the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade, where the North’s nuclear arsenal will be high on the agenda, the best-laid preparations rarely run completely to schedule. South Korean officials had carried out a full dress rehearsal on the eve of the summit, including stand-ins for the two leaders. “We examined every single detail including lighting and flower decorations,” a Moon spokesman said.


You put your left foot in: Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in were engaged in a metaphorical and literal diplomatic dance on Friday when they met at the frontier (AFP Photo/Korea Summit Press Pool)

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Sanctions bite too. And “United States with its back against the wall” is perhaps not the right picture.

Sophisticated North Korean Diplomacy Rewards Kim Jong-un (Pieraccini)

[..] what appears to be emerging is very similar to a strategy cleverly developed by the North Korean leadership over a number of years. As Pyongyang needed to bring the United States to the negotiating table, while at the same time guaranteeing its survival, it pursued its nuclear-weapons program. Since Washington seems to have understood that a military solution is not practicable, especially given the pressure brought to bear by its allies all too cognizant of a nuclear-armed DPRK, Pyongyang is now willing to display its good will, deciding to surprise the world by embarking on negotiations, with the renunciation of its nuclear weapons as a major bargaining chip.

Under these conditions, Pyongyang is willing to cooperate, and South Korea welcomes the initiative with open arms, accelerating the meeting between the two leaders and paving the way for peace on the peninsula. The People’s Republic of China applauds the diplomatic efforts and encourages South Korea, and later America, in these diplomatic efforts. Seoul, Beijing and Pyongyang have every interest in reaching an all-encompassing deal, with or without Washington. The diplomatic ability of this trio has managed to leave the United States with its back against the wall, first of all obliging it to sit down at the negotiating table (something already revolutionary for reasons explained above), and then requiring it to ease sanctions considerably.

Otherwise, North Korea would be seen as the party that is willing to achieve peace, while Washington is left isolated and looking like the warmonger. North Korea finds itself in a win-win situation. If sanctions are eased and peace talks are managed in the right manner, then the process of socio-economic rebirth, which Kim Jong-un considers a priority, can begin. Should the rhetoric of war prevail in Washington, then Washington would find itself at odds with its main ally, Seoul. It is likely that China could even justifiably renounce its sanctions against the DPRK, blaming the US for not making any progress in the face of extraordinary offers by Kim Jong-un to renounce his nuclear weapons.

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Win win.

China Open To Trade Negotiations With United States – Li (R.)

China is open to negotiating with the United States to resolve trade tensions, Premier Li Keqiang was quoted as saying by state media late on Thursday, noting that the countries should manage their conflicts through dialogue. Li made the remarks at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is due to lead a delegation to China for talks intended to ease trade tensions. President Donald Trump has threatened a new round of tariffs on $100 billion worth of Chinese products that could target mobile phones, computers and other consumer goods. China retaliated against an initial round of U.S. tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese exports.

“There is no winner in trade conflict, which will not only affect the recovery of the world economy but also the global industrial chain,” Li said in comments reported by the official Xinhua news agency. “It is also what the international community expects from our two countries,” he said. Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, who will join Mnuchin’s delegation in Beijing, said on Thursday he hoped the talks with China would yield progress but that resolving U.S. complaints would be “a long process.” Xinhua cited Li as saying he hoped the two countries would be able to “manage and control” their differences. Li added China would “unswervingly open further to the outside world”, reiterating President Xi Jinping’s assurances over about the country opening more widely to trade.

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Abenomics was all about inflation targeting. Silently forgotten.

BOJ Maintains Stimulus While Removing Language on Timing of 2% (BBG)

The Bank of Japan left its stimulus program unchanged on Friday, while removing language from its statement declaring that it would reach 2% inflation around fiscal 2019. The decision to maintain the yield-curve control program and asset purchases was forecast by all analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. As he enters his sixth year at the helm, Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has the BOJ pushing forward with stimulus even as other major central banks move further toward policy normalization, if at a more moderate pace. Though it removed the language on reaching its 2% target, indicating that more time may be needed, the BOJ left its inflation forecasts largely unchanged. It still forecasts core inflation, which excludes fresh food prices, to reach 1.8% in fiscal 2019.

Still, seven of nine board members said risks to that forecast were weighted to the downside. “The momentum for achieving the inflation target as early as possible is fading,” said Masamichi Adachi, senior economist at JPMorgan Chase. “I take the change as a positive because you can say that their communication is becoming realistic.” Kuroda is expected to reiterate his intention to carry on with the stimulus during his news conference later on Friday. Doing so would likely provide a tailwind for the yen to continue falling, as rising U.S. bond yields widens the gap between returns in the U.S. and Japan.

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Pick your favorite.

What’s The Most Important Chart For Investors? (MW)

Wolf Richter, the man behind the Wolf Street blog, had no trouble zeroing in on the theme for his pick for “chart of the century”: U.S. debt. He did have trouble choosing whether the chart should show ballooning student loans, or ballooning government debt. Either way, ballooning’s the key, as he predicts both narratives will continue to raise alarms. When push came to shove, he opted for the government debt chart.

[..] Spending and debt are also the theme of the chart selected by Lance Roberts, chief strategist for Clarity Financial. But his chart focuses on the consumer side of that picture. Visualized here is the widening gap between cost of living, and the income and credit Americans have at their disposal. Up until the late 1980s, disposable income, savings and debt funded the standard cost of living. Since then, however, this chart shows that hasn’t been the case — and the national personal savings rate has dropped from above 10% in the 1970s to below 4% today.

[..] While we’re on the topic of the dollar and rising rates, Tadas Viskanta of the Abnormal Returns blog says this chart tells “the most important story of the century”. “Central banks engineered 0% or in some cases negative yields on cash for the better part of the decade,” Tadas said. “We’re only now coming out of it. Investors may once again begin to think of cash as a viable investment option.”

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From Australia, but applicable anywhere. You’re not poor yet? Give us a minute.

A New Type Of Poverty Is Hurting The Middle Class (SMH)

The banking and finance royal commission has cast light on a new type of poverty to emerge in our society: middle class poverty. To understand it, we have to go back to an earlier government inquiry: the 1972 Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, conducted by Professor Ronald Henderson [which] gave prominence to the Henderson Poverty Index: a measure of consumption described by Henderson as so austere that it was unchallengeable. Updated versions of this index remain a standard benchmark of poverty. But more than 45 years on, the royal commission into finance is revealing that poverty is no longer just about low income.

The commission has heard that Australian banks have adopted actual lending practices (as distinct from their official lending policies) that claim so much household income for contract payments that borrowers are left without enough money to fund basic consumption levels: they are living in poverty. This isn’t an accident: it is a strategic policy by banks. How much do banks think households need for daily living? According to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority’s submission to the royal commission, banks “typically use the Household Expenditure Measure [a relative poverty measure] or the Henderson Poverty Index in loan calculators to estimate a borrower’s living expenses”. So measures designed to capture the impacts of low incomes are now targeting financially-enmeshed middle-income households, and not as a statement of social shame, but as strategic objects of bank policy.

This has caused embarrassment to APRA, the regulator charged with overseeing those bank practices. In response, it was permitted to make a supplementary submission to the royal commission in March. A consequence of APRA neglect is that “poverty” now goes significantly up the income scale, well into what we generally call the middle class. Middle income people are the cohort in greatest financial risk. They are highly leveraged: they spend more of their income on loan repayments than do people with higher incomes. Second, their assets are undiversified: they own labour market skills, some home equity and some superannuation. Third, these assets are illiquid (not easily sold): you can’t transfer your skills to another, houses are costly to sell and superannuation is generally inaccessible..

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The cloud is not a safe environment.

Amazon Cloud Revenue Jumps 49% In First Quarter (CNBC)

Amazon’s cloud business exceeded analyst estimates, with revenue climbing 49% in the first quarter. Amazon Web Services reported sales on Thursday of $5.44 billion, compared to the $5.26 billion average estimate of analysts surveyed by FactSet. AWS contributed about 11% of Amazon’s total revenue for the period, up from 8.5% in the prior quarter. AWS continues to be a big revenue driver and even larger profit engine for its parent company, which dominates the low-margin e-commerce market.

In cloud-computing infrastructure, Amazon has a substantial market share lead over Microsoft Azure, Google’s Cloud platform and IBM, as well as other players like Alibaba and Oracle. While AWS has maintained growth above 40%, Microsoft and Google are currently expanding much faster and picking up share. In the first quarter Microsoft’s Azure cloud grew 93%. AWS produced $1.4 billion in operating income in the first quarter. That accounted for 73% of Amazon’s $1.93 billion in operating income.

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How much of that comes from selling data?

Facebook Profits Soar 63% Despite Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)

Facebook profits soared 63% to $5bn (£3.6bn) in the first three months of the year despite the company being engulfed in a data privacy scandal that has angered millions of users. Allegations that up to 87 million Facebook users’ data was collected without their knowledge and then used by Cambridge Analytica to try to sway the US Presidential election and the Brexit vote, did little to slow the tech company’s rapid growth. Total revenues jumped 49% compared to the same three months last year, Facebook reported on Wednesday. Facebook has been scrambling to mollify angry politicians and reassure users that it will safeguard their personal information.

Amid the turmoil, observers were keenly watching the company’s user figures to assess the potential damage and see if the scandal would suppress Facebook’s growth. Despite high-profile social media campaigns calling users to boycott Facebook, user numbers kept in line with expectations. Those results again demonstrated the company’s ability to thrive amid controversy. It continued to grow over the last year despite a steady drumbeat of revelations that Russian-linked actors used the platform to try and fracture the electorate and promote Mr Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

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But the CIty still has lots of political power.

EU Doesn’t Need The City Of London, Says Chief Brexit Negotiator (G.)

The EU does not need the City of London, and Theresa May’s “pleading” for a special deal for the UK’s financial services sector will not be rewarded, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said. In his toughest rebuff yet to the demands made by the British prime ministerin her landmark Mansion House speech, Barnier suggested the City would be granted nothing more generous than that enjoyed by Wall Street. “Some argue that the EU desperately needs the City of London, and that access to financing for EU27 business would be hampered – and economic growth undermined – without giving UK operators the same market access as today,” Barnier said at a meeting of finance ministers in Sofia, Bulgaria. “This is not what we hear from market participants, and it is not the analysis that we have made ourselves.”

May had argued in March, in a keynote speech spelling out her vision of a future UK-EU trading relationship, that failing to construct a special deal for the City would hurt economies on both sides. The City provided more than £1.1tn of cross-border lending to the rest of the EU in 2015 alone. May conceded in her speech that the current “passporting” regime, under which UK-based financial services would automatically have the right to operate across the EU, would not survive Brexit. However, she went on to suggest that a mutually agreed system would be necessary that would give the UK’s financial services sector greater assurances over future rules than the current “equivalence regime”.

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Our ‘leaders’ look the other way, they have other priorities.

Turkey Crackdown Suffocates Society, Creates Climate Of Fear (Amnesty)

The report reveals how few areas of Turkey’s once vibrant independent civil society have been left untouched by the ongoing state of emergency. A nationwide crackdown has resulted in mass arrests and dismissals, thehollowing out of the legal system and the silencing of human rights defenders through threats, harassment and imprisonment. “Whilst the jailing of journalists and activists may have hit the headlines, the profound impact that Turkey’s crackdown has had on wider society is harder to quantify but it is no less real,” said Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Gauri van Gulik. “Under the cloak of the state of emergency, Turkish authorities have deliberately and methodically set about dismantling civil society, locking up human rights defenders, shutting down organisations and creating a suffocating climate of fear.”

The state of emergency, declared in July 2016 as a temporary exceptional measure in the wake of the failed coup attempt, was renewed for a seventh time last week. Under its imposition, the rights to freedom of expression to liberty and security and to fair trials have been decimated. In so doing, the last line of defence for any healthy society – namely the work of human rights defenders – has been breached. Blanket bans on public gatherings in cities across Turkey have curtailed the right to assembly and association. Meanwhile more than 100,000 people have faced criminal investigations and at least 50,000 people have been imprisoned pending trial. More than 107,000 public sector employees have been summarily dismissed.

Many of the country’s most prominent journalists and human rights defenders, including Taner Kılıç, honorary chair of Amnesty International Turkey, have been jailed on baseless “terrorism” charges. But their arrests are merely the tip of the iceberg. Anti-terrorism laws and trumped-up coup related charges are used to target and silence peaceful, legitimate dissent. Prominent journalists, academics, human rights defenders and other civil society actors are subjected to arbitrary detention, prosecutions and, if found guilty in unfair trials, face long sentences.

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Greek recovery narrative is an insult.

Greece’s Economic Crisis Is Over Only If You Don’t Live There (WaPo)

Greece’s economic crisis is over only if you don’t live there. Everyone else, in other words, might have moved on because Greece isn’t threatening to knock over the other dominoes that are known as the global economy anymore, but its people are still stuck in what is the worst collapse a rich country has ever gone through. Indeed, if the International Monetary Fund’s latest projections are correct, it might be at least another 10 years before Greece is back to where it was in 2007. And that’s only if there isn’t another recession between now and then. Two lost decades, then, are something of a best-case scenario for Greece. The numbers are staggering. It’s not just that Greece’s economy shrank 26% in per capita terms between the middle of 2007 and the start of 2014.

That, as you can see below, might have put it on par with some of the biggest calamities in economic history — it was a little better than the United States had done in the 1930s, but a little worse than Argentina had done in the 2000s — but it didn’t distinguish it among them. No, it’s that Greece has grown only a total of 2.8% — again, adjusted for its population — in the first four years of what is supposedly a recovery. To give you an idea how miserable that is, 1930s America grew 30.2% and 2000s Argentina grew 26.9% during the first four years of theirs. The result is that, by this point of their recoveries, the United States was nearly all the way back to where it had been before its crash, and Argentina was actually 17.1% richer than it had been. Greece, meanwhile, is still 23.5% poorer than it was.

The IMF somewhat optimistically thinks that Greece will still be 12.8% poorer than it was in 2007 in 2023, which would put it on pace to get back to its pre-recession peak sometime around 2030 or so. They have made a desert, and called it a recovery.

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“..33% of Greeks now work for less than 380 euros a month. Gross, before tax…”

Greece: Economic Health In Grim State (EN)

In an extended interview in Lisbon, Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has given a very grim assessment of his country’s economic health. It came after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday, whilst on a visit to Athens, that Greece will become what he termed a “normal” country by the end of the summer. “Everyday is worse than the previous day. All talk of recovery, and of Greece having turned the corner, is to add insult on the injuries of the Greek people,” Varoufakis said. “We have a constant reduction in pensions, in wages. Do you know that 33% of Greeks now work for less than 380 euros a month? Gross, before tax.

“Already the government has committed, even legislated, to introduce pension cuts in January 2019, to introduce a further increase in taxation of the poorest families, after January 2019. They have comitted to escalate exponentially the evictions of poor families from their homes, repossessions. So, of course there will be no changes after the summer of 2018.” In 2016 Varoufakis formed the DiEM25, a pan-European left-wing party which is now asssembling a list of candidates for next’s year’s EU parliamentary elections.

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The only thing that counts is the energy that isn’t used.

Solar And Wind Really Do Increase Electricity Prices (F.)

In my last column I discussed an apparent paradox: why, if solar panels and wind turbines are so cheap, do they appear to be making electricity so expensive? One big reason seems to be their inherently unreliable nature, which requires expensive additions to the electrical grid in the form of natural gas plants, hydro-electric dams, batteries, or some other form of stand-by power. Several readers kindly pointed out that I had failed to mention a huge cost of adding renewables: new transmission lines. Transmission is much more expensive for solar and wind than other plants. This is true around the world — for physical reasons. Think of it this way. It would take 18 of California’s Ivanpah solar farms to produce the same amount of electricity that comes from our Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.

And where just one set of transmission lines are required to bring power from Diablo Canyon, 18 separate transmission lineswould be required to bring power from solar farms like Ivanpha. Moreover, these transmission lines are in most cases longer. That’s because our solar farms are far away in the desert, where it is sunny and land is cheap. By contrast, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear plants are on the coast right near where most Californians live. (The same is true for wind.) New transmission lines can make electricity cheaper, but not when they are used only part of the time and duplicate rather than replace current equipment. Other readers pointed to cases that appear to challenge the claim that increased solar and wind deployments increase electricity prices.

[..] What is most remarkable about U.S. states heavy in solar and wind is that electricity prices rose so much given the huge decline in natural gas prices. Had natural gas prices not plummeted at what was almost the exact same time as the beginning of the large-scale build-out of solar and wind in the United States, price increases in solar and wind heavy states would have been far larger. Around the world, from Germany and Denmark to Spain and South Australia, even modest penetrations of solar and wind, compared to what advocates claim we will need to decarbonize, lead to large price increases.

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It’s a step alright. But it’s far from total.

EU Member States To Vote On Near-Total Neonicotinoids Ban (BBC)

Member states will vote on Friday on an almost complete ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides across the EU. Scientific studies have linked their use to the decline of honeybees, wild bees and other pollinators. The move would represent a major extension of existing restrictions, in place since 2013. Manufacturers and some farming groups are opposed, saying the science remains uncertain. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world, but concerns about their impact on bees have been reinforced by multiple research efforts, including so-called “real world” trial results published last year. Back in 2013 the European Union opted for a partial ban on the use of the three chemicals in this class: Imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.

The restrictions applied to crops including maize, wheat, barley, oats and oil seed rape. The new Commission proposal would go much further, meaning that almost all outdoor uses of the chemicals would be banned. The action has been driven by a recent report from the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), which found that neonicotinoids posed a threat to many species of bees, no matter where or how they are used in the outdoor environment. Another key element that has pushed the Commission to hold a vote has been the UK’s change of heart on the use of these insecticides. Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced last November that the UK would now support further restrictions. “I think it has helped the dynamic,” Franziska Achterberg from Greenpeace told BBC News.

“It has helped sway Ireland definitely, and then lately, the Germans, the Austrians and the Dutch. I think the fact the UK had come around was a good signal for them as well, that they could not stay behind.” During the partial ban, some countries including the UK were given permission to use neonicotinoids for short periods. However, the EU Commission is now signalling that it is seemingly intent on pushing the proposal through as it stands. “Several countries have said they want exemptions on sugar beet for example,” said Sandra Bell from Friends of the Earth (FOE). “So far the Commission have been very strong on this, because they say the Efsa evidence backs the extension of the ban to sugar beet and therefore they are following the science and won’t put in an exemption for a compromise.”

Growers will be free to use neonicotinoids in greenhouses across the EU, despite some environmental groups having reservations about the chemicals leaching into water supplies. Other neonicotinoids including thiacloprid and sulfoxaflor will continue to be exempt from the ban.

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Apr 192018
 
 April 19, 2018  Posted by at 8:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edgar Degas The laundress 1873

 

Triffin Warned Us (Lebowitz)
Global Debt Has Reached A Record High, And 3 Countries Are To Blame – IMF (MW)
Dollar Bears Beware, Trump Tweets May Not Be Enough (Karamanlis)
Facebook Says Users Must Accept Targeted Ads Even Under New EU Law (R.)
Facebook To Put 1.5 Billion Users Out Of Reach Of New EU Privacy Law (R.)
VIX Rigging Talk Erupts on Wall Street After Another Wild Swing (BBG)
UK Government Loses Key Brexit Vote (CNN)
Lawmakers Make Criminal Referral on Clinton, Comey, Lynch to DOJ (Carter)
New York Attorney General Wants Power To Bypass Trump Pardons (R.)
German Prosecutors Raid Homes Of Porsche Executives Over Dieselgate (Pol.)
Turkey Disputes Sovereignty of 152 Greek Islets (GR)
Top Greek Court To Rule Irrevocably On Asylum For Turkish Servicemen (K.)
Americans Waste 150,000 Tons Of Food Each Day – A Pound Per Person (G.)

 

 

We sold our souls to the Debt Devil. There has been no growth for years. We borrowed it all.

Triffin Warned Us (Lebowitz)

Folklore states that Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads in Rosedale, Mississippi and made a deal with the devil in which he swapped his soul for musical virtuosity. In 1944, the United States and many nations made a deal at the crossroads in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The agreement, forged at a historic meeting of global leaders, has paid enormous economic benefits to the United States, but due to its very nature, has a flawed incongruity with a dear price that must be paid. In 1960, Robert Triffin brilliantly argued that ever-accumulating trade deficits, the flaw of hosting the reserve currency and the result of Bretton Woods, may help economic growth in the short run but would kill it in the long run.

Triffin’s theory, better known as Triffin’s Paradox, is essential to grasp the current economic woes and, more importantly, recognize why the path for future economic growth is far different from that envisioned in 1944. We believe the financial crisis of 2008 was likely an important warning that years of accumulating deficits and debts associated with maintaining the world’s reserve currency may finally be reaching their tipping point. Despite the last nine years of outsized fiscal spending and unprecedented monetary stimulus, economic growth is well below the pace of recoveries of years past. In fact, as shown below, starting in 2009 the cumulative amount of new federal debt surpassed the cumulative amount of GDP growth going back to 1967. Said differently, if it were not for a significant and consistent federal deficit, GDP would have been negative every year since the 2008 financial crisis.

[..] In 1960, 11 years before Nixon’s suspension of gold convertibility and essentially the demise of the Bretton Woods Agreement, Robert Tiffin foresaw this problem in his book Gold and the Dollar Crisis: The Future of Convertibility. According to his logic, the extreme privilege of becoming the world’s reserve currency would eventually carry a heavy penalty for the U.S. Although initially his thoughts were generally given little consideration, Triffin’s hypothesis was taken seriously enough for him to gain a seat at an obscure congressional hearing of the Joint Economic Committee in December the same year. What he described in the book, and his later testimony, became known as Triffin’s Paradox.

Events have played out largely as he envisioned it. Essentially, he argued that reserve status affords a good percentage of global trade to occur in U.S. dollars. For this to occur the U.S. must supply the world with U.S. dollars. In other words, to supply the world with dollars, the United States would always have to run a trade deficit whereby the dollar amount of imports exceeds the dollar amount of exports. Running persistent deficits, the United States would become a debtor nation. The fact that other countries need to hold U.S. dollars as reserves tends to offset the effects of consistent deficits and keeps the dollar stronger than it would have been otherwise.

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The increase in Chinese debt is staggering. And worrisome.

Global Debt Has Reached A Record High, And 3 Countries Are To Blame – IMF (MW)

Global debt has reached a record high, and three countries account for more than half of it, according to a new International Monetary Fund report released Wednesday. The IMF’s fiscal monitor said total debt reached $164 trillion in 2016, or 225% of global gross domestic product. That includes the debt of governments, households and companies. Compared with the previous peak in 2009, the world is now 12% of GDP deeper in debt, the IMF said. Just three countries — China, Japan and the U.S. — account for more than half of global debt, and China alone accounts for almost three-quarters of the increase in private debt since the financial crisis.

The IMF warns that countries with elevated government debt are vulnerable to a sudden tightening of global financing conditions, and it said advanced economies were resting on their laurels, with deficits remaining unchanged on average. It said the U.S. was the only advanced economy expecting an increase in debt-to-GDP ratio over the next five years. That’s due to the recently enacted tax cuts as well as the big increase in spending. The IMF said its U.S. forecasts are similar to those published by the Congressional Budget Office.

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Trump as currency manipulator?

Dollar Bears Beware, Trump Tweets May Not Be Enough (Karamanlis)

The entrenched bearish dollar view has all the ingredients to become the pain-trade of the year. It has become super crowded based on occasional utterances from the White House while ignoring a fundamental shift at the Fed. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is hovering near a three-year low as uncertainties surrounding the Trump administration weigh on investor confidence. Be it verbal intervention toward a weaker currency, personnel changes or trade protectionism, the U.S. President has had a way of frustrating dollar longs. As a result, any rebounds in the U.S. currency this year have been short- lived. That’s led to a massive build in short-dollar positions. Hedge funds and other large speculators haven’t been more bearish on the greenback in more than five years, CFTC data show.

With less room for additional short exposure, dollar bears are going to need something more than the short-term turbulence generated by Trump. Those hoping for an assist from monetary policy are likely to be sorely disappointed. The Fed isn’t just retaining its bullish stance, it’s looking for a more aggressive rate-hike trajectory than the market anticipates. With almost half of Fed policy makers projecting at least four interest rate increases for 2018, upside risks prevail. Those risks may become more pronounced should the U.S. Senate confirm Richard Clarida as vice chairman. Clarida, no stranger to the notion of a total of four hikes this year, may spark another round of speculation on whether the FOMC could include a price-level target in its policy framework.

Soon-to-be New York Fed President John Williams also advocates such a shift, which Clarida said, in a Pimco commentary back in 2014, would – in theory – result in higher yields on longer-duration bonds. Given the dollar has been feeling the pressure of a flatter curve since late 2016, the all-new Fed may bring an end to fears that the curve’s shape portends a U.S. recession. After all, the composition of voting members this year has shifted from 2017’s dovish roster. Dollar pricing hasn’t reflected that. Even if Trump shifts away from weak-dollar rhetoric and the market catches up with the Fed’s dot plot, the dollar may struggle to gain the 6% needed to retest October’s highs. But that doesn’t mean we’ll see a slide to fresh, sustainable year-to-date lows.

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Users must leave instead.

Facebook Says Users Must Accept Targeted Ads Even Under New EU Law (R.)

Facebook said on Tuesday it would continue requiring people to accept targeted ads as a condition of using its service, a stance that may help keep its business model largely intact despite a new European Union privacy law. The EU law, which takes effect next month, promises the biggest shakeup in online privacy since the birth of the internet. Companies face fines if they collect or use personal information without permission. Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman said the social network would begin seeking Europeans’ permission this week for a variety of ways Facebook uses their data, but he said that opting out of targeted marketing altogether would not be possible.

“Facebook is an advertising-supported service,” Sherman said in a briefing with reporters at Facebook’s headquarters. Facebook users will be able to limit the kinds of data that advertisers use to target their pitches, he added, but “all ads on Facebook are targeted to some extent, and that’s true for offline advertising, as well.” Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, will use what are known as “permission screens” – pages filled with text that require pressing a button to advance – to notify and obtain approval. The screens will show up on the Facebook website and smartphone app in Europe this week and globally in the coming months, Sherman said.

The screens will not give Facebook users the option to hit “decline.” Instead, they will guide users to either “accept and continue” or “manage data setting,” according to copies the company showed reporters on Tuesday. “People can choose to not be on Facebook if they want,” Sherman said.

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Time to get Facebook out of its misery?!

Facebook To Put 1.5 Billion Users Out Of Reach Of New EU Privacy Law (R.)

If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller. Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company’s international headquarters in Ireland. Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25.

The previously unreported move, which Facebook confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday, shows the world’s largest online social network is keen to reduce its exposure to GDPR, which allows European regulators to fine companies for collecting or using personal data without users’ consent. That removes a huge potential liability for Facebook, as the new EU law allows for fines of up to 4 percent of global annual revenue for infractions, which in Facebook’s case could mean billions of dollars. [..] The change affects more than 70 percent of Facebook’s 2 billion-plus members. As of December, Facebook had 239 million users in the United States and Canada, 370 million in Europe and 1.52 billion users elsewhere.

[..] In practice, the change means the 1.5 billion affected users will not be able to file complaints with Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner or in Irish courts. Instead they will be governed by more lenient U.S. privacy laws, said Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London. Facebook will have more leeway in how it handles data about those users, Veale said. Certain types of data such as browsing history, for instance, are considered personal data under EU law but are not as protected in the United States, he said.

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If possible, it’ll be done.

VIX Rigging Talk Erupts on Wall Street After Another Wild Swing (BBG)

The Cboe Volatility Index is how Wall Street measures anxiety. Lately it’s the gauge’s own plumbing that’s making people nervous. It’s a recurrent claim – the VIX is rigged. It got a fresh airing Wednesday, when the index swung wildly just as derivatives on it were expiring. Billions of dollars are earned or lost as VIX futures settle. The concern is that owners of those wagers are willing to spend a few million to make them pay off. The suspicions are only that, suspicions. Volatility markets are too complex for easy conclusions to be drawn, and reasonable explanations have been offered for the patterns. But strange-looking outcomes have happened enough on VIX settlement day that the debate keeps being revived.

Cboe Global Markets declined to comment. Last month, Cboe CEO Ed Tilly said at a conference that “the integrity of our VIX products and markets is paramount. And, if our regulatory team were to uncover any manipulation, it would be rooted out, swiftly and decisively. Period.” Evidence the VIX is anything less than a pure readout on trader nerves would raise thorny questions for its overseers, who have succeeded in making it a central piece of Wall Street wiring. Its ability to turn stomachs was on display in February’s stock correction, whose worst moments came when the VIX doubled and wiped out bets on calm.

“You have people watching and using it as a barometer for all sorts of trading decisions,” Steve Sosnick, chief options strategist at Interactive Brokers in Greenwich, Connecticut, said by phone. “People take clues from what it’s doing as to what the market’s psychology is out there. But when the settlement time comes around, it can take on a life of its own.”

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Lost a second one as well, on throwing out Carribeans who’ve lived in Britain for 50+ years.

UK Government Loses Key Brexit Vote (CNN)

The UK Government has lost a key Brexit vote, with the upper House of Parliament backing calls to remain in the EU customs union after Brexit. The House of Lords voted 348 to 225 to amend the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, which will now return to the House of Commons where the defeat is likely to spur renewed opposition. The amendment requires the government to report to Parliament by October 31 on what steps it has taken to remain in the customs union, which allows goods to flow freely across the EU. The government opposed the amendment. Prime Minister May had previously said Britain will not remain in the customs union after Brexit takes effect. The House of Lords is now considering other amendments to the proposed legislation.

The customs union enables the 28 EU member states, and other countries such as Turkey that have signed up to its rules, to function as a single trading area. In practice, it means that cars made in France can be sent to Italy without facing tariffs or a customs check at the border. Goods made outside the union are allowed to circulate freely once they’ve gained initial entry. However, membership prevents a country from negotiating its own bilateral trade deals with other nations. The ability to agree new trade deals – with the United States or China, for example – is central to Prime Minister Theresa May’s vision for Britain after Brexit. In a speech in September, she ruled out staying in the customs union.

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The Empire strikes back.

Lawmakers Make Criminal Referral on Clinton, Comey, Lynch to DOJ (Carter)

Congressional lawmakers made a criminal referral Wednesday to the Department of Justice Attorney General Jeff Sessions against former senior-level Obama administration officials, including employees of the FBI connected with the unverified dossier alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as those involved in the warrants used to spy on a former Trump campaign volunteer, this reporter has learned. The lawmakers also made a criminal referral on former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and threats made by her DOJ against the FBI informant, who provided the bureau with information on the Russian nuclear industry and the approval in 2010 to sell roughly 20 percent of American uranium mining assets to Russia.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, along with ten other colleagues sent the letter Wednesday to Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray criminally referring former FBI Director James Comey, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for their involvement in the investigations into President Trump and alleged violations of federal law. FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and his paramour FBI lawyer Lisa Page, whose anti-Trump text messages obtained by the DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, were also included in the referral.

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Limiting presidential powers may not be such a bad idea in the US. But to do it through a single state governor?

New York Attorney General Wants Power To Bypass Trump Pardons (R.)

New York’s attorney general on Wednesday asked Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators to give him and other local prosecutors power to bring criminal charges against people pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump. In a letter, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman urged Cuomo and legislative leaders to close a loophole in New York’s double jeopardy law shielding recipients of presidential pardons from state prosecution. A change could make it more difficult for Trump aides and others who might be pardoned to escape criminal prosecution, even if special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election were curbed or shut down.

The president has no constitutional power to pardon state crimes, but Schneiderman said the current law means defendants pardoned for serious federal crimes could be freed from “all accountability” under state criminal law. Schneiderman, a Democrat in his eighth year as attorney general, has made his office a central figure in blue state challenges to Trump, tangling with the Republican president on such matters as consumer finance, the environment, immigration and the 2020 census. Cuomo, a Democrat, is reviewing Schneiderman’s proposal, and “believes that the federal legal system should not provide a basis for any wrong doers to escape justice,” press secretary Dani Lever said in a statement.

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33 prosecutors alone were involved.

German Prosecutors Raid Homes Of Porsche Executives Over Dieselgate (Pol.)

German police carried out raids at properties linked to three current and former executives at Porsche today in connection with allegations of emissions cheating by the Volkswagen subsidiary. The raids covered ten properties across the states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. The Stuttgart prosecutors office said in a statement they were “in connection with the manipulation of the emission control system of diesel cars.” Two of the executives still work for the carmaker, with one former employee also investigated as part of the probe. The individuals were not named by the prosecutor.

Porsche confirmed that documents were taken as part of the raids, adding that an Audi facility in Ingolstadt was also visited by authorities on Wednesday. The two carmakers said they are cooperating with investigating teams. Previously, authorities in Stuttgart, where Porsche is based, and Munich have launched smaller raids on homes and offices connected with officials at Audi and BMW over alleged emissions cheating. Volkswagen was caught out by U.S. authorities in September 2015 for installing defeat device software in 11 million diesel vehicles sold worldwide. Since then, the carmaker has agreed to pay out some $25 billion in compensation and settlements in the U.S.

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Erdogan called a snap poll on June 24. Then he can really act as an emperor. Beware.

Turkey Disputes Sovereignty of 152 Greek Islets (GR)

Ankara has issued a list of 152 Greek islets, disputing their sovereignty and the international treaties that have established the status quo in the Aegean. The list is called EGAYDAAK, the acronym for “Egemenligi Anlasmalarla Yunanistan’a Devredilmemis Ada Adacıkve Kayaliklar”, meaning “islands, islets and rocky islets the sovereignty of which was not granted to Greece under international agreements and treaties”. The list includes more than 20 islet formations belonging to the Fournoi Complex, a cluster of uninhabited islets between Ikaria, Samos and Patmos. Turkey’s aim is to bring Greece to the table and revise the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the 1947 Treaty of Paris, the two international agreements that granted the islets to Greece, establishing the sea borders between the two countries in the Aegean.

The issue has been brought up again after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the Turkish coast guard removed a Greek flag on the Mikros Anthropofas rocky formation. However, new photos show the flag is still flying. The two Anthropofas islets are between Ikaria, Lemnos, Samothraki, Lesvos, Chios and Samos; therefore they are included in Article 12 of the Treaty of Lausanne that says all the above belong to Greece. Turkey, however, claims that since the islets and rocky formations are not specifically listed by name in the two international treaties, their sovereignty is contestable.

The EGAYDAAK list is comprised of the Zourafas complex and the Oinousses complex of islets in the North Aegean; the Kalogeroi complex of islets in the Central Aegean; the Fournoi complex in the East Aegean; the Arkoi, Agathonissi, Farmakonissi, SE Nissyros, SA Astpalea, NW Karpathos complexes of islets in the South Aegean; and the Cretan Sea complex of islets.

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Independent judiciary.

Top Greek Court To Rule Irrevocably On Asylum For Turkish Servicemen (K.)

Greece’s top administrative court is expected to rule on Thursday on whether the country can provide asylum to the eight Turkish officers whose extradition has repeatedly been demanded by Ankara. The Council of State carries the burden of resolving the asylum issue, in a high-profile case that has rattled relations between Greece and Turkey. The Supreme Court has ruled irrevocably against their extradition arguing they will not be given a fair trial in Turkey. The decision drew an angry rebuke from Ankara which accuses the eight of involvement in the country’s foiled coup attempt in July 2016.

If the court grants protection to “Turkey’s eight,” as they have become known, they will have to be immediately released from detention where they have remained for months while they wait for their application to be examined. An asylum appeals committee had ruled in favour of one of the servicemen in December 2017 but the government appealed the decision. If the court decides to reject their asylum request, then the government will have to issue documents that will allow them to remain in the country under a special status.

Whatever the ruling, the soldiers will have to be released at the end of May, when the maximum detention period of 18 months expires. Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis confirmed earlier this week the Turkish servicemen will be allowed to walk free when this period is completed. The eight men, three majors, three captains and two sergeant-majors, flew with a helicopter into northern Greece a day after the failed coup and sought asylum, saying they feared for their lives if they remained in Turkey.

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This is what our economies run on. Waste. Cutting the waste is an economic threat.

Americans Waste 150,000 Tons Of Food Each Day – A Pound Per Person (G.)

Americans waste about a pound of food per person each day, with people who have healthier diets rich in fruit and vegetables the most wasteful, research has found. About 150,000 tons of food is tossed out in US households each day, equivalent to about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. Fruit and vegetables were the most likely to be thrown out, followed by dairy and then meat. This waste has an environmental toll, with the volume of discarded food equivalent to the yearly use of 30m acres of land, 780m pounds of pesticide and 4.2tn gallons of irrigated water. Rotting food also clogs up landfills and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Researchers at the US Department of Agriculture analysed eight years of food data, up to 2014, to see where food is wasted and also what members of the public say they do at mealtimes. The research has been published in Plos One. The study found that the healthiest Americans are the most wasteful, because of their high consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are frequently thrown out. Fruit and vegetables require less land to grow than than other foods, such as meat, but require a large amount of water and pesticides. Lisa Jahns, a nutritionist at USDA and co-author of the study, said: “We need a simultaneous effort to increase food quality as well as reduce food waste. We need to put both of those things out.”

Jahns’s study recommends educating consumers on fruit and vegetable storage in order to reduce food waste. She said: “Consumers aren’t connecting the dots, [and] they don’t see the cost when they throw food in the trash. At the same time, we don’t want to undermine legitimate food safety concerns and we need to be aware it’s not just the cost of food that’s the issue. It’s the time and energy required to prepare and store food, which often isn’t a priority in a busy household.”

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