Nov 132017
 
 November 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Mark Twain in Nikola Tesla’s lab 1894

 

John Hussman Forecasts A Decade Of Stock Losses (BI)
One In Five American Households Have ‘Zero Or Negative’ Wealth (MW)
Top Tech Stocks’ $1.7 Trillion Gain Eclipses Canada’s Economy (BBG)
Bitcoin Plunges 29% From Record High (BBG)
The End Of “The End Of History” (Luongo)
Warnings From the “China Beige Book” (Rickards)
UK Government Tensions Rise After Leak Of ‘Orwellian’ Memo Sent To May (G.)
More Than A Third Of UK Home Sellers Cut Asking Price (G.)
Fossil Fuel Burning Set To Hit Record High In 2017 (G.)
The Decisions Behind Monsanto’s Weed-Killer Crisis (R.)
Weed-Killer Prompts Angry Divide Among US Farmers (AFP)
Millions On Brink Of Famine In Yemen As Saudi Arabia Tightens Blockade (G.)

 

 

Big fall, big rise and an even bigger fall.

John Hussman Forecasts A Decade Of Stock Losses (BI)

As the equity bull market has climbed into rarefied air, investors have continuously come up with new ways to rationalize the rally. Right now, they like to cite earnings growth, which has expanded for several quarters after a prolonged rough patch. They also frequently mention interest rates that, despite hawkish signals from central banks, have remained low, supplying the market with a seemingly endless supply of cheap money. On the other side of the spectrum, John Hussman, the president of the Hussman Investment Trust and a former economics professor, thinks that the investment community is unwisely ignoring the most stretched valuations in history on the heels of a nearly 300% bull market run. Ever the outspoken bear, Hussman says investors are being willfully ignorant, which has stocks at risk of a drop that could reach 63% and send the market spiraling into a full decade of negative returns.

It wouldn’t be the first time in history this has happened. But Hussman thinks this crash will be different, because the reasons for market instability are “purely psychological” this time around, according to a recent blog post. At the root of Hussman’s pessimistic market view are stock valuations that look historically stretched by a handful of measures. According to his preferred valuation metric — the ratio of non-financial market cap to corporate gross value-added (Market Cap/GVA) — stocks are more expensive than they were in 1929 and 2000, periods that immediately preceded major market selloffs. “US equity market valuations at the most offensive levels in history,” he wrote in his November monthly note. “We expect that more extreme valuations will only be met by more severe losses.”

Those losses won’t just include the 63% plunge referenced above – it’ll also be accompanied by a longer 10 to 12 year period over which the S&P 500 will fall, says Hussman. He cites the chart below, which shows how closely 12-year expected returns for the benchmark have historically tracked Market Cap/GVA, which is shown in inverted fashion. Note that the expected trajectory for Market Cap/GVA shows the S&P 500 veering into negative territory. The psychology behind the market’s willingness to accept lofty stock valuations stems from the flawed rationale that prices are justified by low interest rates, says Hussman. To him, the US economy is growing too slowly for this to be true, and that any belief to the contrary gives people false confidence.

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While other reports say some 70% live paycheck to paycheck. Which one is true? At least it should be clear that the US is not doing well at all.

One In Five American Households Have ‘Zero Or Negative’ Wealth (MW)

Millions of Americans are living on the edge. One in five households has zero or negative wealth, according to a report released this week by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C. What’s more, an even greater share of African-American (30%) and Latino (27%) households are “underwater” financially. The combined impact of $1 trillion in credit-card debt, $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and stagnant wages are taking a toll. U.S. homes have regained value since the Great Recession, but many households have not. “Millions of American families struggle with zero or negative wealth, meaning they owe more than they own,” the report found. “This means that they have nothing to fall back on if an unexpected expense comes up like a broken down car or illness.” And inequality could get worse through new tax cuts for the wealthy.

President Trump’s tax proposals won’t give America’s middle class the reprieve they need to grow their wealth and recover from the financial crash, said Josh Hoxie, who heads up the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies. A recent analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation concluded that taxes would decline for all income groups, with the biggest percentage-point decline for millionaires. After-tax income would rise by nearly 7% for households earning over $1 million per year, compared to less than 2% for those earning between $50,001 and $1 million, as MarketWatch recently reported. And less than 1% for those earning less than $50,000, according to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at Evercore IS investment banking advisory firm who worked in the Treasury Department under President Obama.

Looking at private income, such as earnings and dividends, and government benefits like Social Security, the income of families near the top increased roughly 90% from 1963 to 2016, while the income of families at the bottom rose less than 10%, according to a separate report released last month by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit policy group based in Washington, D.C., while most other groups have been left behind. And that gap between rich and poor is only going to get worse, Hoxie said. The wealthiest 25 individuals in the U.S., including co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, own $1 trillion in combined assets. These 25 — a group equivalent to the active roster of a major league baseball team — hold more wealth than the bottom 56% of the U.S. population.

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Completely nuts.

Top Tech Stocks’ $1.7 Trillion Gain Eclipses Canada’s Economy (BBG)

Between the FAANG quintet and China’s rivaling BAT companies, gains in the world’s top technology shares are nearing a whopping $1.7 trillion in market value this year. That’s more than Canada’s entire economy, and exceeds the worth of Germany’s biggest 30 companies put together. The eight tech giants – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google parent Alphabet, as well as their Asian peers Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – have amassed as much money in 2017 as PIMCO, one of the world’s biggest fund managers, has done in about 46 years. While the stocks have seen a meteoric rise this year, their combined market value came off highs last week amid a global selloff in which the year’s high flyers had a bigger retreat. A recent breakdown in the correlation between high-yield bonds and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 Index suggests the slide in junk may spread further.

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Confidence.

Bitcoin Plunges 29% From Record High (BBG)

Bitcoin plunged as the cancellation of a technology upgrade prompted some users to switch out of the cryptocurrency, spooking speculators who had profited from a more than 800% surge this year. The cryptocurrency has dropped 9.5% since late Friday, extending its slide from last week’s record to as much as 29%, according to data compiled by Coinmarketcap.com and Bloomberg. Bitcoin cash, a rival that split from the original bitcoin in August, has jumped nearly 40% since Friday. Bitcoin cash is gaining popularity because of its larger block size, a characteristic that makes transactions cheaper and faster than the original. When a faction of the cryptocurrency community canceled plans to increase bitcoin’s block size on Wednesday – a move that would have created another offshoot – some supporters of bigger blocks rallied around bitcoin cash.

The resulting volatility has been extreme even by bitcoin’s wild standards and comes amid growing interest in cryptocurrencies among regulators, banks and fund managers. While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big for many on Wall Street to ignore. Even after shrinking by as much as $38 billion since Wednesday, bitcoin boasts a market value of $101 billion. Supporters of bitcoin’s technology upgrade “are now switching support to bitcoin cash,” said Mike Kayamori, head of Tokyo-based Quoine, the world’s second most-active bitcoin exchange over the past day. “There’s a panic about what’s happening. People shouldn’t panic. Just hold on to both coins until we see how it plays out.”

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A different view from most.

The End Of “The End Of History” (Luongo)

The path to draining the swamp is a circuitous one but, in my mind, it’s hard to argue where things are headed. They are not headed towards confrontation with Iran but actually the opposite. The most rabidly anti-Iranian segment of the Saudi Royal house is impoverished and imprisoned. CNN will be sold and go out of business to allow for the Time-Warner/AT&T merger. Jeff Zucker is out. Add another scalp to Steve Bannon’s belt along with Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and so many to come. Will the vestiges of the neoconservative establishment in the U.S. and Israel continue to sabre-rattle and try to undermine what is happening? Yes.

They’ve been doing that since the day Trump was elected just over a year ago, but it hasn’t stopped the momentum. Why? Because Putin was on the job outmaneuvering them at every turn. Trump made a deal with the neocons back in August to cede them control of foreign policy and, in effect, outsourced cleaning up the Middle East to Putin. But, predictably they also didn’t follow through with their end of the bargain. Trump learned, like Putin did, the John McCain’s of the world don’t keep to their deals. They are ‘not agreement capable.’ And, as such, since the last failure to repeal Obamacare Trump has gone after every pillar of support these people had. It will end with Hillary Clinton’s indictment. But in the meantime it will look like the world is on the brink of world war.

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“Xi is ready to undertake reform of the financial system, which means shutting down insolvent companies and banks.”

Warnings From the “China Beige Book” (Rickards)

The China Beige Book, CBB, says that China had been covering up and smoothing over problems related to weak growth and excessive debt in order to provide a calm face to the world in advance of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which took place last month. CBB also makes it clear that the much-touted “rebalancing” of the Chinese economy away from investment and manufacturing toward consumption and spending has not occurred. Instead China has doubled down on excess capacity in coal, steel and manufacturing and has continued its policy of wasteful investment fueled with unpayable debt. It’s become obvious that the first cracks are starting to appear in China’s Great Wall of Debt. The Chinese debt binge of the past 10 years is a well-known story.

Chinese corporations have incurred dollar-denominated debts in the hundreds of billions of dollars, most of which are unpayable without subsidies from Beijing. China’s debt-to-equity ratio is over 300%, far worse than America’s (which is also dangerously high) and comparable to that of Japan and other all-star debtors. China’s trillion-dollar wealth management product (WMP) market is basically a Ponzi scheme. New WMPs are used to redeem maturing WMPs, while most of the market is simply rolled over because the underlying real estate and infrastructure projects cannot possibly repay their debts. A lot of corporate lending is simply one company lending to another, which in turns lends to another, giving the outward appearance of every company holding good assets, but in which none of the companies can actually pay its creditors.

It’s an accounting game with no real money behind it and no chance of repayment. All of this is well-known. What is not known is when it will end. When will confidence be lost in such a way that the entire debt house of cards crumbles? When will a geopolitical shock or natural disaster trigger a loss of confidence that ignites a financial panic? There was little prospect of this in the past year because President Xi Jinping was keeping a lid on trouble before the recently concluded National Congress of the Communist Party of China. With the congress behind him, Xi is ready to undertake reform of the financial system, which means shutting down insolvent companies and banks. Now the first bankruptcies have begun to appear.

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None of these people give one hoot about their country. They care about themselves only.

UK Government Tensions Rise After Leak Of ‘Orwellian’ Memo Sent To May (G.)

The tensions in Theresa May’s government intensified on Sunday night ahead of this week’s vital votes on the Brexit bill, as ministers accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of sending an “Orwellian” set of secret demands to No 10. As an increasingly weakened prime minister faces the possibility of parliamentary defeats on the bill, government colleagues have said they are aghast at the language used by the foreign secretary and the environment secretary in a joint private letter. The leaked letter – a remarkable show of unity from two ministers who infamously fell out during last year’s leadership campaign – appeared to be designed to push May decisively towards a hard Brexit and limit the influence of former remainers. It complained of “insufficient energy” on Brexit in some parts of the government and insisted any transition period must end in June 2021 – a veiled attack on the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

They urged the prime minister to ensure members of her top team fall behind their Brexit plans by “clarifying their minds” and called for them to “internalise the logic”. But the leak drew a bitter response from supporters of a soft Brexit, who suggested that May would now be forced to either discipline the pair or further weaken her position, which has already been tested by the recent resignations of Priti Patel and Michael Fallon and continuing pressure on Johnson and Damian Green. One cabinet minister told the Guardian: “It is not surprising that they [Gove and Johnson] would express their view. But what is surprising is that they would write this down and use this kind of language in a letter to the prime minister. “Some have described it as Orwellian, and it is. It is not helpful when people try and press their views in untransparent way.”

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It’s just starting. London falling.

More Than A Third Of UK Home Sellers Cut Asking Price (G.)

More than a third of home owners trying to sell their house have been forced to reduce their asking price, with the number of price cuts at their highest level since 2012, according to Rightmove. Traditionally house sellers are often forced to cut asking prices in the pre-Christmas period but this year the nation appears to be holding a collective autumn sale, said the property website. Rightmove, which claims to list 90% of the houses being sold in the UK, said 37% of current sellers had dropped their asking price, with a typical 0.8% or £2,392 price reduction. It also warned that those who recently put their property on the market were being too optimistic by not discounting by more. The mass price cut will be seen as further evidence that the market has slowed dramatically, particularly in London where prices have been falling.

Last week the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said the overall UK property market had stalled. Rics also warned that it expected the market to remain subdued in the coming months as sales stay flat or fall in most regions. Rightmove director, Miles Shipside, said the slowdown in the housing market, the recent interest rate rise and the prediction that further rises were on the horizon suggested bigger reductions in house prices in the near future. “Given that the market has been price-sensitive for a while and a five-year high proportion of sellers are slashing their prices, some sellers and their agents are over-pricing. These sellers may well be asking themselves if they could have saved some time and stress by pricing a lot more conservatively at the start.”

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As you’re being pleasantly entertained with that dumb Paris agreement.

Fossil Fuel Burning Set To Hit Record High In 2017 (G.)

The burning of fossil fuels around the world is set to hit a record high in 2017, climate scientists have warned, following three years of flat growth that raised hopes that a peak in global emissions had been reached. The expected jump in the carbon emissions that drive global warming is a “giant leap backwards for humankind”, according to some scientists. However, other experts said they were not alarmed, saying fluctuations in emissions are to be expected and that big polluters such as China are acting to cut emissions. Global emissions need to reach their peak by 2020 and then start falling quickly in order to have a realistic chance of keeping global warming below the 2C danger limit, according to leading scientists. Whether the anticipated increase in CO2 emissions in 2017 is just a blip that is followed by a falling trend, or is the start of a worrying upward trend, remains to be seen.

Much will depend on the fast implementation of the global climate deal sealed in Paris in 2015 and this is the focus of the UN summit of the world’s countries in Bonn, Germany this week. The nations must make significant progress in turning the aspirations of the Paris deal into reality, as the action pledged to date would see at least 3C of warming and increasing extreme weather impacts around the world. The 12th annual Global Carbon Budget report published on Monday is produced by 76 of the world’s leading emissions experts from 57 research institutions and estimates that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels will have risen by 2% by the end of 2017, a significant rise.

“Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three-year stable period. This is very disappointing,” said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the UK’s University of East Anglia and who led the new research. “The urgency for reducing emissions means they should really be already decreasing now.” “There was a big push to sign the Paris agreement on climate change but there is a feeling that not very much has happened since, a bit of slackening,” she said. “What happens after 2017 is very open and depends on how much effort countries are going to make. It is time to take really seriously the implementation of the Paris agreement.” She said the hurricanes and floods seen in 2017 were “a window into the future”.

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Farmers are using dicamba because they get it on their crops anyway from the neighbors. There’s not much time left to stop Monsanto from effectively owning all our food.

The Decisions Behind Monsanto’s Weed-Killer Crisis (R.)

In early 2016, agri-business giant Monsanto faced a decision that would prove pivotal in what since has become a sprawling herbicide crisis, with millions of acres of crops damaged. Monsanto had readied new genetically modified soybeans seeds. They were engineered for use with a powerful new weed-killer that contained a chemical called dicamba but aimed to control the substance’s main shortcoming: a tendency to drift into neighboring farmers’ fields and kill vegetation. The company had to choose whether to immediately start selling the seeds or wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to sign off on the safety of the companion herbicide. The firm stood to lose a lot of money by waiting.

Because Monsanto had bred the dicamba-resistant trait into its entire stock of soybeans, the only alternative would have been “to not sell a single soybean in the United States” that year, Monsanto Vice President of Global Strategy Scott Partridge told Reuters in an interview. Betting on a quick approval, Monsanto sold the seeds, and farmers planted a million acres of the genetically modified soybeans in 2016. But the EPA’s deliberations on the weed-killer dragged on for another 11 months because of concerns about dicamba’s historical drift problems. That delay left farmers who bought the seeds with no matching herbicide and three bad alternatives: Hire workers to pull weeds; use the less-effective herbicide glyphosate; or illegally spray an older version of dicamba at the risk of damage to nearby farms.

The resulting rash of illegal spraying that year damaged 42,000 acres of crops in Missouri, among the hardest hit areas, as well as swaths of crops in nine other states, according to an August 2016 advisory from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The damage this year has covered 3.6 million acres in 25 states, according to Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri weed scientist who has tracked dicamba damage reports and produced estimates cited by the EPA. The episode highlights a hole in a U.S regulatory system that has separate agencies approving genetically modified seeds and their matching herbicides.

Monsanto has blamed farmers for the illegal spraying and argued it could not have foreseen that the disjointed approval process would set off a crop-damage crisis. But a Reuters review of regulatory records and interviews with crop scientists shows that Monsanto was repeatedly warned by crop scientists, starting as far back as 2011, of the dangers of releasing a dicamba-resistant seed without an accompanying herbicide designed to reduce drift to nearby farms.

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“Farmers need it desperately,” said Perry Galloway. “If I get dicamba on (my products), I can’t sell anything,” responded Shawn Peebles.”

Weed-Killer Prompts Angry Divide Among US Farmers (AFP)

When it comes to the herbicide dicamba, farmers in the southern state of Arkansas are not lacking for strong opinions. “Farmers need it desperately,” said Perry Galloway. “If I get dicamba on (my products), I can’t sell anything,” responded Shawn Peebles. The two men know each other well, living just miles apart in the towns of Gregory and Augusta, in a corner of the state where cotton and soybean fields reach to the horizon and homes are often miles from the nearest neighbor. But they disagree profoundly on the use of dicamba. Last year the agro-chemical giant Monsanto began selling soy and cotton seeds genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide. The chemical product has been used to great effect against a weed that plagues the region, Palmer amaranth, or pigweed – especially since it became resistant to another herbicide, glyphosate, which has become highly controversial in Europe over its effects on human health.

The problem with dicamba is that it vaporizes easily and is carried by the wind, often spreading to nearby farm fields – with varying effects. Facing a surge in complaints, authorities in Arkansas early this summer imposed an urgent ban on the product’s sale. The state is now poised to ban its use between April 16 and October 31, covering the period after plants have emerged from the soil and when climatic conditions favor dicamba’s dispersal.

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This is who we are. This is caused by people we support, that we call our friends.

Millions On Brink Of Famine In Yemen As Saudi Arabia Tightens Blockade (G.)

Abdulaziz al-Husseinya lies skeletal and appears lifeless in a hospital in Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah. At the age of nine, he weighs less than one and a half stone, and is one of hundreds of thousands of children in the country suffering from acute malnutrition. Seven million people are on on the brink of famine in war-torn Yemen, which was already in the grip of the world’s worst cholera outbreak when coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on the country last week, stemming vital aid flows. Al-Thawra hospital, where Abdulaziz is being treated, is reeling under the pressure of more than two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Its corridors are packed, with patients now coming from five surrounding governorates to wait elbow-to-elbow for treatment.

Less than 45% of the country’s medical facilities are still operating – most have closed due to fighting or a lack of funds, or have been bombed by coalition airstrikes. As a result, Al-Thawra is treating some 2,500 people a day, compared to 700 before the conflict escalated in March 2015. [..] Aid agencies are now warning that Yemen’s already catastrophic humanitarian crisis could soon become a “nightmare scenario” if Saudi Arabia does not ease the blockade of the country’s land, sea and air ports – a move that the kingdom insists is necessary after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadh’s international airport this month. United Nations humanitarian flights have been cancelled for the past week and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), have been prevented from flying vital medical assistance into the country.

More than 20 million Yemenis – over 70% of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance that is being blocked. Following international pressure, the major ports of Aden and Mukalla were reopened last week for commercial traffic and food supplies, along with land border crossings to neighbouring Oman and Saudi Arabia, but humanitarian aid and aid agency workers remained barred from entering the country on Sunday. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has said if the restrictions remain, Yemen will face “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims”.

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Apr 072017
 
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Fred Stein Times Square at Night 1947

 

Eyewitness Says Syrian Military Anticipated US Raid (ABC)
The Biggest Stock Bubble In US History (IRD)
The Unavoidable Pension Crisis (Roberts)
Americans Are Taking Out The Largest Mortgages On Record (MW)
Global Debt Explodes At ‘Eye-Watering’ Pace To Hit £170 Trillion (Tel.)
Wall Street Doubts Trump Wants to Split Up Biggest US Banks (BBG)
Fed’s Asset Shift To Pose New Test Of Economy’s Recovery, Resilience (R.)
M5S Plans To ‘Revolutionize Democracy’ With Online Voting, E-petitions (LI)
Arms Sales Becoming France’s New El Dorado, But At What Cost? (F24)
Guns Are The True Cause Of Hunger And Famine (G.)
Greece’s Dark Age: How Austerity Turned Off The Lights (R.)
On Dimitris Christoulas: ‘He Is A Part Of History Now’ (AlJ)

 

 

“I think Secretary of Defense [General] James Mattis gave the president a list of options, this being the smallest…”

Eyewitness Says Syrian Military Anticipated US Raid (ABC)

Syrian military officials appeared to anticipate Thursday’s night raid on Syria’s Shayrat airbase, evacuating personnel and moving equipment ahead of the strike, according to an eyewitness to the strike. Dozens of Tomahawk missiles struck the airbase near Homs damaging runways, towers and traffic control buildings, a local resident and human rights activist living near the airbase told ABC News via an interpreter. U.S. officals believe the plane that dropped chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib Province on Tuesday, which according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights killed 86 people, took off from the Shayrat airbase. The attack lasted approximately 35 minutes and its impact was felt across the city, shaking houses and sending those inside them fleeing from their windows. Both of the airport’s major runways were struck by missiles, and some of its 40 fortified bunkers were also damaged.

Local residents say the Russian military had used the airbase in early 2016 but have since withdrawn their officers, so the base is now mainly operated by Syrian and Iranian military officers. There is also a hotel near the airport where Iranian officers have been staying, though it was not clear whether it was damaged. The eyewitness believes human casualties, at least within the civilian population, were minimal, as there was no traffic heading toward the local hospital. [..] Former National Security Adviser and ABC News contributor Richard Clarke said this attack, one of the quickest displays of force by a new president in recent history, is largely “symbolic.”

Following a 2013 chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1400 people outside of Damascus which a U.S. government intelligence assessment concluded likely used a nerve agent, the Obama administration threatened retaliation but ultimately called off planned airstrikes after Assad agreed to turn over the majority of his chemical weapons arsenal to an international watchdog group. Trump has attempted to blame Obama’s “weakness” for the worsening violence in Syria. “This attack on one air base seems more symbolic,” Clarke said. “I think Secretary of Defense [General] James Mattis gave the president a list of options, this being the smallest. It was a targeted attack not designed to overwhelm the Syrian military … I think the president was trying to differentiate himself from his predecessor.”

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“Tesla has never made money and never will make money. Next to Amazon, it’s the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.”

The Biggest Stock Bubble In US History (IRD)

Please note, many will argue that the p/e ratio on the S&P 500 was higher in 1999 than it is now. However, there’s two problems with the comparison. First, when there is no “e,” price does not matter. Many of the tech stocks in the SPX in 1999 did not have any earnings and never had a chance to produce earnings because many of them went out of business. However – and I’ve been saying this for quite some time and I’m finally seeing a few others make the same assertion – if you adjust the current earnings of the companies in SPX using the GAAP accounting standards in force in 1999, the current earnings in aggregate would likely be cut at least in half. And thus, the current p/e ratio expressed in 1999 earnings terms likely would be at least as high as the p/e ratio in 1999, if not higher. (Changes to GAAP have made it easier for companies to create non-cash earnings, reclassify and capitalize expenses, stretch out depreciation and pension funding costs, etc).

We talk about the tech bubble that fomented in the late 1990’s that resulted in an 85% (roughly) decline on the NASDAQ. Currently the five highest valued stocks by market cap are tech stocks: AAPL, GOOG, MSFT, AMZN and FB. Combined, these five stocks make-up nearly 10% of the total value of the entire stock market. Money from the public poured into ETFs at record pace in February. The majority of it into S&P 500 ETFs which then have to put that money proportionately by market value into each of the S&P 500 stocks. Thus when cash pours into SPX funds like this, a large rise in the the top five stocks by market cap listed above becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The price rise in these stocks has nothing remotely to do with fundamentals. Take Microsoft, for example (MSFT). Last Friday the pom-poms were waving on Fox Business because MSFT hit an all-time high.

This is in spite of the fact that MSFT’s revenues dropped 8.8% from 2015 to 2016 and its gross margin plunged 13.2%. So much for fundamentals. In addition to the onslaught of retail cash moving blindly into stocks, margin debt on the NYSE hit an all-time high in February. Both the cash flow and margin debt statistics are flashing a big red warning signal, as this only occurs when the public becomes blind to risk and and bet that stocks can only go up. As I’ve said before, this is by far the most dangerous stock market in my professional lifetime (32 years, not including my high years spent reading my father’s Wall Street Journal everyday and playing penny stocks).

Perhaps the loudest bell ringing and signaling a top is the market’s valuation of Tesla. On Monday the market cap of Tesla ($49 billion) surpassed Ford’s market cap ($45 billion) despite the fact that Tesla delivered 79 thousand cars in 2016 while Ford delivered 2.6 million. “Electric Jeff” (as a good friend of mine calls Elon Musk, in reference to Jeff Bezos) was on Twitter Monday taunting short sellers. At best his behavior can be called “gauche.” Musk, similar to Bezos, is a masterful stock operator. Jordan Belfort (the “Wolf of Wall Street”) was a small-time dime store thief compared to Musk and Bezos. Tesla has never made money and never will make money. Next to Amazon, it’s the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. Without the massive tax credits given to the first 200,000 buyers of Tesla vehicles, the Company would likely be out of business by now.

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And to think even without demographics pensions look screwed too, just from financial engineering and insane debt levels.

The Unavoidable Pension Crisis (Roberts)

There is a really big crisis coming. Think about it this way. After 8 years and a 230% stock market advance the pension funds of Dallas, Chicago, and Houston are in severe trouble. But it isn’t just these municipalities that are in trouble, but also most of the public and private pensions that still operate in the country today. Currently, many pension funds, like the one in Houston, are scrambling to slightly lower return rates, issue debt, raise taxes or increase contribution limits to fill some of the gaping holes of underfunded liabilities in their plans. The hope is such measures combined with an ongoing bull market, and increased participant contributions, will heal the plans in the future. This is not likely to be the case. This problem is not something born of the last “financial crisis,” but rather the culmination of 20-plus years of financial mismanagement.

An April 2016 Moody’s analysis pegged the total 75-year unfunded liability for all state and local pension plans at $3.5 trillion. That’s the amount not covered by current fund assets, future expected contributions, and investment returns at assumed rates ranging from 3.7% to 4.1%. Another calculation from the American Enterprise Institute comes up with $5.2 trillion, presuming that long-term bond yields average 2.6%. With employee contribution requirements extremely low, averaging about 15% of payroll, the need to stretch for higher rates of return have put pensions in a precarious position and increases the underfunded status of pensions. With pension funds already wrestling with largely underfunded liabilities, the shifting demographics are further complicating funding problems.

One of the primary problems continues to be the decline in the ratio of workers per retiree as retirees are living longer (increasing the relative number of retirees), and lower birth rates (decreasing the relative number of workers.) However, this “support ratio” is not only declining in the U.S. but also in much of the developed world. This is due to two demographic factors: increased life expectancy coupled with a fixed retirement age, and a decrease in the fertility rate. In 1950, there were 7.2 people aged 20–64 for every person of 65 or over in the OECD countries. By 1980, the support ratio dropped to 5.1 and by 2010 it was 4.1. It is projected to reach just 2.1 by 2050. The table below shows support ratios for selected countries in 1970, 2010, and projected for 2050:

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Happy days!

Americans Are Taking Out The Largest Mortgages On Record (MW)

For the past few years, the housing market has been unbalanced. Strong demand and lean supply keep pushing prices higher and higher. On Wednesday, a fresh piece of data confirmed that trend. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly purchase loan data showed that the average size of a home loan was the largest in the history of its survey, which goes back to 1990. Higher prices have a few different effects on the market. Buyers have to make tradeoffs on the kinds of homes they can afford, or may be shut out of ownership altogether. They may also adjust their borrowing. Larger mortgage sizes may reflect not just more expensive properties, but also more leveraged ones.

The 20% down payment is a relic: the median down payment in 2016 was 10%. For first-time buyers, it was 6%. First-timers and other buyers of less-expensive homes are more leveraged now than they were at the height of the housing bubble a decade ago. Home loan sizes aren’t the only things that have changed in the years since MBA started its survey. Back at the start of the survey, the median mortgage size was only about 3.3 times the median annual income. It’s now over five times as big – though buyers get bigger homes and lower interest rates.

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Over $70 trillion since 2008.

Global Debt Explodes At ‘Eye-Watering’ Pace To Hit £170 Trillion (Tel.)

Global debt has climbed at an “eye-watering” pace over the past decade, soaring to a fresh high of £170 trillion last year, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF). The IIF said total debt levels, including household, government and corporate debt, climbed by more than $70 trillion over the last 10 years to a record high of $215 trillion (£173 trillion) in 2016 – or the equivalent of 325pc of GDP. It said emerging markets posed “a growing source of concern” to financial stability and the global economy as debt burdens in these countries climb at a rapid pace. The IIF data showed the increase was partly driven by a “spectacular rise” in emerging markets, where total debt stood at $55 trillion at the end of 2016, or 215pc of total emerging market GDP.

Debt has risen from $16 trillion in 2006 and $7.4 trillion in 1996. The body, which represents the world’s top financial institutions, said a wave of maturing debt this year presented a “growing refinancing risk”. It estimates that more than $1.1 trillion of emerging market bonds and loans will mature this year, with dollar-denominated debt accounting for a fifth of all redemptions. It said China faced around $40bn of dollar-denominated redemptions this year, while Russia faced redemptions of $20bn. International bodies including the IMF and OECD have warned that rising interest rates in the US could bring an end to an emerging market corporate debt binge as companies in these countries see their debt servicing costs rise in local currency terms. “While risks associated with currency mismatches may not be as acute as during past emerging market debt crises, the overall emerging market debt burden – particularly as global interest rates head higher – is a growing source of concern,” the IIF said in a note.

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Goldman is not a consumer bank. They might actually profit from this.

Wall Street Doubts Trump Wants to Split Up Biggest US Banks (BBG)

President Donald Trump and his advisers have vowed to bring back a Depression-era law that would cleave the biggest U.S. lenders in half by separating commercial and investment banking operations. Wall Street doesn’t expect that to happen. After chief economic adviser Gary Cohn reiterated the administration’s stance toward the Glass-Steagall Act in a private meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, analysts said they viewed any radical regulatory changes as unlikely. Shares of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, which would be most affected by the rule, rose Thursday after Bloomberg first reported on Cohn’s comments. Reinstating Glass-Steagall, which was created after the banking crises of the 1930s and repealed in 1999, would require a rewriting of U.S. banking rules. The Dodd-Frank Act took more than a year of work by Congress.

The Trump administration hasn’t put forward a detailed plan and the revisions proposed by House Republicans don’t involve the return of Glass-Steagall. “Anything resembling Glass-Steagall is so far from happening that it’s hard to envision,” said Ian Katz, an analyst at Capital Alpha. “It simply isn’t a priority issue in Congress.” The Republicans who control the House and the Senate want to loosen banking regulations, not make them stricter, Katz wrote. The Republican Party made restoring Glass-Steagall part of its platform, and Trump sometimes criticized the big banks during the campaign, saying “I’m not going to let Wall Street get away with murder.” Since taking office, he’s appointed Cohn and several other former Goldman Sachs bankers to top posts, and said that he’ll look to JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon for advice about regulatory reform.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during his confirmation hearing that he opposes the old Glass-Steagall, but supports a “21st Century” version. He didn’t elaborate on what he meant. “If you’ve listened to all the rhetoric on regulation, we’ve no real guidance on where we are going,” said Christopher Wheeler, an Atlantic Equities analyst in London. “The uncertainty is immense and what you have to believe is that things will continue as they are.” The regulation might not mean that commercial and investment banks have to be separated, Cowen Group analyst Jaret Seiberg wrote in a report. Instead, the government could require that broker-dealers be subsidiaries of holding companies, rather than banks, he said. That would mean that the brokerage arm would have to be separately funded. “Cohn was the most likely obstacle within the Trump White House,” Seiberg wrote. “With him supporting Glass-Steagall’s restoration, there is no one in the inner circle left to fight it.”

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More uncharted territory. We tend to forget, but for 10 years now they’re grasping in the dark. They have no idea what they do, all they have to go on are outdated textbooks that were flawed to begin with. Time to audit the Fed and then close it.

Fed’s Asset Shift To Pose New Test Of Economy’s Recovery, Resilience (R.)

The Federal Reserve’s coming decision to reduce its massive asset holdings will set off a complex dance with global investors and the U.S. Treasury as it tries to put a final end to policies used to fight the 2007 financial crisis without upending the economy along the way. It is a feat with no clear precedent, according to analysts and officials involved in the process: a central bank trying to squeeze trillions of dollars out of markets it has supported for a decade, and in the process likely pushing up the cost of home buying, corporate finance and an array of other activities. Though final decisions have not been made, the Fed may shift policy as soon as the end of this year, and over 2018 begin pulling anywhere from $20 billion to $60 billion a month out of bond markets, according to a review of current Fed asset holdings.

For several years during the crisis, the Fed added to its holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds and securities backed by home mortgages to the tune of $85 billion a month before the program was slowed. The purchases were an emergency measure made necessary because the Fed’s short-term interest rate – its primary tool to encourage people and businesses to spend and invest – had already been cut to zero. With the economy still in freefall, the asset purchases added to demand for financial securities, and are thought to have held down long-term interest rates in general, a boost to the home-building and other industries in particular. The central bank is already raising its short-term interest rate and has managed a series of increases without slowing the economy. When it starts to scale back the size of its $4.5 trillion stockpile of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities – essentially reversing the purchases it made during the crisis – it will pose a stiff new test of the economy’s resilience.

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This was always the plan. Use technology to strengthen democracy.

M5S Plans To ‘Revolutionize Democracy’ With Online Voting, E-petitions (LI)

Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement party plans to introduce online voting and public referendums to increase “democracy and transparency” in the country’s capital. Five Star councillors presented the draft resolution at Rome’s city hall on Monday, where it will be debated. They claimed the proposed ideas would take the city “from Mafia Capitale [the ongoing corruption scandal which has seen dozens of Rome politicians and businessmen put on trial] to direct democracy and transparency in five years”. The ideas suggested included online consultations and participatory budgeting. The latter process would give citizens more say in how Rome money is spent, and has already been introduced by Five Star-led local authorities in some areas, including Mira and Ragusa.

In a blog post, leader Beppe Grillo said that within a year, a Five Star government would introduce public petitions which can be created online and sent directly to the Italian parliament for discussion – a system which already exists in the UK, for example. “It should be the citizens and the local community who govern cities through the Internet, using collective intelligence,” said Grillo. “The web is revolutionizing the relationship between citizens and institutions making direct democracy feasible, as applied in ancient Greece.” Angelo Sturni, one of the councillors behind the proposal, said: “We also want to experiment with electronic voting in referendums, using the American model.” Discontent over widespread corruption in Rome, as revealed in the Mafia Capitale trial, was one of the main factors in Five Star candidate Virginia Raggi’s victory in mayoral elections last June.

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UK, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium: merchants of death. Government sponsored murder.

Arms Sales Becoming France’s New El Dorado, But At What Cost? (F24)

When Qatar agreed to buy 24 French Rafale fighter jets in a €6.3 billion contract at the end of April, it represented yet another major success for France’s arms industry, coming hot on the heels of further multi-billion euro sales of Rafales to Egypt and India. The deals have been hailed by Hollande and his government. According to France’s Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian, in comments made to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper Sunday, the Qatar contract brought the value of the country’s arms exports to more than €15 billion this year so far. That sum is already more than the €8.06 billion for the whole of 2014, which itself was the highest level seen since 2009 – suggesting a continued upward trajectory for the French arms trade and one that is providing a much-needed salve to the country’s economic woes.

But some of these deals have raised more than a few eyebrows, with anti-arms trade campaigners critical of France’s willingness to sell weapons to countries with less than stellar human rights records. These concerns are only set to rise when Hollande heads first to Doha on Monday and then Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh the day after, where furthering the recent success of the French arms industry is likely to be one of his top priorities. Saudi Arabia has already proved a lucrative trading partner for French arms manufacturers, most recently in a deal signed in November that saw the kingdom buy $3 billion-worth (€2.7 billion) of French weapons and military equipment to supply the Lebanese army. The oil-rich country is currently on something of an arms spending spree. Last year, the Saudis surpassed India to become the world’s biggest arms importer, upping its spending by 54% to €5.8 billion, according to a report by industry analyst IHS.

France, thanks to some adept diplomatic manoeuvering in recent years, is well placed to take advantage of the Saudi cash cow. Paris has been an increasingly close ally of Riyadh ever since it was among the most vocal in backing military intervention against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally of Shiite Iran – one of Sunni Saudi Arabia’s main regional rivals. “You’re seeing political fractures across the region, and at the same time you’ve got oil, which allows countries to arm themselves, protect themselves and impose their will as to how they think the region should develop,” Ben Moores, author of the IHS report, told AP in March. France, of course, is not alone in striking lucrative arms deals in the region. The US remains the biggest arms exporter to the Middle East, with $8.4 billion (€7.5 billion) worth of weapon sales in 2014, while the UK and Germany are also major players.

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And this is what the merchants of death leave behind.

Guns Are The True Cause Of Hunger And Famine (G.)

Last year, the World Bank revised its position on conflict – upgrading it from being one of many drivers of suffering and poverty, to being the main driver. In Somalia, despite some political progress the conflict has put more than half the population in need of assistance, with 363,000 children suffering acute malnutrition. In north-east Nigeria, conflict with Boko Haram has left 1.8m people still displaced, farmers unable to grow crops, and 4.8 million people need food. In Yemen, an escalation in conflict since 2015 has worsened a situation already made dire by weak rule of law and governance. Now more than 14 million people need food aid. Only if we understand conflict can we understand hunger. South Sudan is another example. I worked there for two years following the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005.

Right now a place called Koch, where Mercy Corps works, is in what the famine early warning systems network calls a “level 4 emergency phase”. This means that people will start to die of hunger in a matter of months if they don’t receive enough aid. Until recent years, Koch was a thriving community with fertile land. It has been destroyed in armed clashes since conflict broke out in South Sudan in December 2013. Families have had to move time and time again and disease is rampant due to the lack of clean water. As one father of five told our team in Koch: “My house was burnt, everything was looted and I do not know how to rebuild my life.” Across the places where we work and where people are facing starvation, the pattern is the similar.

Hunger is not some freak environmental event; it is human-made, the result of a deadly mix of conflict, marginalisation and weak governance. Yet watching some of the news and the crisis appeals, one could be forgiven for thinking that what we need is another Live Aid song and airdrops of food. Red Nose Day has been criticised for portraying Africa as a place where “nothing ever grows”. A recent social media campaign to send a plane filled with food to Somalia gathered support: a noble gesture, but not a long-term solution. Mercy Corps’ own emergency response is not the long-term answer either.

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It’s easy to label something ‘theft’, but for Greeks it’s either go illegal or sit in the dark, freeze etc. Still can’t believe this is the European Union.

Greece’s Dark Age: How Austerity Turned Off The Lights (R.)

Kostas Argyros’s unpaid electricity bills are piling up, among a mountain of debt owed to Greece’s biggest power utility. His family owe €850 to the Public Power Corporation (PPC), a tiny fraction of the state-controlled firm’s 2.6 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in unpaid bills. Argyros picks up only occasional work as an odd-job man. “When you only work once a week, what will you pay first?” said the 35-year-old, who lives in a tiny apartment in an Athens suburb with his unemployed wife and four small children. The Argyros family are emblematic of deepening poverty in Greece following seven years of austerity demanded by the country’s international creditors. They burn wood to heat their home in winter, food is cooked on a small gas stove, and hot water is scarce.

The only evening light is the blue glare of a TV screen, for fear of racking up more debt. Five-watt lightbulbs provide a dim glow and Argyros worries about the effect on their eyesight. More than 40% of Greeks are behind on their utility bills, higher than anywhere else in Europe. People in poor neighborhoods are also increasingly turning to energy fraud, meaning that the problem for PPC is much higher than the mountain of unpaid bills suggests. Power theft is costing PPC around €500-600 million a year in lost income, an industry official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge the numbers. Public disclosures by the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator HEDNO, which checks meters, show that verified cases of theft climbed to 10,600 last year, up from 8,880 in 2013 and 4,470 in 2012.

Authorities believe theft is far higher than the cases verified by HEDNO, another official said, declining to be named. Households in the country are equipped with analog meters, which are easy to hack. One of the most common tricks is using magnets, which slow down the rotating coils to show less consumption than the real amount, a HEDNO official said. Some websites even offer consumers tips and tricks on power fraud. For households who have had their electricity cut off, a group of activists calling themselves the “I Won’t Pay” movement have taken it upon themselves to reconnect the supply. The group says it has done hundreds this year. PPC, which has a 90% share of the retail market and 60% of the wholesale market, is supposed to reduce this dominance to less than 50% by 2020 under Greece’s third, 86 billion euro bailout deal.

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It’s time to make this personal. Against Schäuble and Dijsselbloem, Merkel and Rutte and Hollande. They are killing people. There’s nothing innocent about that. Making it personal is the only thing that’ll work. Bring it to their doorstep. Literally to their doorstep.

On Dimitris Christoulas: ‘He Is A Part Of History Now’ (AlJ)

On the morning of April 4, 2012, a gunshot sounded amid the city’s hustle and bustle. As passers-by rushed to work through Syntagma Square in central Athens, Dimitris Christoulas had taken his life with a shotgun a few metres from the Greek parliament. The 77-year-old pensioner, a former pharmacist, had left a note in his pocket. “The occupation government literally annihilated my ability to survive,” he wrote. “I depended on my decent pension, which I alone and without the support of the state, paid for 35 years.” His only daughter, Emmy Christoula, had known nothing about his plans. But, speaking as the fifth anniversary of his death approached, she confidently described her father’s public suicide as a political act. Her father woke up in the morning, got dressed, and wrote two identical notes – putting one in his pocket and leaving the other on his kitchen table for his daughter to read.

He took the subway to the square, site of the country’s most important protests for more than a century. When Dimitris arrived at Syntagma, he texted his daughter – “It’s the end, Emmy,” he wrote – and switched off his phone. Greek morning television talk shows broke the news of Christoulas’s suicide a few minutes after it happened. Hundreds soon gathered to pay their respects. Flowers, letters and notes of resistance were left by the tree where he chose to take his life. Spaniards wrote songs of his resistance. Irish poets wrote odes to him. His funeral turned into a rally against the austerity measures imposed on Greece, when the country’s debt payments became too onerous to pay amid the worldwide recession. The country’s creditors called for harsh spending cuts and steep tax increases so that Athens could make the payments. Protests and riots became a staple of life in Athens in the years that followed.

Five years on from Christoulas’ suicide, the crisis has only grown deeper. Greece’s debt is 175% of its GDP. Greek officials have cut retirees’ pensions 17 times to around half of their value before the recession, according to the Greek Association of Pensioners. Budget cuts have also been implemented in education, health, and welfare services. Lenders must improve most government decisions. Unemployment stands at more than 23%. A fourth bailout agreement is expected soon. According to the Greek Statistical Service, suicides have increased by 68% since 2008, the first year Greek economic growth stagnated. “I’m of a certain age and don’t have the power of dynamically reacting,” wrote Christoulas in his suicide note. “I can’t find another solution to a dignified end, as soon I’d have to start scavenging through the garbage to find my own food.”

Christoulas’ suicide became a symbol of the devastating effects of austerity on the Greek people. Until then, the majority of the stories published in the international media on the issue were about lazy Greeks who deserved their comeuppance for living off debt for so many years. “[My father] taught me that you shouldn’t just follow history, you should write it,” said Emmy, adding that she has accepted her father’s decision but still aches from his absence. Emmy describes her father as a wiry and lean man who had long participated in public life. Her first childhood memories include sitting on his shoulders at pro-democracy rallies against Greece’s military government in the 1970s. The police brutality didn’t deter father and daughter from participating.

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Mar 272017
 
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Ray K. Metzker Chicago 1958

 

Sharpest Credit Plunge Since 2008 Could Spell Disaster For US Economy (AEP)
Paper Wealth In US Stocks Reaches $32 Trillion (Fed)
Rich Chinese Race to Apply for a US Golden Visa (BBG)
Russia’s Banking System Has SWIFT Alternative Ready (RT)
Erdogan Setting Back Integration In Germany By Years: Schaeuble (R.)
France’s Le Pen Says The EU ‘Will Die’, Globalists To Be Defeated (R.)
Populism Is The Result Of Global Economic Failure (G.)
The West is Becoming Irrelevant (Vltchek)
The US Will Lose Control Of The Global Internet (Morozov)
Circular Runways Proposed For Airport Efficiency (Curbed)
Trump Presidency “Opens Door” To Planet-Hacking Geoengineer Experiments (G.)
UN’s Famine Appeal Is Billions Shy of Goal (NYT)
‘We Reached Our Limits’: Greece To Stop Taking Back Refugees (RT)
Greek-US Ties Set To Strengthen Significantly (K.)
Greece Considers Capital Control Tightening (K.)

 

 

The Telegraph changed the title of this Ambrose article overnight to “Fading Trump Rally Threatened By Rare Contraction Of US Credit”.

Sharpest Credit Plunge Since 2008 Could Spell Disaster For US Economy (AEP)

Credit strategists are increasingly disturbed by a sudden and rare contraction of US bank lending, fearing a synchronised slowdown in the US and China this year that could catch euphoric markets badly off guard. One key measure of US corporate borrowing is falling at the fastest rate since the onset of the Lehman Brothers crisis. Money supply growth in the US has also slowed markedly. These monetary and credit signals tend to be leading indicators for the real economy. Data from the US Federal Reserve shows that the $2 trillion market for commercial and industrial loans peaked in December. The sector has weakened abruptly as lenders tighten credit, especially for non-residential property. Over the last three months it has dropped at a rate of 5.4pc on annual basis, a pace of decline not seen since December 2008.

The deterioration in the broader $9 trillion market for loans and leases has been less dramatic but it too is shrinking, falling at a 1.6pc rate on a three-month basis. “Corporate lending has ground to a halt and I am staggered that the Fed is raising rates. They have made a very big mistake,” said Patrick Perret-Green from AD Macro. Credit experts at several big US banks have issued warnings over recent days, albeit sotto voce. “We’ve been surprised how little attention the slowdown in US bank lending has garnered,” said Matt King, global credit strategist at Citigroup.

While they are not yet alarmed, their concerns are worth heeding. Credit has tended to pick up signs of trouble several weeks before equity markets in recent episodes of financial stress. “Without another big dose of momentum, the cracks in the global reflationary consensus are liable to grow bigger. All around, existing trends are being called into question,” he said. Net corporate bond issuance has also stalled, indicating that borrowing by US firms as a whole is in decline. “So much for a Trump-driven expansion. Beneath the surface, we think a seismic battle is taking place,” he said.

Elga Bartsch and Chetan Ahya from Morgan Stanley said the credit squeeze is a warning sign and needs watching closely. “On our estimates, the credit impulse turned negative at the end of 2016. We have not seen such a sharp deceleration in bank lending to US corporates since the Great Financial Crisis,” they said. “Historically, credit downturns have led recessions. The plunge could reignite concerns that a highly leveraged US corporate sector may react strongly to even limited interest rates increases,” they said.

[..] Money and credit are certainly not flashing warnings of an imminent crisis, but they are hard to square with the exuberant view of investors that the world is on the cusp of an accelerating economic boom. That boom may already have peaked. The massive stimulus injected by the global authorities last year to counter the Chinese currency scare and any fall-out from Brexit is by now fading, and it is too early to tell whether business will pick up the baton. Any soft patch could all too easily combine with a slowdown in China as the country taps the brakes after an extreme episode of fiscal prime-pumping in 2016. Regulators are clamping down on property speculation and trying to rein in forms of pyramid lending, causing a sharp rise in Shibor lending rates. The worry in China is a maturity mismatch. Huge sums have been borrowed on the short-term markets. These debts have to be rolled over constantly to cover long-term liabilities. It was this sort of mismatch that brought down Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers.

[..] Weak US indicators are clearly at odds with the Trump rally on Wall Street, which has pushed equity valuations to nose-bleed levels. Kevin Gaynor from Nomura says his model of asset pricing suggests markets are in effect assuming global growth of 5pc and earnings increases of 30pc a year. These are heroic. “There is a time decay on this new temporary equilibrium,” he notes acidly. What is so disturbing is that each extra dollar of new debt now generates just $0.17 of extra GDP in the US, down from around $0.75 in the 1960s. Much of the corporate debt built up in this cycle has been to buy back stock or pay dividends.

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“Half could be erased and still exceed historical valuation norms.” Fall 50% and still be overvalued. But not a bubble?!

Paper Wealth In US Stocks Reaches $32 Trillion (Fed)

John Hussman comments: “Paper wealth in U.S. stocks reaches $32 trillion. Half could be erased and still exceed historical valuation norms.”

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They can take out $50,000 per year but need ten times that for a golden visa.

Rich Chinese Race to Apply for a US Golden Visa (BBG)

As members of Congress in Washington debate raising the minimum required to obtain a U.S. immigrant investor visa from $500,000 to $1.35 million, concern about the hike has set off a scramble among wealthy would-be participants in China. “Some clients are demanding that we make sure their applications are submitted before April 28,” the date the program expires unless extended or amended by Congress, said Judy Gao, director of the U.S. program at Can-Reach (Pacific), a Beijing-based agency that facilitates so-called EB-5 Immigrant Investor visas. “We’re working overtime to do that.” China’s wealthy, using not-always-legal means to skirt capital controls to get their money out and at the same time gain residency in the U.S., are continuing to dwarf all others as the largest participants in the EB-5 program, despite heightened measures by the Chinese government.

[..] Because Chinese individuals are limited to exchanging $50,000 worth of yuan a year, a 10th of what the EB-5 program requires, some agents are advising clients who don’t already have assets offshore to use a means nicknamed “smurfing” to move their money. “Our suggestion to the client is to open three to four personal accounts in the U.S. or line up three to four friends’ accounts, so they can split the money and wire it to different personal accounts without being put on a blacklist by the Chinese authorities,” said a Shanghai-based real estate agent who gave the surname Dong. “It may require a trip to the States to do so to facilitate the process.” [..] While the government in Beijing spent much of 2016 working to stop its citizens sending money abroad in order to stabilize its declining currency and foreign reserves, Chinese investors’ use of EB-5 continued anyway, totaling $3.8 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

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The sanctions and hysteria allow and force Russia to break the chains and be creative.

Russia’s Banking System Has SWIFT Alternative Ready (RT)

If the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) is shut down in Russia, the country’s banking system will not crash, according to Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina. Russia has a substitute. “There were threats that we can be disconnected from SWIFT. We have finished working on our own payment system, and if something happens, all operations in SWIFT format will work inside the country. We have created an alternative,” Nabiullina said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. She also added that 90% of ATMs in Russia are ready to accept the Mir payment system, a domestic version of Visa and MasterCard. Izvestia daily reported that as of January 2016, 330 Russian banks had been connected to the SWIFT alternative, the system for transfer of financial messages (SPFS).

In 2014 and 2015, when the crisis in relations between Russia and the West were at their peak over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, some Western politicians urged disconnecting Russia from SWIFT. In November 2015, Nabiullina said the SPFS was close to being completed. The central bank’s website says the system was established “as an alternative channel for interbank cooperation with the aim of ensuring the guaranteed and uninterrupted provision of services for the transmission of electronic messages on financial transactions.” At present, the system has some drawbacks. It doesn’t work from 9pm to 5am Moscow time and costs up to five cents per wire transfer, which is regarded expensive.

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Schäuble is not all stupidity.

Erdogan Setting Back Integration In Germany By Years: Schaeuble (R.)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who accuses Chancellor Angela Merkel of using “Nazi methods” against Turks in Germany, is setting back their integration by years, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said. Berlin is growing increasingly frustrated about Erdogan repeatedly accusing it of applying “Nazi methods” by banning rallies aimed at drumming up support among Turks in Germany for a referendum that would strengthen the power of his presidency. Turks workers began moving to Germany in the 1960s and the country now has about 3 million people of Turkish background. Some are fully integrated while others live in ethnic communities with less contact with the majority population.

“Erdogan’s rhetoric makes me stunned,” Schaeuble, a veteran member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic (CDU) party, told the Welt am Sonntag weekly newspaper. “In a short time, it wilfully destroys the integration that has grown over years in Germany. The repair of the damage will take years,” he said. Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul on Sunday: “You call the president of the Turkish Republic a dictator. When we call them fascists, they get annoyed. When we call them Nazis, they get annoyed.” “You are fascists, you are. Be annoyed as much as you want with Nazi practices. If you draw swastikas on the walls of our mosques and don’t hold anyone accountable, you cannot take off this stain,” Erdogan said.

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According to Le Monde, one third of French (43% under 35) doesn’t know if they’re going to vote at all. And half still don’t know who to vote for. Beware the polls.

France’s Le Pen Says The EU ‘Will Die’, Globalists To Be Defeated (R.)

The European Union will disappear, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen told a rally on Sunday, aiming to re-enthuse core supporters in the final four weeks before voting gets underway. Buoyed by the unexpected election of Donald Trump in the United States and by Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the leader of the anti-EU and anti-immigrant National Front (FN) party, told the rally in Lille that the French election would be the next step in what she called a global rebellion of the people. “The European Union will die because the people do not want it anymore,” Le Pen said to loud cheers and applause. “The time has come to defeat globalists,” she said, adding: “My message is one of emancipation, of liberation … a call for all the patriots to gather behind our flag.”

Opinion polls forecast that Le Pen will do well in the April 23 first round of the presidential election only to lose the May 7 run-off to centrist Emmanuel Macron. Its anti-EU, anti-euro stance is one of the FN’s standard-bearing policies, both a mark of its anti-establishment stance that pleases grass-roots supporters and attracts voters angry with globalization, and a likely obstacle to its quest for power in a country where a majority oppose a return to the franc. Le Pen has over the past few months tried to accommodate this opposition to leaving the euro by continuing to criticize the unpopular EU while telling voters she would not abruptly pull France out of the bloc or the euro but instead hold a referendum after six months of renegotiating the terms of France’s EU membership.

On Sunday she told the rally she would seek to replace the EU by “another Europe,” which she called “the Europe of the people,” based on a loose cooperative of nations. “It must be done in a rational, well-prepared way,” she told Le Parisien in an interview published earlier on Sunday. “I don’t want chaos. Within the negotiation calendar I want to carry out … the euro would be the last step because I want to wait for the outcome of elections in Germany in the fall before renegotiating it.”

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But is the economic failure caused only by wrong policies?

Populism Is The Result Of Global Economic Failure (G.)

The rise of populism has rattled the global political establishment. Brexit came as a shock, as did the victory of Donald Trump. Much head-scratching has resulted as leaders seek to work out why large chunks of their electorates are so cross. The answer seems pretty simple. Populism is the result of economic failure. The 10 years since the financial crisis have shown that the system of economic governance which has held sway for the past four decades is broken. Some call this approach neoliberalism. Perhaps a better description would be unpopulism. Unpopulism meant tilting the balance of power in the workplace in favour of management and treating people like wage slaves. Unpopulism was rigged to ensure that the fruits of growth went to the few not to the many.

Unpopulism decreed that those responsible for the global financial crisis got away with it while those who were innocent bore the brunt of austerity. Anybody seeking to understand why Trump won the US presidential election should take a look at what has been happening to the division of the economic spoils. The share of national income that went to the bottom 90% of the population held steady at around 66% from 1950 to 1980. It then began a steep decline, falling to just over 50% when the financial crisis broke in 2007. Similarly, it is no longer the case that everybody benefits when the US economy is doing well. During the business cycle upswing between 1961 and 1969, the bottom 90% of Americans took 67% of the income gains. During the Reagan expansion two decades later they took 20%.

During the Greenspan housing bubble of 2001 to 2007, they got just two cents in every extra dollar of national income generated while the richest 10% took the rest. The US economist Thomas Palley* says that up until the late 1970s countries operated a virtuous circle growth model in which wages were the engine of demand growth. “Productivity growth drove wage growth which fueled demand growth. That promoted full employment, which provided the incentive to invest, which drove further productivity growth,” he says.

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China doesn’t want war. Neither does Russia.

The West is Becoming Irrelevant (Vltchek)

China, one of the oldest and greatest civilizations on Earth, went through the terrible period of ‘humiliation’. Divided, occupied and plundered by the West, it has never forgotten nor forgiven. Now the Chinese Communist state and its mixed economy are helping countries in virtually all parts of the world, from Oceania and Latin America, to the Middle East and especially Africa, to survive and to finally stand on their own feet. Despite all the vitriolic propaganda regurgitated by the West (those people in Europe or North America who know close to zero about Africa or China,habitually passing ‘confident’ and highly cynical ‘judgments’ about China’s involvement in the poor world; judgments based exclusively on the lies and fabrications produced by the Western media), China has been gaining great respect and trust in virtually all corners of the globe.

The Chinese people and their government are now standing firmly against Western imperialism. They will not allow any recurrence of the disgraceful and dreary past. The West is provoking this mighty and optimistic nation, pushing it into a terrible confrontation. China doesn’t want any military conflict. It is the most peaceful, the most non-confrontational large nation on Earth. But it is becoming clear that if pushed against the wall, this time it will not compromise: it will fight. In the last years I have spoken to many Chinese people, as I traveled to all corners of the country, and I’m convinced that by now the nation is ready to meet strength with strength. Such determination gives hope to many other countries on our Planet. The message is clear: the West cannot do whatever it wants, anymore. If it tries, it will be stopped. By reason or by force!

Russia is ready again, too. It is standing next to China, enormous and indignant. Go to Novosibirsk or Tomsk, to Khabarovsk, Vladivostok or Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka. Talk to Russian people and you will soon understand: almost nobody there believes or respects the West, anymore. Throughout history, Russia was attacked and ransacked from the West. Millions, tens of millions of its people were murdered, literally exterminated. And now, the nation is facing what some consider to be yet another imminent attack. Like the Chinese people, Russians are unwilling to compromise, anymore. The old Russian forecast is once again alive, that very one professed by Alexander Nevsky: Go tell all in foreign lands that Russia lives! Those who come to us in peace will be welcome as a guest. But those who come to us sword in hand will die by the sword! On that Russia stands and forever will we stand!

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By dismantling domestic privacy laws, ….

The US Will Lose Control Of The Global Internet (Morozov)

The numerous paradoxes that will haunt Donald Trump in the coming months were on full display during the recent Senate vote to undo privacy legislation that was passed in the last few years of the Obama administration. As part of a broader effort to treat internet service providers and telecoms operators as utility companies, Obama imposed restrictions on what these companies could do with all the user data from browsers and apps. Emboldened by Trump, the Republicans have just allowed these businesses to collect, sell and manipulate such data without user permission. From the short-sighted domestic perspective, it seems like a boon to the likes of Verizon and AT&T, especially as they increasingly find themselves confronting their data-rich counterparts in Silicon Valley.

Telecoms companies have been complaining (not entirely without reason) that the Obama administration favoured the interests of Google and Facebook which, invoking the lofty rhetoric of “keeping the internet free” only to defend their own business agenda, have traditionally faced somewhat lighter regulation. The Democrats, always happy to attack Trump, have jumped on the issue, warning that the Senate vote would foster ubiquitous and extensive surveillance by the telecoms industry – and Silicon Valley, of course, would never commit such sins. Under the new rules, complained Bill Nelson, a senator from Florida, “your broadband provider may know more about your health – and your reaction to illness – than you are willing to share with your doctor”.

Never mind that Google and Facebook already know all this – and much more – and generate little outrage from the Democrats. The Democrats, of course, only have themselves to blame for such ineptitude. From the early 1980s onwards, centre-left movements on both sides of the Atlantic no longer discussed technology policy in terms of justice, fairness or inequality. Instead, they preferred to emulate their neoliberal opponents and frame choices – about technology policy, but also about many other domains – in terms of just one goal that rules supreme above all other: innovation. The problem with building a political programme on such flimsy economistic foundations is that it immediately opens the door to competing narratives of just what kind of policy produces more innovation.

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I watch the increase in global aviation with a very heavy heart. But this is smart.

Circular Runways Proposed For Airport Efficiency (Curbed)

While airport terminal architecture has a solid history of style and innovation, rarely is a proposal put forth to utterly redesign the runway. But that’s precisely the aim of Henk Hesselink, a Dutch scientist working with the Netherlands Aerospace Centre. Dubbed the “endless runway”, Hesselink’s brainchild is a 360-degree landing strip measuring more than two miles in diameter. Since airplanes would be able to approach and take off from any direction around the proposed circle, they wouldn’t have to fight against crosswinds.

And three planes would be able to take off or land at the same time. Hesselink’s team uses flight simulators and computerized calculations to test the unconventional design, and have determined that round airports would be more efficient than existing layouts. With a central terminal, the airport would only use about a third of the land of the typical airport with the same airplane capacity. And there’s an added benefit to those living near airports: Flight paths could be more distributed, and thereby making plane noise more tolerable. So far, there have been no plans to actually build a circular runway, but Hesselink’s research continues on.

 

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The Better Than God crowd is not done with you just yet.

Trump Presidency “Opens Door” To Planet-Hacking Geoengineer Experiments (G.)

Harvard engineers who launched the world’s biggest solar geoengineering research program may get a dangerous boost from Donald Trump, environmental organizations are warning. Under the Trump administration, enthusiasm appears to be growing for the controversial technology of solar geo-engineering, which aims to spray sulphate particles into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s radiation back to space and decrease the temperature of Earth. Sometime in 2018, Harvard engineers David Keith and Frank Keutsch hope to test spraying from a high-altitude balloon over Arizona, in order to assess the risks and benefits of deployment on a larger scale. Keith cancelled a similar planned experiment in New Mexico in 2012, but announced he was ready for field testing at a geoengineering forum in Washington on Friday.

“The context for discussing solar geoengineering research has changed substantially since we planned and funded this forum nearly one year ago,” a forum briefing paper noted. While geoengineering received little favour under Obama, high-level officials within the Trump administration have been long-time advocates for planetary-scale manipulation of Earth systems. David Schnare, an architect of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition, has lobbied the US government and testified to Senate in favour of federal support for geoengineering. He has called for a multi-phase plan to fund research and conduct real-world testing within 18 months, deploy massive stratospheric spraying three years after, and continue spraying for a century, a duration geoengineers believe would be necessary to dial back the planet’s temperature.

“Clearly parts of the Trump administration are very willing to open the door to reckless schemes like David Keith’s, and may well have quietly given the nod to open-air experiments,” said Silvia Riberio, with technology watchdog ETC Group. “Worryingly, geoengineering may emerge as this administration’s preferred approach to global warming. In their view, building a big beautiful wall of sulphate in the sky could be a perfect excuse to allow uncontrolled fossil fuel extraction. We need to be focussing on radical emissions cuts, not dangerous and unjust technofixes.” [.] “Geoengineering holds forth the promise of addressing global warming concerns for just a few billion dollars a year,” he said in 2008, before helping launch a geoengineering unit while he ran the right-wing think tank American Economic Enterprise. “We would have an option to address global warming by rewarding scientific innovation. Bring on American ingenuity. Stop the green pig.”

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We need to do Bob Geldof all over again? We are a disgrace.

UN’s Famine Appeal Is Billions Shy of Goal (NYT)

A month ago, the secretary general of the United Nations, António Guterres, warned that 20 million people would fall into famine if his aid agencies could not corral $4.4 billion by the end of March. It is almost the end of March, and so far, the United Nations has received less than a tenth of the money – $423 million, according to its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The funding appeal, and the paltry response, comes as the Trump administration is poised to make sharp cuts to its foreign aid budget, including for the United Nations. Historically, the United States has been the agency’s largest single donor for humanitarian aid. For all four countries at risk — Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen – the United States has given $277 million so far this year, not all of it for famine relief.

The conditions for famine are specific and not easy to meet, which is why the last time a famine was declared was in Somalia in July 2011, after 260,000 had died of hunger and related complications. The three criteria for declaring a famine are when one in five households in a certain area face extreme food shortages; more than 30% of the population is acutely malnourished; and at least two people for every 10,000 die each day. A famine has already been declared in a swath of South Sudan. A similar risk looms over Somalia, still reeling from years of conflict, and Yemen, where Houthi insurgents are battling a Saudi-led coalition supported by the United States and Britain. In northern Nigeria, a famine could already be underway, according to an early warning system funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

But the security situation is so bad there that aid workers have been unable to assess levels of hunger. On Thursday, Somalia’s newly elected president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, told the Security Council by videolink from Mogadishu that half the population faces acute food shortages. The United Nations says it needs the $4.4 billion to deliver food, clean water and basic medicine like oral rehydration salts to avert diarrhea deaths among children. Only 8% of the money the agency needs for Yemen has been funded; for Nigeria, 9%; for South Sudan, 18%; and for Somalia, 32%. Of the 20 million who are at risk of famine are 1.4 million children, who are most vulnerable. To put the $4.4 billion appeal in perspective, Britain has made slightly less, $4.1 billion, from weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in the two years since the war began in Yemen.

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The most insane idea to come out of the EU yet. And there’s a lot of competition for that.

‘We Reached Our Limits’: Greece To Stop Taking Back Refugees (RT)

Greece will cease taking back refugees under the controversial Dublin Regulation, as the country’s limited capacities to host people are already on the brink of collapse, the Greek migration minister announced in an interview. As the European Commission pressures Athens to re-implement the Dublin Regulation – stipulating that refugees can be returned to the first EU state they arrived in – the Greek migration minister told Spiegel his country is not in a position to do so. The agreement was put on hold for Greece back in 2011 over problems in the country’s asylum system. “Greece is already shouldering a heavy burden,” Ioannis Mouzalas, the migration minister, said. “We accommodate 60,000 refugees… and it would be a mistake to make Greece’s burden heavier by the revival of the Dublin agreement,” he said, also adding that Germany, the primary destination for most refugees, “wants countries where refugees arrive first to bear a large portion of the burden.”

Under the Dublin Regulation, the European state where the asylum-seeker first arrives in the EU is responsible for examining an asylum claim. Refugees are fingerprinted in their first country of arrival to ensure irrefutable evidence of their entry. However, rights groups warn that imminent transfers from other EU countries back to Greece in line with the regulations are likely to cause more refugees than ever to go underground in western European countries, as many are desperate to stay there because of family links or successful attempts to start a new life. The scheme also adds even greater pressure to existing refugee facilities in Greece and beyond. Asked if Athens is ruling out implementation of the Dublin Regulation, Mouzalas answered in the affirmative, adding, “I want the Germans to understand that this is not because of political or ideological reasons, or failure to appreciate Germany’s assistance.” “Greece simply has no capacities to cope with additional arrival of refugees,” he said.

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Erdogan will not like this. And the US must realize that the EU squeezing Greece bone dry does not help such proposals. For good cooperation, you need strong and stable partners.

Greek-US Ties Set To Strengthen Significantly (K.)

Greece is examining US proposals for military cooperation which would widen ties to an extent not seen in the last three decades, Kathimerini understands. According to sources, Washington’s desire for stronger ties stems from its view that Greece has a significant geopolitical role to play as a pillar of stability in a volatile region. More specifically, Washington has proposed the participation of a Greek military vessel in a carrier battle group (CVBG), which consists of an aircraft carrier and a large number of escort vessels. According to the US proposals, the participation of a Greek vessel in the CVBG will be accompanied by the renewal of the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) between the two countries.

The MDCA is of utmost significance as it is through this pact that American military forces are permitted to use the Souda naval base on Crete. During a meeting last week US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos discussed the option of renewing the agreement for five to 10 years instead of each year, as has been the case to date. The Americans reportedly want to renew the deal every five years, as they want to expand the scope of their activities at the base. Sources have told Kathimerini that the only possible obstacle to the deal’s renewal on a five-year basis is that it must receive approval in Parliament, and the leftist-led coalition fears the possibility of dissent emanating from lawmakers of ruling SYRIZA.

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And why not: recovery is not possible anyway.

Greece Considers Capital Control Tightening (K.)

The capital controls were originally supposed to be a one-off measure that would be removed in a matter of months, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stating in September 2015 that they would be lifted in early 2017. Today, 21 months since they were imposed, the capital controls are still here, and with the drop in bank deposits, it appears more likely they will be tightened than relaxed or lifted. The truth is that a full Greek recovery will not be possible as long as the capital controls remain, but the economy remains mired in uncertainty and the banks have not seen their CCC+ credit rating improve.

Bank officials note it will be a long time before the restrictions are removed, and this will require the consolidation of a basic sense of confidence among citizens that the worst is over. This is particularly difficult today given that few bailout reviews have been completed according to schedule in the last seven years – and the ongoing second review of the third bailout program was supposed to have finished 13 months ago, in February 2016. Banks therefore fear that if deposit outflow continues as it has done in the first quarter of the year, further controls are quite likely.

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Mar 112017
 
 March 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Robert Capa Warsaw, Poland 1948

 

US Jobs Report Means Fed Rate Hike Is A Bolt-On Certainty (G.)
US Household Wealth Has Never Been Higher Relative To Income (ZH)
Rising Household Debt A Concern Across Asia (TEP)
Sessions Asks 46 Obama-Era US Attorneys To Resign (R.)
Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Dealt First Court Setback (R.)
Trump To Ask Merkel For Advice On Putin, Ukraine (R.)
Nobel Economist Deaton Takes Aim At Rent-Seeking US Economy (MW)
US Regulators Reject Bitcoin ETF, Digital Currency Plunges (R.)
The Bag Holder and His Bag (Jim Kunstler)
New Island To Be Built In North Sea Under ‘Science-Fiction-Like’ Plan (Ind.)
General Flynn and the Strategic Deficit (K.)
Turkey Loses Momentum In Northern Syria As US Supports Kurds (ARA)
UN Accuses Turkey Of Abuses Against Kurds In Country’s Southeast (AlJ)
Greek Court To Rule On Turkey’s ‘Safe Country’ Status (K.)
Lagarde Insists On Greek Debt Restructuring (K.)
Roman Citizens Are Breaking The Law To Feed And Help Refugees (R.)
World Faces Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945 – UN (G.)

 

 

Don’t be surprised if Yellen gets cold feet.

US Jobs Report Means Fed Rate Hike Is A Bolt-On Certainty (G.)

The latest US jobs report removes any lingering doubts about whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next week. Following news that the world’s biggest economy generated 235,000 net new non-farm jobs in February, it is a bolt-on certainty that the central bank will push up the cost of borrowing by a quarter of a point. It is now almost 10 years since the start of the financial crisis ushered in a period of ultra-low interest rates and it has been clear for a while that the Fed is anxious to speed up the normalisation process. A healthy labour market is the key to that process and it would have taken a shockingly bad report to stay the bank’s hand. This was not it. Indeed, the financial markets have already moved on from next week to musing about how many more times the Fed will tighten during the course of 2017. The feeling is that two more rate rises are in prospect.

It certainly seems unlikely that next Wednesday’s rise will be the end of the matter. The report from the Bureau of Labour Statistics showed employment up by more than the 190,000 expected by Wall Street and unemployment at 4.7%. Annual wage growth is running at 2.8%. Policymakers at the Fed will look at this data and conclude that inflationary pressures are building as the economy approaches full employment. With US productivity so weak, the central bank will certainly be tempted to move again if and when earnings growth hits 3%. There was plenty for Donald Trump to welcome. A mild winter has resulted in a big increase in construction jobs. Manufacturing employment was also up. The only weak spot was retailing. The new president has plans for a big package of tax cuts and spending increases but fiscal easing will mean more aggressive tightening from the Fed, which is already starting to fret about the risks of the economy overheating.

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Print and borrow. Rinse and repeat.

US Household Wealth Has Never Been Higher Relative To Income (ZH)

For 45 years – until Alan Greenspan in 1994 – the average wealth-to-income of American households had held steady around 4.9x – but as of Q4 2016, for the first time in US history, household wealth has reached a point where it is 6.5 times large than inflation-adjusted household disposable income in America. As Bloomberg reports, the surge – driven by higher stock prices and property values, according to The Fed – pushed this measure of relative exuberance (think of it as the country’s price-to-earnings ratio) above the housing boom peak of mid-2000s and well above the dot-com bubble driven highs of the last 1990s. As Alliance Bernstein economist Joe Carson wrote in a note: “Economic and financial history do not always repeat, but sometimes they do.” So the question is – what happens next?

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Debt and wealth feel eerily similar.

Rising Household Debt A Concern Across Asia (TEP)

Government officials, policymakers, economists, bankers and experts gathered here for the Second Annual Asean Consumer and Household Debt Conference on Feb 22 and 23. The two-day event aimed to provide insight into the implications of household debt and the challenges faced by the policymakers. “Over the years, household financial liabilities as a share of personal disposable income has gone up in Asia,” said Akrur Barua, an economist at Deloitte Services LP, setting the tone for the conference. According to Barua, a number of factors have led to the rise in household debt in Asia. Rising incomes in Asia have resulted in higher consumer demand for products and services. Along with income growth, there is an increase in access to credit across Asian economies.

Post- 2008, policymakers also offered fiscal and monetary incentives to entice consumers to spend more. In addition, rising demand and a flow of liquidity led to a surge in asset prices, especially in the housing sector. With demand for housing remaining strong and house prices rising, the result has been a rapid increase in the value of housing loans or mortgages. “Cyclical credit outpaced cyclical growth from 2011 to 2015 in many Southeast Asian countries”, noted Vincent Conti, Asia-Pacific economist at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services Singapore. According to Barua, the household debt burden in many Asian economies is now even higher than the US figure prior to 2009, before the global financial crisis (see Chart 1). In fact, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan have crossed the 80% mark in household debt-to-GDP ratio.

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David Stockman on Twitter: “46 Obama US Attorneys must go ASAP. That means you, Preet Bharara. Enough self-righteous bullies with badges! “

Sessions Asks 46 Obama-Era US Attorneys To Resign (R.)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly asked the remaining 46 chief federal prosecutors left over from the Obama administration to resign on Friday, including Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had been asked to stay on in November by then President-elect Donald Trump. Although U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and the request from Trump’s Justice Department is part of a routine process, the move came as a surprise. Not every new administration replaces all U.S. attorneys at once. A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed the resignation requests included Bharara, whose office handles some of the most critical business and criminal cases passing through the federal judicial system.

Bharara met with Trump in Trump Tower on Nov. 30. After, Bharara told reporters the two had a “good meeting” and he had agreed to stay on. On Friday, Bharara was unsure where he stood because he did not know if the person who contacted him about resigning was aware that Trump had asked him to remain in office, according to a source familiar with the matter. It was not immediately clear if all resignations would ultimately be accepted. A Justice Department spokesman said on Friday Trump had called Dana Boente, acting U.S. deputy attorney general, to decline his resignation. Trump also called Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, his pick to take over as deputy attorney general, to keep him in his post, the spokesman said.

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Broader views are needed.

Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Dealt First Court Setback (R.)

A federal judge in Wisconsin dealt the first legal blow to President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban on Friday, barring enforcement of the policy to deny U.S. entry to the wife and child of a Syrian refugee already granted asylum in the United States. The temporary restraining order, granted by U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison, applies only to the family of the Syrian refugee, who brought the case anonymously to protect the identities of his wife and daughter, still living in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo. But it represents the first of several challenges brought against Trump’s newly amended executive order, issued on March 6 and due to go into effect on March 16, to draw a court ruling in opposition to its enforcement.

Conley, chief judge of the federal court in Wisconsin’s western district and an appointee of former President Barack Obama, concluded the plaintiff “has presented some likelihood of success on the merits” of his case and that his family faces “significant risk of irreparable harm” if forced to remain in Syria. The plaintiff, a Sunni Muslim, fled Syria to the United States in 2014 to “escape near-certain death” at the hands of sectarian military forces fighting the Syrian government in Aleppo, according to his lawsuit. He subsequently obtained asylum for his wife and their only surviving child, a daughter, and their application had cleared the security vetting process and was headed for final processing when it was halted by Trump’s original travel ban on Jan. 27.

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Those are Merkel’s blind spots. And Greece.

Trump To Ask Merkel For Advice On Putin, Ukraine (R.)

President Donald Trump will ask Chancellor Angela Merkel for advice on how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. officials said on Friday, as the U.S. and German leaders meet next week after sometimes pointed disagreements in recent months. Merkel will visit the White House on Tuesday for talks with Trump and a joint news conference in what will be their first face-to-face meeting since the new U.S. president took power on Jan. 20. They are expected to discuss Germany’s level of defense spending for the NATO alliance, the Ukraine conflict, Syrian refugees, the EU and a host of other issues, said three senior Trump administration officials who briefed reporters.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Trump regularly criticized Merkel for her open-door refugee policy, contrasting it with what he promised would be tighter controls in the United States if he won office. Merkel has been a leading critic of Trump’s effort to ban travelers temporarily from seven Muslim-majority nations, a list that has since been pared back to six. “My expectation is that they’ll have a very positive, cordial meeting,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump has long expressed desire for warmer U.S. relations with Russia but some of his top Cabinet officials are skeptical. “The president will be very interested in hearing the chancellor’s views on her experience interacting with Putin,” said another official. “He’s going to be very interested in hearing her insights on what it’s like to deal with the Russians.”

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Deaton is no fool.

Nobel Economist Takes Aim At Rent-Seeking Banking, Healthcare Industries (MW)

Income inequality is not killing capitalism in the United States, but rent-seekers like the banking and the health-care sectors just might, said Nobel-winning economist Angus Deaton on Monday. If an entrepreneur invents something on the order of another Facebook, Deaton said he has no problem with that person becoming wealthy. “What is not OK is for rent-seekers to get rich,” Deaton said in a luncheon speech to the National Association for Business Economics. Rent seekers lobby and persuade governments to give them special favors. Bankers during the financial crisis, and much of the health-care system, are two prime examples, Deaton said. Rent-seeking is not only does not generate new product, it actually slows down economic growth, Deaton said.

“All that talent is devoted to stealing things, instead of making things,” he said. Another prime example of rent-seeking is that the Medicaid is funding opioid prescriptions for low-income workers, Deaton said. The results are workers who are becoming addicted and overdosing while profits are going to the Sacker family which owns Purdue Pharma that makes OxyContin. Deaton said he favors a single-payer health system only because our current part-private and part-public system is exquisitely designed to give opportunities for rent-seeking. “So I, who do not believe in socialized health-care, would advocate a single-payment system…because it will get this monster that we’ve created out of the economy and allow the rest of capitalism to flourish without the awful things that healthcare is doing to us,” he said.

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But door is left open.

US Regulators Reject Bitcoin ETF, Digital Currency Plunges (R.)

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday denied a request to list what would have been the first U.S. exchange-traded fund built to track bitcoin, the digital currency. Investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss have been trying for more than three years to convince the SEC to let it bring the Bitcoin ETF to market. CBOE Holdings’ Bats exchange had applied to list the ETF. The digital currency’s price plunged, falling as much as 18% in trading immediately after the decision before rebounding slightly. It last traded down 7.8% to $1,098. Bitcoin had scaled to a record of nearly $1,300 this month, higher than the price of an ounce of gold, as investors speculated that an ETF holding the digital currency could woo more people into buying the asset.

[..] “Based on the record before it, the Commission believes that the significant markets for bitcoin are unregulated,” the SEC said in a statement. “The commission notes that bitcoin is still in the relatively early stages of its development and that, over time, regulated bitcoin-related markets of significant size may develop.” The regulators have questions and concerns about how the funds would work and whether they could be priced and trade effectively, according to a financial industry source familiar with the SEC’s thinking. [..] Advocates of the currency and the technology it relies on to document transactions, blockchain, were dismayed by the ruling. “How do we develop well-capitalized and regulated markets in the U.S. and Europe if financial innovators aren’t allowed to bring products to market that grow domestic demand for digital currencies like bitcoin?” asked Jerry Brito, executive director of Coin Center, an advocacy group.

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“RussiaGate — come on, let’s finally call it that —”

The Bag Holder and His Bag (Jim Kunstler)

[..] getting rid of Trump would only leave the Deep State with a bigger problem: itself. That is, an economy and a society that can’t be governed by any means. I think many professional observers-of-the-scene are missing something in this unspooling story: the Deep State is actually becoming more impotent and ineffectual, not omnipotent. Case in point: RussiaGate — come on, let’s finally call it that — the popular idea that Russia hacked the 2016 presidential election. It’s popular because it’s such a convenient excuse for the failure of a corrupt, exhausted, and brain-dead Democratic establishment. But all the exertions of the Deep State to put over this story since last summer were negated this week by two events.

First, there was former NSA Director James Clapper’s appearance on NBC’s Sunday Meet the Press show with Chuck Todd featuring the following interchange: CHUCK TODD: Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials? JAMES CLAPPER: We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report. CHUCK TODD: I understand that. But does it exist? JAMES CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge. And so what to make of the RussiaGate histrionics served up by CNN, The New York Times, the WashPo, NPR, and sundry tools as Senator Chuck Schumer (D–NY)?

What I make of it is a growing civil war in the government itself, and perhaps something arguably like sedition. Second matter: this week’s release of Wikileaks’ Vault-7 trove of purloined government documents. These seem to suggest that US Intel agencies have acquired the ability to spoof any activity on any sort of computer or program that makes it impossible to track the identity of any hacker and, what’s more, gives US Intel a tool to make any party appear culpable for any given case of hacking — meaning that if so called computer hacking “footprints” had been discovered linking Russia to the Hillary-DNC-Podesta emails, those footprints could have been engineered by US Intel itself… meaning further that any so-called “evidence” of Russian election hacking could not be proven one way or the other.

Now, this might be too fine a point for the RussiaGate partisans, but I don’t see how it fails to moot the issue. The partisans are still finding other ways to propagandize. On Thursday evening, NPR ran a story about Russia breaking a missile agreement with this wrap-up from correspondent David Welna: WELNA: Still unclear is how President Trump, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, might respond to Moscow’s defiance. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. That lapse of newsmanship is the kind of thing that makes me (a still-registered Democrat) want to support the defunding of NPR.

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Far too many people still claim we can replace our current energy consumption with renewables. That idea will have to die first.

New Island To Be Built In North Sea Under ‘Science-Fiction-Like’ Plan (Ind.)

A vast artificial island is to be built at Dogger Bank in the North Sea, complete with a harbour, airstrip and homes, to help provide a vast new supply of renewable energy, under plans drawn up by two companies with the blessing of the European Union. The North Sea Wind Power Hub would act as a hub for offshore wind turbines and a new place to put solar panels, according to the German and Dutch arms of electricity firm TenneT and Danish company Energinet. The firms will sign a deal creating a consortium to develop the plan further in Brussels on 23 March in the presence of European Energy Union Commissioner, Maos Sefcovic. Torben Glar Nielsen, Energinet’s Danish technical director, said: “Maybe it sounds a bit crazy and science fiction-like, but an island on Dogger Bank could make the wind power of the future a lot cheaper and more effective.”

It is thought the island – or possibly islands – could act as a hub for thousands of new wind turbines, which would eventually generate green electricity for more than 80 million people. Under the proposals, the island would be connected by electricity cables to the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Belgium. Mel Kroon, TenneT’s chief executive, said: “This project can significantly contribute to a completely renewable supply of electricity in north-west Europe. “TenneT and Energinet.dk both have extensive experience in the fields of onshore grids, the connection of offshore wind energy and cross-border connections.

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Flynn’s escapades as a foreign agent for Turkey are making Greeks very nervous.

General Flynn and the Strategic Deficit (K.)

It is as if a torpedo passed under our keel and we saw it only when it exploded elsewhere. The recent revelations from President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn, showed that we had a close call. A lawyer for Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department declaring that last year he undertook lobbying work that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” For the work between August and November, Flynn Intel Group Inc was paid 530,000 dollars. Flynn was forced to resign from the position of Trump’s top security aide in February when it emerged that although he had met with the Russian ambassador to the United States he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about this, after which the latter repeated Flynn’s lies in public.

The extent of Flynn’s dealings with Russia and Turkey is not known, but it is clear that if he had not resigned he would have remained, at least, a former strong supporter of Turkey. On November 8, Flynn had published an opinion piece in The Hill, a Washington-based political newspaper, titled “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support.” Flynn argued that the United States should extradite the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims was behind the failed coup in Turkey last July. “We should not provide him safe haven,” Flynn wrote of Gulen. “In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”

On Wednesday, The Hill’s editor added a note to the piece, clarifying that the newspaper did not know that Flynn had been paid to write it, nor that the draft had been shown earlier to a Dutch company, Inovo BV, which, the note said, is “owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkey’s president.” The Associated Press reported that according to the documents filed, Flynn, who was then a top aide to presidential candidate Trump, met in September with the Turkish ministers of foreign affairs and energy.

The cooperation ended in November, and though it is difficult to believe that Flynn was paid half a million dollars for one op-ed piece, we cannot claim that as national security adviser he would have made Turkish interests his priority. At the same time, can we really have expected him to have been completely unbiased in any Greek-Turkish dispute? We still don’t know the interests of people around the American president – who himself has business interests in Turkey, among other countries. Nothing is as it was. Prior US strategy cannot be taken for granted. This makes it imperative for our country to be clear about its own course, to implement its strategy calmly and decisively. We must avoid being caught up in the game of our excitable neighbors and keep our eyes on where we want to go.

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Things are only getting more confusing.

Turkey Loses Momentum In Northern Syria As US Supports Kurds (ARA)

Turkey has lost momentum in the war for northern Syria as the United States draws on Kurdish allies in the assault on ISIS-held Raqqa, but Ankara is still pressing Washington for a deal that allays its fears of Kurdish ascendancy. Syrian Kurdish groups meanwhile sense Washington is now more firmly behind them than before, a shift they hope will eventually aid their ambitions for autonomy after years of persecution by the Syrian government. One of the most complicated theatres in the multi-sided Syrian conflict, the war in the north has played out at lightning pace in the last few weeks with ISIS fighters either withdrawing or collapsing in swathes of territory. The Russian-backed Syrian army has benefited from this, creating a corridor to the Euphrates River that secures Aleppo’s water supplies and suggests at least tacit coordination with US-allied Kurdish militia – at Turkey’s expense.

In a swipe at Washington, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday it was unfortunate that some of Turkey’s allies had chosen the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a partner in the fight against ISIS in Syria. “The field in Syria at the moment is really very complicated,” said a senior Turkish official, stressing the fast-moving nature of events and the urgent need for agreement. “Anything could happen at any moment.” “Such a harsh step in completely excluding Turkey there will cause a problem for relations between the countries,” the Turkish official said. “Hence a share point must be found. Talks are still continuing.”

[..] Ankara had hoped to advance its strategy in northern Syria by persuading Washington to abandon its Kurdish allies and switch support to Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups for the final assault on Raqqa – a northern Syrian city that is ISIS’s de facto capital. But any hopes of this have faded in recent days. Conflicting US and Turkish agendas have surfaced clearly over Manbij, a city controlled by Kurdish-allied fighters since its capture from ISIS last year. A deployment of US forces there last week deterred a threatened Turkish attack. Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made clear Turkish sensitivities about the presence of Kurdish fighters in Manbij, a town Ankara sees as the next stepping stone in creation of a safe zone free of Kurdish influence west of the Euphrates. “We will not allow the YPG’s canton dreams (to come true),” NTV television cited Cavusoglu as saying. “If we go to Manbij and the PYD is there, we will hit them.”

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High time for EU, US to take a stand against Turkey, but the courage is failing.

UN Accuses Turkey Of Abuses Against Kurds In Country’s Southeast (AlJ)

A UN report has accused Turkish security forces of human rights violations during operations against Kurdish fighters in the country’s southeast, drawing an angry response by Turkey which rejected it as “biased”. The report by the UN Human Rights Office on Friday detailed accusations of massive infrastructure destruction, unlawful killings and other serious abuses committed between July 2015 and December 2016 following the collapse of a ceasefire. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state were engaged in a war for almost 30 years until a 2013 truce was declared and the two sides launched peace talks. The ceasefire largely held until the summer of 2015, and since then the two sides have been engaged in escalating clashes. Turkey, the US and the EU all consider the PKK a “terrorist” group.

The UN said that its study, which was carried through “remote monitoring”, was based on interviews, analysis of information provided by Turkey’s government and NGOs, as well as official records, open source documents, satellite images and other materials. Citing data from various sources, the report said that around 2,000 people were killed in the region between July 2015 and December 2016 amid security operations. “Reports generally put the number of local residents killed at approximately 1,200, of whom an unspecified number may have been involved in violent or non-violent actions against the state,” it said, adding that about 800 members of security forces were reportedly killed in clashes. More than 355,000 people were displaced and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed in various parts of southeastern Turkey, the report said.

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How could it possibly declare Turkey safe?

Greek Court To Rule On Turkey’s ‘Safe Country’ Status (K.)

Greece’s highest administrative court is expected to rule later this month on whether Turkey can be considered a safe country for refugees being returned under a deal with the European Union. The Council of State’s plenary on Friday heard arguments based on the appeal of two Syrian nationals whose asylum applications were rejected by the Greek Asylum Committee. The Syrians’ lawyers argued that the rejection is a violation of the UN Charter of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention as the committee based its decision solely on Turkey’s assurances, without a proper assessment of conditions in the neighboring country.

Another plaintiff acting on their behalf, the Greek Council for Refugees, has also raised questions regarding the partiality of the judges serving on the Asylum Committee’s panels. The appeal comes after seven judges at the Council of State’s Fourth Chamber ruled in favor of the Asylum Committee’s decision, saying that Turkey’s participation in the Geneva Convention defines it as a safe country. If the plenary upholds the Syrians’ appeal, this could undermine the deal signed between the European Union and Turkey a year ago for the latter to take back rejected asylum claimants in exchange for financial assistance.

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Yada yada.

Lagarde Insists On Greek Debt Restructuring (K.)

International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde has reiterated that Greece’s mountainous debt needs restructuring. Speaking to French newspaper Le Parisien, Lagarde insisted that the IMF can only join the Greek program if Athens implements more reforms and the country’s debt is made manageable. “We also need a sustainable debt,” she told the paper, adding that this could be done in different ways, including an extension of loan repayment periods and lower interest rates. She also said she was trying to convince European leaders to accept that Greece needs debt relief.

Meanwhile, representatives of Greece’s international creditors were expected to leave the capital on Friday without having reached an agreement with government officials on contentious issues including pension reform and overhauls to labor rights and the tax system. The IMF said some progress was made but differences “remain in important areas.” Despite the insistence by European officials that a conclusion of the bailout review is unlikely before May, the Greek government indicated that there is enough time for an agreement significantly sooner than that though probably not in time for a March 20 Eurogroup.

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Sounds very familiar 😉

Roman Citizens Are Breaking The Law To Feed And Help Refugees (R.)

Volunteers served macaroni in marinara sauce to dozens of migrants outside one of Rome’s biggest train stations this week, offering help to travelers largely ignored by institutions on the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis. While other European cities including Milan have set up information centers and shelters for migrants, Rome has repeatedly cleared out impromptu camps citing security concerns. “We’ve had 13 evictions,” Andrea Costa, director of the Baobab Experience group of volunteers, said before the migrants settled in for a cold night. To keep from being cleared out yet again, volunteers cook meals at home and bring them to a bare plaza outside Tiburtina station where tents are set up at 9 p.m. and taken down in the early morning. There are now 50 migrants staying here, mostly from Africa, as they attempt to reach other European countries.

That number is expected to soar this summer with sea arrivals to Italy up 60% already this year after setting a record last year. “With boat arrivals at this pace, in a little while we’ll have hundreds of people to take care of,” Costa said. Baobab saw between 500 and 1,000 migrants per day last summer, and volunteers have helped almost 63,000 migrants over the past two years with no state funding – only donations. Robel Tesfit, a 27-year-old Eritrean-Ethiopian who everybody calls “Bob,” arrived in Italy by sea in 2015, hoping to reach Britain where he wanted “to play for Manchester United.” He never made it to Britain, and returned to Rome where he was granted asylum. Now he uses his knowledge of Italian, Arabic, Tigrinya and Amharic to help Baobab volunteers, who gave him food, shelter and advice on his journey.

Pointing to the men and women lining up for pasta, he said: “When I arrived, I was the same as them.” While Italy has shelters to house 175,000 asylum seekers, it does not fund structures for migrants in transit, in part because the European Union wants to stop migrants from moving on, not help them to do so. EU law says they must seek asylum in the country where they first set foot. At the end of last year, Rome set aside about 60 beds in a nearby Red Cross center for travelers and officials say they want to renovate a hotel near the station to provide beds for about 100 more.

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20 million people. And we think about the value of our houses. And where to go on holiday.

World Faces Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945 – UN (G.)

The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine, a senior United Nations official has warned. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, “people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease”, Stephen O’Brien, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the security council in New York on Friday that He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid “to avert a catastrophe.” “To be precise,” O’Brien said, “we need $4.4bn by July”. Unless there was a major infusion of money, he said, children would be stunted by severe malnutrition and would not be able to go to school, gains in economic development would be reversed and “livelihoods, futures and hope lost”.

UN and food organisations define famine as when more than 30% of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day, among other criteria. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations [in 1945],” O’Brien said. “Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine.” O’Brien said the largest humanitarian crisis was in Yemen where two-thirds of the population — 18.8 million people — need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and did not know where their next meal would come from. “That is three million people more than in January,” he said.

[..] For 2017, O’Brien said $2.1bn was needed to reach 12 million Yemenis “with life-saving assistance and protection” but only 6% has been received so far. He announced that secretary-general Antonio Guterres will chair a pledging conference for Yemen on 25 April in Geneva. The UN humanitarian chief also visited South Sudan, the world’s newest nation which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war, and said “the situation is worse than it has ever been.” “The famine in South Sudan is man-made,” he said. “Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine — as are those not intervening to make the violence stop.” O’Brien said more than 7.5 million people need aid, up by 1.4 million from last year, and about 3.4 million South Sudanese are displaced by fighting including almost 200,000 who have fled the country since January.

“More than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country, including 270,000 children who face the imminent risk of death should they not be reached in time with assistance,” he said.

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