Pablo Picasso The Roaster 1938
Really? Both the Dow and the S&P were up 1.75% yesterday.
A marked shift toward protectionism by President Donald Trump caused sharp outflows from U.S. large-cap stocks this week, Bank of America Merrill-Lynch (BAML) strategists said on Friday. Investors rushed into government bonds and other safer assets amid rising fears of an international trade war after Trump’s plans for tariffs on imported steel and aluminum met barbed responses from allies and trade bodies. Overall, investors pulled money out of equities, though the damage was mostly in the United States where $10.3 billion flowed out of U.S. equity funds, while global equity funds suffered just $0.4 billion of outflows, according to EPFR data cited by BAML. “As QE ends, protectionism begins,” wrote BAML strategists.
The risk-off mood drove investors into money market funds, pushing assets up to $2.9 trillion – the highest level since 2010. Safe-haven gold also drew in $0.4 billion. U.S. small caps were sheltered from the storm, the only U.S. sector to draw inflows, albeit tiny at $0.03 billion. U.S. large-cap stocks lost $10.1 billion. Flows into Japanese equities continued apace, with the market drawing in $4.1 billion in its 14th straight week of inflows, the longest streak of inflows since 2013. European stock funds managed to draw in $0.1 billion. Trump’s exemption of Canada and Mexico from the final tariffs announced late on Thursday soothed investors somewhat, and news the U.S. president would meet with North Korean President Kim Jong Un caused crude prices to rise.
How can Kim say no?
Vice President Mike Pence has said the US made “zero concessions” in order to get an invitation to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and talk about a possible end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. Mr Pence said that President Donald Trump has “consistently increased the pressure” on North Korea, which has continued the development of its weapons – including an increasing number of missile tests in the last 12 months – despite numerous resolutions by the United Nations. Later at the White House, the press secretary made it clear that talks would only take place if Washington saw “concrete action” by North Korea towards denuclearisation. Mr Trump and Mr Kim are expected to meet before the end of May, although a date and location has yet to be set.
After months of escalating rhetoric between the nations the prospect of a thaw has been welcomed by world leaders. Ms Sanders said at a briefing on Friday that President Trump was “in a great mood” in the wake of the announcement, saying that the US was having conversations “from a position of strength” – with denuclearisation having always been the goal of the administration. It has taken many by surprise, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had said just hours before the announcement that the US was a “long ways from negotiations”. But, Mr Tillerson said the President made the decision to accept the invite “himself”, a move he said was a “dramatic” reversal in posture for North Korea.
“When a stock bubble bursts, investors lose money. When a sovereign bond bubble bursts, entire countries go bust..”
While everyone is “high fiving” over stocks holding up, the bond market is back to imploding. Already Treasury yields have bounced and are soaring higher in one of the nastiest breakouts in over 20 years.
In a world awash in too much debt (global Debt to GDP is over 300%) this is a MAJOR problem. Most investors believe that the 2008 Crisis was the worst crisis of their lifetimes. They’re mistaken… what’s coming down the pike when the Bond Bubble blows up will be many times worse than 2008. The reason is that bonds, not stocks, represent the bedrock of the financial system. When a stock bubble bursts, investors lose money. When a sovereign bond bubble bursts, entire countries go bust (a la Greece in 2010). On that note, I want to point out that bond yields are not just rising in the US… we’re seeing them spike in Germany, Japan, and others.
This is a truly global problem, and if Central Banks don’t move to get it control soon, we’re heading into a MAJOR crisis.
US jobs reports are meaningless. Maybe it’s time to recognize that before they blow up in your faces.
The census bureau does the data-gathering and the Bureau of Labor Statistics feeds the questionable data sample through its statistical sausage grinder and spits out some type of grotesque scatological substance. You know an economic report is pure absurdity when the report exceeds Wall Street’s rose-colored estimate by 53%. That has to be, by far, an all-time record-high “beat.” If you sift through some of the foul-smelling data, it turns out 365k of the alleged jobs were part-time, which means the labor market lost 52k full-time jobs. But alas, I loathe paying any credence to complete fiction by dissecting the “let’s pretend” report. The numbers make no sense. Why? Because the alleged data does not fit the reality of the real economy.
Retail sales, auto sales, home sales and restaurant sales have been declining for the past couple of months. So who would be doing the hiring? Someone pointed out that Coinbase has hired 500 people. But the retail industry has been laying off thousands this year. Given the latest industrial production and auto sales numbers, I highly doubt factories are doing anything with their workforce except reducing it. And if the job market is “so strong,” how comes wages are flat? In fact, adjusted for real inflation, real wages are declining. If the job market was robust, wages would be soaring. Speaking of which, IF the labor market was what the Government wants us to believe it is, the FOMC would tripping all over itself to hike the Fed Funds rate. And the rate-hikes would be in chunks of 50-75 basis points – not the occasional 0.25% rise.
Balloons in a bubble.
So we have the first Fed Governor and member of the policy-setting FOMC who came out and said that the QE Unwind that began last October with baby steps isn’t fast enough. And because it’s so slow it may actually contribute to, rather than lower, the “financial imbalances.” In her speech, Kansas City Fed President Esther George pointed at the growth of the economy, the tightness in the labor market, the additional support the economy will get from consumers and companies as they spend or invest the tax cuts, etc., etc. And despite this growth, “the stance of monetary policy remains quite accommodative,” she said. She cited the federal funds rate – the overnight interest rate the Fed targets. The Fed’s current target range is 1.25% to 1.50%, which is “well below estimates of its longer-run value of around 3%,” she said.
The Fed would have to raise rates at least six more times of 25 basis points each, for a total of at least 1.5 percentage points, to bring the federal funds rate to around 3% and get back to neutral. If the Fed wanted to actually tighten after that, it would have to raise rates further. So far, so good. And then came her concerns about the Fed’s balance sheet. Under QE, the Fed acquired $1.7 trillion in Treasury securities and $1.78 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, for a total of about $3.5 trillion. After QE ended in October 2014, the Fed then maintained the levels by replacing maturing securities. But in October last year, it commenced the QE-Unwind and started to not replace some maturing securities. This has the effect of shrinking its balance sheet.
Just like the Fed “tapered” QE by phasing it out over the course of a year, it is also ramping up the QE-Unwind over the course of a year. But the pace of the QE-Unwind has been too slow, according to George – and this may be destabilizing the financial markets: “By the end of this year, however, only about a quarter of the increase to the Fed’s balance sheet resulting from the first round of large scale asset purchases will be unwound. These holdings of longer-term assets were intended to put downward pressure on longer term interest rates. Many investors responded, as would be expected, by purchasing riskier assets in a reach for higher yield. As a result, asset prices may have become distorted relative to the economic fundamentals.”
Free trade is a deception tool.
The mobility of capital radically alters the simplistic 18th century view of free trade. In today’s world, trade can not be coherently measured as goods moving between nations, because capital from the importing nation owns the productive assets in the exporting nation. If Apple owns a factory (or joint venture) in China and collects virtually all the profits from the iGadgets produced there, this reality cannot be captured by the models of simple trade described by Ricardo. In today’s globalized version of “free trade,” mobile capital can arbitrage labor, currencies, interest rates, regulatory burdens and political favors by shifting between nations and assets. Trying to account for trade in the 18th century manner of goods shipped between nations is nonsensical when components come from a number of nations and profits flow not to the nation of origin but to the owners of capital.
[..] In a world dominated by mobile capital, mobile capital is the comparative advantage. Mobile capital can borrow billions of dollars (or equivalent) in one nation at low rates of interest and then use that money to outbid domestic capital for assets in another nation with few sources of credit. Mobile capital can overwhelm the local political system, buying favors and cutting deals, all with cash borrowed at near-zero interest rates. Mobile capital can buy up and exploit resources and cheap labor until the resource is depleted or competition cuts profit margins. At that point, mobile capital closes the factories, fires the employees and moves on. Where is the “free trade” in a world in which the comparative advantage is held by mobile capital?
And what gives mobile capital its essentially unlimited leverage? Central banks issuing trillions of dollars in nearly-free money to banks and other financial institutions that funnel the free cash to corporations and financiers, who can then roam the world snapping up assets and arbitraging global imbalances with nearly-free money. There’s nothing remotely “free” about trade based not on Ricardo’s simple concept of comparative advantage but on capital flows unleashed by central bank liquidity. The gains reaped by mobile capital flow to those who control mobile capital: global corporations, financiers and banks. No wonder labor’s share of the economy is stagnating across the globe while corporate profits reach unprecedented heights.
Until the last drop: “A lot of companies have been living off debt and their business model won’t apply to higher interest rates.”
Investors shrugged off trade skirmishes and signals of fading monetary stimulus as they rewarded some of Europe’s most leveraged companies, putting the latter on track for their best weekly advance since December 2016. Stocks with the weakest balance sheets gained 4.5% this week, compared to 3.1% for their less-indebted counterparts, according to a Bloomberg analysis of Morgan Stanley data. Since these risky-debt companies were beaten up earlier in the year, they’re beginning to bounce back thanks to the risk-on rally, buoyed by largely positive earnings reports, said Hugh Cuthbert at SVM Asset Management. “Post the jitters that we saw at the start of February, they are more than likely to be beneficiaries”.
“The market appetite for risk will always benefit those guys when it’s high.” Still, it’s a small reprieve after they dropped more than 10% in the 25 trading days through last week. Even after the recent advance, shares of weak balance-sheet companies sit 7.7% below their January peak. The Morgan Stanley-compiled basket tracks 40 European companies with measures that include net debt to Ebitda and interest coverage ratios. The good times may be short-lived, however, as the ECB pares stimulus, said Cuthbert. “Look out, if we are in a tightening cycle,” he said. “A lot of companies have been living off debt and their business model won’t apply to higher interest rates.”
A control tool Beijing finds hard to resist. Predictably.
Just because China’s financial regulators are cracking down on cryptocurrencies doesn’t mean they’re souring on the idea of digital money. People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan made that clear at a press conference in Beijing on Friday, saying physical cash may one day become obsolete. Zhou said the PBOC is looking into digital currencies as it pursues faster, cheaper and more convenient payment methods, even as he warned that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin – more often used for speculation than payments – don’t serve the economy.
“We must prevent major mistakes that would lead to irreparable losses, so we are cautious,” Zhou said during what may be one of his last public appearances before his expected retirement. “We don’t like creating products for speculation and making people have the illusion that they can get rich overnight.” China, once home to the world’s most active Bitcoin exchanges, banned the venues last year amid a broad-ranging clampdown on virtual currencies. Yet the country is still the world leader in digital payments, thanks to the popularity of platforms developed by tech giants Alibaba and Tencent.
Ink black history.
The most notorious of the Nazi collaborators who immigrated to Canada was Mykhailo Chomiak, a mid-level Nazi operative in Poland, who came under US protection at the end of the war and eventually made his way to Canada where he settled in Alberta. Had he been captured by the Red Army, he would quite likely have been hanged for collaboration with the enemy. In Canada however he prospered as a farmer. His grand-daughter is the “Ukrainian-Canadian” Chrystia Freeland, the present minister for external affairs. She is a well-known Russophobe, persona non grata in the Russian Federation, who long claimed her grandfather was a “victim” of World War II. Her claims to this effect have been demonstrated to be untrue by the Australian born journalist John Helmer, amongst many others.
In 1940 the Liberal government facilitated the creation of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress (UCC), one of many organisations used to fight or marginalise the left in Canada, in this case amongst Canadian Ukrainians. The UCC is still around and appears to dominate the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Approximately 1.4 million people living in Canada claim full or partial Ukrainian descent though generally the latter. Most “Ukrainian-Canadians” were born in Canada; well more than half live in the western provinces. The vast majority has certainly never set foot in the Ukraine. It is this constituency on which the UCC depends to pursue its political agenda in Ottawa.
After the coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014 the UCC lobbied the then Conservative government under Stephen Harper to support the Ukrainian “regime change” operation which had been conducted by the United States and European Union. The UCC president, Paul Grod, took the lead in obtaining various advantages from the Harper government, including arms for the putschist regime in Kiev. It survives only through massive EU and US direct or indirect financial/political support and through armed backing from fascist militias who repress dissent by force and intimidation. Mr. Grod claims that Russia is pursuing a policy of “aggression” against the Ukraine.
If that were true, the putschists in Kiev would have long ago disappeared. The Harper government allowed fund raising for Pravyi Sektor, a Ukrainian fascist paramilitary group, through two organisations in Canada including the UCC, and even accorded “charitable status” to one of them to facilitate their fund raising and arms buying. Harper also sent military “advisors” to train Ukrainian forces, the backbone of which are fascist militias. The Trudeau government has continued that policy. “Canada should prepare for Russian attempts to destabilize its democracy,” according to Minister Freeland: “Ukraine is a very important partner to Canada and we will continue to support its efforts for democracy and economic growth.”
“It is the US government and NATO, and the people who own and control them, who are the threats and the enemies to the future of Humanity.”
There is no place that the US or NATO has gone into in the last 4 decades that is better off. Not one. In fact, there is no place that NATO or the US have intervened, (usually against international law) that hasn’t become a failed state, hell on Earth for the citizens, and a genuine danger to the surrounding regions and the world. It is the US government and NATO, and the people who own and control them, who are the threats and the enemies to the future of Humanity. But their days of disregarding international law and destroying weaker nations with impunity are now over, as of March 1st, 2018. The good people of America now have a huge opportunity, and a huge challenge. Russia spends less than one tenth what the USA spends on military and defense, but their military and weapons are superior in every measurable way.
The waste, corruption and abject venality of the US military industrial complex has wasted trillions on weapon systems that are now literally useless, and which have left the US military (and by extension the American people) defenseless before the power of Russia’s weapons, which are designed and produced to be effective rather than profitable. The opportunity is this – the USA can now reduce its military spending (the highest in the world) by 90% and still be safer than you are right now, spending almost a trillion dollars a year on useless weapons and a defenseless military. Safer, because as soon as the American People take control of their government enough to reduce your spending to ONLY as much as Russia spends, Russia will stop having reason to see the USA as an existential threat.
The less you spend, the safer you will be. The more you spend, the more likely World War Three, which will see you as the instigators and the losers. This gives the USA, starting as soon as you want, an extra $800 billion, per year, to spend on things that have actual worth, things you really need. Health care, free college education, fixing the rotting economy and infrastructure that are daily becoming more of a threat to the American people than Russia has ever been. Your challenge is that you must root out an entrenched and ruthless kleptocracy, built on deceit and oppression, and which is bent on war, and will stop at nothing to cling to its power. It is a huge task, an historic task, but in it lies your only hope. These parasites must be stopped, and if the American People are not up to the challenge, if they fail in their historic mission, they will leave it to the armies of the world, led by Russia, who will no longer tolerate those who want to rule the world.
So-called democracy is no better.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has repeatedly told the world that China is ready to lead on issues like free trade and climate change. Now, he’s ready to extend his leadership to political parties everywhere. At the big annual gathering of Chinese lawmakers and political advisors that kicked off March 3, Xi said that China is offering a “new type of political party system”—a Chinese solution that contributes to the development of political parties around the world, according to state media (link in Chinese). The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has always said the country will never copy the political systems of other countries, in particular the Western notion of democracy.
But under Xi—the most powerful Chinese leader in four decades—China’s own one-party system is one that is ready to be exported to regimes everywhere. The term “new type of political party system” was first put forward by Xi when he delivered a speech to non-party political advisors on March 4. It’s not the first time that Xi has floated the idea that China’s political model can make a contribution to the world. This time, however, Chinese state media churned out a wave of articles to underscore the significance of this new phrase. In the past, “some people lacking self-confidence always use Western political theories to criticize China’s political party system,” wrote Wang Xiaohong at the party-backed Central Institute of Socialism, in a commentary widely circulated by Chinese news outlets.
But as Wang argues, Western political systems are associated, among other things, with fractured societies, inefficient government, and “endless power transitions and social chaos” as in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and in north Africa after the Arab Spring. “The new type of political party system has overcome all sorts of problems that the old [one] can’t overcome,” Wang argued. In China, there are eight so-called “democratic parties” that are allowed to participate in the political system, but they are almost completely subservient to the CCP. Every year in March, members of the minor parties meet with their communist counterparts in Beijing to provide advice on everything from healthcare to poverty reduction—largely for show.
The system—called “multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the CCP’s leadership”—has been used as evidence that China is also a democracy. The internationalization of China’s political system is in fact well underway. Since 2014, the Communist Party has hosted an annual summit in Beijing inviting political party leaders from around the world to hear about how it governs China. In recent years, the party has also brought young African politicians to China for training, in a bid to cultivate allies.
About as valuable as what ‘serious’ press has to report.
Complaining that U.S. investigations into foreign interference in the election have gotten almost everything wrong, officials from dozens of countries around the world expressed irritation Friday that all of the credit for meddling in the 2016 presidential race was going to Russia. Resentful operatives from Serbia, Uruguay, Swaziland, and 45 other nations said they were incredibly annoyed that Kremlin-backed computer hackers and dark-money financiers were receiving all the media attention, while their own far superior efforts to undermine the U.S. electoral process had so far received no recognition at all.
“Do you have any idea how much more sophisticated our attacks on American democracy were than Russia’s?” Laotian president Bounnhang Vorachith said of his government’s efforts to spread misinformation about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on social media sites. “We spent millions building a sophisticated bot network that could craft false but believable stories portraying Trump in a good light. And it worked! It’s unbelievably frustrating to pull off something like that and then have all the glory go to someone else.” “Do you really think Russia could’ve hacked into [Clinton campaign chairman] John Podesta’s emails?” Vorachith continued. “Hell no. That was Laos.”
According to sources, every time the American media credits Russian oligarchs with funding election-tampering efforts, numerous foreign agents across the globe throw up their arms and storm out of the room, infuriated because Costa Rican and Nepalese money launderers reportedly did far more to finance such initiatives. These agents have also been known to toss aside newspapers in anger, shouting that Mongolia’s work busing thousands of people with dead voters’ names to cast ballots for Clinton in New Hampshire was more deserving of attention than anything Russia had accomplished.
A bit more attention might go a long way.
On this winter day, the world was upside down: it was raining in the Arctic Circle and snowing in Rome. The contradiction was not lost on those gathered at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located near the top of the world. The scientists, activists, executives and government officials were in Longyearbyen, to mark the 10-year anniversary of what has become known as the Doomsday Vault, which stores seeds of the world’s most important crops deep in a mountain against the apocalyptic consequences of climate change and war. The challenge they’re facing now is that the climate is changing far quicker than they’d imagined. The facility sprung a leak last year after construction had failed to take into account that the permafrost could melt.
Norway is now spending about $20 million to secure and improve the facility. But it’s not just the building. “Biodiversity is the building block to develop new plants and because of climate change we’re in a terrible need to quickly develop new varieties,” said Aaslaug Marie Haga, executive director of Crop Trust, a group established to support gene banks. “The climate is changing quicker than the plants can handle.” Svalbard is the farthest north one can travel commercially, about an 1 1/2 hour flight from northern Norway. The vault is about a 10 minute drive from town, past a coal-fired power plant and up a winding two-lane road. Unless armed with a high-caliber rifle, driving is essential, since leaving town also means venturing into polar bear country.
The site’s entrance, not far from the abandoned coal mine that served as the first Nordic seed vault, shines at night like a green beacon, lit up by an artwork of fiber optics, steel and glass called Perpetual Repercussion. The seeds are kept at minus 18 centigrade (-4 Fahrenheit) more than 100 meters into the mountain behind six steel doors. And in an ideal world, the vault would never have to be used. It’s meant to back up the plant gene banks around the world, organized under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. But many of these facilities are vulnerable. One withdrawal from Svalbard has already been made by the group that ran the seed bank in Aleppo, Syria.
Math as a female field. Nice.
In Iran, nearly 70% of university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women—a higher percentage than in any other country. Nearby Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are close, each boasting over 60% female graduates in science, still more of the rest of the world. Young women in science are the rule, not the exception, in the Middle East. At least a third of STEM trained talent across the Muslim world is female, writes Saadia Zahidi in her new book Fifty Million Rising, which tracks the workplace progress achieved by Muslim women since the turn of the century. Only in Jordan, Qatar and the UAE are girls more comfortable with math than boys.
“The Muslim world has put high investment in education, and the payoff is coming now,” argues Zahidi, a World Economic Forum executive who leads education and gender equality initiatives. While observant Muslim societies are often associated with strict social codes for men and women, Western gender stereotypes about work don’t necessarily apply: Several Muslim countries have filled more than half of STEM jobs with female workers. Zahidi adds that in many cases, Muslim women are pioneering their role in the workforce, so they don’t have preconceived stereotypes about whether tech jobs, for example, constitute “feminine” career goals.
A study published in February found that the social and political gender equality typical of Scandinavian countries may be inversely related to women’s representation in STEM fields. This could be in part due to the fact that countries with greater parity between sexes tend to be wealthier, providing better government support to citizens and allowing women to accept less secure jobs.