Sep 062017
 
 September 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Summer evening 1947

 

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)
Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)
The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)
Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)
Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)
UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)
Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)
Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)
Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)
The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)
Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)
European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)
Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

 

 

Tropical storm José is close behind, and the next one, Katia, is forming in the Gulf. Prayers. The Saffir-Simpson scale doesn’t go to 6, or Irma would be that. 5++ for now.

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history bore down on the islands of the north-east Caribbean on Tuesday night local time, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend. At the far north-eastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda cut power and urged residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma’s first contact with land early on Wednesday. Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.” The category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185mph (295kph) by early Tuesday evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.

Category 5 hurricanes are rare and are capable of inflicting life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall. Hurricane Harvey, which last week devastated Houston, was category 4. Other islands in the path of the storm included the US and British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying British island territory of about 15,000 people. US president Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is one degree celsius (1.8F) warmer than normal. The 26C (79F) water that hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep (80m), said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground.

Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Hurricane Allen hit 190mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185mph winds.

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‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’

Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)

The Australian mortgage market has “ballooned” due to banks issuing new loans against unrealised capital gains of existing investment properties, creating a $1.7 trillion “house of cards”, a new report warns. The report, “The Big Rort”, by LF Economics founder Lindsay David, argues Australian banks’ use of “combined loan to value ratio” — less common in other countries — makes it easy for investors to accumulate “multiple properties in a relatively short period of time despite high house prices relative to income”. “The use of unrealised capital gain (equity) of one property to secure financing to purchase another property in Australia is extreme,” the report says. “This approach allows lenders to report the cross-collateral security of one property which is then used as collateral against the total loan size to purchase another property. This approach substitutes as a cash deposit.

“This has exacerbated risks in the housing market as little to no cash deposits are used.” The report describes the system as a “classic mortgage Ponzi finance model”, with newly purchased properties often generating net rental income losses, adversely impacting upon cash flows. “Profitability is therefore predicated upon ever-rising housing prices,” the report says. “When house prices have fallen in a local market, many borrowers were unable to service the principal on their mortgages when the interest only period expires or are unable to roll over the interest-only period.” LF Economics argues that while international money markets have until now provided “remarkably affordable funding” enabling Australian banks to issue “large and risky loans”, there is a growing risk the wholesale lending community will walk away from the Australian banking system.

“[Many] international wholesale lenders … may find out the hard way that they have invested into nothing more than a $1.7 trillion ‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’,” the report says. The report largely sheets the blame home to Australia’s financial regulators, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. “ASIC and APRA have failed to protect borrowers from predatory and illegal lending practices,” it says. “Although ASIC has no official ‘duty of care’, APRA does, and will have some serious questions to answer in relation to systemic criminality within the mortgage market committed by the financial institutions they regulate. The evidence strongly suggests the regulators have done nothing to combat white-collar criminality in the mortgage market.”

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Because the world doesn’t know what it is.

The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)

The Great Recession may be over, but eight years later we can still see the deep scars and unhealed wounds it left on the global economy. In an attempt to prevent an unpleasant revisit to the Stone Age, global governments have bailed out banks and the private sector. These bailouts and subsequent stimuli swelled global government debt, which jumped 75%, to $58 trillion in 2014 from $33 trillion in 2007. (These numbers, from McKinsey, are the latest, but it’s fair to say they have not shrunk since.) There’s a lot about today’s environment that doesn’t fit neatly into economic theory. Ballooning government debt should have brought higher – much higher – interest rates. But central banks bought the bonds of their respective governments and corporations, driving interest rates down to the point at which a quarter of global government debt now “pays” negative interest.

The concept of positive interest rates is straightforward. You take your savings, which you amass by forgoing current consumption — not buying a newer car or making fewer trips to fancy restaurants — and lend it to someone. In exchange for your sacrifice, you receive interest payments. With negative interest rates, something quite different happens: You lend $100 to your neighbor. A year later the neighbor knocks on your door and, with a smile on his face, repays that $100 loan by writing you a check for $95. You had to pay $5 for forgoing your consumption of $100 for a year. The key takeaway: negative and near-zero interest rates show central banks’ desperation to avoid deflation. More important, they highlight the bleak state of the global economy. In theory, low- and negative interest rates were supposed to reduce savings and stimulate spending.

In practice, the opposite has happened: The savings rate has gone up. As interest rates on their deposits declined, consumers felt that now they had to save more to earn the same income. Go figure. Some countries resort to negative interest rates because they want to devalue their currencies. This strategy suffers from what economists call the fallacy of composition: the mistaken assumption that what is true of one member of a group is true for the group as a whole. As a country adopts negative interest rates, its currency will decline against others — arguably stimulating its export sector (at the expense of other countries). But there is absolutely nothing proprietary about this strategy: Other governments will do the same, and in the end all will experience lowered consumption and a higher savings rate.

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Draghi seeks to protect Europe’s biggest banks, but he can’t. Not anymore.

Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)

The European Central Bank may not have as much flexibility left in its bond-buying program as Mario Draghi insists. As the Governing Council kicks off discussion about the future of its asset purchases, the question that will loom large is how much wiggle room policy makers have to extend their 2.3 trillion-euro program ($2.7 trillion). Not much, according to two economists. They believe the ECB’s decision to wind down bond buying next year will be a matter of necessity rather a choice. “Bond scarcity is increasing in more and more countries,” says Louis Harreau, an ECB strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in Paris. “The ECB will be forced to reduce its QE regardless of economic conditions, simply because it has no more bonds to purchase.”

But working out how much space the central bank still has is fiendishly hard. That’s because the asset-purchase program is like a three-dimensional game of chess spread over bonds from 18 euro-area states. The 19th member, Greece, is excluded from the program. The first rule the ECB could trip over is the one that prohibits the accumulation of more than 33% of debt from a single country. Germany could hit this mark as early as spring if the current pace of purchases is maintained, says Commerzbank Chief Economist Joerg Kraemer. It’s long been a red line for Draghi and revisiting it now when the program is awaiting a review at the European Union’s highest court could be particularly tricky.

Yet some rules of the program are more malleable, giving the ECB potential leeway. The euro-area central banks have quotas to meet in buying each nation’s debt based on the size of their economies. But they can deviate from those capital-key guidelines and have done so for months now. A good example is Germany, where debt-buying last month hit the lowest level since the program started more than two years ago. According to Harreau, the ECB could deviate from the capital key by a total of €5 billion a month, twice the amount they do now. That could ease the strain for some countries, but would still require the program to be wound down by the end of next year, he says.

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By the time Brexit is reality, they’ll need to lay them off anyway.

Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)

Frankfurt and Dublin are emerging as the clear favorites for post-Brexit relocation among U.K.-based banks, according to a top official at Germany’s central bank. “From the discussions I have, it is my clear impression that Dublin and Frankfurt are the two cities where there is most interest (from City lenders). We have received quite a number of applications,” Andreas Dombret, an executive board member at the German Bundesbank, told CNBC on Tuesday. “We encourage the banks to finalize their thinking, especially the ones that have not done so, and to really think where they want to move and how they want to move … Let’s all not try to walk through the same narrow door in the 11th hour,” he added. Britain’s financial services industry has been quietly preparing for Brexit given that it’s likely to lose its EU passporting rights – these are special licenses that allow U.K.-based banks to sell their services across the whole of the EU.

The negotiations between London and Brussels are still ongoing and it remains unclear how many employees will have to be moved from London to other European cities. At the moment, the disruption appears to be minimal compared to the overall size of the industry. But there are clear winners from the exit of some jobs from London with Frankfurt and Dublin perceived to be the top destinations for institutions that wish to continue working with clients across the EU. When asked whether vulnerable European banks could trigger a systemic crisis across the continent, Dombret said that such a prospect “doesn’t keep me up at night.” “I’m not that worried about a systemic crisis at all. There are regions, there are sectors and there are certain banks in certain countries which are more exposed than others but it is not a system wide or country wide issue,” he said.

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An event that shapes an entire nation is negotiated by just one segment of its population. Not even a majority at that.

UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit planning suffered a double blow as a top European Union official doubted that trade talks will start next month and the opposition Labour Party prepared to challenge key legislation. The EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told German lawmakers that she’s skeptical officials will be able to begin discussing a trade deal in October, as they had hoped, according to two people present at the briefing. Her warning emerged as Labour announced it will seek to block May’s plan for a post-Brexit legal regime in London. May also has to contend with a leak of a draft plan for new immigration rules, which would end the free movement of workers on the day Britain leaves the EU, and impose restrictions on all but highly skilled workers from the region.

The 82-page document, obtained by The Guardian, said immigration should not just benefit the migrants, but “make existing residents better off.” The fresh trouble at home and abroad exposes how hard May is finding it to extricate the U.K. from the EU just days after the latest round of negotiations ended in acrimony with the two sides at odds over how much Britain should pay when it quits the bloc. [..] The EU has said it will not shift to discussing the sweeping new free-trade agreement that the U.K. wants until “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues – including the financial settlement, the rights of citizens and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Labour is challenging the government’s argument that with a shrinking amount of time available, ministers should be handed the power to revise aspects of EU law without full parliamentary scrutiny. As May has no majority in Parliament, she’d be vulnerable to rebels from her own Conservative side, and some Tories, including former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, have already expressed reservations about this aspect of the bill. If amendments to the bill mean ministers have to get parliamentary approval for each regulation, they risk being held up by constant roadblocks.

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In the hands of Congress now.

Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday night said he would “revisit” the Obama-era policy shielding hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation in six months if Congress cannot legalize it. It is unclear what action Trump would take if he decided to again address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that he said he would end Tuesday with a six-month delay. However, his tweeted comment appears to cloud his view on the issue after a day in which he and his administration vehemently criticized President Barack Obama’s authority to implement the policy. Trump’s decision set up a potential rush for lawmakers to pass a bill protecting so-called dreamers before the Trump administration’s deadline. It is unclear if the GOP-led Congress, members of which voted to sink similar legislation in the past, can do so in the near future as it faces multiple crucial deadlines to approve legislation.

In a statement earlier Tuesday, Trump said he looks forward “to working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to finally address all of these issues in a manner that puts the hardworking citizens of our country first.” “As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful democratic process — while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve. We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans,” Trump said. Trump allies like Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged him to end DACA, arguing it will be difficult to defend in court. “Simply put, if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach,” Sessions said Tuesday in announcing the move.

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“They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has warned that the escalating North Korean crisis could cause a “planetary catastrophe” and huge loss of life, and described US proposals for further sanctions on Pyongyang as “useless”. “Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end,” he told reporters in China. “It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue.” On Sunday, North Korea carried out its sixth and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date. The underground blast triggered a magnitude-6.3 earthquake and was more powerful than the bombs dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war. Putin was attending the Brics summit, bringing together the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Speaking on Tuesday, the final day of the summit in Xiamen, China, he said Russia condemned North Korea’s provocations but said further sanctions would be useless and ineffective, describing the measures as a “road to nowhere”. Foreign interventions in Iraq and Libya had convinced the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that he needed nuclear weapons to survive, Putin said. “We all remember what happened with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. His children were killed, I think his grandson was shot, the whole country was destroyed and Saddam Hussein was hanged … We all know how this happened and people in North Korea remember well what happened in Iraq. “They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

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History does talk. Jimmy Carter was replaced with “We came, we saw, he died.”

Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)

The 1994 agreement was the United States’ response to a regional political crisis that began that year when North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires non-nuclear states to agree never to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. Although it had no nuclear weapon, North Korea was producing plutonium, an action that almost led the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike against its plutonium facility. That war was averted when Jimmy Carter made a surprise trip to Pyongyang and met with North Korea’s founder and leader at the time, Kim Il-sung (he died a few months later, and his power was inherited by his son, Kim Jong-il). The framework was signed in October 1994, ending “three years of on and off vilification, stalemates, brinkmanship, saber-rattling, threats of force, and intense negotiations,” Park Kun-young, a professor of international relations at Korea Catholic University, wrote in a 2009 history of the negotiations.

In addition to shutting its one operating reactor, Yongbyon, the North also stopped construction of two large reactors “that together were capable of generating 30 bombs’ worth of plutonium a year,” according to Leon V. Sigal, a former State Department official who helped negotiate the 1994 framework and directs a Northeast Asia security project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. Most important for the United States, it remained in the NPT. In exchange for North Korea’s concessions, the United States agreed to provide 500,000 tons a year of heavy fuel oil to North Korea as well two commercial light-water reactors considered more “proliferation resistant” than the Soviet-era heavy-water facility the North was using. The new reactors were to be built in 2003 by a US/Japanese/South Korean consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO. (The reactors, however, were never completed).

[..] First, the Agreed Framework led North Korea to halt its plutonium-based nuclear-weapons program for over a decade, forgoing enough enrichment to make over 100 nuclear bombs. “What people don’t know is that North Korea made no fissible material whatsoever from 1991 to 2003,” says Sigal. (The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in 1994 that the North had ceased production of plutonium three years earlier.) “A lot of this history” about North Korea, Sigal adds with a sigh, “is in the land of make-believe.” Second, the framework remained in effect well into the Bush administration. In 1998, the State Department’s Rust Deming testified to Congress that “there is no fundamental violation of any aspect of the framework agreement”; four years later, a similar pledge was made by Bush’s then–Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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“Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth..”

The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)

These are not the bad guys. The bad guys are the ones refusing to respect the sovereignty of North Korea or any other nation under the sun. The bad guys are the ones invading sovereign nations at will and slaughtering civilians with explosives dropped from flying killing machines. The fact that something so simple and so obvious is not universally known in America speaks to the phenomenal efficacy of its corporate media propaganda machine. Because of that propaganda machine, Americans sincerely think that the bad guys are the tiny little nations that America bullies in proxy conflicts to maintain global hegemony. They’re watching Star Wars and cheering for the stormtroopers.

Because of the neoconservative American supremacist doctrine that the US power establishment has espoused, America has given itself the authority to intervene in any government’s affairs at any time and for any reason. This doctrine of American supremacy is founded on the belief that the United States was selected by destiny to lead the world when it won the Cold War, a divine right of sorts to dominion over the entire planet. This is the real evil. The North Koreans aren’t the bad guys, and the South Koreans want to get along with them. They’re sick of being in a constant state of war, they want dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea by a nearly four to one margin, and they staged large protests against America’s missile defense system which at one point mobilized 8,000 riot police to remove protesters from a South Korean THAAD site.

These are the people who are actually putting their lives on the line with Seoul’s close proximity to the DMZ, and they want peace and de-escalation. They should be allowed to have that, but their US-backed government is talking about bringing American tactical nukes back to the Korean Peninsula. [..] Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth, throughout their schooling and by every screen they interact with throughout their day; it’s a testament to their good will that the elites are forced to put on this Scooby Doo haunted house song and dance every time.

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The Mussolini kind.

Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)

The time for rhetorical reservations is over. Things have to be called by their name to make it possible for a co-ordinated democratic reaction to be initiated, above all in the public services. Liberalism was a doctrine derived from the philosophy of Enlightenment, at once political and economic, which aimed at imposing on the state the necessary distance for ensuring respect for liberties and the coming of democratic emancipation. It was the motor for the arrival, and the continuing progress, of Western democracies. Neoliberalism is a form of economism in our day that strikes at every moment and every sector of our community. It is a form of extremism. Fascism may be defined as the subordination of every part of the State to a totalitarian and nihilistic ideology.

I argue that neoliberalism is a species of fascism because the economy has brought under subjection not only the government of democratic countries but also every aspect of our thought. The state is now at the disposal of the economy and of finance, which treat it as a subordinate and lord over it to an extent that puts the common good in jeopardy. The austerity that is demanded by the financial milieu has become a supreme value, replacing politics. Saving money precludes pursuing any other public objective. It is reaching the point where claims are being made that the principle of budgetary orthodoxy should be included in state constitutions. A mockery is being made of the notion of public service. The nihilism that results from this makes possible the dismissal of universalism and the most evident humanistic values: solidarity, fraternity, integration and respect for all and for differences.

There is no place any more even for classical economic theory: work was formerly an element in demand, and to that extent there was respect for workers; international finance has made of it a mere adjustment variable. Every totalitarianism starts as distortion of language, as depicted accurately in George Orwell’s 1984. Neoliberalism has its Newspeak and strategies of communication that enable it to deform reality. In this spirit, every budgetary cut is represented as an instance of modernisation of the sectors concerned. If some of the most deprived are no longer reimbursed for medical expenses and so stop visiting the dentist, this is modernisation of social security in action.

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The EU seeks to forcefully redefine ‘sovereignty’, like it did in Greece. That will not end well. Even if these countries gave in and admitted refugees, how would they be treated?

European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)

The EU’s top court on Wednesday dismissed a challenge by eastern European members over the bloc’s mandatory refugee quota program. The ruling means that Hungary and Slovakia could face fines if they refuse to abide by the quota system. The ruling is a victory for EU immigration policy, which has divided the bloc as nearly 1.7 million people arrived from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary argue the mandatory quota system violates their sovereignty and threatens their societies. The legal challenge was also backed by Poland, which alongside Hungary has not taken in any asylum seekers. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have only taken in a few dozen asylum seekers. Only 24,000 of 160,000 refugees from frontline Mediterranean states like Greece and Italy have been transferred to other states under the EU’s refugee burden sharing policy agreed to in 2015.

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Because they have farmland to spare?

Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

China will expand its agricultural use of environment-damaging plastic film to boost crop production even as authorities try to curb soil pollution, a government scientist said. Some 1.45 million metric tons of polyethylene are spread in razor-thin sheets across 20 million hectares (49 million acres) — an area about half the size of California — of farmland in China. Use of the translucent material may exceed 2 million tons by 2024 and cover 22 million hectares, according to Yan Changrong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The plastic sheets, used as mulch over 12% of China’s farmland, are growing in popularity because they trap moisture and heat, and prevent weeds and pests. Those features can bolster cotton, maize and wheat yields, while enabling crops to be grown across a wider area.

“The technology can boost yields by 30%, so you can image how much extra production we can get — it can solve the problems of producing sufficient food and fiber,” Yan said in an interview at his office at the academy’s Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture. The downside is that polypropylene film isn’t biodegradable and often not recycled. Potentially cancer-causing toxins can be released into the soil from the plastic residue, known locally as “white pollution,” which is present at levels of 60-to-300 kilograms (132-to-661 pounds) per hectare in some provinces. [..] Regrettably, there are no viable alternatives to polyethylene that possess the same agronomic advantages. That means farmers are compelled to keep using it to boost production and income, said Yan, as he flicked through slides showing pollution in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

The material enables crops to be grown in both drier and colder environments. In Xinjiang, which accounts for almost 70% of the country’s cotton output, plastic mulch is used on all cotton farms; and across 93% of the country’s tobacco fields, he said. The film reduces water demand by 20-to-30%.

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Aug 132016
 
 August 13, 2016  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 13 2016
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Harris&Ewing Red Cross Motor Corps, Washington, DC 1917

The Central Bank Bubble And The Suspension Of Reality (CNBC)
US Farmland Bubble Bursts As Ag Credit Conditions Crumble (ZH)
China Property Oversupply Dampens Growth Outlook (R.)
IMF Says China’s Credit Growth Is Unsustainable (R.)
Negative Rates Reduce Japan Big Banks’ Profits By $2.96 Billion (R.)
Airing The IMF’s Dirty European Laundry (Eichengreen)
UK Treasury To Guarantee Post-Brexit Funding For EU-Backed Projects (G.)
The Scandalous Changes To Company Pension Schemes (G.)
Is Deutsche Bank Kaputt? (Dowd)
Polls Suggest Iceland’s Pirate Party May Form Next Government (G.)
An Incredibly Simple Idea To Help The Homeless (WaPo)

 

 

There are no markets and there are no investors.

The Central Bank Bubble And The Suspension Of Reality (CNBC)

In the middle of a prolonged period of negative real interest rates and loose monetary policy aimed at managing inflation and helping economies, fears are rising that asset bubbles are being created. “We’ve lost our way so we look to central banks, who give us massively loose monetary policy and that’s the little bubble we’re living in,” David Bloom, head of currency strategy at HSBC, told CNBC. New records are constantly being set in the markets, with Thursday’s close of the S&P, up 0.47 percent at 2,185.79, yet another new top. This is happening despite low productivity and growth in the U.S. economy. Analysts at UBS see “scope for the markets to run further still over the near-term” because of central banks’ policies in the developed world.

And it’s not just their own economies which are being helped by these actions. Emerging markets are benefitting too, as investors search for better returns on their money than in the low-growth developed economies and safe havens like U.K. bonds (gilts) and U.S. bonds (Treasurys). “All markets are running – that’s what happens when you have ultra-loose monetary policy and the central banks are handing over money,” Bloom said. “QE distorts markets completely.” Asset classes which are usually closely correlated have lost their usual connections. Examples include cash and equities, both at record highs despite one usually being strong while the other is weak, and oil and gold, which usually move together as they are both pegged to the U.S. dollar, but have diverged as investors pile in to gold.

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Falling land ‘value’ is one thing, falling income is another.

US Farmland Bubble Bursts As Ag Credit Conditions Crumble (ZH)

Aside from a brief pause during the “great recession” of 2009, Midwest farmland prices have been bubbling up for over a decade with annual price increases of 15%-30% in many years. Private Equity and low interest rates no doubt played a role in creating the farmland bubble as “excess cash on the sidelines” sought out investments in hard assets. No matter the cause, data continues to indicate that the farmland bubble is bursting. 2Q 2016 agricultural updates from the Federal Reserve Banks of Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis indicate continued income, credit and farmland price deterioration for Midwest farmers. Lender surveys also suggest that as many as 30% of Midwest farmers are having problems paying loan balances.

Declining asset values and incomes have also caused banks to tighten lending standards which has only served to accelerate the decline. In Kansas’ 10th District (which includes MO, OK, KS, NE), values of non-irrigated and irrigated cropland declined 3% and 5%, respectively, in 2Q 2016. In fact, 2Q 2016 marks the 6th consecutive quarter of YoY declines for irrigated cropland values. Between 2002 to 2014, the value of both irrigated and non-irrigated cropland declined in only one other time in 3Q 2009. Farmland prices in Chicago’s 7th District (IL, IN, IA, MI, WI) paint a similar picture. Before price declines in 2014 and 2015, farmland prices in the 7th District had only declined YoY in 4 other years since 1965.

Respondents to the Tenth District Survey of Agricultural Credit Conditions indicated farm income in the quarter continued to tighten. Nearly 75% of surveyed bankers reported farm income was less than a year ago, although the% of bankers that reported weaker farm income declined slightly from the first quarter (Chart 1). Respondents also noted that agricultural producers continued to reduce capital and household spending as profit margins generally remained weak. Bankers also indicated they expect farm income to remain weak in the third quarter. Similar to last year, a significant number of bankers in each District state expect farm income in the third quarter to be less than a year earlier.

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Whack-a-mole Beijing-style.

China Property Oversupply Dampens Growth Outlook (R.)

Growth in China’s property investment slowed over January to July, even as the government scrambled to balance an increasingly stratified sector, clouding the outlook for China’s economic expansion in the second half of the year. Property investment in January-July rose 5.3% from a year earlier, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Friday, slowing from an increase of 6.1% in January-June, while property sales by floor area grew 26.4%, down from 27.9%. Some analysts believe an oversupply problem still remains largely unresolved, especially in China’s smaller cities. “Today’s data shows that a nation-wide oversupply problem still exists, which will continue putting downward pressure on future growth,” Wendy Chen, macroeconomist at Nomura told Reuters.

China’s property sector had a hot start to the year after slowing in 2015, as monetary easing and stimulus measures took effect. However, the upward trend in investment and sales is proving to be unsustainable, as more first and second tier cities adopt stiffer measures to dampen fast-rising prices, while smaller Chinese cities struggle to clear overhanging housing inventory. Home price gains also have started to slow, as cities start to tighten policies amid signs of overheating in the largest cities. With property investment growth losing momentum and private investment growth remaining stubbornly sluggish, China’s economic growth outlook for the second half looks increasingly gloomy. “China’s property sector is extremely unbalanced, which leads to more control in overheated first and second tier cities while less developed third and fourth tier cities are struggling to clear inventory,” said Liao Qun, chief economist at CITIC Bank International.

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“..non-financial state-owned enterprises accounted for half of bank credit but only a fifth of industrial output..”

IMF Says China’s Credit Growth Is Unsustainable (R.)

The IMF on Friday said China needed to slow its unsustainable credit growth and stop financing weak firms. China’s corporate debt is still manageable, but at approximately 145% of GDP, it is high by any measure,” said James Daniel, IMF Mission Chief for China, in the fund’s annual review of the country. The IMF has urged China to tackle the root causes of its credit growth risk by easing back on unsustainably high growth targets and lax budget constraints, particularly on local governments and state-owned enterprises. “This in turn requires a comprehensive strategy and decisive measures to address the corporate debt problem,” the IMF’s Daniel said.

China’s non-financial state-owned enterprises accounted for half of bank credit but only a fifth of industrial output, the report said, suggesting non-viable SOEs be liquidated and viable ones restructured. Defaults and downgrades have increased and around 14% of debt was held by firms with profit levels below their interest payments, the report said, with credit growth growing twice as fast as nominal GDP. The report reflected views provided by Chinese policymakers who agreed with the IMF that corporate debt had increased “excessively”. However, they argued China’s large pool of domestic savings, banking system buffers, and continued equity market development would ensure a smooth adjustment, the report said.

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Stuffed.

Negative Rates Reduce Japan Big Banks’ Profits By $2.96 Billion (R.)

Japan’s financial watchdog estimates that negative interest rates under the Bank of Japan’s monetary easing policy will reduce profits for the country’s three big banks by at least 300 billion yen ($2.96 billion) for the year through March 2017, the Nikkei business daily reported on Saturday. The Financial Services Agency (FSA) expressed concern to the BOJ regarding the situation as it sees reduced profits weakening the banks’ ability to extend loans, the Nikkei said. If the BOJ was to take interest rates deeper into negative terrain, the agency reckoned that the banks would suffer substantial further drops in profit as their interest rate income would suffer.

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Discussing IMF ‘mistakes’ without paying attention to the victims is dishonest.

Airing The IMF’s Dirty European Laundry (Eichengreen)

[..] the report goes on to criticise the IMF for acquiescing to European resistance to debt restructuring by Greece in 2010; and for setting ambitious targets for fiscal consolidation – necessary if debt restructuring was to be avoided – but underestimating austerity’s damaging economic effects. More interestingly, the report then asks how the IMF should coordinate its operations with regional bodies such as the European commission and the ECB, the other members of the so-called troika of Greece’s official creditors. The report rejects claims that the IMF was effectively a junior member of the troika, insisting that all decisions were made by consensus.

That is difficult to square with everything we know about the fateful decision not to restructure Greece’s debt. IMF staff favoured restructuring, but the European commission and the ECB, which put up two-thirds of the money, ultimately had their way. He who has the largest wallet speaks with the loudest voice. In other words, there are different roads to “consensus”. The Fund encountered the same problem in 2008, when it insisted on currency devaluation as part of an IMF-EU program for Latvia. In the end, it felt compelled to defer to the EU’s opposition to devaluation, because it contributed only 20% of the funds.

The implication is that the IMF should not participate in a programme to which it contributes only a minority share of the finance, but expecting it to provide majority funding implies the need to expand its financial resources. This is something that the IEO report evidently regarded as beyond its mandate – or too sensitive – to discuss. Was the ECB even on the right side of the table in the European debt discussions? When negotiating with a country, the IMF ordinarily demands conditions of its government and central bank. In its programmes for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, however, it and the central bank demanded conditions of the government. This struck more than a few people as bizarre.

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What you can do when you have your own currency.

UK Treasury To Guarantee Post-Brexit Funding For EU-Backed Projects (G.)

Philip Hammond is to guarantee billions of pounds of UK government investment after Brexit for projects currently funded by the EU, including science grants and agricultural subsidies. The chancellor’s funding commitment is designed to give a boost to the economy in what he expects to be a difficult period after the surprise result of the EU referendum in June. The Treasury is expected to continue its funding beyond the UK’s departure from the EU for all structural and investment fund projects, as long as they are agreed before the autumn statement. If a project obtains EU funding after that, an assessment process by the Treasury will determine whether funding should be guaranteed by the UK government post-Brexit.

Current levels of agriculture funding will also be guaranteed until 2020, when the Treasury says there will be a “transition to new domestic arrangements”. Universities and researchers will have funds guaranteed for research bids made directly to the European commission, including bids to the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, an €80bn (£69bn) pot for science and innovation. The Treasury says it will underwrite the funding awards, even when projects continue post-Brexit. Hammond said the government recognised the need to assuage fears in industry and in the science and research sectors that funding would be dramatically reduced post-Brexit.

“We recognise that many organisations across the UK which are in receipt of EU funding, or expect to start receiving funding, want reassurance about the flow of funding they will receive,” he said. “The government will also match the current level of agricultural funding until 2020, providing certainty to our agricultural community, who play a vital role in our country.” The chancellor added: “We are determined to ensure that people have stability and certainty in the period leading up to our departure from the EU and that we use the opportunities that departure presents to determine our own priorities.”

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You cannot taper a Ponzi scheme.

The Scandalous Changes To Company Pension Schemes (G.)

A man in his 40s receives a pension projection that tells him his retirement income is going to collapse from the £38,000 he was expecting to £18,000. His company is having to find a sum equal to 45% of his salary to keep the pension scheme going, a crucifying amount for any employer, and the costs will keep on spiralling. It says it has no choice but to slash the scheme to ribbons. This is the sort of dilemma facing the workers, and bosses, of Royal Mail and the Post Office. Strike action is looming – and quite rightly too, because the cuts are equivalent to someone losing £200,000 or even £300,000 over the course of their retirement.

We are about to enter a new era of trench warfare over pensions. The early battles were easy victories for the employers. They decided to close their final-salary schemes to new entrants, but existing workers were protected and were able to carry on chalking up their entitlement to, let’s face it, rather generous retirement payouts. Nobody seemed to care too much about the millennials who were missing out on what their parents took for granted. Next came the more thorny shift from paying out pensions based on final salaries at age 60 or 65 to cheaper ones based on a “career average” salary. Again the employers won, but it was more bruising.

But now we’re moving into far more dangerous territory. The employers have begun to target existing workers, many in their 40s and 50s, who are in these career average schemes, saying: “You can keep what you’ve built up so far, but nothing beyond that.” In pensions terminology it’s called stopping “future accruals”; Royal Mail, the Post Office and Marks & Spencer are all considering it. To these companies it’s a foregone conclusion. They can’t possibly afford 45% of salary as a pension contribution, or in M&S’s case 34%. The snarky retort is that they’ll always find the money to pay silly sums into their chief executive’s pension, but not for the workers.

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This is just the last paragraph of another long and detailed piece by Kevin Dowd on Deutsche.

Is Deutsche Bank Kaputt? (Dowd)

So what’s next for the world’s most systemically dangerous bank? At the risk of having to eat my words, I can’t see Deutsche continuing to operate for much longer without some intervention: chronic has become acute. Besides its balance sheet problems, there is a cost of funding that exceeds its return on assets, its poor risk management, its antiquated IT legacy infrastructure, its inability to manage its own complexity and its collapsing profits — and thepeak pain is still to hit. Deutsche reminds me of nothing more than a boxer on the ropes: one more blow could knock him out. If am I correct, there are only three policy possibilities. #1 Deutsche will be allowed to fail, #2 it will be bailed-in and #3 it will be bailed-out.

We can rule out #1: the German/ECB authorities allowing Deutsche to go into bankruptcy. They would be worried that that would trigger a collapse of the European financial system and they can’t afford to take the risk. Deutsche is too-big-to-fail. Their preferred option would be #2, a bail-in, the only resolution procedure allowed under EU rules, but this won’t work. Authorities would be afraid to upset bail-in-able investors and there isn’t enough bail-in-able capital anyway. Which consideration leads to the policy option of last resort — a good-old bad-old taxpayer-financed bail-out. Never mind that EU rules don’t allow it and never mind that we were promised never again. Never mind, whatever it takes.

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“.. it also aims to boost the youth vote by persuading the company developing Pokémon Go in Iceland to turn polling stations into Pokéstops.”

Polls Suggest Iceland’s Pirate Party May Form Next Government (G.)

One of Europe’s most radical political parties is expected to gain its first taste of power after Iceland’s ruling coalition and opposition agreed to hold early elections caused by the Panama Papers scandal in October. The Pirate party, whose platform includes direct democracy, greater government transparency, a new national constitution and asylum for US whistleblower Edward Snowden, will field candidates in every constituency and has been at or near the top of every opinion poll for over a year. As befits a movement dedicated to reinventing democracy through new technology, it also aims to boost the youth vote by persuading the company developing Pokémon Go in Iceland to turn polling stations into Pokéstops.

“It’s gradually dawning on us, what’s happening,” Birgitta Jonsdottir, leader of the Pirates’ parliamentary group, told the Guardian. “It’s strange and very exciting. But we are well prepared now. This is about change driven not by fear but by courage and hope. We are popular, not populist.” The election, likely to be held on 29 October, follows the resignation of Iceland’s former prime minister, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who became the first major victim of the Panama Papers in April after the leaked legal documents revealed he had millions of pounds of family money offshore. In the face of some of the largest protests the small North Atlantic island had ever seen, the ruling Progressive and Independence parties replaced Gunnlaugsson with the agriculture and fisheries minister, Sigurdur Johansson, and promised elections before the end of the year.

Founded four years ago by a group of activists and hackers as part of an international anti-copyright movement, Iceland’s Pirates captured five per cent of the vote in 2013 elections, winning three seats in the country’s 63-member parliament, the Althingi. “Then, they were clearly a protest vote against the establishment,” said Eva Heida Önnudóttir, a political scientist at the University of Iceland who compares the party’s appeal to Icelandic voters to that of Spain’s Podemos, or Syriza in Greece. “Three years later, they’ve distinguished themselves more clearly; it’s not just about protest. Even if they don’t have clear policies in many areas, people are genuinely drawn to their principles of transforming democracy and improving transparency.”

Propelled by public outrage at what is widely perceived as endemic cronyism in Icelandic politics and the seeming impunity of the country’s wealthy few, support for the party – which hangs a skull-and-crossbones flag in its parliamentary office – has rocketed. A poll of polls for the online news outlet Kjarninn in late June had the Pirates comfortably the country’s largest party on 28.3%, four points clear of their closest rival, Gunnlaugsson’s conservative Independence party. That lead has since narrowed slightly but most analysts are confident the Pirates will return between 18 and 20 MPs to the Althingi in October, putting them in a strong position to form Iceland’s next government.

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“One man told him no one had said a kind word to him in 25 years.”

An Incredibly Simple Idea To Help The Homeless (WaPo)

Republican Mayor Richard Berry was driving around Albuquerque last year when he saw a man on a street corner holding a sign that read: “Want a Job. Anything Helps.” Throughout his administration, as part of a push to connect the homeless population to services, Berry had taken to driving through the city to talk to panhandlers about their lives. His city’s poorest residents told him they didn’t want to be on the streets begging for money, but they didn’t know where else to go. Seeing that sign gave Berry an idea. Instead of asking them, many of whom feel dispirited, to go out looking for work, the city could bring the work to them.

Next month will be the first anniversary of Albuquerque’s There’s a Better Way program, which hires panhandlers for day jobs beautifying the city. In partnership with a local nonprofit that serves the homeless population, a van is dispatched around the city to pick up panhandlers who are interested in working. The job pays $9 an hour, which is above minimum wage, and provides a lunch. At the end of the shift, the participants are offered overnight shelter as needed. In less than a year since its start, the program has given out 932 jobs clearing 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks. And more than 100 people have been connected to permanent employment. “You can just see the spiral they’ve been on to end up on the corner. Sometimes it takes a little catalyst in their lives to stop the downward spiral, to let them catch their breath, and it’s remarkable,” Berry said in an interview.

”They’ve had the dignity of work for a day; someone believed in them today.” Berry’s effort is a shift from the movement across the country to criminalize panhandling. A recent National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty report found a noticeable increase, with 24% of cities banning it altogether and 76% banning it in particular areas. There is a persisting stigma that people begging for money are either drug addicts or too lazy to work and are looking for an easy handout. But that’s not necessarily the reality. Panhandling is not especially lucrative and it’s demoralizing, but for some people it can seem as if it’s the only option. When panhandlers have been approached in Albuquerque with the offer of work, most have been eager for the opportunity to earn money, Berry said. They just needed a lift. One man told him no one had said a kind word to him in 25 years.

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May 152016
 
 May 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Jack Delano Brakeman H.B. Van Santford on the AT&SF line from Summit to San Bernardino 1943

Steve Keen Talks Debt, Trump and Gold (RT)
Economists Disagree With Voters Who See US Worse Off Today Than in 1960s (WSJ)
China: “It Appears That All The Engines Suddenly Lost Momentum” (R.)
Chinese Banks’ New Loans Plunge By More Than Half In April (R.)
Shell Eyes $40 Billion Non-Core Asset Spin-Off To Cut Its Huge Debt Pile (Tel.)
Moody’s Downgrades Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman (AP)
German Professors And Entrepreneurs File Complaint Against ECB Policy (R.)
The Vultures’ Vultures: New Hedge-Fund Strategy Corrupts Washington (HuffPo)
Farmland Values Fall Sharply in Parts of the Midwest (WSJ)
Cameron’s Anti-Brexit ‘Remain’ Campaign Has A Major Trust Issue (Ind.)
German Government Plans To Spend €93.6 Billion On Refugees By End 2020 (R.)

Very interesting. I’ve said it a thousand times: everyone should let sink in what Steve has to say. It’s curious to see that people like Max agree with everything Steve says -as far as they can understand him-, but disagree with him on gold.

Steve Keen on Debt, Trump and Gold (RT)

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No, really, this is a serious WSJ article. Economists claim they know better then you about your own situation, and the paper gives them the space to utter their blubber. “You’re not really hungry, you’re just imagining that, and your hospital bill is not REALLY higher than it was 40 years ago, and in student debt was this high in 1970 too, don’t you remember?!”

Economists Disagree With Voters Who See US Worse Off Today Than in 1960s (WSJ)

When was America at its best? Put the question to voters and many will point as far back as the 1960s. Put the question to economists and they identify a much more recent peak in U.S. living standards. Forecasters in The Wall Street Journal’s monthly survey of business, academic and financial economists were asked to rate whether U.S. living standards were higher today or at various points in the past. Around 80% say those standards are higher today than during the 1990s or earlier. The 2016 presidential campaign has exposed worries among many voters about a U.S. in decline. The sentiment played a particular role in boosting the candidacy of businessman Donald Trump, with a campaign slogan pledging to “Make America Great Again.”

While many economists view the U.S. as not fully recovered from the recession that began in 2007 or the previous recession in 2001, that still leaves a 40-year disconnect compared to voters who see the U.S. in a half-century of decline. The Pew Research Center recently polled voters on the question “Compared with 50 years ago, life for people like you in America is better or worse?” A plurality of 46% said things were worse now. Only 34% said life today is better than in the 1960s. A Morning Consult poll asked voters whether the 1960s or 1980s were better than today. In that survey, 31% said the ‘60s were better and 37% said the 1980s were better. By contrast, 88% of economists said the U.S. is better today than in 1960 and 87% see today as better than 1980.

“Between technology and health advances, today is much better than in 1960,” said Amy Crews Cutts, chief economist at Equifax. By many of the measures economists are inclined to look at, it is not a close call. In 1960, the life expectancy of the average American was a full decade shorter than it is today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The median personal income, after adjusting for inflation, is 55% higher today than in 1960, according to the Census Bureau. These measures of overall well-being continued to rise throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Why do so many voters put such little stock in the past 50 years? Economists point to a few culprits.

First, wages or available jobs have deteriorated for some demographic groups, particularly men without a high-school diploma and men who worked in manufacturing (two groups with some overlap). Second, we have just lived through the “first decade where the average worker lost ground,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist of Naroff Economic Advisers. Overall incomes declined during the two most recent recessions, but not enough to set people back to a 1960s standard of living. About 53% of respondents in the Journal’s survey said the U.S. today is “about the same” or “worse” than it was in 2000. About 63% said the same about 2007. The survey of 70 economists was conducted from May 6 to May 10, though not every economist answered every question.

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And these are ‘official’ numbers, which for a reason that escapes me we‘re still clinging on to. So I ‘adapted’ the title.

China: “It Appears That All The Engines Suddenly Lost Momentum” (R.)

China’s investment, factory output and retail sales all grew more slowly than expected in April, adding to doubts about whether the world’s second-largest economy is stabilizing. Growth in factory output cooled to 6% in April, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Saturday, disappointing analysts who expected it to rise 6.5% on an annual basis after an increase of 6.8% the prior month. China’s fixed-asset investment growth eased to 10.5% year-on-year in the January-April period, missing market expectations of 10.9%, and down from the first quarter’s 10.7%.

Fixed investment by private firms continued to slow, indicating private businesses remain skeptical of economic prospects. Investment by private firms rose 5.2% year-on-year in January-April, down from 5.7% growth in the first quarter. “It appears that all the engines suddenly lost momentum, and growth outlook has turned soft as well,” Zhou Hao, economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, said in a research note. “At the end of the day, we have acknowledge that China is still struggling.”

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The PBoC’s bizarro explanation:“..the figures don’t include new local government bond issuance to refinance debt previously issued by local government financing vehicles.” As if to say: don’t worry, we’re still borrowing like crazy, only now half of it is to refi what we couldn’t pay back.

Chinese Banks’ New Loans Plunge By More Than Half In April (R.)

China’s central bank said it has not changed its “prudent” monetary policy stance despite a disappointing release of April data showing banks had cut back sharply on new loans. Banks made 555.6 billion yuan ($85.21 billion) in net new yuan loans in April, much lower than expected and less than half the 1.37 trillion yuan seen in March, data showed on Friday. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), in a question and answer posted on its website on Saturday, attributed the slide to seasonal and technical factors, including the fact that the figures don’t include new local government bond issuance to refinance debt previously issued by local government financing vehicles.

“If this is factored in, new loans in April were more than 900 billion yuan,” the PBOC said, in answer to a question as to whether the figures indicated a decline in the real economy. That number would match analysts previous forecasts for April. However, the bank also pointed to a decline in corporate bond financing, which came in over 500 billion less than March – while still up slightly from the same period last year, and noted that banks remain cautious given increased focus on asset quality control. “On the whole, current financial support to the real economy is still strong,” it said. “Prudent monetary policy has not changed.”

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Curious attempt to make deeply troubling problems look like great opportunities instead. Nobody wants to buy these assets and everyone knows they MUST sell, which is why Shell try to sell as much as $40 billion of it now, and in the way they do (IPO?!). And that would “..let Shell benefit from a sustained oil price recovery?!”

Shell Eyes $40 Billion Non-Core Asset Spin-Off To Cut Its Huge Debt Pile (Tel.)

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is eyeing a possible $40bn spin-off of non-core assets around the globe as it grapples with a $70bn debt pile following a takeover of BG Group earlier this year. Chief financial officer Simon Henry told analysts last week that a float of Shell’s non-core assets is “very much on the agenda”. The comments were made after the Anglo-Dutch multinational announced its intention to sell off assets totalling $30bn over the next three years in an attempt to protect its dividend, after the merger with BG left it with a stretched balance sheet. Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas are now concerned that despite its attempts to offload assets, “a dry market for asset sales leaves Shell exposed”.

Reducing Shell’s debt burden is “critical for shares to perform”, said Aneek Haq, of Exane BNP Paribas, but failure to do so may force management to “bite the bullet” and make a radical move, such as an initial public offering of the parts of Shell’s empire it wants to offload. Henry said: “There are no prima facie reasons why we would not look at such a monetisation route, if that was the best way to create value.” However, given the foundering oil price, he said it was “not obvious in today’s market” where such value would be. Unlike a divestment, an IPO of the company’s mature assets, which has been dubbed “Baby Shell” would let Shell benefit from a sustained oil price recovery. Mr Haq also believes such a move would refocus management on core assets and reduce net debt by more than $50bn over four years.

The non-core upstream assets, from markets such as the UK, Norway, New Zealand, Italy and Nigeria, are cash-generative, averaging at $4bn a year free cash flow, and adding additional assets from Kazakstan could “prove attractive for shareholders”, said Haq. Although a $40bn listing would be cumbersome, it is not unfamiliar territory. In 2014, Shell raised $920m by spinning off a pipeline of US assets, Shell Midstream Partners. Given its previous form, Henry said: “It should be clear that not only are we open to innovation, [but also] we are able to deliver such complicated deals and execute over a period of time.”

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These downgrades are expensive.

Moody’s Downgrades Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman (AP)

Saudi Arabia’s credit rating has been downgraded by Moody’s because of the long and deep slump in oil prices. Moody’s Investors Service said it also downgraded Gulf oil producers Bahrain and Oman. It left ratings unchanged for other Gulf states including Kuwait and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter. Moody’s cut the country’s long-term issuer rating one notch to A1 from Aa3 after a review that began in March. Crude prices fell from more than $100 in mid-2014 to under $30 a barrel in February, although they have recovered into the mid-$40s. Benchmark international crude settled on Friday at $47.83 a barrel.

“A combination of lower growth, higher debt levels and smaller domestic and external buffers leave the Kingdom less well positioned to weather future shocks,” Moody’s said in a note. Moody’s lowered Oman to Baa1 from A3 and Bahrain to Ba2 from Ba1. The ratings agency did not downgrade Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Abu Dhabi, but it assigned a negative outlook to each. Oil prices slumped because of production that grew faster than demand. Surging production from shale operators in the US contributed to the glut. So did OPEC, which decided in November 2014, several months after prices began falling, to continue pumping rather than give up market share.

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Germany’s Constitutional Court has been asked for opinions on the ECB a dozen times now, but not much has come of it.

German Professors And Entrepreneurs File Complaint Against ECB Policy (R.)

A group of professors and entrepreneurs in Germany filed a complaint against the ECB’s monetary policy this week at the country’s top court, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said. A complaint would open a new chapter in a long-running legal battle between the ECB and groups within the euro zone’s biggest economy who want to curb the bank’s power. A challenge to an emergency plan the ECB made at the height of the euro zone crisis is also back at Germany’s Constitutional Court after being rejected by Europe’s top court in June. The German court will make a final ruling this year. There has been widespread criticism in Germany of the ECB’s monetary policy in recent weeks, with politicians complaining that low interest rates are hitting the retirement provisions of ordinary Germans and could boost the right wing.

Welt am Sonntag said the issue in the latest complaint filed at the Constitutional Court was whether the ECB had overstepped its mandate by extensively buying government bonds and with its plan to start buying corporate bonds. The newspaper said the professors and entrepreneurs thought the ECB was starting programs that contained incalculable risks for the German central bank’s balance sheet, and hence for German taxpayers – under the pretence of reaching its inflation target of just under 2% in the medium term. “The ECB’s current policy is neither necessary nor appropriate to directly revive the economy in the euro zone by increasing the inflation rate to around 2% in terms of consumer prices,” Markus Kerber, a lawyer and professor of public finance who initiated the complaint, was quoted as saying.

Kerber said the ECB was losing sight of the principle of the “proportionality” of its measures, according to Welt am Sonntag. In March, the ECB unveiled a large stimulus package that included cutting its deposit rate deeper into negative territory, expanding it asset buying program and offering free loans to the corporate sector to stimulate growth. German central bank governor Jens Weidmann, who sits on the ECB’s Governing Council, said on Wednesday the ECB’s expansionary monetary policy stance was “justified for now” while Bundesbank board member Andreas Dombret also said the ECB’s policy was justified by a subdued growth outlook in the euro zone.

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“They may have finally gone too far. A backlash is brewing, threatening not just their current bets, but their various tax benefits too. One senior House Republican aide who’s worked closely with the hedge funds says that members of Congress have seen enough. “I think on the Fannie stuff, they’ve hurt themselves,” he said. “We’re like, fuck em. If they’re not your friends, they’re your enemies.”

The Vultures’ Vultures: New Hedge-Fund Strategy Corrupts Washington (HuffPo)

Take Robert Shapiro. A Harvard-trained political economist, Shapiro is the head of a consulting firm called Sonecon. That business card doesn’t do it for you? He’s got a few more in his wallet: Senior fellow at the Georgetown University School of Business. Adviser to the International Monetary Fund. Director of the Globalization Initiative at NDN, a progressive think tank. Shapiro, a Democrat, has advised presidents and presidential candidates, and has held powerful government posts. It stands to reason, then, that when he has thoughts on public policy, he can find an outlet ready to publish them. Recently, he’s had ideas on how the government can address the debt crisis in Puerto Rico and how it can end the conservatorship of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by moving them into the private market.

Before that, he had a take on how to deal with Argentina’s debt crisis. For all three, he produced academic-looking papers, complete with footnotes and charts. All three situations have one thing in common: If they were resolved the way Shapiro suggested, a variety of bets placed by a select group of the most politically powerful hedge funds would pay off in a huge way. In the case of Argentina, they mostly have. Fights over how to resolve the other two issues are still raging in Washington. For this article, we called Shapiro to ask on whose behalf he has been waging these intellectual battles. His answer was surprising in its honesty: He’s working with DCI Group, a political dark arts master known to be advocating on behalf of a group of powerful hedge funds that are changing how Washington works.

Shapiro, it turns out, is but one foot soldier in the hedge fund infantry. A review of public documents, tax filings and interviews with people involved finds that in each of the three campaigns, hedge funds have enlisted the same set of lobbyists, political operatives, dark money groups and think-tank experts spanning the political spectrum. No single document or set of disclosures ties all of these groups together. They don’t put out joint press releases, parade themselves around Washington as part of a coalition, or chat together on conference calls. Finding the players in this game, instead, is more a process of deduction. For a group of firms and experts to be working for vulture funds on the issue of Argentine debt is normal Washington practice. (Vulture’s meaning here isn’t pejorative: it refers to an investment strategy that feeds off of assets the market has left for dead.)

For the exact same people and groups to be working on the next big issue that these funds care about — the Puerto Rican debt crisis — could be a coincidence. But now, the hedge funds are focused on a third issue — government-sponsored enterprise reform, which refers to the effort to establish new housing finance policy in the wake of the federal takeover of lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And it’s the same political firms and the same independent experts that are once again weighing in — coincidentally, all on the side of the hedge funds. Maybe it’s all coincidence, but let’s run the traps either way.

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Make basic human needs part of speculative financial markets and mayhem is inevitable. Some things do not belong in a casino. When will we learn? When we run out of water and food?

Farmland Values Fall Sharply in Parts of the Midwest (WSJ)

Real farmland values in parts of the Midwest fell at their fastest clip in almost 30 years during the first quarter, according to a regional Federal Reserve report on Thursday. Falling crop prices have weighed on land values from Kansas to Indiana over the past two years as farm income declined and investors who had piled into the asset at the start of the decade retrenched. Three regional Federal Reserve banks all reported year-over-year declines in farmland values in their districts and said the drops would continue, though their forecasts were based on surveys taken before the recent rally in corn and soybean prices.

The St. Louis Fed region that includes parts of the U.S. agricultural heartland in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri reported the steepest decline, with the average price of “quality” farmland falling 6.4% in the quarter, the biggest decline since its survey began in 2012. The Chicago Fed said prices for similar land in its district fell 4% from a year ago, the seventh successive quarterly decline. Adjusted for inflation, prices in an area that includes parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin fell 5%, the biggest quarterly drop since 1987. Declines in the Kansas City Fed’s district, which includes Kansas and Nebraska, were less pronounced, but the bank said prices for nonirrigated cropland fell 4% in the quarter.

Though some agricultural markets have rallied in recent weeks, prices for corn and wheat are still more than 50% lower than their 2012 peak, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected that net U.S. farm income will fall this year to the lowest level in more than a decade. Commodity prices have declined as farmers in the U.S. and elsewhere harvested bumper crops, adding to already generous stockpiles. U.S. farmers have also been hit by the strength of the dollar, which has stymied demand to export their crops. The drop in land values has been accompanied by deteriorating credit conditions, with more loans taken out to cover farm operations even as repayment rates fell on existing debt.

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Wow: “Boris Johnson is trusted to tell the truth about Europe by twice as many voters as trust David Cameron..” I can’t imagine anyone trusting Boris, so what does that say about trust in Cameron?

Cameron’s Anti-Brexit ‘Remain’ Campaign Has A Major Trust Issue (Ind.)

Boris Johnson is trusted to tell the truth about Europe by twice as many voters as trust David Cameron, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent. By a two-to-one margin, 45% to 21%, voters say that Mr Johnson is “more likely to tell the truth about the EU” than Mr Cameron. By a smaller margin, 39% to 24%, campaigners for Leave generally are considered “more likely to tell the truth” than campaigners for Remain.

The Referendum Campaigns
• Following key speeches this week, Britons are more than twice as likely to say Boris Johnson would tell the truth about the EU than David Cameron (45% v 21%).
• Conservative voters also say Boris Johnson is more likely to tell the truth about the EU than the Prime Minister (42% v 27%).
• Similarly, Britons tend to say the campaigners for leaving the EU are more likely to tell the truth than the remain campaigners (39% v 24%), although a significant minority say they don’t know (38%).

The EU Referendum
• The British public remain divided over whether they would be personally better off if Britain left the EU or remained part of it (29% v 33%). Around two in five (38%) say they don’t know how the referendum outcome would personally affect them.
• There has been a rise in the proportion of Britons saying national security would be better if Britain left the EU – 42% say it would be stronger if Britain left, compared to 38% who say it would be stronger if Britain remained. This represents an increase of 7 points from March in favour of leaving (35% in March 2016).
• However, attitudes towards immigration are clear; British adults are more than twice as likely to say the government could control Britain’s borders better if it left the EU (57% v 27% if Britain remains).

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Presenting it this way makes it look like the money is lost. Presenting it as an investment would be a lot fairer.

German Government Plans To Spend €93.6 Billion On Refugees By End 2020 (R.)

Germany’s government expects to spend around €93.6 billion by the end of 2020 on costs related to the refugee crisis, a magazine said on Saturday, citing a draft from the federal finance ministry for negotiations with the country’s 16 states. The figure is likely to stoke concerns, particularly among growing anti-immigration movements, on the impact of new arrivals on Europe’s largest economy which took in more than a million people last year, many from Syria and other war zones. The numbers arriving have fallen this year, helped by a deal between the EU and Turkey that was designed to give Turks visa-free travel to Europe in return for stemming the flow of migrants.

German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel said the finance ministry’s calculations included the costs for accommodating and integrating refugees as well as tackling the root causes for people fleeing from crisis-stricken regions. Officials based their estimates on 600,000 migrants arriving this year, 400,000 next year and 300,000 in each of the following years, the report said, adding that they expected 55% of recognized refugees to have a job after five years. A spokesman for the finance ministry declined to comment on the figures but pointed to ongoing talks between the government and states, saying they would meet again on May 31 to discuss how to divide up the costs between them.

The report said that €25.7 billion would be needed for jobless payments, rent subsidies and other benefits for recognized asylum applicants by the end of 2020. Another €5.7 billion would be needed for language courses and €4.6 billion would be required for measures to help migrants get jobs, it added. The annual cost of dealing with the refugee crisis would hit €20.4 billion in 2020, up from around €16.1 billion this year, the report said.

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Sep 232015
 
 September 23, 2015  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Arthur Rothstein President Roosevelt tours drought area near Bismarck, ND 1936

Signs Point To Deepening China Distress (FT)
Shadow Finance Expansion by Chinese Banks Deepens Credit Mystery (Bloomberg)
China Flash PMI Falls To Lowest Since May 2009 (CNBC)
China’s Workers Stumble as Factories Stall (WSJ)
Xi Jinping Defends China Stock Market Interventions On First US Visit (Guardian)
China Has A Message Markets Don’t Understand (CNBC)
VW Scandal Caused Nearly 1 Million Tonnes Of Extra Pollution (Guardian)
California Tests To Include Larger Diesel Engines From Audi, Porsche (Reuters)
VW Emissions Fallout Spreads To Asia (FT)
VW Emissions Investigations To Widen to Entire Auto Industry (WSJ)
VW Emissions Cheating Affects 11 Million Cars Worldwide (WaPo)
Europe Stumbles Towards A Migrant Plan (BBC)
EU’s East-West Rift Exposed In Refugee-Sharing Plan (Reuters)
Hungary Mobilizes Troops, Prisoners, Jobless To Fence Out Refugees (Reuters)
Hollande Wrongfooted on Refugee Surge, Fearing Le Pen’s Rise (Bloomberg)
The Fed Just Made A Gigantic Mess (CNBC)
Economic Policy Often Seems To Have Little To Do With Economists. Why? (Ind.)
English Farmland Prices Double In Five Years (Guardian)
Alaska Fossil Find Points To New ‘Lost World Of Dinosaurs’ (Guardian)

“Suddenly, the debate in China has shifted from a perception of too much money sloshing round and too many reserves earning meagre returns, to a concern about the adequacy of reserves given the extent of debt — much of it hidden.”

Signs Point To Deepening China Distress

China’s foreign exchange reserves fell alarmingly in August, anywhere from $94bn to as much as $150bn according to various calculations. That was just another in a series of dramatic data points that are leading to an increasing sense both within the Middle Kingdom and without that all is not well. For a long time now many hedge funds have been short Macau, once the main beneficiary of both the Chinese propensity to gamble and the rise of China as a market for luxury goods. Then the anti-corruption campaign put a big chill on the junkets to the former Portuguese enclave, as it did on sales of everything from Rolex watches to shark fin soup and abalone in top restaurants. But now there is another strand to the story.

Macau has long been one of the more porous parts of the wall meant to keep capital flows in and out of China under strict control. For example, those who wanted to get significant amounts of money out of China would purchase a dozen watches, using their renminbi credit cards, only to return the time pieces instantly and receive cash refunds, with a discount for the jeweller’s trouble. The currency would then be converted and go straight into bank accounts and investments abroad. Today, the thesis of hedge fund managers putting on the Macau trade is that regulators will tighten up on such practices, causing further damage to Macau’s wounded economy. Suddenly, the debate in China has shifted from a perception of too much money sloshing round and too many reserves earning meagre returns, to a concern about the adequacy of reserves given the extent of debt — much of it hidden.

After all, the downdraft in the stock market was all about the use of borrowed money, invisible to regulators and almost everyone else. Meanwhile, the capital flows out of China continue. It is difficult to calculate what is prudent diversification and what is capital flight. At the same time, more alarmingly, the signs of distress in the real economy are deepening, with ripple effects far beyond the mainland. Greek shipyards, for example, report that the yards in China are desperately discounting the containers they construct. The Chinese shipbuilders have to discount to compensate for the fact they are competing against builders whose currencies have fallen dramatically against the renminbi.

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Assessing China without including the shadows is of no use at all.

Shadow Finance Expansion by Chinese Banks Deepens Credit Mystery (Bloomberg)

China’s riskier banks are investing more customer funds in financing that is kept off their loan books, making it harder for rating companies to gauge their asset quality. There has been a surge in a balance-sheet item known as receivables, which often includes shadow funding such as trusts and wealth products, said Moody’s Investors Service. Fitch Ratings said it is hard to analyze this escalation in activity. Listed banks excluding the Big Four saw short-term investments and other assets – which include receivables – jump 25% in the first half, compared with total asset growth of 12%, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Slower growth in the world’s second-largest economy coupled with “still significant” credit expansion prompted Standard & Poor’s to cut its view of the banking industry’s economic risk to negative from stable this week.

Shadow-finance assets, estimated at 41 trillion yuan ($6.4 trillion) by Moody’s at the end of 2014, have become more attractive as five interest-rate cuts by the central bank since November curbed profits from lending. “Our concern with some of these investment positions is banks are using them as a way to bypass lending restrictions,” said Grace Wu at Fitch in Hong Kong. “Unlike bank loans, they don’t get reported into loan provisions, so it’s more difficult for us to ascertain the asset quality.” The opacity of Chinese banks’ credit exposure helps explain why they are priced as if investors are expecting a nonperforming loan ratio of 10 to 12% next year, which would mark a “sizeable credit crisis” in other countries, according to Wei Hou at Sanford C. Bernstein.

The reported ratio is 1.5%, according to the China Banking Regulatory Commission. The nation’s shadow-banking industry emerged as a way for creditors to circumvent lending restrictions and for savers to attain yields higher than the legally capped deposit rate. It includes trusts, asset-management plans and wealth-management products, which package loans into products for buyers.

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As long as Xi is in the US, the homefront will keep things smooth and quiet. But this number points to contraction, even as Xi just reiterated growth is at 7%.

China Flash PMI Falls To Lowest Since May 2009 (CNBC)

The preliminary Caixin China manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to a six-and-a-half-year low of 47.0 in September, below the 47.5 forecast in a Reuters poll. This compares with a final reading of 47.3 in August, the lowest since March 2009. A print above 50 indicates an expansion in activity while one below points to a contraction. The closely-watched gauge of nationwide manufacturing activity focuses on smaller and medium-sized companies, filling a niche that isn’t covered by the official data. The decline in the flash PMI was mainly led by the new orders and new export orders sub-indexes, suggesting weak domestic and external demand. The new orders sub-index fell 0.6 percentage points to 46.0 in September, while the new export orders sub-index slipped 0.8percentage points to 45.8.

Wednesday’s data weighed on investor sentiment in Asia, with stock indices in Sydney and Seoul widening losses to more than 1% each in the morning trading session. China stocks, however, trimmed losses to 0.9%, from an over 1% decline at the open. “The principle reason for the weakening of manufacturing is tied to previous changes in factors related to external demand and prices,” said He Fan at Caixin Insight Group. “Fiscal expenditures surged in August, pointing to stronger government efforts on the fiscal policy front. Patience may be needed for policies designed to promote stabilization to demonstrate their effectiveness,” he added. A recent run of disappointing data has raised concerns around the health of China’s economy, leading several banks and international institutions to pare growth forecasts for the country.

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“..roughly 55% of China’s 1.37 billion people now live in cities, compared with just under 18% in 1978…”

China’s Workers Stumble as Factories Stall (WSJ)

For decades, an army of migrant workers drove China’s boom times, flocking to its cities to sew T-shirts, assemble iPhones, or build apartment blocks and Olympic stadiums. The arrangement helped millions of poor, rural Chinese join a new consumer class, though many also paid a heavy price. Now, many migrant workers struggle to find their footing in a downshifting economy. As factories run out of money and construction projects turn idle across China, there has been a rise in the last thing Beijing wants to see: unrest. In Xiguozhuang, a village among cornfields some 155 miles south of Beijing, it had been rare to see working-age men for much of the year. This year, however, many of the men are at home, sidelined by a fading property boom.

“Times are tough now,” said Wang Hongxing, a 39-year-old father of three who has worked at building sites across China’s northeast since his teens, but who has spent the past two months tending his farmland plot. “There are too many workers and wages are dropping.” But for other migrants, especially those of a younger generation who took jobs in factories along China’s coast, a return to farming isn’t an option. Nor do they necessarily want to join the service sector China sees as a cornerstone in its shift to a new economic model. Wang Chao dropped out of school when he was 15 and left his home in Anhui province. After a series of jobs up and down China’s east coast, he felt he had struck gold with a job in a textile factory near his hometown.

The factory closed in July. Mr. Wang, now 19, and other workers gathered recently outside the factory premises to demand back wages. He says he is owed two months’ pay, or about 2,000 yuan, or $320. The owner of the factory, which produces cheap trousers, told workers he is in deep debt and can’t afford to pay them. He couldn’t be reached to comment. Mr. Wang hopes he can find another factory job. In Shanghai, he worked in a restaurant but doesn’t want to do that again. “Factory work is so much more comfortable in comparison, and better paid,” he said. As a result of a rural-to-urban flow that many scholars say is likely the largest in history, roughly 55% of China’s 1.37 billion people now live in cities, compared with just under 18% in 1978.

The migrant workforce now numbers some 274 million but the pace of its expansion has slowed, and many economists believe China now faces a shortage of unskilled labor in urban areas. A mismatch of workers’ skills and aspirations with actual labor demand has exacerbated the problem. “There’s a broad structural imbalance in China’s labor market—a shortage of low-end labor and surfeit of high-end workers,” said Peng Xizhe, professor of population and development at Fudan University in Shanghai. “In China’s job market today, we see university graduates struggling to find work, while employers are finding it hard to fill traditional blue-collar positions.”

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“Xi peppered his speech with US cultural references from Sleepless in Seattle and House of Cards to Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway..”

Xi Jinping Defends China Stock Market Interventions On First US Visit (Guardian)

China’s president, Xi Jinping, has sought to reassure global concern about the world’s second-largest economy, defending his government’s actions in the stock market and saying growth will be maintained. “China’s economy will stay on a steady course with fairly fast growth. It’s still operating in a proper range with a growth rate of 7% … Our economy is under pressure but that is part of the path on the way toward growth,” the Chinese president said in a speech in Seattle on Tuesday, the first day of his state visit to the US. The president defended his government’s intervention into the country’s stock market saying the “recent abnormal ups and downs” in the market had now reached “a phase of self-recovery”.

Xi also reiterated there was no basis for continuing depreciation of the renminbi, saying Beijing was opposed to currency wars and would not devalue yuan to boost exports. World markets experienced more than a month of volatility after China devalued its currency, fuelling concerns about the state of the world’s No 2 economy. Intervention from authorities into the country’s bourses also added to worries Beijing had lost control over the economy. But just minutes after the speech, fresh data showed renewed signs of weakness in the Chinese economy with the Caixin China manufacturing flash PMI coming in at 47, the lowest since March 2009. [..]

Xi peppered his speech with US cultural references from Sleepless in Seattle and House of Cards to Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway – saying he once ordered a Mojito at El Floridita in Havana to better understand Hemingway and Cuba. Dismissing speculation that his sweeping anti-corruption campaign was about factional infighting, Xi said “We have punished tigers and flies. It has nothing to do with power struggles. In this case there is no House of Cards.”

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Or they understand it all too well.

China Has A Message Markets Don’t Understand (CNBC)

China may be compounding its own problems by the way its leaders talk about them. With the country’s growth a concern for global markets, investors are trying to fathom the depth of China’s economic issues and understand what authorities are doing. Analysts say it is difficult to discern what’s really going on there and that the economy has always been difficult to measure. Ahead of his U.S. visit that kicked off Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that recent intervention in capital markets was necessary or normal and that China is still on track to transform its economy. “I think they are mostly nothing new and simply a repeat of what other officials have said,” Ilya Feygin, managing director at WallachBeth Capital, said of Xi’s comments.

Sticking to policy lines casts doubt for many on whether Chinese leaders have a grip on maneuvering the country’s economic transition in a way that doesn’t shock global markets more than it already has. “I think it’s a combination of missteps that add up to a lot of worries, capacity of the Chinese government to manage its economy through a very challenging environment and not making it worse,” said Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It begins with their intervention to push up their stock market last year.” Rapid-fire policy changes in the last few months have befuddled outsiders on Chinese leaders’ intentions, which raise real concern on whether the world’s second-largest economy can make a timely transition from a manufacturing hub to a consumer-oriented system.

“The point is to recognize there’s a structural transition going on,” said Arthur Kroeber, head of research at Gavekal Dragonomics. “And the problem we have is the data we have on the bad part of the economy is actually pretty developed. The data on services (is) much better but fuzzier.” Most of the economic reports still focus on manufacturing-related aspects of the economy, such as electricity use and the producer price index. Data such as the Caixin nonmanufacturing PMI provide some light on services, which continued to hold above the 50 expansion/contraction line in August. Manufacturing PMI fell below that line.

Growth in the services sector has outpaced that of the manufacturing sector in the last year and a half, according to the latest National Bureau of Statistics of China data compiled by Wind information. Amid the transition, questions also surround the accuracy of China’s reports on headline GDP growth. The official figure is 7%, the slowest in more than two decades In a report Tuesday, the Asian Development Bank lowered its forecast for Chinese growth in 2015 to 6.8% from 7.2% previously. Other analyst estimates range from 2 to 4 percentage points lower.

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“..roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture..”

VW Scandal Caused Nearly 1 Million Tonnes Of Extra Pollution (Guardian)

Volkswagen’s rigging of emissions tests for 11m cars means they may be responsible for nearly 1m tonnes of air pollution every year, roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture, a Guardian analysis suggests. The potential scale of the scandal puts further pressure on Volkswagen’s board and its chief executive, Martin Winterkorn. The company’s executive committee plans to meet on Wednesday to discuss the affair and to agree the agenda of a full board meeting scheduled for Friday, amid reports that Winterkorn could be replaced. The carmaker has recalled 482,000 VW and Audi brand cars in the US after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found models with Type EA 189 engines had been fitted with a device designed to reduce emissions of nitrous oxides (NOx) under testing conditions.

A Guardian analysis found those US vehicles would have spewed between 10,392 and 41,571 tonnes of toxic gas into the air each year, if they had covered the average annual US mileage. If they had complied with EPA standards, they would have emitted just 1,039 tonnes of NOx each year in total. The company admitted the device may have been fitted to 11m of its vehicles worldwide. If that proves correct, VW’s defective vehicles could be responsible for between 237,161 and 948,691 tonnes of NOx emissions each year, 10 to 40 times the pollution standard for new models in the US. Western Europe’s biggest power station, Drax in the UK, emits 39,000 tonnes of NOx each year. [..] For years, UK air pollution measurements have failed to show improvements in air quality, even as standards have tightened.

“Since 2003 scientists have been saying things are not right. It’s not just the VW story, this is part of something much bigger,” said Dr Gary Fuller of King’s College. “It has a serious public health impact.” Last week, a report from NGO Transport & Environment found that Europe’s testing regime was allowing nine out of every 10 new diesel vehicles to breach EU limits. Testing regimes in the EU are known to fail to pick up “real world” emissions because cars are not driven in the same way in the laboratory as on the road. Some studies suggest the discrepancy may be up to seven times the legal limit. Williams said being able to mask their NOx emissions would also enable carmakers to pass carbon emissions tests more easily as there was a trade-off between NOx and CO2 in diesel engines.

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Bets are open on this one.

California Tests To Include Larger Diesel Engines From Audi, Porsche (Reuters)

The California Air Resources Board will broaden its testing of Volkswagen cars with diesel engines to include those with 3.0-liter V6 engines sold by two subsidiaries, a spokesman for the state regulator said on Tuesday. The latest models to be examined are the Porsche Cayenne and the Audi A6, Stanley Young, communications director for the Air Resources Board, told Reuters. Volkswagen said on Tuesday that engine software connected with a scandal over falsified U.S. vehicle emission tests could affect 11 million of its cars worldwide as investigations of its diesel models multiplied. The California Air Resources Board’s testing uncovered software in several Volkswagen models that allowed the company to cheat state and federal emissions requirements by switching performance levels between testing and real-world conditions.

“That investigation looked at two-liter four-cylinder engines,” said Young. “Now we’re going to start looking at six-cylinder, three-liter diesel engines.” Young said VW engineers acknowledged the use of a so-called defeat device – in fact, a software algorithm – to circumvent state and federal emissions standards during a Sept. 3 meeting in the board’s El Monte, California testing headquarters, attended by senior engineering executives of the regulator and the car company. It was the 10th meeting between the two sides, called by CARB to resolve the discrepancy between pollution levels measured on the road and those obtained under controlled testing conditions. “They literally ran out of excuses,” Young said, describing the meeting in which the car manufacturer “admitted there was a defeat device.”

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It’ll have to be worldwide. Wouldn’t it be funny if test results vary greatly?

VW Emissions Fallout Spreads To Asia (FT)

South Korea’s environment ministry said it would investigate the emissions compliance of Volkswagen’s diesel cars, as the fallout for the German carmaker after its admission that it rigged US emissions tests spread to Asia. The announcement on Tuesday came a day after Germany called for a probe into the matter, confirming fears Volkswagen’s trouble was unlikely to be confined to the US and that breaches could have occurred in other regions. The US Environmental Protection Agency on Friday ordered the world’s second-biggest carmaker to recall nearly 500,000 cars in the US after it admitted that it had fitted “defeat devices” to bypass environmental standards.

In the first public appearance by a senior executive since the scandal emerged, Michael Horn, VW’s US chief executive, said at an event in New York on Monday that the carmaker had “screwed up”, vowing to fix the vehicles involved and ensure no repetition. Seoul’s environment ministry said it would conduct emissions tests on 4,000-5,000 of VW’s Jetta and Golf models and the Audi A3 sedan that were imported into South Korea since 2014. “We will review if the three car models sold here show the same problems as those in the US, although the carmaker says its cars here have no such problems,” said Park Pan-kyu, the ministry’s deputy director. “We plan to complete the investigation within two months and will come up with punitive measures if any problems are found.

“If South Korean authorities find problems in VW diesel cars, the probe could be expanded to all German diesel cars,” he said. If the cars are found to have breached air pollution standards, the ministry could issue a recall order for vehicles already sold in the country, or order the German carmaker to stop domestic sales of problematic models. It could also impose a maximum Won1bn ($850,000) fine on each model. The ministry said any punitive measures would be levied in consultation with the German government, in keeping with the Korea-EU trade agreement.Volkswagen is one of the best-selling foreign brands in South Korea. VW and Audi accounted for nearly 30% of all foreign cars sold in the country in the first eight months of this year, and more than 90% of the roughly 25,000 vehicles VW sold were diesel models.

Shares in South Korean carmakers Hyundai Motor and affiliate Kia Motors rose more than 3% on Tuesday, on the view that Asian competitors could benefit at VW’s expense. “Volkswagen’s brand value is expected be hit by this issue as its strong diesel engine technology has been the backbone of its brand recognition,” said Yim Eun-young, analyst at Samsung Securities. “This could lead to gains for Hyundai and Kia, which are competing with Volkswagen in the sedan segment.”

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As I said yesterday, if VW couldn’t even come close to required emissions, what are the odds others could?

VW Emissions Investigations To Widen to Entire Auto Industry (WSJ)

Investigations into Volkswagen’s alleged manipulation of U.S. emissions tests should widen to include the entire auto industry, German and French officials said Tuesday, as regulators begin to ponder whether such deception is widespread. Calls for a broader probe came as Italy opened an investigation into the issue and a spokesman for the European Union said its regulators would soon meet with national authorities to discuss how to address the Volkswagen crisis. Concerns that the scandal could lead to broader damage for the industry hit the shares of car companies across Europe on Tuesday and those losses accelerated after Volkswagen warned that 11 million vehicles could be affected.

Shares in Volkswagen dived as much as 23% while those of Daimler AG dropped 5.5% and BMW AG slumped 5.4%. In France, Renault SA dropped 6.3% and PSA Peugeot Citroën was down 8.6%. The state of Lower Saxony, a major Volkswagen shareholder with 20% of the car maker’s voting stock, said the emissions allegations raised doubts about tailpipe data published by all car makers. The French government also called for a broader probe, suggesting a European-wide examination of the auto industry. “We need to do it at the European level,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Tuesday.

In Germany, Olaf Lies, Lower Saxony’s economy minister and a member of the Volkswagen’s supervisory board, called for a wider probe and said investigations into the scandal would have consequences for any executives found guilty of deliberate manipulation. “I am convince that everyone is going to become intensely interested in knowing whether the emissions values that have been measured are the real emissions levels,” he said. “This question will not only affect Volkswagen, but the entire public debate and will certainly play a role at other companies.”

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“The only way to change auto company behavior is to put the responsible executives in jail..”

VW Emissions Cheating Affects 11 Million Cars Worldwide (WaPo)

The deception perpetrated by Volkswagen in the United States reaches around the globe, with about 11 million cars worldwide equipped with software designed to cheat emissions tests, the company said Tuesday. The automaker said it will set aside $7.3 billion to cover fixes and other efforts to win back the trust of our customers. That amount is likely to fall many times short of the actual costs, including car repairs, lawsuits and government penalties around the world. Exactly what alterations are necessary on all of those cars is unknown, and independent engineers said it could be extremely difficult to repair the emissions systems without harming engine efficiency and performance. None could offer what they deemed a reliable estimate of the cost of a potential repair.

“In my German words, we have totally screwed up”, Volkswagen s U.S. chief, Michael Horn, said at an event in Brooklyn late Monday night. The broad scale of the deception suggests that knowledge of the emissions cheating was widespread, and Justice Department investigators are focusing on the actions of executives, according to two people familiar with the inquiry. German news outlets reported Tuesday that the firing of chief executive Martin Winterkorn is imminent, citing unidentified members of the company s board. Also Tuesday, new details of the cat-and-mouse interactions between suspicious regulators and the German car giant showed how far the company was willing to go to assure the government that, contrary to the best evidence, nothing was amiss in its diesel cars.

Last year, Volkswagen informed regulators that it was initiating a 500,000-car recall in the US that would fix the problem. The recall was either a technical failure or, as some U.S. officials said, a ruse. Whether those involved in the emissions cheating software will face more severe penalties is unknown, but anger among customers, who are stuck with cars that violate pollution standards, and dealers, who are left with unsold inventory, has become increasingly evident. Their appeals have been heard in Washington. “It is an outrage that VW would take advantage of its consumers by purposely deceiving them on their mileage on diesel vehicles …There ought to be some prosecutions, and corporate executives that knew this and have done it ought to be going to jail”, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, citing the repeated failures of automakers.

“And I lay this not only on the corporate culture, I lay it at the feet of the U.S. regulatory agencies who ought to be doing their job, ought to be doing it in a forceful way”. Noting that Volkswagen had been accused of similar tactics in the United States in the early 1970s, when the company paid fines of $120,000, Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, argued that financial penalties are not enough to keep the company honest. “The only way to change auto company behavior is to put the responsible executives in jail,” he said.

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In firm denial.

Europe Stumbles Towards A Migrant Plan (BBC)

There was a sense of grim determination about the crowd of cold and tired refugees and other migrants we met crossing the border one damp and windy night this week from Hungary into Austria. No euphoria. No desperation, such as we’ve seen at so many European borders over the last months, but more a sense of quiet purpose. The young men and families we spoke to were passing through what has become a relatively efficient people’s pipeline established on the ground from southern, into central and onto northern Europe. EU leaders may be in disarray over what to do next but in the meantime – for now – chaos on the ground has given way to an orderly means of transporting migrants from country to country.

One 19-year-old told us it had taken him five days to get from Turkey to Austria, passing through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary along the way. He still hoped to reach Germany, to join the Syrian community there, which is growing larger by the day. But this is no long-term solution to Europe’s migration conundrum. Europe’s prime ministers and heads of state will discuss that at their emergency meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. A quick or easy fix will be impossible to find and the meeting is likely to be fiery but leaders know they have to stumble towards some sort of plan or risk the unravelling of the EU itself. Look at the anger of Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic forced on Tuesday at a meeting of European interior ministers to accept their share of 120,000 asylum seekers who will be re-located across the continent. [..]

EU leaders will discuss how to tighten the control of European borders. They’ll also debate a workable EU asylum policy, the more efficient deportation of economic migrants, defining who is a refugee, an asylum seeker or economic migrant, the better integration of refugees and their families already here and sending significant aid abroad to improve living conditions closer to people’s home countries so they shouldn’t be tempted to come to Europe in the first place. Decisions and debates tomorrow and in the months to come will affect all of our lives. Endre Sik is the director of the Centre for Refugee and Migration Studies in Budapest. He told me in 10 years’ time, we will look back and see this as a moment that changed Europe – its general landscape, its politics and its economics. There’s no turning back now from mass migration Europe, he says. This is an unprecedented social phenomenon.

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“We would have preferred a consensus but we could not reach that, and it is not for want of trying..”

EU’s East-West Rift Exposed In Refugee-Sharing Plan (Reuters)

The European Union approved a plan on Tuesday to share out 120,000 refugees across its 28 states, overriding vehement opposition from four ex-communist eastern nations. The European Commission, the EU executive, had proposed the scheme with the backing of Germany and other big powers in order to tackle the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two. But the rift it has caused between older and newer members was glaringly evident as the interior ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary voted against the plan at a meeting in Brussels, with Finland abstaining. “We would have preferred a consensus but we could not reach that, and it is not for want of trying,” Luxembourg Interior Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, told a news conference.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said pushing through the quota system had “nonsensically” caused a deep rift over a highly sensitive issue and that, “as long as I am prime minister”, Slovakia would not implement a quota. And Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec tweeted: “We will soon realize that the emperor has no clothes. Common sense lost today.” This year’s influx of nearly half a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa has already sparked unseemly disputes over border controls as well as bitter recriminations over how to share out responsibility. Refugees and migrants arriving in Greece and Italy have been streaming north to reach more affluent nations such as Germany, prompting countries in central and eastern Europe alternately to try to block the flow or shunt it on to their neighbors.

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How is this Europe? How can Germany and France continue in a Union with Hungary?

Hungary Mobilizes Troops, Prisoners, Jobless To Fence Out Refugees (Reuters)

Built in a matter of weeks by soldiers, prison laborers and cadres of the unemployed, a vast new wall along Balkan frontiers is a monument to the ruthless efficiency with which Prime Minister Viktor Orban has mobilized Hungary against migrants. Orban describes the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees and other migrants in Europe this year from Asia, Africa and the Middle East as an attack on the continent’s Christian welfare model. Until last week, most trekked through Hungary, the main overland entry route into the EU’s border-free Schengen zone from the Balkan peninsula, which they cross after arriving by dinghy in Greece.

While Europe dithered over a collective response, Hungary took matters into its own hands, shutting off the route with a new fence along its entire 175 km (110 mile) border with Serbia, topped with razor wire and guarded by helmeted riot police. It was erected at a cost of 22 billion forints (about $80 million), a rare example of efficiency in a country which built its last underground metro line ten years behind schedule at triple the projected cost. The government says it put the military in charge of the construction so that it could act more quickly. By swiftly mobilizing state resources, the authorities also managed to turn the fence into a national project, immensely popular at home even as it is denounced by European partners.

“It took a while but the government’s campaign to rouse public opinion against the refugees is bearing fruit, and having brought much of the media under control is paying dividends,” said Richard Szentpeteri Nagy, an analysts at Centre for Fair Political Analysis. “By properly filtering the message through public television, what viewers at home see is that this is a mob, throwing stones and attacking police.” In just days since it shut the Serbian frontier, Hungary has already moved even faster to shut the border with Croatia, which is inside the European Union but outside the Schengen zone. A 41-kilometre temporary fence was thrown up within four days. Work is already underway on a permanent barrier, with machines clearing the land, fence posts driven into the ground and razor wire rolled out.

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Hollande’s a dunce and a coward. Full stop.

Hollande Wrongfooted on Refugee Surge, Fearing Le Pen’s Rise (Bloomberg)

As Europe searches for a solution to the migrant crisis, French President Francois Hollande is in his customary position: stuck in the middle and pleasing few. The Socialist leader finds himself playing second fiddle to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the unfolding drama as European Union leaders meet Wednesday to seek a way out of their impasse on how to cope with thousands of migrants knocking on the region’s gates. France’s acceptance of migrants has been overshadowed by greater generosity shown next door by Germany. “The government is fearful of doing anything that would benefit the anti-immigration right,” said Francois Gemenne , researcher at Sciences Po University.

“At the same time, they have intellectuals in the press and much of their base saying that France, the nation of human rights, looks ridiculous next to Germany. The government doesn’t know what foot to dance on. They’ve ended up with a policy that satisfies no one.” That mirrors much of what Hollande has done in his three years in office. On the economy, his socialist base feels he has sold out by recent moves to liberalize labor markers and ease rules for business, while conservative parties pillory him for raising taxes. Hollande’s approval rating fell one point to 24% in September, according to the most recent Ifop poll. Hollande and Merkel on Sept. 4 jointly urged the EU to agree on a redistribution plan for refugees and to speed up processing in countries where they arrive.

Under a formula proposed by the European Commission, France and Germany agreed to take 30,000 and 44,000 refugees respectively, out of the 160,000 who had made their way to Italy, Greece and Hungary. Those pledges have been overtaken by events as thousands of Syrians a day cross to Greek islands from Turkey, and then try to reach northern Europe. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said Tuesday that 700,000 refugees have sought asylum in Europe so far this year and that it’ll be 1 million by year end, a record. That has led Hollande’s opponents to say he’s doing too much or too little.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigration National Front and by some measures the most popular presidential candidate in France, has compared the influx of refugees to the barbarian invasions that destroyed the Roman empire. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy said France should reinstall border controls, has blamed Hollande’s handling of the Syrian crisis for the influx, and has called into question automatic citizenship for children born in France. “There are differences of tone between Le Pen and Sarkozy on this issue, but they are basically on the same page,” said Smain Laacher, a sociology professor at the University of Strasbourg.

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Damned if you do, doomed if you don’t.

The Fed Just Made A Gigantic Mess (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve is creating a negative-feedback loop with its mixed messages on interest rates — and it’s messing with the markets. In explaining why the Fed opted to hold rates steady, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said that policy makers remain concerned about slowing economic growth — especially in China — and the impact on global markets and inflation. But then, she added that the Fed could still raise rates in before the year was out — as early as October. What? If slowing global growth and market turbulence was a reason to pause, how likely was it, then, that all of that would be resolved by October? Since Chair Yellen spoke, a number of Fed officials have spoken, reiterating that a rate hike in 2015 remains likely. This is cognitive dissonance at its worst. Investors are now simultaneously worried about incompatible outcomes.

If growth is weak, and inflation continues to fall, the Fed should NOT, and would NOT, raise rates. If this global problem is truly transitory (a word most Fed officials need to look up in the dictionary), then a rate hike should have already occurred. This is a problem of the Fed’s own making. By insisting that interest rate normalization is imminent, the Fed is creating the very problem it is combatting by delaying that very same process. From my vantage point, the Fed more clearly needs to define what it takes to meet its dual mandate — inflation and employment. Clearly, the Fed has reached many of its goals on the employment front, although wage inflation is not accelerating to the point where a rate hike would be justified to cool an overheating economy.

Low inflation, while “transitory,” has persisted for nearly six years and is being pushed even lower by the huge drop in oil prices; the crash in other commodities; slowing growth in China and Japan and Asian emerging markets; recessions in Russia and Brazil and uneven growth in Europe. If the world is not normal, why normalize policy at all? The world affects the U.S. As we have seen in innumerable instances in the past, global instability has altered the course of domestic monetary policy for decades. Factoring that in, does not mean that the Fed has a “third mandate” as some Fed bashers claim. It simply means that the Fed has an obligation to consider how all variables affect its mandate. With an economy only “half-normal,” the normalization of interest rates can wait. But if the Fed continues to convey confusing messages about the timing of normalization, in an abnormal world, it will only serve to exacerbate the very trends it is hoping will abate.

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Economics is just politics in disguise.

Economic Policy Often Seems To Have Little To Do With Economists. Why? (Ind.)

With Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party we will hear a great deal from his opponents that his economic policies are not “credible”. At the moment we do not have a clear idea of what these policies will be, but it is worth asking beforehand what exactly a credible economic policy is. A natural way to define a credible economic policy is one that accords with what most economists think. If this was true, you might expect it would be difficult to win an election based on a macroeconomic policy that most economists regard as mistaken. Unfortunately, the last General Election provides a clear counter-example. In that election George Osborne proposed eliminating the overall budget deficit within five years. That contradicted what most economists believe is a sensible fiscal policy, for at least two reasons.

First, it precluded any significant increase in public investment, on things like building schools and flood defences. Every economist I know agrees that now is an excellent time to increase infrastructure investment, because labour is cheap and interest rates are low. Second, another round of austerity is very risky when interest rates are so low. Osborne says we must reduce government borrowing quickly to prepare for the next crisis. That makes little economic or business sense. Firms that cut back on investment when borrowing is cheap and the economy is expanding generally fail. The more significant risk is that the world economy takes a turn for the worse in the next year or two because of events in China or elsewhere. If interest rates are already low because they are having to offset the impact of austerity, the Bank of England has little room to counter these global shocks.

So the prudent policy while interest rates are low is to avoid austerity. The fiscal policy platform on which the Conservatives won was not credible to most academic macroeconomists. The problem is that most people in politics and the media do not get their notion of credibility from this source. So where does their idea of economic credibility come from? Discussion of economic policy in the media is dominated by political rather than economic journalists. They routinely provide comment after major economic policy announcements and interview politicians. They spend most of their time talking to politicians, so the Westminster bubble defines what the media sees as a credible economic policy.

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How to turn farmers into serfs.

English Farmland Prices Double In Five Years (Guardian)

The price of good quality English farmland has doubled over the past five years, making it the most expensive in the world and offering a better return than prime London property, the FTSE 100 or gold. According to agents Knight Frank demand from wealthy private individuals as well as pension funds, has driven up the average price for an acre of “investment grade” English farmland (large plots with economies of scale) to £12,500, up 100% since 2010. In comparison, the price of luxury London homes has risen 42% over the same period, the FTSE 100 has increased 33%, while gold has dropped 10%. Many recent buyers of prime farmland arelifestyle buyers, often London financiers, for whom farming can be more of a hobby than about making the land pay its way.

Even what Knight Frank describes as some of the best land in the world – the pampa west of Buenos Aires in Argentina – sells for just a third of the average price investors are paying for farmland in England. An acre of investment grade land in Argentina sells for £4,510, while in France it fetches about £4,490. On the vast wheat-producing prairies of Canada, quality land fetches just £800 an acre, only 7% of the price achieved in England. Australian farmland values, blighted by drought, have largely flatlined in recent years.

The inflation in English land values is taking place despite a crisis among farmers struggling with falling global prices, particularly for wheat. After peaking at about £214 a tonne in December 2012, feed wheat values have since fallen by more than 50%. Global demand for wheat was 679m tonnes in 2012/13, but only 657m tonnes was produced, pushing prices up sharply. But the situation has now reversed, with global production forecast to hit about 725m tonnes this year but consumption at about 715m tonnes, sending prices spiralling down on commodity markets. UK farm gate milk prices are down by a third since 2013, prompting a wave of closures among English dairy farmers.

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And now dinosaurs are literally cool.

Alaska Fossil Find Points To New ‘Lost World Of Dinosaurs’ (Guardian)

Fossils from a unique plant eating dinosaur found in the high Arctic of Alaska may change how scientists view dinosaur physiology, Alaska and Florida university researchers have said. A paper published on Tuesday concluded that fossilized bones found along Alaska’s Colville river were from a distinct species of hadrosaur, a duck-billed dinosaur not connected to hadrosaurs previously identified in Canada and the Lower 48 states. It’s the fourth species unique to northern Alaska. It supports a theory of Arctic-adapted dinosaurs that lived 69m years ago in temperatures far cooler than the tropical or equatorial temperatures most people associate with dinosaurs, said Gregory Erickson, professor of biological science at Florida State university. “Basically a lost world of dinosaurs that we didn’t realise existed,” he said.

The northern hadrosaurs would have endured months of winter darkness and probably snow. “It was certainly not like the Arctic today up there – probably in the 40s (five to nine degrees ) was the mean annual temperature,” Erickson said. “Probably a good analogy is thinking about British Columbia.” The next step in the research program will be to try to figure out how they survived, he said. Mark Norell, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, said by email that it was plausible the animals lived in the high Arctic year-round, just like musk oxen and caribou do now. It’s hard to imagine, he said, that the small, juvenile dinosaurs were physically capable of long-distance seasonal migration. “Furthermore, the climate was much less harsh in the Late Cretaceous than it is today, making sustainability easier,” he said.

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May 162015
 
 May 16, 2015  Posted by at 10:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Lewis Wickes Hine Workers stringing beans in J.S. Farrand Packing Co, Baltimore 1920

The New Era Of Return-Free Risk (Reuters)
Global Asset Classes Suffer From a Highly Contagious Disease (Bloomberg)
US Farmers In ‘Dire Straits’: JPM Warns Of Liquidity Crunch (Zero Hedge)
Private Debt, Economic Stagnation and a Modern Debt Jubilee (Steve Keen)
China Backtracks on Deleveraging Local Government Debt (WSJ)
China Deleveraging Measures Create Perpetual Leverage Machine (Zero Hedge)
A Blueprint for Greece’s Recovery within a Consolidating Europe (Varoufakis)
Greek PM Tsipras Takes ‘Command’ Of Reform Talks (CNBC)
Tsipras Says He Won’t Cross Red Lines in Talks With Creditors (Bloomberg)
Greece Pays Public Sector Wages To Avert Fresh Economic Crisis (Guardian)
Home Is Where The Household Income Goes (Kathimerini)
Osborne Calls Emergency July Budget To Reveal Next Wave Of Austerity (Guardian)
Russia is a Product of WWII, In Terms of Demographics (Adomanis)
Poland Pays $250,000 To Alleged Victims Of CIA Rendition And Torture (Guardian)
Ukraine GDP Drops 17.6%, Prices Rise 61% (FT)
Anti-Poverty Crusader Leads Race To Be Barcelona’s Next Mayor (Guardian)
US Anger With RT Will Start World War Three – Emir Kusturica (Sputnik)
Food and Finance: Create A Revolution With Your Shopping Trolley (Berrino)
The Awful Truth About Climate Change No One Wants To Admit (Vox)
Without Universal Access To Water, There Can Be No Food Security (Guardian)

WIth today’s exteremely distorted asset prices, risk must get distorted too.

The New Era Of Return-Free Risk (Reuters)

U.S. and German government bonds are gyrating as they rarely do. Yields are shooting higher for no apparent reason, and sometimes falling back within hours for equally unclear motives. Such turbulence in the biggest and most liquid bond markets is ushering in a new era. The traditional concept of risk-free returns has been turned on its head. Ten-year Bund yields have multiplied by 16 times, to a high of 0.80% on May 7 from 0.05% on April 17. And German bond prices, which move inversely to yields, have suffered a larger drop than in 99% of the three-week periods of the last 25 years, UBS Wealth Management strategists calculate. Meanwhile, comparable U.S. yields have risen by more than a quarter in less than four weeks, peaking at 2.37%.

The brutal moves are creating what Jan Straatman, global chief investment officer at Lombard Odier Investment Managers, calls “return-free risk”. Investors have two problems as a result. The first is sharply practical. Safety has become expensive, or less safe. Holding cash in the form of a rock-solid currency, such as the Swiss franc, is punitive, since policy interest rates are close to zero, or even negative. Gold is supposed to be a solid store of value, but the price is in thrall to the dollar’s volatile exchange rate. And now U.S. and German government bonds are looking risky.

These days, the hunt for safety is not a big theme for most investors. They would rather take some risks in return for higher yields. But that brings up the second problem with the new era. High turbulence in supposedly safe bond markets complicates the pricing of risk. The standard asset pricing model relies on a benchmark risk-free interest rate. Riskier investments – from corporate bonds through shares to artworks – are supposed to promise a probable additional return in exchange for additional uncertainty and price volatility. The model is like a compass pointing in the direction of the right price. But this compass goes haywire when safe debt becomes extraordinarily volatile. Investors are left at sea.

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“And when they all convince themselves to be mega-long at the wrong price, the market inevitably cracks.”

Global Asset Classes Suffer From a Highly Contagious Disease (Bloomberg)

A trio of profitable trades over the past year – long U.S. dollar, long Treasuries, and long European equities – have taken a big hit in the second quarter of 2015. Over at Jefferies, chief market strategist David Zervos puts his finger on the source of these sell-offs: German debt. Zervos writes: “The Dollar, the U.S. bond market, and the European stock market have all recently become infected with a highly contagious disease. The source of this nasty fever appears to be coming from none other than the sleepy old German bond market.” The yield on 10-year German sovereign debt has spiked from below 0.1% in mid-April to 0.635% as of publishing. That’s the kind of move you’d expect to see about once every six decades.

Investors who bought bunds, Zervos argues, bet on the wrong horse following the introduction of quantitative easing by the ECB. “When QE begins folks sadly get excited about front running central bank duration purchases, and then they take a very rich asset and make it stupid rich,” he writes. “And when they all convince themselves to be mega-long at the wrong price, the market inevitably cracks.” The sell-off in bunds began at a time when European credit growth was beginning to turn up, the economy began to improve, and a pair of fixed income legends, Jeffrey Gundlach and Bill Gross, offered some very bearish commentary on German bonds. The sell-off also came at a time of extreme positioning in major markets.

According to Zervos, the toppling of this domino is currently rippling through other asset classes. He considers this a period in which all these popular trades will get hit as the market purges the good QE trades from the poor ones. “Right now we have to get through this nasty period of contagious spring fever in Europe, or what the Germans would call Frühjahrsmüdigkeit,” he writes. “I honestly don’t know how long this fever will last (or how to pronounce that crazy German word), but none of this nasty price action dissuades from believing in the long-term QE-induced reflationary trend for European risk assets.”

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US ag gets hit from many sides at once, from drought to credit drought.

US Farmers In ‘Dire Straits’: JPM Warns Of Liquidity Crunch (Zero Hedge)

Despite the government’s ‘advice’ to young debt-laden students, the tragedy of the American farmer continues with worryingly pessimistic views on the future of the industry. With farmland prices falling for the first time in almost 30 years, credit conditions are weakening dramatically and the Kansas City Fed warns that persistently low crop prices and high input costs reduced profit margins and increased concerns about future loan repayment capacity, and JPMorgan concludes, the industry is currently in dire straits with the potential for a liquidity crunch for farmers into 2016.

Not so long ago, US farmland – whose prices were until recently rising exponentially – was considered by many to be the next asset bubble. Then, almost overnight, the fairytale ended, and as reported in February, US farmland saw its first price drop since 1986. Looking ahead, very few bankers expect price appreciation and more than a quarter of survey respondents expect cropland values to decline further in the next three months. And now, The Kansas City Fed warns that Agricultural credit conditions are worsening rapidly…

Credit conditions in the Federal Reserve’s Tenth District weakened as farm income declined further in the first quarter of 2015. Persistently low crop prices and high input costs reduced profit margins and increased concerns about future loan repayment capacity. Funds were available to meet historically high loan demand, but loan repayment rates dropped considerably. Although profit margins in the livestock industry have remained stable, most bankers do not expect farm income or credit conditions to improve in the next three months.

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“..economic growth will remain low (and inequality will remain high) until the level of private debt is drastically reduced..”

Private Debt, Economic Stagnation and a Modern Debt Jubilee (Steve Keen)

This is the talk I gave at the 8th Subversive Festival in Zagreb on May 15th 2015. I start with the Queen of England’s question “If these things were so large, how come everyone missed them? Why did nobody notice it?” and then show how private debt was the missing ingredient in the models that conventional economists have, which is why they missed the crisis. I finish with the assertion that economic growth will remain low (and inequality will remain high) until the level of private debt is drastically reduced. I recommend a “Modern Debt Jubilee” as the way to do this.

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As we predicted many times, China is failing in its attempts to smother the shadow banking system, which is A) too big to fight and B) too crucial for the economy.

China Backtracks on Deleveraging Local Government Debt (WSJ)

China is reversing course on a major effort to tackle its hefty local government debt problem, marking a setback for a priority reform aimed at getting its financial house in order. The move could provide the economy with some short-term help. But it restores a backdoor way that enabled local governments to load up on debt in recent years, providing a drag on growth at a time when Beijing is looking for ways to rekindle it. According to an announcement made Friday by the State Council, China’s cabinet, the authorities relaxed controls on the ability of local governments to raise money by allowing them to tap government-sponsored financing companies—the very entities that have been blamed for a rapid run-up in China’s local debt load over the past few years.

The move undermines an October policy intended to prevent those financing firms from taking on new debt. It comes as China’s long push toward financial reform—part of its broader effort to make the economy rely less on big investments but more on consumer spending—increasingly bumps up against a more pressing national goal: boosting growth. “To transition to a consumer-led economy, China will have to push through painful reforms and accept recession,” said Geoffrey Barker at Asian Macro Fund in Hong Kong. “But at least for now, the government appears unwilling to do that.” The latest move comes as the world’s second-largest economy endures slower-than-expected growth. A barrage of monetary-easing measures since last year has proved insufficient to counter a real-estate downturn and flagging factory output.

Earlier this week, China reported a sharp drop-off in growth of investment in factories, buildings and other fixed assets in the first four months compared with a year ago, partly because local governments found credit hard to come by to invest in big projects due to Beijing’s crackdown on local borrowing. Now, by backtracking on the local-debt cleanup initiative, Beijing is resorting to greater stimulus efforts to meet GDP targets. “We take this as a significant policy easing signal,” said chief China economist Zhiwei Zhang at Deutsche Bank. The need to bolster growth gained urgency after an April tour by Premier Li Keqiang of China’s three Rust Belt provinces in the northeast, including Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, according to Chinese officials with knowledge of the leadership’s thinking.

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CHina is simply too addicted to debt to move away smoothly.

China Deleveraging Measures Create Perpetual Leverage Machine (Zero Hedge)

China is in a tough spot and it’s starting to show up in what look like contradictory policy decisions. The problem goes something like this. In the interest of curbing systemic risk and decreasing the percentage of total social financing (TSF) comprised of off-balance sheet financing, China has moved to rein in the shadow banking boom that helped fuel the country’s meteoric growth. The effort to deleverage a system laboring under some $28 trillion in debt is complicated by the fact that the export-driven economy is growing at the slowest pace in 6 years (and that’s if you believe the official numbers), a scenario which calls for some manner of stimulus.

Unfortunately, the yuan’s dollar peg has served to further pressure China’s exports while rising capital outflows (plus an IMF SDR bid) make currency devaluation an undesirable tool for boosting the economy. Beijing has thus resorted to slashing policy rates, cutting the benchmark lending rate three times in six months and RRR twice this year (and they aren’t done yet). This of course flies in the face of attempts to deleverage the system. That is, lowering real interest rates encourages more leverage, not less, but Beijing has little choice. It must walk the tightrope, because at some point, the deceleration in economic growth will become so readily apparent that China will no longer be able to stick to the (likely) fabricated 7% output figure.

As we discussed on Thursday, the country’s local government debt dilemma is a microcosm of the challenges facing the broader economy. Local governments used shadow banking conduits to skirt borrowing limits, accumulating a massive pile of high-yield debt in the process. The total debt burden for these localities sums to around 35% of GDP and because a non-trivial portion carries yields that are much higher than traditional muni bonds, the debt servicing costs have become unbearable. To remedy the situation, Beijing is implementing a debt swap program which allows local governments to swap their high-yielding loans for long-term bonds with lower coupons.

In order to create demand for the new issues, the PBoC is allowing banks that purchase the new bonds to post them as collateral for cash that can then be re-lent to the broader economy, presumably at a healthy spread. So while the program is designed to help local governments deleverage by cutting hundreds of billions from debt servicing costs, the PBoC’s move to allow the new LGBs to be pledged for cash by the purchasing banks, means that on net, the entire refi program will actually add leverage to the system as banks use the cash they receive from repoing their LGBs to make new loans.

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“The institutions have, over the years, relied on a process of backward induction..”

A Blueprint for Greece’s Recovery within a Consolidating Europe (Varoufakis)

[..] .. agreement on a new development model for Greece requires overcoming two hurdles. First, we must concur on how to approach Greece’s fiscal consolidation and our management of public debt. Second, we need a comprehensive, commonly agreed reform agenda that will underpin that consolidation path and inspire the confidence of Greek society on the one hand and our partners on the other. Beginning with fiscal consolidation, the issue at hand concerns the method. The institutions have, over the years, relied on a process of backward induction: They set a date (say, the year 2019) and a target for the ratio of nominal debt to national income (say, 120%) that must be achieved before money markets are deemed ready to lend to Greece at reasonable rates.

Then, under arbitrary assumptions regarding growth rates, inflation, privatization receipts, and so forth, they compute what primary surpluses are necessary in every year, going backwards to the present. The result of this method, in our government’s opinion, is an ‘austerity trap’. When fiscal consolidation turns on a pre-determined debt ratio to be achieved at a predetermined point in the future, the primary surpluses needed to hit those targets are such that the effect on the private sector undermines the assumed growth rates and thus derails the planned fiscal path. Indeed, this is precisely why previous fiscal-consolidation plans for Greece missed their targets so spectacularly.

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Greece is getting tired of the institutions.

Greek PM Tsipras Takes ‘Command’ Of Reform Talks (CNBC)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has taken control of the country’s reform talks with its international lenders at a “critical” point in the negotiations, Greek government sources told CNBC. The sources, who did not want to be named due to the sensitive nature of the discussions, told CNBC that the Greek prime minister had taken command of the negotiating process and was involved in discussions with the Brussels Group of the country’s creditors – the IMF, European Commission and ECB as well as the European Stability Mechanism.

The sources added that a teleconference held Thursday on the reforms were held at the prime minister’s office – an incident denied by the government’s official spokesman. The Athens government has been in debt deadlock with its international creditors since it came to power in late January. While the left-wing Syriza party was elected on an anti-austerity ticket, those holding the purse-strings on its multibillion-euro bailout are insisting on strict economic and welfare reforms. The sources added that Tsipras’ move to lead the talks was an attempt to show his commitment to finding a resolution to the country’s impasse with lenders.

Greece certainly needs a deal over reforms, which could release a vital €7.2 billion euros worth of aid from its second bailout program. The country has millions of euros worth of loan repayments to pay over the next few weeks and months to lenders and money is running out. The sources noted that Tsipras wanted to be more involved in the talks as they entered a “delicate and critical” phase, adding that the prime minister was focusing on the “political” side of the deal while Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Euclid Tsakalatos (currently in charge of Greece’s negotiating team) had been looking after the “technical side.”

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“Tsipras’s mandate from the Greek people is the biggest stumbling block to a deal with the country’s creditors..” Huh? Where did democracy go?

Tsipras Says He Won’t Cross Red Lines in Talks With Creditors (Bloomberg)

Greece won’t cross its red lines in negotiations with international creditors just because time is pressing to close a deal, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said. “Those who think that our red lines will fade as time goes on would do well to forget it,” Tsipras said at a conference in Athens late Friday. “I want to assure the Greek people that there’s no way the government will back down on the issue of pension and wage cuts,” he said. “A deal must be reached but it must be mutually beneficial.” Tsipras will address the standoff in bailout negotiations on the sidelines of a meeting of European Union leaders to be held May 21-22 in Riga, Latvia. More than 110 days of talks between Greece and its creditors have failed to produce an agreement to unlock further aid and avert default.

The standoff has triggered a liquidity squeeze, pulling the country back into a recession and renewing doubts over Greece’s future in the euro area. “The bottom line is that pressure on Greek authorities to come to a deal is rising,” JPMorgan’s Barr and Mackie wrote in a note to clients Friday. “The pressures on central government cash flow, pressures on the banking system and the political timetable are all converging on late May-early June. At that point some form of interim deal will need to be struck” and “it’s clear that time is running out,” they said. Negotiations in the so-called Brussels Group of Greek and creditor institution representatives will continue over the weekend and into next week.

While Greece has found common ground with its creditors in areas including fiscal targets, a marginal change to the sales tax rate and tax administration reform, there are “still open issues” concerning labor market and pension system reforms, Tsipras said. Greece may seek an additional meeting of euro-area finance ministers by the end of May, Greek government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said on May 14, as the cash crunch intensifies. It remains unclear how Tsipras will deal with the likely objection by the Left Platform section of his Syriza party to the content of any deal, Barr and Mackie said. “Even small countries can stand upright to confront imperialist pressures and threats,” Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said today in Athens following a meeting with Venezuela’s ambassador to Greece. Lafazanis leads the Left Platform.

Tsipras’s mandate from the Greek people is the biggest stumbling block to a deal with the country’s creditors, Maltese Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said in an interview Friday.

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Wise.

Greece Pays Public Sector Wages To Avert Fresh Economic Crisis (Guardian)

Greece avoided another financial crisis by paying about €500 million in wages to public sector workers, but suffered another downgrade of its credit rating. “The mid-May payments of wages and pensions … were made within the scheduled time frame,” the finance ministry said. They had been due on Friday. The payment came as Greece remained locked in talks with its creditors in an effort to release €7.2bn of bailout funds to avoid a default and exit from the eurozone. In a sign the leftist Syriza government was preparing to compromise over some of the reforms demanded by Brussels and the IMF, it said it would push ahead with privatisation of its biggest port, Piraeus.

It is in talks with China’s Cosco Group, which manages two container piers at the port, about selling a majority stake. “We are in very advanced talks to expand this cooperation very soon in relation with the inclusion of a railway network as well,” the defence minister, Panos Kammenos, told an economic conference in Athens. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said his country was “very close” to reaching a vital deal with bailout lenders, but insisted there was “no possibility” of giving in to key demands including further cuts to pensions and wages.

Tsipras said the government had not abandoned its goal to try to persuade lenders to restructure Greece’s debt. “It appears that we have reached common ground with the institutions on a number of issues, and that makes us optimistic that we are really very close to an agreement,” Tsipras said, noting convergence on harmonised sales tax rates and tax administration reforms. “But several issues remain open … I want to reassure the Greek people that there is no chance or possibility for the Greek government to retreat on the issue of wages and pensions. Wage earners and pensioners have suffered enough.”

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28.1% of mortgages are non-performing.

Home Is Where The Household Income Goes (Kathimerini)

Owning or even renting a home has become a bane rather than a boon for Greeks – to say nothing of the taxes ownership and utilization of a property entail – as the latest Housing Europe report shows that Greece has the highest housing costs as a percentage of disposable income among all European Union states. The cost of maintaining a home comes to 37% for average households, soaring to 65% for those close to the poverty line, the annual study found. The respective average rates in the EU are 22.2% and 41%. The survey counts costs as rent for tenants or mortgage payments for owners, spending on heating, electricity, water and sewage, and telephony, as well as building maintenance and other expenditures.

The continual decline in household revenues – mainly through cuts to salaries and pensions – coupled with the steady increase in other costs such as power rates and heating oil, meanwhile, is putting an increasing number of households at serious risk. Denmark comes second on the list, with 30% of people’s disposable income going into the maintenance of their home, followed by Germany with 28%. Both of these countries, however, have a low rate of home ownership compared with Greece, so the cost of rent takes up a bigger chunk of housing expenditure. This also suggests that Greece’s high rate is due to the decline in incomes after the outbreak of the financial crisis and the spike in unemployment, rather than to an increase in expenditure.

According to the latest available data, from the 2011 census, the rate of people living in their own homes comes to 73.2%, while 21.7% live in rented properties. In Germany, home ownership amounts to just 45.4% and in Denmark it stands at 51%. According to EU data in 2012, Greece also had the highest share of people overburdened by housing costs at 33.1%. This country also tops other unenviable lists, as it has the highest rate of people with unpaid utilities (31.8%), as well as of mortgage borrowers with arrears and of tenants owing rent (both around 15%). The rate of bad loans has soared in recent years, with nonperforming mortgages climbing from 3.6% in 2008 to 28.1% of all mortgages in end-2014.

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Britons will take to the streets.

Osborne Calls Emergency July Budget To Reveal Next Wave Of Austerity (Guardian)

George Osborne will reveal how the government plans to cut £12bn from Britain’s welfare bill when he announces a fresh wave of austerity measures in his second budget in less than four months on 8 July. The chancellor said he wanted to make a start delivering on the commitments made in the Conservative party manifesto and pledged that his package would be a budget for “working people”. Announcing his decision in an article in the Sun, Osborne said he would provide details of how the government plans to eliminate the UK’s budget deficit – forecast to be £75bn this year – and run a surplus by the end of the parliament.

“On the 8th of July I am going to take the unusual step of having a second budget of the year – because I don’t want to wait to turn the promises we made in the election into a reality … And I can tell you it will be a budget for working people.” Treasury sources said the budget would address Britain’s poor productivity record, which has held back growth in living standards, and would also announce plans to create 3m new apprenticeships. However, the centrepiece of the package will be a fresh bout of austerity, with Osborne keen to get unpopular measures out of the way early in the parliament, in readiness for pre-election tax cuts once the public finances have improved.

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“In 1946 there were roughly 2.5 million children between the ages of 0 and 5 living in the Soviet Union. There should have been around 6.5 million.”

Russia is a Product of WWII, In Terms of Demographics (Adomanis)

The human costs of the war really do beggar belief. The first and most obvious costs are the people (primarily men between the ages of 19 and 40) who were actually killed in combat. And, as you might expect, these losses were positively enormous: in some age cohorts, fully half the men who should have been alive in 1946 were not. Somewhat surprisingly the biggest absolute and proportional losses seem to have fallen on those men who were roughly 30 years old when the war started. In most cinematic depictions of the war that I’ve seen the average rank and file soldier is presented as a fresh-faced recruit straight out of high school, but this evidently isn’t a particularly accurate presentation of what actually happened.

Another thing that was somewhat surprising was the relative paucity of losses among the female part of the population. The German occupation of the Baltics, Ukraine, and large sections of European Russia was famously barbaric. Civilians living in those areas were treated brutishly, often for a period of many years. Any number of films display in quite excoriating detail the horrific ways in which the Nazis treated the people whom they occupied. But unlike the entire generation of young men that was “missing” as a result of the war, from a demographic standpoint Soviet women were not impacted to nearly the same degree. Given what I had read about the egregious losses among civilians in places like Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Rostov this was unexpected.

But what really blew me away was the “unseen” demographic cost of the war: those children that would have been born had pre-war fertility patterns been sustained throughout the 1940’s. Here the losses are even more nightmarish than those suffered by young males of prime combat age. In 1946 there were roughly 2.5 million children between the ages of 0 and 5 living in the Soviet Union. There should have been around 6.5 million. These losses of four million lost births won’t show up anywhere on a monument or a casualty roster, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Indeed, from the standpoint of their impact on Russia’s future they were likely even more significant than the millions of young men who died in combat, permanently lowering Russia’s potential population.

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WIll there be more of these cases coming soon?

Poland Pays $250,000 To Alleged Victims Of CIA Rendition And Torture (Guardian)

Poland is paying a quarter of a million dollars to two terror suspects allegedly tortured by the CIA in a secret facility in this country – prompting outrage among many here who feel they are being punished for American wrongdoing. Europe’s top human rights court imposed the penalty against Poland, setting a Saturday deadline. It irks many in Poland that their country is facing legal repercussions for the secret rendition and detention programme which the CIA operated under then-President George W Bush in several countries across the world after the 9/11 attacks. So far no US officials have been held accountable, but the European court of human rights has shown that it does not want to let European powers that helped the programme off the hook.

The court also ordered Macedonia in 2012 to pay €60,000 to a Lebanese-German man who was seized in Macedonia on erroneous suspicion of terrorist ties and subjected to abuse by the CIA. The Polish foreign ministry said on Friday that it was processing the payments. However, neither Polish officials nor the US embassy in Warsaw would say where the money is going or how it was being used. For now, it remains unclear how a European government can make payments to two men who have been held for years at Guantánamo with almost no contact to the outside world. Even lawyers for the suspects were tight-lipped, though they said the money would not be used to fund terrorism.

The European court of human rights ruled last July that Poland violated the rights of suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by allowing the CIA to imprison them and by failing to stop the “torture and inhuman or degrading treatment” of the inmates. It ordered Warsaw to pay €130,000 to Zubaydah, a Palestinian, and €100,000 to Nashiri, a Saudi national charged with orchestrating the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors. Poland appealed against the ruling but lost in February. The foreign minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, said at the time that “we will abide by this ruling because we are a law-abiding country”. The country apparently received millions of dollars from the United States when it allowed the site to operate in 2002 and 2003, last year’s report on the renditions program by the US Senate intelligence committee said in a section that appears to refer to Poland though the country name was redacted.

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Default.

Ukraine GDP Drops 17.6%, Prices Rise 61% (FT)

Crunch talks on Ukraine’s national debt hang in the balance after the finance minister warned creditors that “all options were on the table” as the economic outlook for the war-torn country worsens. Natalie Jaresko made the comments ahead of a restructuring deadline next month. They came as official figures showed Ukraine experienced an even deeper slump than expected in the first quarter, with gross domestic product shrinking 17.6% year on year. The central bank had previously estimated a 15% contraction. The scale of the slump deepened international concerns over the country’s economy. Figures showed inflation spiked to some 61% in April, because of sharp increases in utility tariffs on top of the weakness of the national currency, the hryvnia.

Ukraine’s government is struggling to convince creditors to accept a haircut as part of plans to restructure $23bn of debt. The atmosphere surrounding the talks has become increasingly acrimonious as both sides this week issued statements accusing the other of failing to engage “substantively” with the process. The stand-off over Ukraine’s debt restructuring, alongside the Greek debt crisis, leaves the international community facing potential default risks by two European countries. Analysts suggested Ms Jaresko’s reference to “all options being on the table” was a hint the government was prepared if necessary to impose a moratorium or suspension of debt servicing.

Failure to agree a restructuring with debtholders by June could put at risk the next tranche of a $17.5bn loan from the IMF. The loan is part of a broader $40bn assistance programme that includes $7.5bn in bilateral aid, but also assumes a $15bn debt restructuring over four years that Kiev says should include a haircut, reductions in the coupon, and maturity extensions. [..] In March, credit rating agency Moody’s announced that Ukraine’s chances of defaulting on its debt were “virtually 100 per cent”.

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Rajoy is not going to like this.

Anti-Poverty Crusader Leads Race To Be Barcelona’s Next Mayor (Guardian)

As one of the founders of the Mortgage Victims’ Platform, Ada Colau has spent the past six years battling the most visible scars of Spain’s economic crisis, from growing inequality to home evictions. Now the 41-year-old activist could become Barcelona’s next mayor. Polls have put Colau, and the Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona in Common) citizen platform she leads, in the top spot in the runup to Spain’s regional and municipal elections. A grassroots coalition of several political parties, including Podemos, and thousands of citizens and activists, Barcelona en Comú has become the brightest hope for the many in Spain pushing for democratic regeneration.

Crowd-funded and guided by a code of ethics composed by its members, the group promises to focus on job creation, combat growing inequality in the city and usher in a culture of transparency and anti-corruption measures in the city’s institutions. “We want to show that you can do politics another way,” Colau told the Guardian. “It’s a historic opportunity.” If they win, the group’s members have prepared a to-do list for its first months in power – what Colau calls “commonsense measures” – ranging from limiting her monthly salary to €2,200 to eliminating official cars and expense budgets for attending meetings. The details of any meetings involving city officials would be posted online, they say. The thorny issue of tourism will also be tackled, with an effort to design a more sustainable model for the city.

“Tourism is out of control,” said Colau, pointing to areas such as the historical centre that have become saturated with hotels and tourist apartments. Rents have rocketed as a result and neighbourhoods and small businesses have been pushed out of the area. “Everyone wants to see the real city, but if the centre fills up with multinationals and big stores that you can find in any other city, it doesn’t work,” she said. Colau’s voice rises with excitement as she muses about the possibility of being elected on 24 May. “What most excites us is the idea that Barcelona could become a world reference as a democratic and socially just city. Barcelona has the resources, the money and the skills. The only thing that has been missing to date has been the political will.”

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“CNN in direct transmissions assures that since the 1990s America has been leading humanitarian actions, and not wars, that from military planes fall angels and not bombs!”

US Anger With RT Will Start World War Three – Emir Kusturica (Sputnik)

World War Three will break out when the US finally tires of the RT TV channel, and decides to bomb it; in retaliation, Russia will destroy CNN, writes film director Emir Kusturica, in an article published on Thursday. “Everything is different to how it was during the Cold War! Because of that it is useless to talk about a return to how things used to be, and listen to Henry Kissinger scare us. In the meantime, China has become the strongest world economy, Russia has recovered from Perestroika, India is growing into a genie! Military experts don’t argue that Americans have the most organized army, but there remains the unsolvable puzzle for NATO generals, who have called one of the Russian rockets ‘SATAN.'”

“The devil never comes alone! At the same time with this rocket and numerous innovations, the TV Channel RT has also appeared among the Russian arsenal.” “The program is broadcast in English, and watched by around 700 million people in 200 countries. The secret success of this television is the smashing of the Hollywood-CNN stereotype of the good and bad guys, where blacks, Hispanics, Russians, Serbs are the villains, and white Americans, wherever you look, are OK!” “Congressman, and those in the State Department are continually upset by RT,” writes Kusturica, adding that the US Secretary of State is “the loudest.”

“Kerry and the congressmen are bothered by the fact that RT sends signals that the world is not determined by the fatalism of liberal capitalism, that the US is leading the world into chaos, that Monsanto is not producing healthy food, that Coca-Cola is ideal for cleaning automobile alloys and not for the human stomach, that in Serbia the percentage of people who die from cancer has risen sharply due to the 1999 NATO bombings, that the social map of America is falling from day to day, that the fingerprints of the CIA are on the Ukrainian crisis, and that BlackWater fired at the Ukrainian police, and not Maidan activists.”

In contrast, writes the film director, “CNN in direct transmissions assures that since the 1990s America has been leading humanitarian actions, and not wars, that from military planes fall angels and not bombs!” “As time goes on RT will ever more demystify the American Dream and in primetime will reveal the truth hidden for decades from the eyes and heart of average Americans, in their own homes, in perfect English, better than they use on CNN.”

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How sugar bankrupts societies.

Food and Finance: Create A Revolution With Your Shopping Trolley (Berrino)

When we think of health, most of the time we are thinking of treatments and about patients getting better. Basically we’re thinking about the effects of bad health. Hardly ever do we think of the causes. It’s really complicated to intervene on the causes. That means making changes to the economy that is making us sick. It means altering the very structure of the society in which we live. The air that we breathe, the food that we eat – these are the poisons that make us sick. The medical doctor can only treat the patient, and that is often the last hope, for instances for cases of tumours. The lawmaker should be protecting the citizens, and should be using preventative measures to safeguard health.

However this involves clashing with a variety of multinationals, with the effects of globalisation, with the criminal financial world that not doesn’t mind who it offends and doesn’t even know of the existence of ethics. And in the face of these obstacles, the medical doctor can do very little. The only true remedy is information. Prevent bad health by having access to information, and by your lifestyle. Any diabetes specialist will tell you that sugar is bad for you, but we are bombarded with advertisements for sweet snacks and sugary drinks. These are especially targeted at children who are the most vulnerable. Health care, food, and public spending are all interconnected.

from “Pappa Mundi“ by Francesco Galietti: “It could seem paradoxical, but the structural solution to the crisis in public financing is also linked to the solution of the food issue. In most of the Western World, the public spending that’s classed as “health care” is concentrated on the treatment of pathologies (diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers) and these are linked to the unrestrained consumption of sugars, fats, etc. This has been confirmed in the public consultation that took place in the first quarter of 2014 for the World Health Organization guidelines on the consumption of sugars. In the thoughtful report of a research project issued by their think-tank – the McKinsey Global Institute: obesity has become much more than a cultural problem or one due to the lack of knowledge about foods.

Today, the impact from obesity is roughly $2.0 trillion, or 2.8% of global GDP. This is the impressive figure combining falls in productivity, health-care costs and various types of investment to mitigate the impact. The order of magnitude is roughly equivalent to the global impact from armed violence, war, and terrorism.“ It then goes on to say: “Thus it is not surprising to witness the growing interest and the possible boom in the use of surrogate natural sugars (like stevia) by global giants like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Nor is it surprising to see the outcry from the associations of sugar producers who are reluctant to take the blame for the excesses of individual people as well as for the gaping holes in national accounts … The more people get hold of the idea that unhealthy foods have negative repercussions even for the badly organised public finances, the more the producers of unhealthy foods will start to be targeted by national governments. “

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“Humans are subject to intense status quo bias. Especially on the conservative end of the psychological spectrum — which is the direction all humans move when they feel frightened or under threat..”

The Awful Truth About Climate Change No One Wants To Admit (Vox)

There has always been an odd tenor to discussions among climate scientists, policy wonks, and politicians, a passive-aggressive quality, and I think it can be traced to the fact that everyone involved has to dance around the obvious truth, at risk of losing their status and influence. The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit. We recently passed 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere; the status quo will take us up to 1,000 ppm, raising global average temperature (from a pre-industrial baseline) between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees Celsius.

That will mean, according to a 2012 World Bank report, “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,” the effects of which will be “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions,” stalling or reversing decades of development work. “A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided,” said the World Bank president. But that’s where we’re headed. It will take enormous effort just to avoid that fate. Holding temperature down under 2°C would require an utterly unprecedented level of global mobilization and coordination, sustained over decades. There’s no sign of that happening, or reason to think it’s plausible anytime soon. And so, awful shit it is. [..]

The sad fact is that no one has much incentive to break the bad news. Humans are subject to intense status quo bias. Especially on the conservative end of the psychological spectrum — which is the direction all humans move when they feel frightened or under threat — there is a powerful craving for the message that things are, basically, okay, that the system is working like it’s supposed to, that the current state of affairs is the best available, or close enough. To be the insisting that, no, things are not okay, things are heading toward disaster, is uncomfortable in any social milieu — especially since, in most people’s experience, those wailing about the end of the world are always wrong and frequently crazy.

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Access to water will decline sharply going forward.

Without Universal Access To Water, There Can Be No Food Security (Guardian)

Ensuring universal access to water is vital in order to address food security and improve nutrition, yet recognition of the links between water and food are too often missed. A major report on water for food security and nutrition, launched on Friday by the high-level panel of experts on food security and nutrition (HLPE), is the first comprehensive effort to bring together access to water, food security and nutrition. This report goes far beyond the usual focus on water for agriculture. Safe drinking water and sanitation are fundamental to human development and wellbeing. Yet inadequate access to clean water undermines people’s nutrition and health through water-borne diseases and chronic intestinal infections.

The landmark report, commissioned by the committee on world food security (CFS), not only focuses on the need for access, it also makes important links between land, water and productivity. It underlines the message that water is integral to human food security and nutrition, as well as the conservation of forests, wetlands and lakes upon which all humans depend. Policies and governance issues on land, water and food are usually developed in isolation. Against a backdrop of future uncertainties, including climate change, changing diets and water-demand patterns, there has to be a joined-up approach to addressing these challenges.

There are competing demands over water from different sectors such as agriculture, energy and industry. With this in mind, policymakers have to prioritise the rights and interests of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups, with a particular focus on women, when it comes to water access. There is vast inequality in access to water, which is determined by socio-economic, political, gender and power relations. Securing access can be particularly challenging for smallholders, vulnerable and marginalised populations and women.

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