May 282018
 


Brassaï La Bande du Grand Albert 1931-32

 

President Mattarella Of Italy: From Moral Drift To Tactical Blunder (Varoufakis)
Italy President Vetoes Savona As Economy Minister, May Mean New Election (R.)
Italy’s President Calls In Former IMF Official Amid Political Turmoil (R.)
First Greece, Now Italy, Portugal Next? (ZH)
Corporate Debt Soars While Credit Ratings Fall (Harry Dent)
Fed Relies On Biased Data That Makes ‘B- Economy’ Look Like ‘A+’ – Bianco (CNBC)
Blowing Up the Iran Deal Brings Eurasia Closer to Integration (Pieraccini)
Sudden Chaos In Spanish Politics (Spain Report)
Spain Struggling To Deal With Escalating Migration Crisis (G.)
Google, Facebook Hit With $8.8 Billion In Lawsuits on New EU Privacy Rules (ZH)
US Congressman: F-35s Could Be ‘Used Against Greece’ If Sold To Turkey (K.)
Huge Rise In Food Redistribution To People In Need Across UK (G.)
In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything (NYT)
‘We’re Gonna Keep Riding Till We Get Everybody Back Home, From All Wars’ (AFP)

 

 

“The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Mr Salvini.”

President Mattarella Of Italy: From Moral Drift To Tactical Blunder (Varoufakis)

I concede that there are issues over which I would welcome the Italian President’s use of constitutional powers that (in my humble opinion) he should not have. One such issue is the outrageous policy of the Lega and the promise of its leader, Mr Salvini, to expel five hundred thousand migrants from Italy. Had President Mattarella refused Mr Salvini the post of Interior Minister, on the basis that he rejects such a monstrous project, I would be compelled to support him. But, no, Mr Mattarella had no such qualms. Not even for a moment did he consider vetoing the formation of a 5S-Lega government on the basis that there is no place in a European country for scenes involving security forces rounding up hundreds of thousands of people, caging them, and forcing them into trains, buses and ferries before expelling them goodness knows where.

No, Mr Mattarella vetoed the formation of a government backed by an absolute majority of lawmakers for another reason: His disapproval of the Finance Minister designate. And what was this disapproval based on? The fact that the said gentleman, while fully qualified for the job, and despite his declaration that he would abide by the EU’s eurozone rules, has in the past expressed doubts about the eurozone’s architecture and has favoured a plan of euro exit just in case it is needed. It was as if President Mattarella were to declare that reasonableness in a prospective Finance Minister constitutes grounds for his or her exclusion from the post!

Let’s face it: There is no thinking economist anywhere in the world who does not share a concern about the eurozone’s faulty architecture. And there is no prudent finance minister who does not have a plan for euro exit; indeed, I have itr on good authority that the German finance ministry, the ECB, every major bank and corporation have plans in place for the possible exit from the eurozone of Italy, even of Germany. Is Mr Mattarella telling us that only the Italian Finance Minister is not allowed to imagine having such a plan? Beyond his moral drift (as he condones Mr Salvini’s industrial-scale misanthropy while vetoing a legitimate concern about the eurozone’s capacity to let Italy breathe in its midst), President Mattarella has made a major tactical blunder.

In short, he fell right into Mr Salvini’s trap. The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Mr Salvini. Mr Salvini is secretly salivating at the thought of another election – one that he will fight not as the misanthropic, divisive populist that he is but as the defender of democracy against the Deep Establishment. Already last night hescaled the high moral with the stirring words: “Italy is not a colony, we are not slaves of the Germans, the French, the spread or finance.”

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More than half of Italy feel utterly betrayed by their own president.

Italy President Vetoes Savona As Economy Minister, May Mean New Election (R.)

Italy’s president rejected Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte’s pick for the economy ministry, a political source said on Sunday, a veto that may lead to another election this year.Conte, a little-known law professor with no political experience, took his list of ministers to President Sergio Mattarella, but the president rejected Conte’s candidate to the Economy Ministry, the 81-year-old eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona. Before Conte or Mattarella had finished their meeting, far-right League leader Matteo Salvini said that the only option now was to hold another election, probably later this year, without directly confirming the president’s veto.

“In a democracy, if we are still in democracy, there’s only one thing to do, let the Italians have their say,” Salvini said in a fiery speech to supporters in central Italy. Salvini and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio had met Mattarella informally on Sunday to try to find a solution. “The problem is Savona,” the coalition source said, explaining that the economist had not sufficiently softened some of his more eurosceptic positions. On Sunday, Savona tried to allay concerns about his views in his first public statement on the matter. Savona has been a vocal critic of the euro and the EU, but he has distinguished credentials, including as industry minister in the early 1990s. “I want a different Europe, stronger, but more equal,” Savona said in a statement.

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Another technocrat. That won’t go well this time around.

Italy’s President Calls In Former IMF Official Amid Political Turmoil (R.)

Italy’s president is expected to ask a former IMF official on Monday to head a stopgap government amidst political and constitutional turmoil, with early elections looking inevitable. President Sergio Mattarella has called in Carlo Cottarelli after two anti-establishment parties angrily abandoned their plans to form a coalition in the face of a veto from the head of state over their choice of economy minister. In a televised address, Mattarella said he had rejected the candidate, 81-year-old eurosceptic economist Paolo Savona, because he had threatened to pull Italy from the single currency. “The uncertainty over our position has alarmed investors and savers both in Italy and abroad,” he said, adding: “Membership of the euro is a fundamental choice. If we want to discuss it, then we should do so in a serious fashion.”

Financial markets tumbled last week on fears the coalition being discussed would unleash a spending splurge and dangerously ramp up Italy’s already huge debt, which is equivalent to more than 1.3 times the nation’s domestic output. After Mattarella’s move, the euro gained ground, adding 0.6% against the Japanese yen and ticking up against other major trading partners as well. The far-right League and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which had spent days drawing up a coalition pact aimed at ending a stalemate following an inconclusive March vote, responded with fury to Mattarella, accusing him of abusing his office.

5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio called on parliament to impeach the mild-mannered Mattarella, while League chief Matteo Salvini threatened mass protests unless snap elections were called. “If there’s not the OK of Berlin, Paris or Brussels, a government cannot be formed in Italy. It’s madness, and I ask the Italian people to stay close to us because I want to bring democracy back to this country,” Salvini told reporters. [..] Cottarelli would be a calming choice for the financial markets, but any technocratic administration would likely only be a short-term solution because the majority of parliamentarians have said they would not support such a government.

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Portugal is supposed to be the Prince of the PIIGS.

First Greece, Now Italy, Portugal Next? (ZH)

While most investors are focused on Italian politics – the parallel currency ‘mini-BoT’ fears and potential for a constitutional crisis – Spain is now facing its own political crisis amid calls for a no-confidence vote against Rajoy. However, ‘Spaxit’ remains a distant concern for investors as another member of the PIIGS peripheral problems is starting to signal concerns about ‘Portugone’?

And the fundamental data confirms Portugal is next in line for a debt crisis… As Statista’s Brigitte van de Pas notes, on average, European Union countries had a gross government debt of roughly 81% of GDP in 2018. This average disguises real differences between EU countries. Whereas Greece had a government debt of 177.8% in 2018, Estonia had a debt of only 8.8% – the lowest in the entire EU zone.

While, the high Greek debt is well-known, a number of other countries however also have a debt that is higher than their own GDP. The Italian debt, for example, is lower than the Greek but still significant, at over 130% of GDP. Portugal, in third place, had a debt of 122.5%. One small positive note though: all three countries had even higher debts in 2017, and the European Commission forecasted a slow, but further decrease of their government debt in 2019. Whether this holds true for Italy, with their newly-elected government of Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega remains to be seen.

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“U.S. corporate debt has risen from $40 trillion to $70 trillion since the top of the last bubble in 2007. That’s 63% in 10 years. It’s risen 135% since 2000! [..] China is the worst by far, going from $6 to $36 trillion or a 500% increase!”

Corporate Debt Soars While Credit Ratings Fall (Harry Dent)

[First], Congress’s approving a bill to roll back the Dodd-Frank Act. If this passes, smaller financial institutions will find relief from the strict rules that have applied to Wall Street banks since after the 2008 crisis. This is sheer idiocy! It will not end well. The second is the U.S. corporate debt is suffering one of its worst sell-offs since 2000. This is another disaster in the making. U.S. corporate debt has risen from $40 trillion to $70 trillion since the top of the last bubble in 2007. That’s 63% in 10 years. It’s risen 135% since 2000! Only government debt has risen faster, from $35 to $64 trillion, or 83%. China is the worst by far, going from $6 to $36 trillion or a 500% increase! Of course, many of these bonds are simply financial engineering to buy back stock to increase earnings per share.

Uber-low long-term interest rates thanks to QE have allowed companies to do this cheaply. The problem is these long-term rates have been rising since just July 2016. They’ve gone from 1.38% to 3.10%. That’s an increase of 172 basis points in the risk-free 10-year Treasury bond. That naturally reverberates up through the risk spectrum from investment grade corporate bonds to junk bonds. You see, here’s the thing…Governments have artificially pushed down bond yields for so long that companies have embraced speculation rather than productive investment (i.e. they’re not spending money on productive assets that will serve them and the economy well in the long-term). This mentality only creates financial asset bubbles that burst.

When companies buy back their own shares at historically high valuations, they’re speculating, just like an investor or hedge fund. When stocks crash ahead, shareholders will demand to know why these corporations used the money they will need to survive the crisis to speculate in their own stock… at the highest prices in history! Well, as the numbers are now showing, this corporate bond bubble is starting to burst, and of course that will ultimately hit junk bonds the worst… then stocks and real estate. But the real story here is that we’ve been in this bond bubble since 1981. And the quality of this corporate debt has been falling for nearly 40 years now. QE has only accelerated the decline. We’re now at the point where the median corporate bond rating is borderline junk…

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You don’t say…

Fed Relies On Biased Data That Makes ‘B- Economy’ Look Like ‘A+’ – Bianco (CNBC)

A veteran market researcher is out with a warning — saying the Federal Reserve is relying too heavily on economic surveys skewed by social media to mold their policies. According to Bianco Research President James Bianco, most economists mistakenly believe that leading indicators are signaling an “A+” economy that can withstand rising interest rates. “It’s more like a B- economy,” he told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Friday. “It’s not this screaming home run that everybody thinks it is based on the survey data.” Bianco said social media is creating the bandwagon effect among survey respondents, a psychological phenomenon characterized by people following the herd.

“The advent of social media is allowing us basically to be inundated with financial news or economic news,” he said, adding the bulk of the news about the world’s largest economy has been largely favorable. “When somebody is asked ‘what do you think about the economy,” they are not answering ‘what do you think about the economy,’ Bianco said. “They are answering ‘What have you read about the economy?'” Bianco fears the Fed will make a policy error based on respondents’ answers. “Economists like at the Fed say ‘Wow, look at that data. It’s even better than we thought. We have to raise rates even faster,'” he said, adding that the tightening could derail the bull market. “The 10-Year [yield] could very well be at 3% by the end of next year with a 3% funds rate,” Bianco said. “[That’s when] you get an inverted yield curve.”

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Nobo’s popular at home anymore. Except for Putin.

Blowing Up the Iran Deal Brings Eurasia Closer to Integration (Pieraccini)

Washington finds itself increasingly isolated in its economic and military policies. Merkel’s visit to Russia reaffirms the desire to create an alternative axis to the one between Brussels and Washington. The victory in Italy of two parties strongly opposed to new wars and the annulment of the JCPOA, and especially the sanctions against Russia, serves to form a new alliance, accentuating internal divisions within Europe. Macron, Merkel and May are all grappling with a strong crisis of popularity at home, which does not aid them in their decision-making. Exactly the same problems affect MbS, Trump, and Netanyahu in their respective countries. These leaders find themselves adopting aggressive policies in order to alleviate internal problems.

They also struggle to find a common strategy, often displaying schizophrenic behavior that belies the fact that they are meant to be on the same side of the barricades in terms of the desired world order. In direct contrast, China, Russia, Iran, and now India, are trying to respond to Western madness in a rational, moderate, and mutually beneficial way. And as a result, Europeans may perhaps begin to understand that the future lies not in piggybacking on Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Trump seems to have offered the perfect occasion for European leaders to assert their sovereignty and start to move away from their traditional servility shown towards Washington.

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“This, as the saying goes, could be it.”

Sudden Chaos In Spanish Politics (Spain Report)

PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez really wants to be Prime Minister. The Socialist Party has been mostly flat in the polls for months, slowly trending down from 23% at the beginning of the year to 19% in the Metroscopia poll in El País on May 13. Articles had recently appeared wondering if Mr. Sánchez had anything relevant to say at all. His only notable intervention of late had been a meeting with Mariano Rajoy at Moncloa, the Prime Minister’s office, to agree on a joint response to the challenge posed by Quim Torra, the new separatist First Minister of Catalonia, whom Mr. Sánchez then decided to frame as “Spain’s Le Pen”, “a racist and a supremacist”.

With the publication of the Gürtel fraud case judgement on Thursday, the Socialist Party, which holds 84 out of 350 seats in Congress, has seized on an opportunity to move back into the political spotlight and oust the Popular Party from power with a motion of no confidence. Mariano Rajoy, famously unresponsive as political scandals erupt and opponents die off, wants to stay on as Prime Minister, of course, but this is a serious crisis: El País has characterised it as a “national emergency”. It is such a big mess that the PM felt he had to cancel his trip to Kiev to watch Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

He gave an unscheduled press conference on Friday afternoon, accompanied by his ministers, and accused Mr. Sánchez of wanting to destabilise Spain and wreck the country’s economic recovery. Moncloa sent out an unsigned, unofficial, unstamped “economic report” on Saturday, warning that the socialist motion of no confidence would cost €5 billion and 6,500 jobs. PP spokesman Fernando Martínez Maíllo said Mr. Sánchez would become the “Judas of Spanish politics” if he did a deal with Catalan separatists to take power. The Popular Party and Mr. Rajoy himself—also sliding inexorably downwards in the polls—sense real danger in the PSOE’s move. This, as the saying goes, could be it.

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“By early May this year, 4,409 people had reached Spain and 217 people had died in the attempt.”

Spain Struggling To Deal With Escalating Migration Crisis (G.)

Spain’s maritime rescue service has rescued hundreds of people trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this weekend amid growing concerns that the country is struggling to cope with the migration crisis. The service said its crews had rescued 293 people from nine boats on Saturday. On Sunday, a further 250 migrants were rescued from eight boats, three of which were in poor condition and later sank, they added. The migrants were from various countries in North and sub-Saharan Africa. On a single day in August last year, Spanish rescuers saved 593 people from 15 small paddle boats – including 35 children and a baby – after they attempted to cross the seven-mile Strait of Gibraltar.

According to statistics from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 21,468 migrants and refugees arrived in Spain by sea in 2017, with 224 people dying on the journey. The arrival figures showed a threefold increase on 2016, when 6,046 people reached Spain and 128 people died en route. By early May this year, 4,409 people had reached Spain and 217 people had died in the attempt. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has already warned that Spain is facing “another very challenging year” when it comes to helping and protecting those arriving on its shores.

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His case looks solid. But we’re talking the heart of these companies’ business models.

Google, Facebook Hit With $8.8 Billion In Lawsuits on New EU Privacy Rules (ZH)

Accusing Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and Instagram of “intentionally” violating Europe’s strict new privacy rules that officially went into effect on Friday, Austrian lawyer and privacy activist Max Schrems filed four lawsuits against the tech companies arguing they are still “coercing users into sharing personal data” despite rolling out new policies ostensibly aimed at complying with the new regulations.

Titled the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the new rules require companies to explicitly and clearly request consent from users before mining their data, and Schrems argues in his complaints – which seek fines totaling $8.8 billion – that Google, Facebook, and the Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp are still utilizing “forced consent” strategies to extract users’ data when “the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service,” TechCrunch explains. “It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not need consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,'” Schrems wrote in a statement.

“Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent. In the end users only had the choice to delete the account or hit the ‘agree’-button—that’s not a free choice.” While Facebook—which is currently embroiled in international controversy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal—insists that its new policies are in compliance with Europe’s new regulatory framework, Schrems argues that Facebook and Google aren’t even attempting to follow the new law. “They totally know that it’s going to be a violation, they don’t even try to hide it,” Schrems told the Financial Times. Schrems believes that courts can curtail companies’ ability to poke around in our private lives and wean them off their idea that, “ ‘We’re Silicon Valley, we know what’s right for everybody else.’ ”

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Strong lobby for this in Washington.

US Congressman: F-35s Could Be ‘Used Against Greece’ If Sold To Turkey (K.)

The United States should freeze the sale of the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets to Turkey because they are more likely to used against Greece than against terrorists, Democratic US Congressman Brad Sherman told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a Foreign Affairs Hearing on May 23. “I hope that the administration will oppose and prevent the sale of F-35s [to Turkey]. They are not a weapon to be used against terrorists. They are a weapon to be used against Greece,” he said.

A US Senate committee passed earlier this week a defense policy bill that includes a measure to prevent Turkey from purchasing the F-35s, citing the country’s detention of US citizen Andrew Brunson and its agreement with Russia to buy its weapons systems in December. Sherman also called on the State Department not to block a House resolution on genocidal campaigns committed by the Ottoman Empire. “I hope the State Department will at least be neutral should Congress consider, as we are considering, the remembrance of the millions of Armenian, Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac victims of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the last century,” he added.

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Fastest growing industry.

Huge Rise In Food Redistribution To People In Need Across UK (G.)

The UK’s largest food redistribution charity is helping to feed a record 772,000 people a week – 60% more than the previous year – with food that would otherwise be , new figures reveal. One in eight people in the UK go hungry every day – with the most needy increasingly dependent on – yet perfectly good food is wasted every day through the food production supply chain. FareShare said it was now redistributing food that otherwise would have been wasted with an annual value of £28.7m, up from £22.4m last year. “Three years ago we were helping to feed 211,000 people a week – today it’s three-quarters of a million,” said FareShare’s chief executive, Lindsay Boswell. “We reported in 2015 that we provided food across 320 towns and cities – now it’s 15,000. It’s not rocket science to see there has been a massive hike in demand for food from frontline charities.”

FareShare currently redistributes about 13,500 tonnes of surplus food every year donated by supermarkets, wholesalers and suppliers to 9,653 charities including hospices, homeless shelters, care homes and women’s refuges, but its annual target is 100,000 tonnes. Demand for surplus food has soared against a background of growing dependence on food banks and rising in the UK. FareShare says it has the capacity – and a waiting list of charities wanting help – but needs access to more food. Its solution is a government fund that would cover the costs of storage and transport. Available to any charity or producer that incurs the costs of redistributing food, it would also save charities and other beneficiaries £150m by making free food available to them. A public petition supporting this move attracted more than 16,000 signatures, which guarantees a government response.

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People will start leaving in droves sson.

In Britain, Austerity Is Changing Everything (NYT)

For a nation with a storied history of public largess, the protracted campaign of budget cutting, started in 2010 by a government led by the Conservative Party, has delivered a monumental shift in British life. A wave of austerity has yielded a country that has grown accustomed to living with less, even as many measures of social well-being — crime rates, opioid addiction, infant mortality, childhood poverty and homelessness — point to a deteriorating quality of life. When Ms. Lewis and her husband bought their home a quarter-century ago, Prescot had a comforting village feel. Now, core government relief programs are being cut and public facilities eliminated, adding pressure to public services like police and fire departments, just as they, too, grapple with diminished funding.

By 2020, reductions already set in motion will produce cuts to British social welfare programs exceeding $36 billion a year compared with a decade earlier, or more than $900 annually for every working-age person in the country, according to a report from the Center for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University. In Liverpool, the losses will reach $1,200 a year per working-age person, the study says. “The government has created destitution,” says Barry Kushner, a Labour Party councilman in Liverpool and the cabinet member for children’s services. “Austerity has had nothing to do with economics. It was about getting out from under welfare. It’s about politics abandoning vulnerable people.”

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They should do that for all Americans stationed abroad today. Bring the living ones home while they’re still alive.

‘We’re Gonna Keep Riding Till We Get Everybody Back Home, From All Wars’ (AFP)

Wearing bandanas, cowboy hats or gleaming helmets, tens of thousands of bikers descended on Washington Sunday to parade in honor of US soldiers missing in action in foreign wars, a now 30-year-old tradition known as “Rolling Thunder.” “We’re gonna keep riding until we get everybody back home, from all wars,” said Jack Richardson, who at 73 crossed the country from California for the 13th time to participate in the annual Memorial Day weekend spectacular. Dressed in a leather jacket emblazoned with patches, this Vietnam War veteran had assembled with thousands of other bikers in a parking lot near the Pentagon, awaiting the start of the parade.

The route will take them into the center of official Washington, past the monuments on the National Mall and the austere black marble memorial engraved with the names of the nearly 60,000 US soldiers killed during the Vietnam War. “Still there are families waiting back home here in the United States that have not found out where their dads, their fathers, their brothers – they don’t know where they are,” said Richardson, a retired Los Angeles police officer who served two tours in Vietnam in the 1960s. “They don’t know if they’re still in Vietnam, they don’t know if they’re still alive, they don’t know if they’re dead, they don’t know if they’re captured,” he said.

According to organizers, more than 85,000 US soldiers remain unaccounted for in conflicts as far back as World War I. Most are from World War II, but 1,598 of the missing are from the war in Vietnam, a conflict still fresh in the memories of older veterans. The parade was begun in 1988 with some 2,500 motorcycles under the motto “We will never forget” to press for an accounting of the Vietnam missing. It has grown every year since into a rumbling, roaring extravaganza that organizers say attracts over a million people, including spectators. Besides the missing, the bikers also come to remember their fallen comrades.

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May 242018
 
 May 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wassily Kandinsky Contrasting Sounds 1924

 

Every Fed Tightening Cycle ‘Creates A Meaningful Crisis Somewhere’ (MW)
Fed Minutes Show Support For June Hike And Calm About Inflation Outlook (MW)
US Launches Auto Import Probe (R.)
China Signals To State Giants: ‘Buy American’ Oil And Grains (R.)
Turkey Halts Lira’s Free Fall – But It’s Not Out Of The Woods Yet (MW)
Argentines Brace For Another Crisis As Nation Again Seeks IMF Help (R.)
US Birth Rates Are Falling Because This Is A Harsh Place To Have A Family (G.)
Yulia Skripal Gives First Interview (RT)
NHS Needs £2,000 In Tax From Every Household To Stay Afloat (Ind.)
Trump’s Blocking Of Critics On Twitter Violates Constitution – US Judge (R.)
Hitting Toughest Climate Target Will Save World $30 Trillion In Damages (G.)
The Mediterranean Diet Is Gone: Region’s Children Are Fattest In Europe (G.)

 

 

Take their power away?!

Every Fed Tightening Cycle ‘Creates A Meaningful Crisis Somewhere’ (MW)

Federal Reserve rate increases are a lot like shaking an overripe fruit tree. That’s the analogy offered by Deutsche Bank macro strategist Alan Ruskin in a note late Wednesday, in which he urged clients not to “overcomplicate” the macro picture. “A starting point should be that every Fed tightening cycle creates a meaningful crisis somewhere, often external but usually with some domestic (U.S.) fallout,” he wrote. To back it up, Ruskin offered the following history lesson:

“Going back in history, the 2004-6 Fed tightening looked benign but the US housing collapse set off contagion and a near collapse of the global financial system dwarfing all post-war crises. The late 1990s Fed stop/start tightening included the Asia crisis, LTCM and Russia collapse, and when tightening resumed, the pop of the equity bubble. The early 1993-4 tightening phase included bond market turmoil and the Mexican crisis. The late 1980s tightening ushered along the S&L crisis. Greenspan’s first fumbled tightening in 1987 helped trigger Black Monday, before the Fed eased and ‘the Greenspan put’ took off in earnest. The early 80s included the LDC/Latam debt crisis and Conti Illinois collapse. The 1970s stagflation tightening was when the Fed was behind ‘the curve’ and where inflation masked a prolonged decline in real asset prices.”

So what about now? The fed funds rate stands at 1.50% to 1.75% following a series of slow rate increases that began in December 2015, lifting it from near zero. The degree of tightening might seem pretty tame, but Ruskin notes that it comes after a period of “extreme and prolonged” accommodation and is also taking forms that economists and investors don’t fully understand as swollen balance sheet begins to shrink.

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The stronger the dollar the more likely rate hikes get.

Fed Minutes Show Support For June Hike And Calm About Inflation Outlook (MW)

Federal Reserve officials in their meeting in early May confirmed they planned to raise interest rates in June and were not concerned they were behind the curve on inflation. “Most participants judged that if incoming information broadly confirmed their economic outlook, it would likely soon be appropriate for the FOMC to take another step in removing policy accommodation,” the minutes said. Traders in the federal funds futures market see more than a 90% chance of a June rate hike. Although inflation hit the Fed’s 2% target in the latest reading for March, for the first time in a year, officials were not convinced it would remain there for long.

“It was noted that it was premature to conclude that inflation would remain at levels around 2%, especially after several years in which inflation had persistently run below the Fed’s 2% objective,” the minutes said. Only a “few” officials thought inflation might move “slightly” above the 2% target. “It has taken them so long to get there, with so many fits and starts, they are not quite sure it’s going to stay there,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist for State Street Global Advisors. Arone said the minutes were consistent with three total hikes this year although the Fed gave itself wiggle room if inflation picks up markedly. “They didn’t take [a fourth hike] off the table,” he said.

On the trade dispute with China, officials said the possible outcome on inflation and growth remained “particularly wide,” but there was some concern the dispute would hurt business confidence.

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Up to 25% tariffs. How about building better cars? Or weaning yourself off the addiction?

US Launches Auto Import Probe (R.)

The Trump administration has launched a national security investigation into car and truck imports that could lead to new U.S. tariffs similar to those imposed on imported steel and aluminum in March. The national security probe under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 would investigate whether vehicle and parts imports were threatening the industry’s health and ability to research and develop new, advanced technologies, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. “There is evidence suggesting that, for decades, imports from abroad have eroded our domestic auto industry,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement, promising a “thorough, fair and transparent investigation.”

Higher tariffs could be particularly painful for Asian automakers including Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai, which count the United States as a key market, and the announcement sparked a broad sell-off in automakers’ shares across the region. The governments of Japan, China and South Korea said they would monitor the situation, while Beijing, which is increasingly eyeing the United States as a potential market for its cars, added that would defend its interests. “China opposes the abuse of national security clauses, which will seriously damage multilateral trade systems and disrupt normal international trade order,” Gao Feng, spokesman at the Ministry of Commerce, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday which focused largely on whether it is making any progress in its trade dispute with Washington.

[..] Roughly 12 million cars and trucks were produced in the United States last year, while the country imported 8.3 million vehicles worth $192 billion. This included 2.4 million from Mexico, 1.8 million from Canada, 1.7 million from Japan, 930,000 from South Korea and 500,000 from Germany, according to U.S. government statistics. At the same time, the United States exported nearly 2 million vehicles worldwide worth $57 billion. German automakers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW all have large U.S. assembly plants. The United States is the second-biggest export destination for German auto manufacturers after China, while vehicles and car parts are Germany’s biggest source of export income. Asked if the measures would hit Mexico and Canada, a Mexican source close to the NAFTA talks said: “That probably is going to be the next battle.”

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For now it’s all opaque.

China Signals To State Giants: ‘Buy American’ Oil And Grains (R.)

China will import record volumes of U.S. oil and is likely to ship more U.S. soy after Beijing signalled to state-run refiners and grains purchasers they should buy more to help ease tensions between the two top economies, trade sources said on Wednesday. China pledged at the weekend to increase imports from its top trading partner to avert a trade war that could damage the global economy. Energy and commodities were high on Washington’s list of products for sale. The United States is also seeking better access for imports of genetically modified crops into China under the deal. As the two sides stepped back from a full-blown trade war, Washington neared a deal on Tuesday to lift its ban on U.S. firms supplying Chinese telecoms gear maker ZTE, and Beijing announced tariff cuts on car imports.

But U.S. President Donald Trump indicated on Wednesday that negotiations were still short of his objectives when he said any deal would need a “different structure”. China is the world’s top importer of both oil and soy, and already buys significant volumes of both from the United States. It is unclear how much more Chinese importers will buy from the United States than they would have otherwise, but any additional shipments would contribute to cutting the trade surplus, as demanded by Trump. Asia’s largest oil refiner, China’s Sinopec will boost crude imports from the United States to an all-time high in June as part of Chinese efforts to cut the surplus, two sources with knowledge of the matter said on Wednesday.

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Erdogan defeated?

Turkey Halts Lira’s Free Fall – But It’s Not Out Of The Woods Yet (MW)

Turkey’s central bank intervened to halt the free fall of the Turkish lira on Wednesday, but it isn’t clear whether policy makers will be able to stave off a full-fledged currency crisis. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey raised its late liquidity window lending rate by 300 basis points on Wednesday, in a surprise move that put a halt to the lira selloff — at least for now. The lending rate now sits at 16.5%, compared with 13.5% before. The U.S. dollar had rallied to a historic high against Turkey’s lira on Wednesday, buying 4.9233 lira at the high, before the path reversed on the back of the CBRT’s action and the lira found its feet again. The buck last bought 4.7015 lira. In the year to date, the Turkish currency has dropped more than 20% against the dollar, according to FactSet data.

The euro-lira pair behaved similarly, first rallying to an all-time high but paring the rise after the rate increase. The euro last bought 5.5084 lira. The U.S. and eurozone are two of Turkey’s most important trading partners. The central bank has been operating in a peculiar environment given that Turkey’s inflation has been hitting double digits and its currency keeps sliding to historic lows. Moreover, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been critical of the central bank, calling for lower interest rates.

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Rising dollar.

Argentines Brace For Another Crisis As Nation Again Seeks IMF Help (R.)

Maria Florencia Humano opened a clothing store in 2016, convinced that Argentina’s long history of economic crises had ended under pro-business President Mauricio Macri. She will shutter it later this month, unable to make rent or loan payments. Soaring interest rates and a plunging currency have upended her dream and returned Argentina to a familiar place: asking the IMF for a lifeline. Humano’s decision comes just weeks after a somber Macri announced in a televised May 8 speech that Argentina would start talks with the IMF. He is seeking a credit line worth at least $19.7 billion to fund the government through the end of his first term in late 2019. The unexpected move surprised investors and stoked Argentines’ fears of a repeat of the nation’s devastating 2001-2002 economic collapse.

Many here blame IMF-imposed austerity measures for worsening that crisis, which impoverished millions and turned Argentina into a global pariah after the government defaulted on a record $100 billion in debt. Word of a potential bailout sent thousands of angry Argentines into the streets this month, some with signs declaring “enough of the IMF.” As recently as a few months ago, analysts were hailing Argentina as an emerging-market success story. Now some are predicting recession. Macri’s popularity has plummeted. [..] Macri’s free-market credentials earned him a 2017 invitation to the White House to meet U.S. President Donald Trump, who just last week on Twitter hailed the Argentine leader’s “vision for transforming his country’s economy.”

But economists say Macri badly damaged his credibility in December when his administration weakened tough inflation targets. The central bank followed with a January rate cut to goose growth, even as consumer prices kept galloping. Rising U.S. interest rates did not help. Argentina is saddled with more than $320 billion in external debt, equivalent to 57.1% of GDP, much of it denominated in dollars. Jittery investors hit the exits. The peso swooned. The central bank sold $10 billion in reserves trying to prop up the peso, forcing Macri to seek assistance from the IMF.

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And getting harsher all the time.

US Birth Rates Are Falling Because This Is A Harsh Place To Have A Family (G.)

America’s birth rate has fallen to a 30-year low, let the hand-wringing and finger-pointing begin. It’s those selfish women, wanting careers before kids! Or, gasp, not wanting kids at all! It’s all those abortions! It’s Obama’s fault! The reality is, for all its pro-family rhetoric, the US is a remarkably harsh place for families, and particularly for mothers. It’s a well-known fact, but one that bears repeating in this context, that the US is one of only four countries in the world with no government-subsidized maternity leave. The other three are Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea, countries that the US doesn’t tend to view as its peer group.

This fact is met with shrugs from those who assume that companies provide maternity leave. Only 56% do, and of those, just 6% offer full pay during maternity leave. This assumption also ignores the fact that 36% of the American workforce, a number expected to surpass 50% in the next 10 years, are contract laborers with no access to such benefits. That gig economy you keep hearing so much about, with its flexible schedule and independence? Yeah, it sucks for mothers. That doesn’t stop companies and pundits from pushing it as a great way for working moms to balance children and career. As a gig-economy mother myself, I can tell you exactly how great and balanced it felt to go back to work two hours after giving birth.

If they return to work, mothers can look forward to an increasingly large pay gap for every child they have, plus fewer promotions. Who could resist? The option for one parent to stay home with kids is increasingly not economically viable for American families, either. A data point that got far less attention than the falling birth rate was released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last month: 71.1% of American mothers with children under 18 are in the workforce now. It’s not just because they want to be (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but increasingly because they have to be in order to support the family.

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Scripted interview?

Yulia Skripal Gives First Interview (RT)

In her first interview since surviving an alleged nerve agent attack, Yulia Skripal said she eventually wants to return to Russia. She has not shed any light on what happened in March in Salisbury. “I came to the UK on the 3rd of March to visit my father, something I have done regularly in the past. After 20 days in a coma, I woke to the news that we had both been poisoned,” Skripal said in a video that was recorded by Reuters. She reiterated her words in a handwritten statement. She and her father, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double-agent, were found unconscious on a public bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4. The UK government immediately accused Russia of being behind their poisoning, but it has yet to provide evidence for the claim.

Skripal did not comment on who she thought was to blame for her poisoning. “I still find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that both of us were attacked. We are so lucky to have both survived this attempted assassination. Our recovery has been slow and extremely painful,” she said. “The fact that a nerve agent was used to do this is shocking. I don’t want to describe the details but the clinical treatment was invasive, painful and depressing.” She also said that she was “grateful” for the offers of assistance from the Russian Embassy, “but at the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services.” Skripal reiterated what she had said in an earlier written statement released by British police: “no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves.”

Following the release of the interview, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman addressed Yulia Skripal in a comment to RT. “We’d like Yulia Skripal to know that not a single day passed without the Foreign Ministry, Russia’s Embassy in London trying to reach her with the main purpose to make sure she was not held against her will, she was not impersonated by somebody else, to get the first-hand information about her and her father’s condition,” Maria Zakharova said.

Russia’s Embassy in the UK welcomed the release of the interview, stating: “we are glad to have seen Yulia Skripal alive and well.” The video itself and the wording of the written statements, however, raised concerns with Russian diplomats, who urged London once again to allow consular access to Yulia “in order to make sure that she is not held against her own will and is not speaking under pressure.” Skripal said that the ordeal had turned her life “upside down,” both “physically and emotionally.” She added that she was now focused on helping her father to make a full recovery, and that “in the long term I hope to return home to my country.”

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With the level of incompetence in UK politics, the NHS looks beyond salvation.

NHS Needs £2,000 In Tax From Every Household To Stay Afloat (Ind.)

Taxes will “almost certainly” have to rise over the coming years simply to prevent the National Health Service and social care system from slipping further into crisis, a major new report concludes. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation state that the NHS, which has been suffering the most severe fiscal squeeze since its foundation over the past eight years, now requires an urgent increase in government spending in order to cope with an influx of older and sicker patients. Funding the projected increases in health spending through the tax system would need taxes to rise by between 1.6 and 2.6% of GDP – the equivalent of between £1,200 and £2,000 per household, the experts said.

The two organisations say that state funding growth rate, which has been just 1.4% a year since 2010, will have to more than double to between 3.3% and 4% over the next 15 years if government pledges, such as bringing down waiting times and increasing the provision of mental health services, are to stand any chance of being delivered. They also say that to finance this increase the government would “almost certainly need to increase taxes”. “If we are to have a health and social care system which meets our needs and aspirations, we will have to pay a lot more for it over the next 15 years. This time we won’t be able to rely on cutting spending elsewhere – we will have to pay more in tax,” said the IFS’s director Paul Johnson.

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Raises some interesting questions. I can block him, but he cannot block me. I can all him “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian” and much much worse, and he’s going to have to swallow it.

Trump’s Blocking Of Critics On Twitter Violates Constitution – US Judge (R.)

Trump has made his @RealDonaldTrump Twitter account an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. He has blocked many critics from his account, which prevents them from directly responding to his tweets. U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled that comments on the president’s account, and those of other government officials, were public forums, and that blocking Twitter users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of Constitution. Eugene Volokh, a University of California Los Angeles School of Law professor who specializes in First Amendment issues, said the decision’s effect would reach beyond Trump.

“It would end up applying to a wide range of government officials throughout the country,” he said. The U.S. Department of Justice, which represents Trump in the case, said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are considering our next steps.” Twitter, which is not a party to the lawsuit, declined to comment on the ruling. Buchwald’s ruling was in response to a First Amendment lawsuit filed against Trump in July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and several Twitter users. The individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland; Holly Figueroa, described in the complaint as a political organizer and songwriter in Washington state; and Brandon Neely, a Texas police officer.

Cohen, who was blocked from Trump’s account last June after posting an image of the president with words “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian,” said he was “delighted” with Wednesday’s decision. “This increases my faith in the system a little,” he said. Novelists Stephen King and Anne Rice, comedian Rosie O’Donnell, model Chrissy Teigen, actress Marina Sirtis and the military veterans political action committee VoteVets.org are among the others who have said on Twitter that Trump blocked them. Buchwald rejected the argument by Justice Department lawyers that Trump’s own First Amendment rights allowed him to block people with whom he did not wish to interact.

“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the president’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” Buchwald said. She said Trump could “mute” users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his, without violating their free speech rights.

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Said it before: putting it in monetary terms is counter-productive. Only when we recognize that it’s not about money will we do something.

Hitting Toughest Climate Target Will Save World $30 Trillion In Damages (G.)

Achieving the toughest climate change target set in the global Paris agreement will save the world about $30tn in damages, far more than the costs of cutting carbon emissions, according to a new economic analysis. Most nations, representing 90% of global population, would benefit economically from keeping global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the research indicates. This includes almost all the world’s poorest countries, as well as the three biggest economies – the US, China and Japan – contradicting the claim of US president, Donald Trump, that climate action is too costly. Australia and South Africa would also benefit, with the biggest winners being Middle East nations, which are threatened with extreme heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival.

However, some cold countries – particularly Russia, Canada and Scandinavian nations – are likely to have their growth restricted if the 1.5C target is met, the study suggests. This is because a small amount of additional warming to 2C would be beneficial to their economies. The UK and Ireland could also see some restriction, though the estimates span a wide range of outcomes. The research, published in the journal Nature, is among the first to assess the economic impact of meeting the Paris climate goals. Data from the last 50 years shows clearly that when temperatures rise, GDP and other economic measures fall in most nations, due to impacts on factors including labour productivity, agricultural output and health.

The scientists used this relationship and 40 global climate models to estimate the future economic impact of meeting the 1.5C target – a tough goal given the world has already experienced 1C of man-made warming. They also assessed the long-standing 2C target and the impact of 3C of warming, which is the level expected unless current plans for action are increased.

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It’s not gone. But it is under threat.

The Mediterranean Diet Is Gone: Region’s Children Are Fattest In Europe (G.)

For kids in Greece, Spain and Italy, the Mediterranean diet is dead, according to the World Health Organisation, which says that children in Sweden are more likely to eat fish, olive oil and tomatoes than those in southern Europe. In Cyprus, a phenomenal 43% of boys and girls aged nine are either overweight or obese. Greece, Spain and Italy also have rates of over 40%. The Mediterranean countries which gave their name to the famous diet that is supposed to be the healthiest in the world have children with Europe’s biggest weight problem. Sweets, junk food and sugary drinks have displaced the traditional diet based on fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil, said Dr Joao Breda, head of the WHO European office for prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

“The Mediterranean diet for the children in these countries is gone,” he said at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna. “There is no Mediterranean diet any more. Those who are close to the Mediterranean diet are the Swedish kids. The Mediterranean diet is gone and we need to recover it.” Children in southern Europe are eating few fruit and vegetables and drinking a lot of sugary colas and other sweet beverages, said Breda. They snack. They eat sweets. They consume too much salt, sugar and fat in their food. And they hardly move. “Physical inactivity is one of the issues that is more significant in the southern European countries,” he said. “A man in Crete in the 60s would need 3,500 calories because he was going up and down the mountain.”

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May 172018
 
 May 17, 2018  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Daubigny’s garden 1890

 

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)
Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)
Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)
Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)
Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)
Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)
New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)
Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)
Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)
31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)
DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)
Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)
Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

 

 

“People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.”

Housing ATM is Back – But It Won’t Work Any Better This Time (Mish)

With mortgage rates rising, one would expect refi activity to slow. And it has: Refi Applications are at an 8-Year Low. But why is there any refi activity all at all? In September 2017 the MND mortgage rate rate was 3.85%. In June 2016, the MND rate was 3.43%.

It makes little sense to refi at 4.70% when one could have done it less than two years ago a point and a quarter lower. At these rates, refi activity should be in the low single digits. Yet, 36% of mortgage applications are refis.

Are people pulling money out of their houses to pay bills? That’s how it appears as Cash-Out Mortgage Refis are Back. What’s Going On?
• People feel wealthy again and are willing to blow it on consumption
• People pulling money out to invest in stocks or Bitcoin
• People are further and further in debt and need to pull out cash to pay the bills.

I suspect point number three is the primary reason. Regardless, releveraging is as wrong now as it was in 2007. Totally wrong.

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Dump and dump.

Will the New Fed Get Rid of All its Mortgage-Backed Securities? (WS)

Like Powell, Clarida said he “absolutely” supports the Fed’s normalization of interest rates and the balance sheet. Like Powell, he said that the normalized balance sheet should be “a lot smaller,” and that Powell’s suggestion of a range of $2.4 trillion to $2.9 trillion, down from its peak-level of $4.5 trillion, “makes sense.” Like Powell, he said stock market volatility itself – that’s downward volatility, the only volatility that matters on Wall Street – shouldn’t determine the Fed’s policy decisions. On banking regulation too he mirrored Powell. So in this sense, what he said about mortgage-backed securities on the Fed’s balance sheet is fascinating: The Fed should shed them entirely, down to zero.

Clarida explained that there are “benefits and costs” of QE, and that as more layers of QE were piled on, “the benefits of QE diminished and the costs went up.” And as vice chairman, he’d “have to take a serious look at the costs of QE.” Then he was asked about “non-Treasury instruments, like mortgage-backed securities,” for QE – that the Fed, when selecting non-Treasury securities, would be getting into something that it shouldn’t, namely “allocating credit.” “Yes, absolutely,” Clarida replied: “My preference would be for the Fed to end up with a Treasury-only portfolio.” He then added that, “as a general proposition, my preference would be to have the balance sheet as much as possible in Treasury securities.”

Shedding MBS from the balance sheet entirely and keeping them off could have a big impact. Currently, the Fed holds $1.74 trillion of MBS. That’s about 26% of all residential mortgage-backed securities outstanding. The Fed is the elephant in the MBS room.

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“..the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world..”

Venezuela’s State Oil Company PDVSA Faces Collapse (PaP)

In less than a month, Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), faces three lawsuits that may end up taking all of the oil giant’s international assets, leaving it bankrupt. According to the economist and opposition congressman, Ángel Alvarado, the company that 20 years ago, was the second largest in the world, is about to disappear. Alvarado says that the state has no way to pay all its outstanding debts or the legal judgments that are looming. In an ominous sign, creditors today attempted to collect USD $2.9 billion that the oil company has failed to pay in debt obligations. The bankrupt company not only must face ConocoPhillips, after having lost a lawsuit where it was ordered to pay the US oil company USD $2 billion.

PDVSA now must also respond to a wave of similar claims, as it looks for a way to pay bondholders after default, and tries to restart refineries that are about to close because of diminished production caused by abandonment and embezzlement. In short, PDVSA faces the perfect storm for falling into bankruptcy, with no credible path for solvency. According to OPEC, Venezuela is the country with the largest proven reserves of crude oil in the world with 296 billion barrels. However, paradoxically, the export of crude oil is not a profitable business for the South American country after years of neglect by the socialist government. Recently the US company ConocoPhillips decided to seize the PDVSA’s assets in the Caribbean, a dangerous precedent that could influence other plaintiffs to take similar measures.

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Joining the rest of the world.

Births Plunge To Record Lows In United States (AFP)

Births in the United States have plunged to record lows not seen in decades, marking a profound cultural shift that could have ramifications for the future economy, experts said Thursday. The overall fertility rate, which essentially shows how many babies women are having in their childbearing years, and indicates whether the population is replenishing itself, fell to 1.76 births per woman last year, down 3% from the rate of 1.82 in 2016. That marks “the lowest total fertility rate since 1978,” said the report by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, the US birth rate plunged to a 30-year low.

The 3.85 million US births in 2017 were the fewest since 1987, as American women under 40 continued to delay childbearing. About 77,000 fewer babies were born last year than in 2016 – about a 2% drop year-on-year. The latest downward trend began around the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, but has not abated even as US jobs rebounded and the economy has improved. “To me the biggest surprise is the continuing decline of fertility rates among young women,” said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution. “About 10 years since the Great Recession we still see this declining fertility among women in their 20s and that could be problematic if it continues for another three or four years.”

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“The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone..”

Open Letter From M5S To The Financial Times (IBDS)

Letter to CEO John Ridding and editors of the Financial Times. Dear Sirs, I have read your article “Rome opens its gates to the modern barbarians” and, with all due respect to an important newspaper like yours, honestly I think you need to better understand what is taking place in Italy. And I suggest you get to know the 5 Star MoVement a little more closely. The last 30 years in Italy have been characterized by a constant mixture of politics, the mafia and occult affairs that have literally shattered our country to the bone, marking every possible negative record in our history. Nowadays, Italy has about 6 million people under the absolute poverty threshold and about 100,000 young people every year expatriating to try their luck elsewhere, often in your country.

All this is the result of barbarians, old barbarians about whom I have never read as many negative things in your editorials as I am reading these days against us. The 5 Star Movement was born in 2009 with a specific aim: to bring the popular will back to the centre of the political debate and the decisions of the central government. In just 9 years we have grown so much that we can now see what we have accomplished, with over 11 million people who trusted us in the last elections. We succeeded by working hard, with our heads down, studying, always struggling to defend Italian citizens. We succeeded with the youngest, most educated and most gender-balanced parliamentary group that the history of Italy has ever seen. Italians have always believed us based on the awareness that everything we have promised or written in a program, has become a reality on the first occasion we have had to make it happen.

In your article you are talking about a contract of government that is difficult to implement and economically unsustainable: what a pity you have not read this contract yet! And this is an offence to professional journalism, also. But there is one thing you are right about. The contract we are writing is challenging and it will not be easy to remedy the damage caused by political barbarians governing our country for the past 30 years. But we are doing our best to restore hope and to give Italians a brighter future. If you want to better understand how we will acccomplish this, I suggest you do not waste time publishing false news created ad-hoc by the Italian media system, get to know the 5 Star Movement and report the truth instead. Good luck!

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On the Guardian’s hit pieces yesterday.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” (GG)

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being. Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.” Correa also responded to a widely discussed Guardian article yesterday, which claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy.”

The former president mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” accusing The Guardian of seeking to depict routine and modest embassy security measures as something scandalous or unusual. On March 27, Assange’s internet access at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was cut off by Ecuadorian officials, who also installed jamming devices to prevent Assange from accessing the internet using other means of connection. Assange’s previously active Twitter account has had no activity since then, nor have any journalists been able to communicate with him. All visitors to the embassy have also been denied access to Assange, who was formally made a citizen of Ecuador earlier this year.

[..] Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.

But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.

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Hopeful.

New Zealand ‘People’s’ Budget Puts Billions More Into Health And Education (G.)

The first Labour government in close to a decade has pledged to make New Zealand a kind and equitable nation where children thrive, and success is measured not only by the nation’s GDP but by better lives lived by its people. Finance minister Grant Robertson said the Labour coalition government didn’t want to “manage” issues such as child poverty and homelessness – it wanted to end them. Although the 2018 budget was focused on rebuilding vital public services – particularly the health care sector – Robertson said next year’s budget would be the first in the world to measure success by its people’s wellbeing. “We want New Zealand to be a place where everyone has a fair go, and where we show kindness and understanding to each other,” said Robertson.

“These changes are about measuring success differently. Of course a strong economy is important but we must not lose sight of why it is is important. And it is most important to allow all of us to have better lives … the government is placing the wellbeing of people at the centre of all its work. The 2018 budget had been preceded by weeks of cautious rhetoric by the government, which repeated time and again that before embarking on its ambitious social policies such as ending child poverty, tackling climate change and housing every New Zealander, it first had to invest in upgrading public services such as hospitals and schools.

Labour’s first budget was viewed as restrained and fiscally cautious, with Robertson forecasting a NZ$3bn ($2bn) surplus this year, increasing to $7bn in 2020. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government’s first budget was not focused on the election cycle, but generational improvement in New Zealanders’ lives. “Rebuild what?” said Ardern, defending her government’s budget and rounding on the opposition leader, Simon Bridges. “Well let’s start with New Zealand’s reputation shall we? We are rebuilding a government that thinks about people.” “In 15 or 20 or 30 years’ time I want my child to look back on the history books and judge me and this government favourably, rather than deciding to change their name.”

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A sad comedy.

Lords Inflict 15th Defeat On Theresa May Over EU Withdrawal Bill (G.)

Peers have inflicted a 15th defeat on the government’s key Brexit bill, underlining the acute political challenge Theresa May faces in seeking a deal that both parliament and her warring ministers can live with. The latest amendment, aimed at bolstering environmental protection after Brexit, was carried by 294 to 244 votes on Wednesday. Peers argued that enforcement measures proposed in a consultation document published last week were inadequate and that the environment had been subordinated to housing and economic growth. With her cabinet still deadlocked over customs arrangements, the prime minister must now decide when to bring the legislation back to the House of Commons and seek to undo the changes made by peers.

Martin Callanan, the Conservative leader in the Lords, said: “During the bill’s journey through the House of Lords, some changes have been made that conflict with its purpose or are designed to frustrate the entire exit process, and so we are considering the implications of those decisions.” The backbench pro-Brexit European Research Group, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, wants to see the votes brought forward as soon as possible to scotch the idea that there is a majority against hard Brexit among MPs. They point to a pair of recent Commons victories, over the release of Windrush documents and a , as evidence that the government’s majority is more secure than moderate backbenchers claim.

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“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities..”

Western Countries Have Known Novichok Formula For Decades – German Media (RT)

A sample of Novichok, the nerve agent allegedly used to poison the Skripals, was obtained by German intelligence back in the 1990s, local media report. The substance has since been studied and produced by NATO countries. Western countries, including the US and the UK, have long been aware of the chemical makeup of the nerve agent known as Novichok, a group of German media outlets reported following a joint investigation. The inquiry, based on anonymous sources, gives new insights into the issue of the nerve agent said to have been used in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, in March.

Western governments were able to lay their hands on the formula of what is described as “one of the deadliest chemical weapons ever developed” after the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, obtained a sample of the nerve agent from a Russian defector in the early 1990s. A Russian scientist provided German intelligence with information on the development of Novichok for some time following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the German NDR and WDR broadcasters, as well as Die Zeit and Suedeutsche Zeitung dailies, report, citing unnamed sources within the BND. At some point, the man offered to bring the Germans a sample of the chemical agent in exchange for asylum for him and his family.

A sample was eventually smuggled by the wife of the scientist and sent by the Germans to a Swedish chemical lab, according to the reports. Following the sample analysis, the Swedish experts established the formula of the substance, which they then handed over to Germany. By the order of the then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the BND then shared the formula with Berlin’s “closest allies,” including the intelligence services of the US and the UK. Later, the UK, the US and Germany reportedly created a special “working group” tasked with studying the substance, which also included representatives from France, Canada and the Netherlands.

“Some NATO countries were secretly producing the chemical agent in small quantities,” the four media outlets reported, adding that it was allegedly done to develop the necessary countermeasures. However, it remains unclear which particular states were involved in the Novichok production.

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Let’s make sure they are protected.

31,000 Unaccompanied Minors Applied For Asylum In EU in 2017 (K.)

Some 2,500 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Greece last year, around 8% of the total 31,400 child refugees who sought asylum in European Union countries in 2017. Italy received a relatively large chunk of applications for asylum – more than 10,000, or 32% of the total – followed by Germany, with 9,100 applications (29%). The United Kingdom received 2,200 applications (7%), while Austria received 1,400 (4%), Sweden 1,300 and the Netherlands 1,200. The number of child refugees seeking asylum in EU countries in 2017 almost halved compared to the previous year. In 2016 there were 63,200 applications, while there were 95,200 in 2015. However, the total number of applications in the EU last year was still double the annual average of 12,000 between 2008 and 2013.

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On the river.

DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads To Mbandaka City (BBC)

The Ebola outbreak in Congo has spread from the countryside into a city, prompting fears that the disease will be increasingly difficult to control. Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga confirmed a case in Mbandaka, a city of a million people about 130km (80 miles) from the area where the first cases were confirmed earlier this month. The city is a major transportation hub with routes to the capital Kinshasa. Forty-two people have now been infected and 23 people are known to have died. Ebola is a serious infectious illness that causes internal bleeding and often proves fatal. It can spread rapidly through contact with small amounts of bodily fluid and its early flu-like symptoms are not always obvious.

Senior World Health Organization (WHO) official Peter Salama said the outbreak’s shift to a major city meant there was the potential for an “explosive increase” in cases. “This is a major development in the outbreak”. “We have urban Ebola, which is a very different animal from rural Ebola. The potential for an explosive increase in cases is now there.” Mr Salama, the WHO’s Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response, said Mbandaka’s location on the Congo river, widely used for transportation, raised the prospect of Ebola spreading to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic as well as downstream to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million people. “This puts a whole different lens on this outbreak and gives us increased urgency to move very quickly into Mbandaka to stop this new first sign of transmission,” he said.

[..] On Wednesday more than 4,000 doses of an experimental vaccine sent by the WHO arrived in the country with another batch expected soon. The vaccine from pharmaceutical firm Merck is unlicensed but was effective in limited trials during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It needs to be stored at a temperature of between -60 and -80 C. Electricity supplies in Congo are unreliable.

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Curious.

Mysterious Return Of Ozone-Destroying CFCs Shocks Scientists (G.)

A sharp and mysterious rise in emissions of a key ozone-destroying chemical has been detected by scientists, despite its production being banned around the world. Unless the culprit is found and stopped, the recovery of the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from damaging UV radiation, could be delayed by a decade. The source of the new emissions has been tracked to east Asia, but finding a more precise location requires further investigation. CFC chemicals were used in making foams for furniture and buildings, in aerosols and as refrigerants. But they were banned under the global Montreal protocol after the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the 1980s. Since 2007, there has been essentially zero reported production of CFC-11, the second most damaging of all CFCs.

The rise in CFC-11 was revealed by Stephen Montzka, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Colorado, and colleagues who monitor chemicals in the atmosphere. “I have been doing this for 27 years and this is the most surprising thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I was just shocked by it.” “We are acting as detectives of the atmosphere, trying to understand what is happening and why,” Montzka said. “When things go awry, we raise a flag.” Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said: “If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer. It’s therefore critical that we identify the precise causes of these emissions and take the necessary action.”

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Profound.

Startling National Geographic Cover Photo Captures The Plastic Crisis (NZH)

A haunting cover image on the June issue of National Geographic is circulating online, suggesting the plastic pollution we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Such is the extent of Earth’s mind-boggling plastic problem that scientists recently found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench — the deepest point in the ocean, sitting nearly 11 kilometres below the surface. The Nat Geo cover image was shared by the magazine’s senior photo editor Vaughn Wallace on Twitter this morning who called it “one for the ages”.

[..] The latest edition of the magazine is dedicated to Earth’s plastic consumption and is filled with striking images and infographs that show the immense scale of plastic pollution plaguing our planet. As a small part of addressing the problem, the magazine has committed to delivering its issues in paper wrappers rather than plastic wrappers moving forward. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the globe and most of them end up in landfill where they take a significant time to break down, or in the ocean where they kill marine life.

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May 132018
 
 May 13, 2018  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Le repos 1932
This painting has a story. It’s very funny. Read below.

 

Bill Gross’s Wife Paints Fake Picasso, Swaps It With Real Thing In Divorce (NYP)
Fed To Deliver ‘Punch In The Face’ Markets Aren’t Prepared For – Boockvar (CNBC)
Who’s Most Afraid of a Latin American Debt Crisis? (DQ)
Can We Blame The Bankers? (Pettifor)
UK’s 17-Year Wage Squeeze The Worst In Two Hundred Years (Tily)
EU Set To Push For 6-Month Extension To Brexit Transition Period (Ind.)
The Hard Border Is Too Hard A Question (G.)
Half A Million ‘Hidden’ Young People In UK Left Without State Help (Ind.)
UK Campaigners Slam £1 Million Incentive To Store Nuclear Waste (G.)
Italy Could Blow Up Europe As We Know It (Pol.eu)
Italy’s Radical M5S And League On Verge Of Forming Government (G.)
EU’s Mogherini: Iran Nuclear Deal Will Hold (Pol.eu)
Damage To North Korea’s Nuclear Test Site Is Worse Than Anyone Thought (Ind.)
Bad Bitches From Mars (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

Bill Gross’s wife. About the Picasso above.

Bill Gross’s Wife Paints Fake Picasso, Swaps It With Real Thing In Divorce (NYP)

A woman locked in a contentious divorce with her bond-trader husband took a Picasso off his wall and replaced it with a forgery she made herself. Sue Gross didn’t wait until she and Wall Street titan Bill Gross had finalized their split, swapping out a 1932 Pablo Picasso painting entitled “Le Repos” hanging in their bedroom with her own rendering. The original is expected to fetch as much as $35 million at Sotheby’s Monday evening. The painting, which depicts Picasso lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, had belonged to them jointly. But a coin flip in August 2017 amid the couple’s divorce proceedings awarded Sue full custody of Picasso’s depiction of his sleeping mistress, which the couple had owned since 2006.

After the flip, Bill Gross tried to make arrangements for the piece to be transferred from his Laguna Beach, Calif., house to his ex-wife, sources told The Post. But the ex-Mrs. Gross said that was unnecessary; she already had taken the real thing. The couple’s art collection had been appraised by Sotheby’s in January 2017 amid the divorce proceedings, but Bill learned only later the Picasso was appraised in a different location than Laguna Beach. Bill was shocked Sue already had the piece, a source said, adding that Bill said, She stole the damn thing. In November testimony, the ex-wife readily admitted to swiping the Picasso, citing an e-mail Bill sent to her where he instructed her to “take all the furniture and art that you’d like”.

“And so I did,” she said. But it wasn’t quite that simple, as testimony revealed the ex-wife’s prowess for both painting and artful deception. “Well, you didn’t take it and leave an empty spot on the wall, though, did you?” lawyers for Bill Gross asked. “No,” Sue responded. “You replaced it with a fake?” the lawyer asked. “Well, it was a painting I painted,” Sue responded. “A replication of the Picasso?” the lawyer asked. “A replication, yes,” Sue answered. “And it had the Picasso signature and everything, didn’t it?” the lawyer asked. “Not exactly . . .” she said. “Whose signature was it? Sue Gross?” the lawyer asked.

“I don’t remember how I signed it. Bill will remember because I painted it at home years ago,” she said. “Did you tell him that you took the Picasso?” the lawyer asked. “No. We didn’t speak for a year and a half,” she answered just before the line of questioning turned to a 7-foot, 300-pound rabbit sculpture she also admitted taking.

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“..it’s very rare that the Fed engineers soft landings, and I’m not a believer that they’re going to do it again this time.”

Fed To Deliver ‘Punch In The Face’ Markets Aren’t Prepared For – Boockvar (CNBC)

Markets already know the Federal Reserve will deliver more rate hikes this year. They’re just not prepared for how much it will hurt, according to Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer of Bleakley Advisory Group. “The Fed is trying to ease the effect of their rate hike cycle by being very transparent,” Boockvar told CNBC’s “Futures Now” this week. It is “trying to convince us that quantitative tightening is like watching paint dry.” Fed chair Jerome Powell is carrying on Janet Yellen’s legacy of full transparency by prepping the markets as best as he can for inevitable monetary tightening. The Fed’s message of ‘steady-as-she-goes’ rate increases has calmed Wall Street into thinking this will mostly be a smooth path higher.

Boockvar expects tighter monetary policy will have a far greater impact than the Fed is telegraphing, and the market is anticipating. “Regardless of how they tell us, regardless of how they do it, there’s still a rise in the cost of capital, there’s still a drain of liquidity,” he said. He used a colorful analogy for the shock the markets will be dealt, even with the Fed’s fair warning. “If I gave you a month’s notice that I’m going to punch you in the face, when I punch you in the face, it’s still going to feel the same, it’s still going to hurt,” he said. Even worse, it’s more like two blows: While the Fed hikes interest rates, it’s also shrinking its balance sheet, Boockvar points out. “The biggest risk to the market is that they’re really tightening twice through the reduction of the size of their balance sheet,” said Boockvar.

[..] “At the same time, they’ll likely raise two more times this year, so the rise in interest rates to me is very noteworthy,” said Boockvar. “In a very over-levered, credit-dependent economy, that is my main concern because it’s very rare that the Fed engineers soft landings, and I’m not a believer that they’re going to do it again this time.”

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Spain.

Who’s Most Afraid of a Latin American Debt Crisis? (DQ)

Economic history appears to be rhyming once again in Latin America. Perennial credit-basket-case Argentina was one of the first countries to suffer a major currency crisis this century. Now, its government has asked the IMF for a brand-new bailout. But if this classic last-gasp fix was meant to calm the markets, it isn’t working. Previous Latin American debt crises have taught us two things: • The direct impact on the general populace, already suffering from sky-high poverty rates, is devastating; • Once the first domino falls, contagion can spread like wildfire. The debt crisis of the early 1980s, which spread to virtually all corners of the region, famously paved the way to Latin America’s “lost decade.”

Mexico’s Tequila Crisis of 1994-5 at one point became so serious that it almost brought down some of Wall Street’s biggest banks. At the moment, as long as the US dollar and US yields continue to rise, emerging market jitters can be expected to grow. As British financial correspondent Neal Kimberley notes, markets often behave like predators, running down what they perceive as the weakest prey first — a role being filled, with usual aplomb, by Argentina. Emerging market weakness is by now a generalized trend. The jitters could soon spread to Latin America’s two largest economies, Brazil and Mexico, which between them account for close to 60% of Latin America’s GDP. Both of the countries face general elections in the next two months.

[..] But it’s not just countries that are at risk of contagion; so, too, are global companies with a big stake in the affected markets. Few companies are more exposed to Latin America than large Spanish ones. Some were already burnt in Argentina’s last crisis and default. But in the aftermath of Spain’s real estate collapse, opportunities at home dried up to such an extent that access to Latin America’s fast-growing economies became a godsend. But it could soon become a curse.

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What makes austerity dangerous.

Can We Blame The Bankers? (Pettifor)

At a Rethinking Economics conference in Oslo last month I pointed out that western politicians and economists are repeating policy errors of the 1930s. The pattern of a global financial crash, followed by austerity in Europe and the UK, led in those years to the rise of populism, authoritarianism and ultimately fascism. The scale of economic and political failures and missteps led in turn to a catastrophic world war. Today that pattern – of a global financial crash, austerity and a rise in political populism and authoritarianism – is evident in both Europe and the US. And talk of war has risen to the top of the US political agenda. Why have we not learnt lessons from the past?

The “fount and matrix” (to quote Karl Polanyi) of the international financial system prior to its collapse in 1929, was the self-regulating market. The gold standard was the policy by which the private finance sector, backed by economists, central bankers and policy-makers, sought to extend the domestic market system to the international sphere – beyond the reach of regulatory democracy. In the event, the 1929 stock market crash put an end to the delusional aspirations of Haute Finance: namely that financiers could detach their activities from democratic, accountable political oversight. (Polanyi, The Great Transformation 1944).

Between 1929 and 1931 the losses from the US stock market crash were estimated at $50bn. It was the worst economic failure in the history of the international economy. Within three years of the crash millions of Americans were unemployed, and farmers were caught between rising debts and deflating commodity prices. In Germany between 1930 and 1932, Heinrich Brüning, the Chancellor, with the tacit support of Social Democrats, imposed a savage austerity programme that led to high levels of unemployment and cuts in welfare programmes. This in turn led to the demise of social democracy, the rise of fascism and ultimately a global war.

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Again, austerity. Theresa May trumps Napoleon.

UK’s 17-Year Wage Squeeze The Worst In Two Hundred Years (Tily)

A decade on from the financial crisis, real wages today are still worth £24 a week less than they were in 2008. By the time they’re forecast to return to their pre-crash level in 2025, real wages will have been in decline for 17 years – the longest period since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The TUC compared the current wage squeeze (including the forecast) with every major earnings crisis over the past two centuries. We found that the only slump longer than the one we’re experiencing today was the 24 years between 1798 and 1822, a period when Europe was ravaged by the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath. In fact, real wages even recovered faster during the Great Depression (10 years) and after the Second World War (7 years), as the chart below shows:


Year zero is the pre-crisis peak. Outcomes in subsequent years are measured as an index relative to that point. The real wage index returns to 100 when the crisis is over.

The current crisis not only dwarfs all others during the last century; it is the biggest since the period between 1798, when Nelson destroyed the French Fleet at the Battle of the Nile, and 1822, when the economy finally began to recover from the devastation of the Napoleonic Wars:

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What’s the difference?

EU Set To Push For 6-Month Extension To Brexit Transition Period (Ind.)

The EU is to push for an optional six-month extension to the Brexit transition period to be built in to the UK’s withdrawal agreement, The Independent understands. European Commission officials will seek the extension to give the EU added flexibility, but it comes as key figures in the UK also look to extend the transition to give time to implement new customs arrangements. Next week a crunch meeting will see Theresa May’s top ministers try to agree what kind of customs relations to seek in negotiations, with both of her proposed options potentially needing more time than the current transition allows. The Independent has been told by two sources in Brussels that the EU wants the six-month extension to protect its own interests, as Brexit negotiations come to their most critical phase.

One said: “Of course they are aware of the sensitivity around the issue in London, but it is about giving the commission more leeway if needed, at the end of the transition to get things in place.” A second official in Brussels said it would be normal for the commission to seek the added time, simply as a safety precaution given the uncertainty surrounding the British position. The commission is expected to try to put the optional six-month extension into the withdrawal agreement late on in the negotiations process, in order to maximise the chance of it being accepted. According to the current withdrawal agreement text, the transition period is set to last around 18 months from the end of March 2019 until December 2020 – to give time for both sides to get their houses in order before new legal and trade systems come into play.

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They have no clue how to solve this. This whole Brexit preparation thing is just a waste of time.

The Hard Border Is Too Hard A Question (G.)

[..] it would be satisfying to rewind and show that the reason many now believe Britain must stay connected to the EU for five years or so relates to complex customs rules and how they cannot be reconciled with open borders. Parliament only took notice when MPs on the Brexit select committee damned the government’s dithering. The committee’s message was that keeping the Irish border open and at the same time installing border controls with the EU couldn’t work. Ever since their report last December, the border contradiction has travelled through Whitehall like a virus, forcing civil servants to drop what they are doing in a desperate bid to find a cure. As one senior civil servant put it, officials are too busy finding a way to put the right export stamp on a sheep’s backside to think about anything else.

So far, no cure has been found and the situation is looking desperate. Foreign companies have virtually switched off the stream of investment into the UK. By the end of last year, OECD figures show foreign direct investment down by half on the average seen from 2012 to 2015 and by 90% on the bumper inflow of funds seen in 2016. [..] Even the most confident Brexiters have noticed the economy flagging under the weight of the customs union uncertainty. It’s such a quandary that last week Tory MPs were openly considering adding another three years to the transition deal just to give the brightest minds in the civil service enough time to sort it out. That would take the UK’s membership of the customs union to 2023.

They recognise that any attempt to stay inside an economic zone with the EU – whether that be the “Norway option”, under the banner of the European Economic Area, or the “Swiss option”, which involves negotiating upwards of 100 separate trade agreements – comes with a demand for free movement of labour. That, as we know, is an unacceptable outcome for Leave voters.

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Throwing away much of a generation. Just like in Greece.

Half A Million ‘Hidden’ Young People In UK Left Without State Help (Ind.)

Almost half a million young people are at risk of “a life of unemployment and poverty” after being left without any state help to survive and find work, ministers have been warned. The alarm has been raised over a staggering number of “hidden jobless” who have “fallen off the government radar”, despite promises of intensive support to achieve their potential. The new research has found that 480,000 16- to 24-year-olds are missing out on both benefits and advice – no less than 60 per cent of the official total of young jobless. Strikingly, many of them have good job prospects, boasting impressive GCSE qualifications and having continued with their education beyond 16.

But they refuse to go to job centres because they are “unhelpful” or they “fear being treated badly” – due to the threat of sanctions – while others lack the necessary documents. A senior MP has now demanded answers from ministers, while campaigners are urging the government to let them plug the gap where the state is failing young people. Frank Field, the chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, told The Independent: “It seems as though a small army of unemployed young people have fallen through the gaps in the safety net without any official data recording whether they are destitute. “If we are to prevent them from being consigned to a life of unemployment and poverty, a first move must involve gathering accurate data on which young people are without either a job or an income, so they can then receive appropriate support.”

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One word: Yucca.

UK Campaigners Slam £1 Million Incentive To Store Nuclear Waste (G.)

MPs from both major parties have attacked the government’s latest incentive to entice communities into volunteering to host Britain’s first deep underground store for nuclear waste as “completely inadequate”. Ministers have offered up to £1m per community for areas that constructively engage in offering to take part in the scheme, and a further sum of up to £2.5m where deep borehole investigations take place. The aim is to find a permanent underground geological disposal facility (GDF) that could store for thousands of years the waste from Britain’s nuclear energy and bomb-making programmes. The scheme could involve building stores under the seabed to house highly radioactive material. It is predicted that the UK is likely to have produced 4.9m tonnes of nuclear waste by 2125.

But critics say the inducements offered by the government – part of the consultations it launched this year – to ensure local cooperation are “simply not good enough”, and point to the example of France, which has a similar amount of nuclear waste. It offers around €30m (£26.5m) a year as local support for districts neighbouring the site at Bure, in north-east France, and has also offered €60m in community projects. [..] The government is seeking to dispose of the UK’s nuclear waste underground because current storage facilities are both ineffective and expensive to maintain. A GDF would involve sealing the waste in rock for as long as it remains a hazard. The plan was also criticised by the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who said the UK should stop making nuclear waste and stop building new reactors.

“We are still pouring untold billions of taxpayer money into propping up an industry that the free market would have killed off years ago,” he said. “In return, we will be compounding the catastrophe of a nuclear waste build-up, which we are no closer to solving than we were when the industry was born.” Nina Schrank, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, added: “The lack of seriousness with which the UK government treats nuclear legacy issues makes it predictable that their quest for a suitable site has been so unsuccessful that they are looking again at the Irish Sea, which Sellafield turned into one of the most radioactively contaminated seas in the world.”

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“..we all know what usually happens when the EU goes on the ballot (see France and Netherlands in 2005, Ireland in 2008, Britain in 2016, pick your year in Denmark)”

Italy Could Blow Up Europe As We Know It (Pol.eu)

As Italy’s leading vote-getters work through the weekend to hammer out a coalition deal — about time, some might add, two months after the election — the EU and Brussels establishments are in a state of heightened anxiety. A government of the 5Stars (anti-establishment, in media shorthand) and the League (far right, ditto) together, or somehow alone, is unprecedented. Never before in any of the six original EU countries, much less one of its leading powers, have parties deeply skeptical toward the EU grabbed the reins of power. If that happens, the consequences for Italy and the EU could be felt for months and years to come. But the appetizer has been served. A surprise election outcome that sidelined Italy’s more traditional left and right parties and catapulted this odd couple into the limelight is disrupting European politics in unexpected ways.

[..] an Italian euro-exit is hardly off the table either. Beppe Grillo, the 5Stars’ founder, last week revived the idea of forcing a referendum on Italy’s membership in the single currency. It is, after all, in the party’s DNA — and we all know what usually happens when the EU goes on the ballot (see France and Netherlands in 2005, Ireland in 2008, Britain in 2016, pick your year in Denmark). Italy’s high debt, low growth and terrible demographics make it an unhappy fit in a eurozone dominated by northern economic powerhouses. If anything, the speculation about the intentions of any government with the 5Stars in it hardly helps boost investor confidence in Italy.

[..] The success of these two parties brings home the changed mood among Italians. That’s especially true for the young. In a 2017 poll, just over half of people under 45 said they would vote to leave the EU if Italy holds a referendum on EU membership (while 68 percent of respondents over 45 supported staying in the bloc). Young adults in Italy have memories only of economic stagnation and crisis. While domestic politics and finance can be blamed for much of that, the heavy hand of the EU is often present in the tale of woe.

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Just yesterday, Berlusconi got permission to run again. So maybe no new government yet?

Italy’s Radical M5S And League On Verge Of Forming Government (G.)

When Italians went to the polls in early March, the message was loud and clear: it was time for the parties that had dominated politics since the early 1990s to vacate the stage. Over 50% of voters backed two outsider parties, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League. Over two months later, the pair are on the verge of forming a coalition government that could break decisively with the centrist policies that went before. Matteo Salvini, leader of the League (formerly the Northern League), and his M5S counterpart, Luigi di Maio, have been thrashing out a deal that could be revealed as soon as Sunday. “The Italian people want this government,” said Mattia Diletti, a professor at Sapienza University in Rome.

“They want to see something new, and I think Sergio Mattarella [Italy’s president] understands this.” Salvini and Di Maio, an odd couple who have spent most of the past two months hurling insults at each other, are working to put together a policy document and are expected to update Mattarella on Sunday. Di Maio has said that “considerable steps forward” have been made on a policy programme, with agreement on issues such as tougher laws on immigration, reform of pensions, a flat tax and a universal basic income. But it is unclear who Italy’s next prime minister will be. The names mooted in the Italian press include the League’s deputy leader, Giancarlo Giorgetti; Giampiero Massolo, chairman of shipbuilder Fincantieri and ex-chief of the secret service, and Elisabetta Belloni, the foreign ministry’s secretary general.

In any event, the candidate is likely to be someone who will heed Mattarella’s thinly disguised warning to the coalition on Thursday against retreating from Europe. M5S has softened its stance on the EU, saying it would like to open discussions on “some treaties” rather than pull Italy out, while Salvini has said he wants to “defend Italy” within the bloc.

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Hmmm…doubtful at best: .. the secret of change — and we need change — is to put all energies not in destroying the old, but rather in building the new.

So change, but decided by the same people…

EU’s Mogherini: Iran Nuclear Deal Will Hold (Pol.eu)

The Iran nuclear deal can survive without the United States’ support, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said Friday. Speaking at a State of the Union conference, Mogherini said she has received assurances from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that the country would stand by the agreement, despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions on Iran earlier this week. “We are determined to keep this deal in place,” Mogherini said, adding that only Iran has the power to unilaterally wreck the deal.

The Italian diplomat will meet with the foreign ministers of Germany, France and the United Kingdom — the three European powers that brokered the nuclear deal along with the EU, U.S., China and Russia — in Brussels Tuesday to discuss the future of the agreement. The European diplomats will also meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Europeans are seeking to demonstrate that they can still deliver most of the economic benefits Tehran was promised in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons program and allowing a robust system of international inspections, as well as persuade European companies active in Iran not to abandon their deals out of fear of being penalized by the U.S.

In her speech, Mogherini took several shots at Trump, though she did not mention the U.S. president by name, saying: “It seems that screaming, shouting, insulting and bullying, systematically destroying and dismantling everything that is already in place, is the mood of our times. While the secret of change — and we need change — is to put all energies not in destroying the old, but rather in building the new. “This impulse to destroy is not leading us anywhere good,” she added. “It is not solving any of our problems.”

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And he’s going to make closing it into a wonderful ceremony. Everyone’s welcome.

Damage To North Korea’s Nuclear Test Site Is Worse Than Anyone Thought (Ind.)

The damage to North Korea’s nuclear test site after its latest missile firing is believed to be worse than previously thought, it has been reported. Space-based radar showed that after the initial impact of the blast, which took place in September 2017, a large part of the underground Punggye-ri test site caved in. Chinese scientists had previously said that due to a partial collapse of a mountain near the test region that part of the site was no longer useable. The new research, from a study published in Science magazine, confirms this is likely to be the case. Sylvain Barbot, one of the authors of the study, said: “This means that a very large domain has collapsed around the test site, not merely a tunnel or two.”

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I made that title up.

Bad Bitches From Mars (Jim Kunstler)

I sense that with Schneiderman we’ve reached the zenith in this comic phase of American cultural collapse. The same week, Vanity Fair Magazine ran this item about the pop star Rihanna: Rihanna’s lingerie collection will drop on Friday [today], and there’s one very special addition that is making people lose their minds: her line, Savage x Fenty, will feature handcuffs. [Fenty is Ms. Rihanna’s surname.] Just days after she reimagined the Pope at the Met Gala, Rihanna is reminding us that this is still her week. She told Vogue that it was only natural that Fenty Beauty, which launched last fall, feature a lingerie line for women who want to express agency over their own looks and bodies…. ‘Women should be wearing lingerie for their damn selves,’ Rihanna [told Vogue]. I want people to wear Savage x Fenty and think, I’m a bad bitch.’”

[..] The Martian in me sees America turning into something like a Fellini movie, a panorama of fabulous excess and sinister fantasy, with the more malign forces of commerce propelling the garbage barge to ever darker extremes at the edge of a flat earth. On one part of the edge stands President Trump, all greatness and little goodness; and on the other edge stand characters like Eric Schneiderman and Harvey Weinstein, deposed champions of social justice — now cultural blood-brothers in the Sexual Predators Hall of Infamy. Mr. Schneiderman was all set to drag Mr. Weinstein, figuratively speaking, over several miles of broken glass and old Gillette blue blades in the state courts, and now it looks like the former NY AG himself may submit to a death of a thousand cuts by civil litigation, or maybe even a trip to one of his old criminal courtrooms, if the ever-vengeful Governor Andrew Cuomo has his wicked way.

If America were an X-rated billiard parlor, I’d think it had run the table on political sex stories, with nothing but the eight-ball of doom left on the table, and a wrathful deity — the Pope’s boss, shall we say — standing there chalking up his cue stick. When he sinks that last shot, a new game will get underway. I believe it will have to do with financial markets and currencies, and a lot more will hang on the outcome. The break itself should be a doozy — all those colored balls banging into each other and dropping into oblivion.

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For your Sunday calm: Philip Glass paints both the river flowing by, and the traffic of New York City, all at the same time. For him, in the end, it’s the same thing.

 

 

May 042018
 
 May 4, 2018  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Herri met de Bles c1510-after 1555 Saint Jerome medidating

 

Fed’s QE Unwind Accelerates Sharply (WS)
The Root of It All (Batnick)
Tesla Is A Zombie Company (F.)
With No Letup In Home Prices, The California Exodus Surges (MW)
Demand For US Soybeans Remains Strong Despite China (CNBC)
US Charges VW Ex-CEO With Conspiracy And Fraud (G.)
Mueller’s Questions for Trump Show Folly of Special-Counsel Appointments (NR)
Why We Need To Be Propagandized For Our Own Good (CJ)
Neocons Form Brand New Russia-Bashing ‘Think’ Tank (RI)
UK Pushes To Strengthen Anti-Russia Alliance (G.)
Nobel Prize For Literature Postponed Amid Swedish Academy Turmoil (BBC)
Jacinda Ardern Pledges Shelter For All Homeless People Within Four Weeks (G.)

 

 

As most voices seem convinced QT would be madness.

Fed’s QE Unwind Accelerates Sharply (WS)

The QE Unwind is ramping up toward cruising speed. The Fed’s balance sheet for the week ending May 2, released this afternoon, shows a total drop of $104 billion since the beginning of the QE Unwind in October – to the lowest level since June 11, 2014. During the years and iterations of QE, the Fed acquired $3.4 trillion in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities. The mortgages underlying those MBS are guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. The “balance sheet normalization,” as the Fed calls it, was nudged into motion last October. But the pace accelerates every quarter until it reaches up to $50 billion a month in Q4 this year.

This would trim the balance sheet by up to $420 billion this year, and by up to $600 billion in 2019 and every year going forward, until the Fed considers the balance sheet to be adequately “normalized” — or until something big breaks, whichever comes first. [..] The balance of Treasury securities fell by $17.6 billion in April. This is up 60% from March, when $11 billion “rolled off.” Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, $70 billion in Treasuries “rolled off.” Now at $2,395 billion, the balance of Treasuries has hit the lowest level since June 18, 2014.

[..] Residential MBS are different from regular bonds. Holders receive principal payments on a regular basis as the underlying mortgages are paid down or are paid off. At maturity, the remaining principal is paid off. Over the years, to keep the MBS balance from declining, the New York Fed’s Open Market Operations (OMO) has been continually buying MBS. But settlement of those trades occurs two to three months later. The Fed books the trades on an as-settled basis. The time lag between the trade and settlement causes the large weekly fluctuations on the Fed’s balance sheet. And it also delays when MBS that “rolled off” actually disappear from the balance sheet.

[..] Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet dropped by $30 billion in April, and by $104 billion since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, to $4,356 billion. This is the lowest since June 11, 2014. Note that total assets are now down by $160 billion from the peak in January 2015:

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“The poor stay poor, the rich get rich. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.”

The Root of It All (Batnick)

Steven Pinker wrote, “In almost every year from 1992 through 2015, an era in which the rate of violent crime plummeted, a majority of Americans told pollsters that crime was rising. In late 2015, large majorities in eleven developed countries said that “the world is getting worse.” But crime isn’t rising, and the world is objectively getting better. And while life is improving at the macro level, at the micro level, people aren’t feeling so great. So what gives? We tend to expect the worst as a way to insulate ourselves from disappointment. Life is not about good or bad, it’s about better or worse, so if things don’t turn out as bad as we imagine, we’re pleasantly surprised. If you were asked to think about how your life could improve, a few things might come to mind.

But imagine how your life could get worse, and a barrage of negative possibilities fills your brain. The risk and reward of every day life is asymmetrical. This is why being a pessimist feels safe and being an optimist feels reckless. [..] While the news certainly isn’t doing anyone any favors, there are legitimate reasons why people don’t feel like things are getting better. For too many, they aren’t. The chart below shows the change in real income since 1980. This chart is the root of all the negative things facing our society. People in the top 20% saw their income increase by 60%. People in the bottom 20% saw their income rise by just 5% over the same time. As Leonard Cohen said, “The poor stay poor, the rich get rich. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.”

Real income increased 38% from 1980-2016, or just 0.87% per year, and 70% of that increase went to people in the top 20%. Things are better, especially around the world, but in our country, way too many people are getting left behind. Extreme poverty is collapsing, but relative poverty is exploding, and everything in life is relative. If things don’t feel better than they were two hundred years ago, it’s because people compare themselves to their neighbors, not to their ancestors.

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As simple as that.

Tesla Is A Zombie Company (F.)

Tesla’s quarter was terrible from a financial perspective, as I had expected. The controlling figure I use, operating cash flow (operating loss plus depreciation minus capital expenditures,) was reported as -$836 million in the quarter, which very nearly approximates one quarter of 2017’s full year cash outflow of $3.4 billion. Things are not improving at Tesla from a financial perspective, and the second quarter is likely to be just as bad as the first. For the third consecutive quarter, Tesla posted negative EBITDA (-$180 million) and if this were any other company, there would be an active death watch on the Street. Tesla’s bonds have dropped sharply in today’s trading, now quoted at 87 cents on the dollar.

This is not surprising given that Tesla is not even remotely close to earning enough profit to cover its interest expense, which management estimated would be $160 million in the second quarter. Tesla added $346 million to its now $10 billion debt pile in the quarter, and the management’s weasel-worded projection of “positive net income excluding non-cash stock based compensation in Q3 and Q4” would still leave Tesla short of covering its debt service costs, by my calculations. So, from a financial perspective, Tesla is a zombie company. There is simply no justification for Tesla’s current market capitalization of $47.2 billion, and the market eventually figures these things out. It’s actually been a slow burn for Tesla shares, not a plummet, but that can be just as painful.

On September 12, 2014, Teslashares closed at $279.20 and the Nasdaq Composite closed at 4567.60. As of this writing, Tesla is trading at $279.04 and the Nasdaq is trading at 7011.00. So that’s where the value destruction Musk has wrought is evident. His shares are down slightly in a period in which his peer companies have collectively risen 53.5%.

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Housing bubbles break communities.

With No Letup In Home Prices, The California Exodus Surges (MW)

Over a million more people moved out of California from 2006 to 2016 than moved in, according to a new report, due mainly to the high cost of housing that hits lower-income people the hardest. “A strong economy can also be dysfunctional,” noted the report, a project of Next 10 and Beacon Economics. Housing costs are much higher in California than in other states, yet wages for workers in the lower income brackets aren’t. And the state attracts more highly-educated high-earners who can afford pricey homes. There are many reasons for the housing crunch, but the lack of new construction may be the most significant.

According to the report, from 2008 to 2017, an average of 24.7 new housing permits were filed for every 100 new residents in California. That’s well below the national average of 43.1 permits per 100 people. If this trend persists, the researchers argued, analysts forecast the state will be about 3 million homes short by 2025. California homeowners spend an average of 21.9% of their income on housing costs, the 49th worst in the nation, while renters spend 32.8%, the 48th worst. The median rent statewide in 2016 was $1,375, which is 40.2% higher than the national average. And the median home price was — wait for it — more than double that of the national average.

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Globally, supple has a hard time keeping up with demand. Everybody involved knows this.

Demand For US Soybeans Remains Strong Despite China (CNBC)

Demand for U.S. soybeans remains strong, regardless of worries China could target the crop in retaliation over Trump administration tariffs. China has canceled several shipments of U.S. soybeans in the last month, raising questions over whether the country is taking preemptive action against the U.S. by reducing purchases. But analysts say the reduction is a minor amount and is not that surprising from a seasonal perspective. The “U.S. accounts for 37 percent of total soybean exports throughout the world. Beyond Brazil, there’s really nobody else,” said Rich Nelson, director of research at Allendale, an agricultural market research and trading firm. “Despite the trade concerns, there’s really nobody else. You’re just simply not going to have a massive decline in U.S. soybean exports,” he said.

Chinese cancellations of U.S. soybean orders for the week ended April 26 resulted in a decline of 133,700 metric tons in net sales to China, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service data showed Thursday. But 66,000 metric tons of those soybeans were sent to Vietnam instead, the data showed. Meanwhile, the U.S. sold 82,700 metric tons of soybeans in new sales to Mexico, 68,800 to Taiwan, 60,000 to Argentina and 52,600 to the Netherlands. Although Argentina is the third-largest exporter of soybeans, a severe drought has reduced production by 7 million tons to 40 million, according to USDA estimates. “That just goes to show we’re not dependent on China for soybean exports,” said Michael Stumo, head of Coalition for a Prosperous America, a nonprofit representing the interests of those in manufacturing, agriculture and labor unions.

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Germany doesn’t extradite its citizens.

US Charges VW Ex-CEO With Conspiracy And Fraud (G.)

US authorities have charged Volkswagen’s former chief executive officer Martin Winterkorn with conspiracy and wire fraud in relation to the car company’s efforts to cheat on US diesel emissions tests. Winterkorn, who resigned in 2015 as the scandal was revealed, conspired to defraud the US and violate the Clean Air Act, federal laws designed to control air pollution, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday in a Michigan federal court. Five other VW executives were also charged in the indictment. He becomes the highest-ranking executive to be charged over “dieselgate” – a scheme where VW used software to trick government emissions testers.

“The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company,” said US attorney general Jeff Sessions. “These are serious allegations and we’ll prosecute this case to the full extent of the law.” When news of the scheme broke Winterkorn said he was “stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group”. He denied any knowledge of the scandal – which was used to evade pollution limits on nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles. Last December, Oliver Schmidt, a senior Volkswagen executive, was jailed for seven years and fined $400,000 for his part in the scheme. Schmidt, who had returned to Germany, was arrested while on holiday in Florida. VW pleaded guilty as a corporation in March, agreeing to pay a record $4.3bn in fines.

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“If Bob Mueller wants that kind of control over the executive branch, he should run for president. Otherwise, he is an inferior executive official who has been given a limited license — ultimately, by the chief executive — to investigate crime. If he doesn’t have an obvious crime, he has no business inventing one, much less probing his superior’s judgment. He should stand down.”

Mueller’s Questions for Trump Show Folly of Special-Counsel Appointments (NR)

I am assuming the authenticity of the questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly wants to ask President Trump. The questions indicate that, after a year of his own investigation and two years of FBI investigation, the prosecutor lacks evidence of a crime. Yet he seeks to probe the chief executive’s motives and thought processes regarding exercises of presidential power that were lawful, regardless of one’s view of their wisdom. If Bob Mueller wants that kind of control over the executive branch, he should run for president. Otherwise, he is an inferior executive official who has been given a limited license — ultimately, by the chief executive — to investigate crime. If he doesn’t have an obvious crime, he has no business inventing one, much less probing his superior’s judgment. He should stand down.

The questions, reported by the New York Times, underscore that the special counsel is a pernicious institution. Trump should decline the interview. More to the point, the Justice Department should not permit Mueller to seek to interrogate the president on so paltry and presumptuous a showing.

When should a president be subject to criminal investigation? It is a bedrock principle that no one is above the law. The Framers made clear that this includes the president. But, like everything else, bedrock principles do not exist in a vacuum. They vie with other principles. Two competing considerations are especially significant here. First, our law-enforcement system is based on prosecutorial discretion. Under this principle, the desirability of prosecuting even a palpable violation of law must be balanced against other societal needs and desires. We trust prosecutors to perform this cost-benefit analysis with modesty about their mission and sensitivity to the disruption their investigations cause.

Second, the president is the most essential official in the world’s most consequential government. That government’s effectiveness is necessarily compromised if the president is under the cloud of an investigation. Not only are the president’s personal credibility and capability diminished; such an investigation discourages talented people from serving in an administration, further undermining good governance. The country is inexorably harmed because a suspect administration’s capacity to execute the laws and pursue the interests of the United States is undermined.

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Caitlin Johnstone on the Atlantic Council.

Why We Need To Be Propagandized For Our Own Good (CJ)

I sometimes try to get establishment loyalists to explain to me exactly why we’re all meant to be terrified of this “Russian propaganda” thing they keep carrying on about. What is the threat, specifically? That it makes the public less willing to go to war with Russia and its allies? That it makes us less trusting of lying, torturing, coup-staging intelligence agencies? Does accidentally catching a glimpse of that green RT logo turn you to stone like Medusa, or melt your face like in Raiders of the Lost Ark? “Well, it makes us lose trust in our institutions,” is the most common reply. Okay. So? Where’s the threat there? We know for a fact that we’ve been lied to by those institutions. Iraq isn’t just something we imagined. We should be skeptical of claims made by western governments, intelligence agencies and mass media. How specifically is that skepticism dangerous?

Trying to get answers to such questions from rank-and-file empire loyalists is like pulling teeth, and they are equally lacking in the mass media who are constantly sounding the alarm about Russian propaganda. All I see are stories about Russia funding environmentalists (the horror!), giving a voice to civil rights activists (oh noes!), and retweeting articles supportive of Jeremy Corbyn (think of the children!). At its very most dramatic, this horrifying, dangerous epidemic of Russian propaganda is telling westerners to be skeptical of what they’re being told about the Skripal poisoning and the alleged Douma gas attack, both of which do happen to have some very significant causes for skepticism.

When you try to get down to the brass tacks of the actual argument being made and demand specific details about the specific threats we’re meant to be worried about, there aren’t any to be found. Nobody’s been able to tell me what specifically is so dangerous about westerners being exposed to the Russian side of international debates, or of Russians giving a platform to one or both sides of an American domestic debate. Even if every single one of the allegations about Russian bots and disinformation are true (and they aren’t), where is the actual clear and present danger? No one can say. No one, that is, except the Atlantic Council.

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The entire MSM can’t get the job done?!

Neocons Form Brand New Russia-Bashing ‘Think’ Tank (RI)

A group of neocon heartthrobs have banded together with an eclectic array of Russiagaters to form a visionary organization committed to protecting Western democracy. You can also pre-order their book, according to their website. Chaired by pompous chess wizard turned Kremlinologist Garry Kasparov, the brand-new Renew Democracy Initiative (RDI) is the latest three-letter-initialism non-profit devoted to “the defense of democratic freedom and prosperity.” The trailblazing think tank has already sent shockwaves through Washington, DC and every European capital. Celebrated war cheerleader Max Boot, who serves on RDI’s board of directors, announced the creation of this highly original organization in a Washington Post op-ed.

Interestingly, the unveiling started with a laundry list of 10 other groups that are already “protesting Trump and championing democracy.” So why does the world need RDI, then? Because RDI is different – some might even say “special.” Unlike the dozens of other well-financed bastions of status-quo thinking, RDI aims to “unite both the center-left and center-right” by promoting “liberty, democracy and sanity in an age of discord.” And where will this much-needed sanity come from? From RDI’s all-star team of important intellectuals and free thinkers, of course – some of whom just happen to be really tight with the other 10 groups mentioned in Boot’s WaPo piece. Dear Mr. Boot: does fighting Putin with the Committee to Investigate Russia allow enough spare time to fight Putin with the Renew Democracy Initiative? Curious minds want to know.

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It’s contagious.

UK Pushes To Strengthen Anti-Russia Alliance (G.)

The UK will use a series of international summits this year to call for a comprehensive strategy to combat Russian disinformation and urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow, following the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign of denials over the use of chemical weapons in the UK and Syria. British diplomats plan to use four major summits this year – the G7, the G20, Nato and the European Union – to try to deepen the alliance against Russia hastily built by the Foreign Office after the poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March. “The foreign secretary regards Russia’s response to Douma and Salisbury as a turning point and thinks there is international support to do more,” a Whitehall official said.

“The areas the UK are most likely to pursue are countering Russian disinformation and finding a mechanism to enforce accountability for the use of chemical weapons.” Former Foreign Office officials admit that an institutional reluctance to call out Russia once permeated British diplomatic thinking, but say that after the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, that attitude is evaporating. A cross-party alliance in parliament has developed which sees the question of Russian corruption no longer through the prism of finance, but instead as a security and foreign policy threat, requiring fresh sanctions even if this causes short-term economic damage to the UK.

[..] For some old hands in the Foreign Office with deep experience of Russia, however, demonising Russia is a disastrous strategy. Sir Anthony Brenton, the British ambassador to Russia between 2004 and 2008, insists a fruitful common agenda with Moscow on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Islamist terrorism and cyberwarfare is still possible. “What on earth was her majesty’s foreign secretary doing comparing the Russian World Cup with Hitler’s 1936 Olympics?” he asked. “If you are looking for a single statement really calculated to infuriate the Russians there it is, or indeed the defence secretary telling Russia to shut up. Elementary diplomacy goes a long way with the Russians and we need to get back to that.

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Still feels like a weird story.

Nobel Prize For Literature Postponed Amid Swedish Academy Turmoil (BBC)

The organisation that decides the Nobel Prize for Literature has said it will not announce an award this year, after it was engulfed in a scandal over sexual assault allegations. The Swedish Academy has been in crisis over its handling of allegations against the husband of a member. She has since quit, as have the academy’s head and four other members. The academy says it will now announce the 2018 winner along with the 2019 winner next year.

The scandal is the biggest to hit the prize since it was first awarded in 1901. The academy said the decision had been made due to a lack of public confidence. Some academy members had argued that the prize should proceed to protect the tradition, but others said the institution was in no state to present the award. Apart from six years during the world wars, there has been only one year when the prize was not awarded. No worthy winner was found in 1935.

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You go girl. The only right thing to do.

Jacinda Ardern Pledges Shelter For All Homeless People Within Four Weeks (G.)

The New Zealand government has promised to get the country’s homeless population off the streets and into shelter in time for winter. In a joint announcement on Friday, housing minister Phil Twyford and prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced a NZ$100m emergency housing package to tackle the ballooning problem. An estimated 40,000 people live in cars, tents and garages amid a chronic housing shortage in the nation of 4.7 million people. “We’re pulling out all the stops to support people in need and urgently increase housing supply this winter,” said housing minister Phil Twyford. “Our government will make sure everyone is helped to find warm, dry housing this winter.”

With winter starting on 1 June in the southern hemisphere, less than four weeks away, the government has put out an urgent call for anyone with additional accommodation that may be suitable to house homeless people. Seasonal worker accommodation such as shearers quarters, private rental properties, motor camps and maraes (Maori meeting houses) would all be considered. New Zealand has the highest rates of homelessness in the OECD, with more than 40,000 people living on the streets, in emergency housing or in substandard conditions. Per capita New Zealand’s homeless population is almost twice as bad as Australia, which is placed third on the list. More than half of New Zealand’s homeless population live in Auckland but it is also growing in smaller cities such as Rotorua, Tauranga, Queenstown and Wellington.

Read more …

Apr 232018
 
 April 23, 2018  Posted by at 12:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte La trahison des images 1929

 

“[Price discovery] is the process of determining the price of an asset in the marketplace through the interactions of buyers and sellers”, says Wikipedia. Perhaps not a perfect definition, but it’ll do. They add: “The futures and options market serve all important functions of price discovery.”

What follows from this is that markets need price discovery as much as price discovery needs markets. They are two sides of the same coin. Markets are the mechanism that makes price discovery possible, and vice versa. Functioning markets, that is.

Given the interdependence between the two, we must conclude that when there is no price discovery, there are no functioning markets. And a market that doesn’t function is not a market at all. Also, if you don’t have functioning markets, you have no investors. Who’s going to spend money purchasing things they can’t determine the value of? (I know: oh, wait..)

 

Ergo: we must wonder why everyone in the financial world, and the media, is still talking about ‘the markets’ (stocks, bonds et al) as if they still existed. Is it because they think there still is price discovery? Or do they think that even without price discovery, you can still have functioning markets? Or is their idea that a market is still a market even if it doesn’t function?

Or is it because they once started out as ‘investors’ or finance journalists, bankers or politicians, and wouldn’t know what to call themselves now, or simply can’t be bothered to think about such trivial matters?

Doesn’t a little warning voice pop up, somewhere in the back of their minds, in the middle of a sweaty sleepless night, that says perhaps they shouldn’t get this one wrong? Because if you think about, and treat, a ‘thing’, as something that it’s not at all, don’t you run the risk of getting it awfully wrong?

A cow is not a dinner table; but both have four legs. And “Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know”. And when you base million, billion, trillion dollar decisions, often involving other people’s money, on such misconceptions, don’t you play with fire -or worse?

 

This may seem like pure semantics without much practical value, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s essential. What comes to mind is René Magritte’s painting “La Trahison des Images”, better known as “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, (The Treachery of Images – this is not a pipe). People now understand -better- what he meant, but they were plenty confused in the late 1920s when he painted it.

An image of a pipe is not a pipe. In Magritte’s words: “The famous pipe! How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!”.

But isn’t that what the entire financial community is doing today? Sure, they’re making money right now, but that doesn’t mean there are actual markets. They don’t have to go through “the process of determining the price of an asset in the marketplace..” I.e. they don’t have to check if the pipe is a real pipe, or just a picture of one.

 

 

What killed price discovery, and thereby markets? Central banks did. What they did post-2008 is two-fold: they bought many, many trillions in ‘assets’, mortgage-backed securities, sovereign bonds, corporate bonds, etc., often at elevated prices. It’s hard to gauge how much exactly, but it’s in the $20+ trillion range. Just so all these things wouldn’t be sold at prices markets might value them at after going through that terrible process of ‘price discovery’.

Secondly, of course, central banks yanked down interest rates. Until they arrived at ultra low interest rates (even negative ones), which have led to ultra low yields and the perception of ultra low volatility, ultra low risk, ultra low fear, which in turn contributed to ultra low savings (in which increasing household debt also plays a major role). As a consequence of which we have ultra high prices for stocks, housing, crypto(?), and I’m sure I still forget a number of causes and effects.

People wanting to buy a home are under the impression they can get “more home for their buck” because rates are so low, which in turn drives up home prices, which means the next buyers pay a lot more than they would have otherwise, and get “less home for their buck”. In the same vein, ultra-low rates allow for companies to borrow on the cheap to buy back their own stock, which leads to surging stock prices, which means ‘investors’ pay more per share.

 

Numbers of the S&P 500 and its peers across the world are still being reported, but what do they really represent? Other than what central banks and financial institutions have bought and sold? There’s no way of knowing. If you buy a stock, or a bond, or a home, you no longer have a means of finding out what they are truly worth.

Their value is determined by central banks printing debt out of thin air, not by what it has cost to build a home, or by what a company has added to its value through hard work or investment in labor, knowledge or infrastructure. These things have been rendered meaningless.

Central banks determine what anything is worth. The problem is, that is a trap. And your money risks being stuck in that trap. Because you’re not getting any return on your savings, you want to ‘invest’ in something, anything, that will get you that return. And the only guidance you have left is what central banks purchase. That is a much poorer guidance than an actual market place. The one thing you can be sure of is that you’re paying more for ‘assets’ -probably much more- than you would have had central banks remained on the sidelines.

The Fed may (officially?) have quit purchasing ‘assets’, but the Bank of Japan and ECB took over with a vengeance (oh, to be a fly on the wall at the BIS); in Q1 2017 the latter two bought over $1 trillion in paper. The Bank of Japan has effectively become its nation’s bondmarket. The European Central Bank is not far behind that role in Europe.

And the ‘market’, or rather the 2-dimensional picture of a market, depends only on what they do. The one remaining question then is when will this end? Some say it can go on forever, or, you know, till these policies have restored growth and confidence. But can, will, anyone have confidence in a market that doesn’t function? Martin Armstrong recently addressed the issue:

 

The Central Bank Crisis on the Immediate Horizon

While the majority keep bashing the Federal Reserve, other central banks seem to escape any criticism. The European Central Bank under Mario Draghi has engaged in what history will call the Great Monetary Experiment of the 21st Century – the daring experiment of negative interest rates. A look behind the scenes reveals that this experiment has been not just a failure, it has undermined the entire global economic structure.

We are looking at pension funds being driven into insolvency as the traditional asset allocation model of 60% equity 40% bonds has failed to secure the future with negative interest rates. Then, the ECB has exceeded 40% ownership of Eurozone government debt. The ECB realizes it can not only sell any of its holdings ever again, it cannot even refuse to reinvest what it has already bought when those bonds expire. The Fed has announced it will not reinvest anything.

Draghi is trapped. He cannot stop buying government debt for if he does, interest rates will soar. He cannot escape this crisis and it is not going to end nicely. When this policy collapses, forced by the free markets (no bid), CONFIDENCE will collapse rapidly. Once people no longer believe the central banks can control anything, the end has arrived. We will be looking at the time at the WEC. We will be answering the question – Can a central bank actually fail?

 

So where do you go from here? Everything you -think you- know about markets is potentially useless and doesn’t apply to what you see before you today. There are many voices who talk about similarities and comparisons with what happened to markets for instance in 1987, but what’s the value of that?

Back then, to all intents, constructions, and purposes, markets were functioning. There was price discovery. There were some ‘novel’ instruments, such as portfolio insurance, that you could argue influenced markets, but nothing on the scale or depth of what we see today with high-frequency trading, robots, Kurodas and Draghis.

The temptation is obvious, and large, to compare today’s financial world with that of any point in the past that seems to fit, even if not perfectly. But the lack of price discovery means any such comparisons must of necessity be way off the mark; you cannot stuff that 2-D pipe.

The BIS-designed unity in central bank policies is under threat, as Armstrong indicates. The Fed has moved towards quantitative tightening, not investing or even re-investing, and raising rates, but it doesn’t look like the ECB will be able to follow that change of direction. It can’t stop ‘investing’ because it has become too big a player. The Bank of Japan appears to be in that same bind.

Central bankers jumped into the markets to save them (or so goes the narrative), but they will instead end up killing them. In fact, they killed them the minute they entered the fray. Markets can’t survive without price discovery, and vice versa. The moment it becomes clear that Draghi MUST keep buying sovereign debt from countries with failing economies, the game is up.

 

All those trillions created by central banks, and the even much bigger amounts conjured up by the creation of loans by commercial banks, will have to be eradicated from the system before markets and price discovery can return. And return they will. There are lots of things wrong with our economic and financial machinery, but functioning markets are not wrong.

Things run off the rails when governments and central banks start interfering, not when markets are allowed to function. But it’s long turned into a giant game of whack-a-mole, in which economists and other know-it-betters are forced to plug one hole by digging another, and so forth.

The best we can hope for is some sort of controlled demolition, but the knowledge and intelligence required to make that happen don’t appear to be available. The political climate certainly isn’t either. A politician who campaigns on “let’s take this sucker down slowly” will always lose out to one who claims to know not only how to save it, but to let it bloat even more.

The Draghis of the world will continue to believe they are in control until they are not. At first, some people will start taking out their money while it’s still there, and then after that the rest will trample over each other in a bloody stampede on the way to the exits trying to save what’s left. After the first $100 trillion is gone, we’ll be able to survey the terrain, but by then we won’t, because we’ll be too busy trying to save ourselves.

And I know you’ve heard this before, and I know central banks bought us 10 years of respite. But it was all fake, it was all just a picture of a pipe. They had to pile on insane amounts of debt on your heads, kill off your pension systems and make markets a meaningless term, to achieve that respite.

They had to kill the markets to create the illusion that there still were markets. With the implied promise that they would be able to get out when they had ‘restored growth’.

But you can’t buy growth. And yet that is the only trick they have up their sleeves, and the only thing the emperor is wearing. Next up: a rabbit and a hat. And a pipe. And then the lights go out and someone shouts “FIRE!”.

 

 

 

 

Apr 212018
 
 April 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Morning Glories 1869

 

A US Recession Ahead? Fed Policymakers Say Not To Worry (R.)
If Treasuries Reach 3%, That Would Be Big (BBG)
Kim Jong-Un Halts Nuclear & Missile Tests, Shuts Down Testing Site (RT)
DNC Sues Russia, Trump, Wikileaks For Conspiring To Hurt Hillary in 2016 (ZH)
DNC Lawsuit Against WikiLeaks a Serious Threat to Press Freedom (IC)
Trump To “Counter” DNC Lawsuit (ZH)
Comey Memos Probed By DOJ For Classified Info Leaks (ZH)
Wells Fargo’s $1 Billion Pact Gives U.S. Power to Fire Managers (BBG)
IMF’s Thomsen Proposes Broadening Greek Tax Base (K.)
Windrush: When Even Legal Residents Face Deportation (Atlantic)

 

 

The illusion of control. Watch the hand.

A US Recession Ahead? Fed Policymakers Say Not To Worry (R.)

As the gap between short- and long-term borrowing costs hovers near its lowest in more than 10 years, speculation has risen over whether the so-called yield curve is signaling that a recession could be around the corner. Not to worry, two influential Federal Reserve policymakers said on Friday. Another, whose views are typically outside the mainstream at the Fed, disagreed. Growth prospects look pretty strong, which is why the Fed is raising short-term interest rates, the two sanguine policymakers explained. Those rate hikes, they said, are in and of themselves acting to flatten the yield curve. In addition, they argued, the curve will likely steepen as the U.S. government runs a bigger deficit and issues more debt.

The calming comments, from the New York Fed’s incoming chief John Williams and from Chicago Fed President Charles Evans in back-to-back but separate appearances, appeared calculated to allay concern about a potential slowdown ahead. “The yield curve is not nearly as much of a concern as I might have pointed to a couple months ago,” Evans said in Chicago after a speech, in response to a reporter’s question. Williams, who will leave his current job as San Francisco Fed president in June to take over at the New York Fed, also said he expects the Fed’s shrinking balance sheet will help steepen the curve by putting upward pressure on longer-term rates.

In January the U.S. Congress passed a budget deal that boosts U.S. government spending, following a December tax package that slashes corporate tax rates. Both changes are expected to lead to an increase in government borrowing in coming years. The Fed policymakers reason that a bigger supply of debt should put downward pressure on Treasury prices and deliver a corresponding lift to yields. “We’ve got more fiscal debt in train in the U.S. That has to be funded,” and will likely push up long rates and steepen the yield curve, Evans said. At their March meeting, Fed officials “generally agreed that the current degree of flatness of the yield curve was not unusual by historical standards,” according to the meeting minutes.

Read more …

Where the Fed loses control.

If Treasuries Reach 3%, That Would Be Big (BBG)

The global bond market’s primary benchmark, the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield, is knocking on the door of 3 percent, a level it hasn’t topped in more than four years. That’s more than just a nice round number. Higher yields make the burden of everything from mortgages to student loans and car payments even heavier. Some market gurus see it as a turning point with effects that could be felt for years — and not just in bonds. With the Federal Reserve signaling interest rates are going up even more, investors in riskier assets like stocks and high-yield debt are left to wonder if this is how their post-recession party ends.

1. What’s so important about yield? A bond’s yield is a measure of the return an investor can expect from buying it. It’s determined by the bond’s interest rate and the price paid for it. For instance, buying a security that pays a fixed 2 percent (the “coupon”) at face value (known as “par”) results in a yield of 2 percent. Buying it at a cheaper price would raise the yield for the investor, while paying a premium would reduce the overall yield. (Maybe the most confusing aspect of the bond market to outsiders is the inverse relationship between price and yield.)

2. How do you determine the benchmark 10-year yield?In the $14.9 trillion Treasuries market, the benchmark is based on the most recently auctioned 10-year security (known as the “on-the-run”). It’s the best measure because it tends to have a price close to par and a coupon close to the current yield. On Friday, the 10-year yield closed at 2.96 percent.

3. Why are yields going up?The Fed is raising its short-term lending rate as the U.S. economy strengthens, after holding it near-zero in the wake of the financial crisis. The three rate hikes last year pushed up two- and five-year Treasury yields in particular, but they’ve also affected 10-year yields as central bankers expect more boosts this year. Another reason: inflation is showing signs of picking up, which erodes the value of bonds’ fixed payments and leads investors to demand higher yields.

4. Why is 3 percent a milestone?Since 2011, it’s been touched only twice, briefly, in 2013 and early 2014, before a bond bull market drove yields to record lows. But 3 percent has also been cited by prominent fixed-income investors like Jeffrey Gundlach at DoubleLine Capital and Scott Minerd at Guggenheim Partners as critical to determining whether the three-decade bull market in bonds is at an end. In the mind of analysts who look at market patterns, once the yield breaks much beyond the 3.05 percent, to levels last reached in 2011, that threshold could flip to a floor from a ceiling.

5. Why does it matter?The 10-year Treasury yield is a global benchmark for borrowing costs. Corporations will have to pay more to issue debt, which they’ve done cheaply in recent years. So will state and local governments, which could jeopardize investments in public infrastructure. Homeowners will face higher mortgage rates (or lose out on refinancing at a lower cost). Taking out loans for cars or college could also become more expensive.

Read more …

A Nobel Peace Prize.

Kim Jong-Un Halts Nuclear & Missile Tests, Shuts Down Testing Site (RT)

North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs have allowed it to secure strategic stability and peace, so there is no need for additional missile and nuclear tests anymore, Kim Jong-un has proclaimed. “From April 21, 2018, nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile tests will be discontinued,” the Korean Central News Agency cited Kim as saying at a plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK). Furthermore, since North Korea’s nuclear test center has “completed” its mission, it “will be discarded in order to ensure the transparency of the nuclear test suspension,” KCNA reported.

Announcing the new course, the ruling party has declared that North Korea “will never use nuclear weapons, unless there is nuclear threat or nuclear provocation to our country, and in no case we will proliferate nuclear weapons and nuclear technology.” In the announcement, North Korea noted that the “suspension of nuclear testing is an important process for global nuclear disarmament.” Therefore, North Korea is willing to join international denuclearization efforts. North Korea’s last major missile test took place on November 29. Pyongyang announced at the time that it had tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile known as the Hwasong-15 that could reach the entire continental United States.

US President Donald Trump, who has traded insults and threats with Kim since taking office, tweeted that the latest decision by Pyongyang is “good news for North Korea and the world,” calling it “big progress.” China has also hailed the move, expressing hope that Pyongyang will continue towards the path of denuclearization and “political settlement” on the Korean Peninsula. “Denuclearization of the peninsula and lasting peace in the region are in line with the common interests of the people of the peninsula,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Read more …

Have they really thought this through?

DNC Sues Russia, Trump, Wikileaks For Conspiring To Hurt Hillary in 2016 (ZH)

Did The Democrats’ “The Russians did it” narrative just jump the shark? The Washingtoin Post reports that The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump. The lawsuit alleges that in addition to the Russian Federation, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0, top Trump campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and pretty much everyone else who has been mentioned in the same paragraph as Trump….

… conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there. [..] The suit filed today seeks millions of dollars in compensation to offset damage it claims the party suffered from the hacks. The DNC argues that the cyberattack undermined its ability to communicate with voters, collect donations and operate effectively as its employees faced personal harassment and, in some cases, death threats.

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And Julian Assange is not allowed to see this. Let alone defend himself. A pattern in his life.

DNC Lawsuit Against WikiLeaks a Serious Threat to Press Freedom (IC)

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) filed a lawsuit this afternoon in a Manhattan federal court against the Russian Government, the Trump campaign and various individuals it alleges participated in the plot to hack its email servers and disseminate the contents as part of the 2016 election. The DNC also sued WikiLeaks for its role in publishing the hacked materials, though it does not allege that WikiLeaks participated in the hacking or even knew in advance about it; its sole role, according to the DNC’s lawsuit, was publishing the hacked emails.

The DNC’s suit, as it pertains to WikiLeaks, poses a grave threat to press freedom. The theory of the suit – that WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it “willfully and intentionally disclosed” the DNC’s communications (paragraph 183) – would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting, or even theoretically prosecuted for it, or that any media outlet releasing an internal campaign memo is guilty of “economic espionage” (paragraph 170).

It is extremely common for media outlets to publish or report on materials that are stolen, hacked, or otherwise obtained in violation of the law. In October, 2016 – one month before the election – someone mailed a copy of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times, which published parts of it even though it is illegal to disclose someone’s tax returns without the taxpayer’s permission; in March, 2017, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did the same thing with Trump’s 2005 tax returns.

In April, 2016, the Washington Post obtained and published a confidential internal memo from the Trump campaign. Media outlets constantly publish private companies’ internal documents. Just three weeks ago, BuzzFeed obtained and published a secret Facebook memo outlining the company’s internal business strategies, the contents of which were covered by most major media outlets. Some of the most important stories in contemporary journalism have come from media outlets obtaining and publishing materials that were taken without authorization or even in violation of the law. Both the New York Times and Washington Post published thousands of pages from the top secret Pentagon Papers after Daniel Ellsberg took them without authorization from the Pentagon – and they won the right to publish them in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Guardian and the Washington Post won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for publishing and reporting on huge numbers of top secret documents taken by Edward Snowden from the NSA. The Guardian, the New York Times, and numerous papers from around the world broke multiple stories by publishing classified classified documents downloaded by Chelsea Manning without authorization and sent to WikiLeaks. In 2016, more than 100 newspapers from around the world published and reported on millions of private financial documents known as the “Panama Papers,” which were taken without authorization from one of the world’s biggest offshore law firms and revealed the personal finances of people around the world.

Read more …

Did the DNC see this coming, and is that why they sued first?

Trump To “Counter” DNC Lawsuit (ZH)

President Trump is eager to go head-to-head with the DNC which filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit on Friday against several parties, including the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization – alleging a “far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump.” Hours after the Washington Post broke the news of the lawsuit, Trump tweeted “Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC server that they refused to give to the FBI,” referring to the DNC email breach. Trump also mentioned “the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails.”

The “Pakistani mystery man” is a clear reference to former DNC CHair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s longtime IT employee and personal friend, Imran Awan – whose father, claims a Daily Caller source, transferred a USB drive to the former head of a Pakistani intelligence agency – Rehman Malik. Malik denies the charge. Of note, the DNC would not allow the FBI to inspect their servers which were supposedly hacked by the Russians – instead relying on private security firm Crowdstrike. Meanwhile, the “Wasserman Schultz Servers” Trump mentions is likely in reference to the stolen House Democratic Caucus server – which Imran Awan had been funneling information onto when it disappeared shortly after the House Inspector General concluded that the server may have been “used for nefarious purposes.”

Imran Awan, his wife Hina Alvi and several other associates ran IT operations for at least 60 Congressional Democrats over the past decade, along with the House Democratic Caucus – giving them access to emails and computer data from around 800 lawmakers and staffers – including the highly classified materials reviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.

Napolitano: He was arrested for some financial crime – that’s the tip of the iceberg. The real allegation against him is that he had access to the emails of every member of congress and he sold what he found in there. What did he sell, and to whom did he sell it? That’s what the FBI wants to know. This may be a very, very serious national security situation.

Read more …

“..all of Comey’s memos – all of them, were classified at the time they were written, and they remain classified.”

Comey Memos Probed By DOJ For Classified Info Leaks (ZH)

The Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general is now conducting an investigation into classification issues concerning the “Comey memos” leaked to the New York Times by former FBI Director James Comey. Sources tell the Wall St. Journal that at least two of the memos which Comey leaked to his “good friend,” Columbia Law Professor Daniel Richman, contained information that officials now consider classified – prompting the review by the Office of the Inspector General, headed by Michael Horowitz. “Of those two memos, Mr. Comey himself redacted elements of one that he knew to be classified to protect secrets before he handed the documents over to his friend. He determined at the time that another memo contained no classified information, but after he left the Federal Bureau of Investigation, bureau officials upgraded it to “confidential,” the lowest level of classification.” -WSJ

Comey told Congressional investigators that he considered the memos to be personal rather than government documents. The memos – leaked through Richman, were a major catalyst in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 US election. While Richman told CNN “No memo was given to me that was marked ‘classified,’ and James Comey told Congressional investigators he tried to “write it in such a way that I don’t include anything that would trigger a classification,” it appears the FBI’s chief FOIA officer disagrees.

We previously reported that Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said four of the 7 Comey memos he reviewed were “marked classified” at the “Secret” or “Confidential” level – however in January the FBI’s chief FOIA officer reportedly told Judicial Watch – in a signed declaration, that every single Comey memo was classified at the time. “We have a sworn declaration from David Hardy who is the chief FOIA officer of the FBI that we obtained just in the last few days, and in that sworn declaration, Mr. Hardy says that all of Comey’s memos – all of them, were classified at the time they were written, and they remain classified.” -Chris Farrell, Judicial Watch

Therefore, Farrell points out, Comey mishandled national defense information when he “knowingly and willfully” leaked them to his friend at Columbia University. It’s also mishandling of national defense information, which is a crime. So it’s clear that Mr. Comey not only authored those documents, but then knowingly and willfully leaked them to persons unauthorized, which is in and of itself a national security crime. Mr. Comey should have been read his rights back on June 8th when he testified before the Senate. Farrell told Lou Dobbs “Recently retired and active duty FBI agents have told me – and it’s several of them, they consider Comey to be a dirty cop.”

Read more …

“Wells Fargo fined twenty days worth of net income sounds a lot less daunting than $1 billion..”

Wells Fargo’s $1 Billion Pact Gives U.S. Power to Fire Managers (BBG)

Wells Fargo’s $1 billion fine won’t close the book on fallout from its consumer scandals. The nation’s third-largest bank submitted to an unprecedented order Friday that would give the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency the right to remove some of the lender’s executives or board members. That comes on top of the penalties Wells Fargo will pay to settle U.S. probes into mistreatment of consumers, the largest sanction of a U.S. bank under President Donald Trump. The OCC said it “reserves the right to take additional supervisory action, including imposing business restrictions and making changes to executive officers or members of the bank’s board of directors.” The agency could also veto potential executive candidates.

The bank will pay $500 million in penalties each to the OCC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to a statement Friday. Wells Fargo warned shareholders last week it would soon face a fine of that size, which it will book retroactively in the first quarter. The bank remains under a Federal Reserve penalty that bans growth in total assets. “CEOs who hoped the Trump administration would be universally lenient regulators missed the difference between a dislike for rules that stifle innovation and employment and a dislike for rules against wrongdoing,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

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Squeezing that stone for all he’s worth.

IMF’s Thomsen Proposes Broadening Greek Tax Base (K.)

Poul Thomsen, director of the International Monetary Fund’s European department, on Friday spoke in favor of broadening Greece’s tax base though he stopped short of determining whether the IMF would call for reductions to the tax-free threshold (due to come into effect in January 2020) to apply a year in advance. Speaking in Washington, where the IMF is holding its Spring Meetings, Thomsen said that raising taxes had played a large part in the country’s fiscal adjustment in recent years but that Greece must find a way of meeting fiscal targets that is “growth-friendly.” The IMF will not impose any specific policies, he said but proposed a “discussion” about the timing of tax reforms.

As regards the Fund’s potential role in Greece’s third international bailout, which expires in August, he said at least one bailout review must be carried out before a decision can be made as well as agreement to lighten Greece’s debt. “Time is running short for us to be able to activate the program,” he said. A discussion on debt measures is likely to take place at the next meeting of eurozone finance ministers, scheduled for April 27 in Sofia. Talks there will also focus on a growth plan that the government has presented to bailout auditors. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos on Friday met in Washington with European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, Eurogroup Chairman Mario Centeno and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and is to meet Thomsen and IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Saturday.

Read more …

If this doesn’t bring down the government, Britain has a whale of a problem. And no excuses. May suddenly offering them money now, after being exposed, is perhaps the worst part of it. You can’t buy off blatant racism with taxpayer money. And those taxpayers should let that be known, very loudly. Or they’re just as guilty.

Windrush: When Even Legal Residents Face Deportation (Atlantic)

In the aftermath of World War II, the British government invited thousands of people from Caribbean countries in the British Commonwealth to immigrate to the United Kingdom and help address the war-torn country’s labor shortages. Now, nearly 70 years later, many of those same people, now elderly, are having their legal status in the country questioned and are facing deportation. Though the deportation threats date as far back as October, the crisis burst into wider view this week after Caribbean diplomats representing a dozen Commonwealth nations chastised the U.K. government publicly. “This is about people saying, as they said 70 years ago, ‘Go back home.’ It is not good enough for people who gave their lives to this country to be treated like this,” Guy Hewitt, the high commissioner from Barbados to the U.K., said at a gathering of the diplomats.

The migrants are known as the “Windrush generation,” named for the HMT Empire Windrush that brought the first group of them to the U.K. in June 1948. Of the half a million people who immigrated to the U.K. from the Commonwealth between then and 1971, an estimated 50,000 lack the proper documentation to prove it. In a meeting with Caribbean leaders on Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May apologized “for any anxiety that has been caused” and promised no deportations would take place. Still, such assurances won’t necessarily convince those who remain skeptical of the U.K.’s strict immigration policies—ones May herself championed when she served as home secretary between 2010 and 2016.

During that time, May sought to meet then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s goal of reducing net immigration to the tens of thousands by making the U.K. a “hostile environment” for illegal immigration. In practice, this meant requiring doctors, employers, landlords, and schools to confirm that those whom they served were in the country legally. “The determination was to go systematically through any interaction people might have with the state, short of putting checkpoints in the road, just to have people’s immigration status checked,” Polly Mackenzie, the director of cross-party think tank Demos and the former policy director to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, told me. The Windrush generation wasn’t supposed to be part of that calculus—they had immigrated to the country legally and were thereby entitled to public services, including the right to education, healthcare, and social security.

But after the implementation of the “hostile environment” policies in 2012, these individuals suddenly had to prove their right to live and work in the country—a right which was guaranteed to them under the Immigration Act of 1971, though not everyone obtained the documentation to confirm it. This documentation problem arose in part from the fact that so many people belonging to the Windrush generation immigrated to the U.K. as children, often on their parents’ passport. What’s more, the British government didn’t keep records of who was permitted to stay in the country, nor did they issue documentation confirming it. What little records the government did keep, such as the landing cards documenting the arrival dates of Windrush-era immigrants, were discarded in 2010.

For some, the result was catastrophic. In one case, a woman had lived and worked in the U.K. for 50 years before she was wrongfully declared an illegal immigrant and almost forced on a plane to her native Jamaica. In another, a man who had lived in the U.K. for 59 years received a letter that not only informed him of his illegal status in the country, but also offered him “help and support on returning home voluntarily.” Perhaps one of the most severe cases concerned a man who, after living in the U.K. for 44 years, had his cancer treatment through the National Health Service withheld because he couldn’t provide sufficient documentation to prove he lived in the country continuously since immigrating from Jamaica in 1973.

Read more …

Mar 242018
 
 March 24, 2018  Posted by at 10:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Don Quixote 1955

 

EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife (G.)
End the Fed. Are You Nuts? (Claire Connelly)
Stocks Suffer Biggest Weekly Drop In More Than 2 Years (BI)
The Stuff The US Imports From China That Causes A Huge Trade Deficit (MW)
Unspooling (Kunstler)
The Rise of the Trembling Hands (David Stockman)
2.8 Million Hongkongers To Get Cash Handout Of Up To HK$4,000 Each (SCMP)
Seven Days That Shattered Facebook’s Facade (G.)
UK Parties Spend Big On Facebook (G.)
Death Of The High Street (Ind.)

 

 

Denial my ass. What’s happening is the EU spends billions in taxpayers money to subsidize the complete demise of their ecosystems as well as their food supplies. The taxpayers may be in denial, but Brussels is not. The Bayer/Monsanto decision is not some stand-alone story.

EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife (G.)

Europe’s crisis of collapsing bird and insect numbers will worsen further over the next decade because the EU is in a “state of denial” over destructive farming practices, environmental groups are warning. European agriculture ministers are pushing for a new common agriculture policy (CAP) from 2021 to 2028 which maintains generous subsidies for big farmers and ineffectual or even “fake” environmental or “greening” measures, they say. In a week when two new studies revealed drastic declines in French farmland birds – a pattern repeated across Europe – the EU presidency claimed that the CAP continued to provide safe food while defending farmers and “protecting the environment”.

“The whole system is in a state of denial,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.” Farm subsidies devour 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers, via “basic payments” which hand European landowners £39bn each year. Because these payments are simply related to land area, big farmers receive more, can invest in more efficient food production – removing hedgerows to enlarge fields for instance – and put smaller, less intensive farmers out of business. France lost a quarter of its farm labourers in the first decade of the 21st century, while its average farm size continues to rise.

A smaller portion – £14.22bn annually – of EU farm subsidies support “greening” measures but basic payment rules work against wildlife-friendly farming: in Britain, farmers can’t receive basic payments for land featuring ponds, wide hedges, salt marsh or regenerating woodland. Signals from within the EU suggest that the next decade’s CAP – which will be decided alongside the EU budget by 2019 – will continue to pay farmers a no-strings subsidy, while cash for “greening”, or wildlife-friendly farming, may even be cut. Birdlife Europe said the “greening” was mostly “fake environmental spending” and wildlife-friendly measures had been “shredded” by “loophole upon loophole” introduced by member states.

[..] This week studies revealed that the abundance of farmland birds in France had fallen by a third in 15 years – with population falls intensifying in the last two years. It’s a pattern repeated across Europe: farmland bird abundance in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% over three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Conservationists say it’s indicative of a wider crisis – particularly the decimation of insect life linked to neonicotinoid pesticides.

Read more …

Not a general opinion.

End the Fed. Are You Nuts? (Claire Connelly)

We often see comments on this website from people who want to ‘end the Fed’ because they think it would address the rampant corruption and collusion of governments, central banks and the private sector. In reality, ending the Fed – or any one of the central banks outside of the European Union – would simply give more power to the banks and wealthy elites whose relationships with governments and central banks are already inappropriate. Abolishing central banks would simply formalise this arrangement, undermining democracy and removing the ability of governments to respond to changes in the domestic and global economy.

The claim that banks are privately owned is factually incorrect. With the exception of the EU which began life as an industrial cartel, created and controlled by Europe’s major heavy industries (coal, steel, car manufacturers and farmers), central banks are created by and belong to federal governments. Even the ECB is owned by the central banks of EU member countries, which in turn are owned by their governments, even if most do not have the right to issue their own currencies. The US Federal Reserve was created by Congress, and its chairman is appointed by the President; the Treasury receives nearly all its profits. The same applies to the Bank of England, the Reserve Bank of Australia, Bank of Canada etc which were created by their respective Parliaments.

What do advocates of ‘ending the Fed’ think will happen if the US got rid of central banking altogether? What currency would it use exactly? The only possibility would be to replace the Fed with another, private ‘Fed’ in which case central banks would go from being co-opted by the private sector, to being formally controlled by it. Ending the Fed would make central banks the property of the private sector, which, ironically, some people believe is already the case. So it’s a little bizarre that they think demolishing central banks would somehow address corruption and malfeasance. One need only look at what happened to Greece to understand what happens when a government gives up its central bank, and the right to issue its own currency. Ending central banking is the nail in the coffin of democracy. It is giving capitalism exactly what it wants: the complete takeover of the state by the market.

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What happens inside bubbles.

Stocks Suffer Biggest Weekly Drop In More Than 2 Years (BI)

US stocks sank in trading on Friday afternoon, pushing the S&P 500 to its biggest weekly decline in two years amid concerns about US trade policy and retaliation from China. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 360 points, or 1.5%, to its lowest level since November 22. The S&P 500 fell 56 points, or 2.13%, while the Nasdaq fell 148 points, or 2.23%. On Thursday, China announced planned to impose reciprocal tariffs on 128 US products that had an import value of about $3 billion last year. US President Donald Trump had earlier announced new tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, with the aim of reducing the $375 billion trade deficit the US has with China.

The financials sector was the biggest loser among the 11 on the S&P 500. On the Dow, Boeing and Nike were the only stocks in positive territory. The drop on Friday pushed the S&P 500 9% below its peak in late January, just short of the 10% threshold at which the index enters a correction. Meanwhile, Dropbox soared during its trading debut. Shares of the cloud-computing company gained by as much as 44% in trading amid the broader market’s weakness. Treasurys rose slightly, with the 10-year yield up by less than 1 basis point, at 2.823%.

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The US will want to halt the selling off of technology.

The Stuff The US Imports From China That Causes A Huge Trade Deficit (MW)

President Donald Trump intends to apply tariffs on Chinese goods worth up to $60 billion in an effort to slash the huge U.S. trade deficit with China and protect sensitive technologies. It won’t be easy. It might even be impossible. The U.S. has run large deficits with China for years and in some cases no longer produces certain goods such as consumer electronics that are popular with Americans. In 2017, the U.S. posted a $375.2 billion deficit in goods with China. Most glaring is the huge deficit in computers and electronics, but the U.S. is a net importer from China in most market segments except for agriculture. China has been a big buyer of American-grown soybeans and other crops. Planes made by BA also are a product in demand in China.

Read more …

Little by little, the pieces fall together.

Unspooling (Kunstler)

With spring, things come unstuck; an unspooling has begun. The turnaround at the FBI and Department of Justice has been so swift that even The New York Times has shut up about collusion with Russia — at the same time omitting to report what appears to have been a wholly politicized FBI upper echelon intruding on the 2016 election campaign, and then laboring stealthily to un-do the election result.

The ominous silence enveloping the DOJ the week after Andrew McCabe’s firing — and before the release of the FBI Inspector General’s report — suggests to me that a grand jury is about to convene and indictments are in process, not necessarily from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s office. The evidence already publicly-aired about FBI machinations and interventions on behalf of Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump looks bad from any angle, and the wonder was that it took so long for anyone at the agency to answer for it.

McCabe is gone from office and, apparently hung out to dry on the recommendation of his own colleagues. Do not think for a moment that he will just ride off into the sunset. Meanwhile, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Bruce Ohr, have been sent to the FBI study hall pending some other shoes dropping in a grand jury room. James Comey is out hustling a book he slapped together to manage the optics of his own legal predicament (evidently, lying to a congressional committee). And way out in orbit beyond the gravitation of the FBI, lurk those two other scoundrels, John Brennan, former head of the CIA (now a CNN blabbermouth), and James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, a new and redundant post in the Deep State’s intel matrix (and ditto a CNN blabbermouth). Brennan especially has been provoked to issue blunt Twitter threats against Mr. Trump, suggesting he might be entering a legal squeeze himself.

None of these public servants have cut a plea bargain yet, as far as is publicly known, but they are all, for sure, in a lot of trouble. Culpability may not stop with them. Tendrils of evidence point to a coordinated campaign that included the Obama White House and the Democratic National Committee starring Hillary Clinton. Robert Mueller even comes into the picture both at the Uranium One end of the story and the other end concerning the activities of his old friend, Mr. Comey. Most tellingly of all, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was not shoved out of office but remains shrouded in silence and mystery as this melodrama plays out, tick, tick, tick.

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The old Washington insider doesn’t mince words.

The Rise of the Trembling Hands (David Stockman)

We call it State-Wreck and its been heading this way for a long-time. But the Donald is the coup d’ grace in flesh and blood. He will soon have the Imperial City tied in knots, and that’s even if he doesn’t fire Robert Mueller, which most surely he should and might. Either way, there is a massive partisan blood-letting coming and the ordinarily trans-partisan Deep State will be right in the middle of the brawl. That’s because partisan Democratic hacks – led by the detestable former CIA director John Brennan – got way beyond their skis, and baldly high-jacked the tools of the Deep State in a desperate effort to prevent the election and inauguration of Donald Trump. But the unveiling of what lies in its vasty deep is now beyond recall.

The very real attempt by the Obama/Clinton leadership of the CIA/FBI/NSC/NSA/DNI/State/Homeland Security complex to meddle in the 2016 election against the Donald will all come out – even as the Dems and their legal trolls on Mueller’s witch-hunting squad become ever more shrill in their McCarthyite hysteria about the Russians. Moreover, the coming quasi-civil war will potentially bring both indictments of Obama’s election meddlers and a counter-reaction from a Mueller based campaign to oust the Donald. Indeed, what portends in the months ahead is more incendiary than anything to rock the Imperial City during the last century, at least. But here’s the thing. This is not happening in a splendid vacuum with no import for the other end of the Acela Corridor.

In fact, the entire state-driven economic and financial fantasy that has been building for more than 30 years is now squarely in harm’s way. The former always depended upon Washington based stimulus, subventions, bailouts and booty. But now having attained an asymptotic high, the Great Bubble is stranded with no Washington fixers to keep it going; instead, it is fixing to slide into a long night of deflation, disorder and decay. That is to say, we printed 2870 on the S&P 500, $19.7 trillion of GDP and $97 trillion of household net worth, but those stats weren’t the embodiment of sustainable capitalist prosperity; they were the fruit of a $68 trillion national LBO, a central bank-driven financial asset bubble that has no historical antecedent and the rise of an Imperial Deep State in Washington that is a mortal threat to both democracy and national solvency.

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“..an effort to try to respond to the needs of the community in a proactive manner.”

2.8 Million Hongkongers To Get Cash Handout Of Up To HK$4,000 Each (SCMP)

Over one-third of Hongkongers, or 2.8 million people who did not benefit from the budget announced last month, will get a cash handout of up to HK$4,000 (US$510) each from the government, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said on Friday. Chan’s announcement confirmed reports – including one by the Post – that the government would share the city’s HK$138 billion surplus more broadly. While it faced intense political and public pressure to do more for the needy, the government’s decision to fork out an extra HK$11 billion in handouts was not a U-turn, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor insisted.

“First of all, I wouldn’t say that we are bowing to pressure, and secondly, we have not said we would not do something which we describe as a ‘share and care’ programme,” she said. Chan said he had heard the community “loud and clear”. “I think as government officials we need to have the capacity to step back and reflect the various views expressed and see how we may be able to better serve our people,” he explained. “So this scheme … is an effort to try to respond to the needs of the community in a proactive manner.” The money will be given to Hong Kong residents aged 18 years or above (as of December 31 this year) who do not own property, do not receive any government allowances, and will not pay income tax for the financial year ending next week.

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The Guardian is gradually shifting its story away from Cambridge Analytica. A bit late?

Seven Days That Shattered Facebook’s Facade (G.)

There are thousands of other developers, including the makers of dating app Tinder, games such as FarmVille as well as consultants to Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, who slurped huge quantities of data about users and their friends – all thanks to Facebook’s overly permissive “Graph API”, the interface through which third parties could interact with Facebook’s platform. Facebook opened up in order to attract app developers to join Facebook’s ecosystem at a time when the company was playing catch-up in shifting its business from desktops to people’s smartphones. It was a symbiotic relationship that was critical to Facebook’s growth.

“They wanted to push as much of the conversation, ad revenue and digital activity as possible and made it extremely friendly to app developers,” said Jeff Hauser, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “Now they are complaining that the developers abused them. They wanted that. They were encouraging it. They may now regret it but they knowingly unleashed the forces that have led to this lack of trust and loss of privacy.” The terms were updated in April 2014 to restrict the data new developers could get hold of, including to people’s friends’ data, but only after four years of access to the Facebook firehose. Companies that plugged inbefore April 2015 had another year before access was restricted.

“There are all sorts of companies that are in possession of terabytes of information from before 2015,” said Jeff Hauser of the Center for Economic Policy and Research. “Facebook’s practices don’t bear up to close, informed scrutiny nearly as well as they look from the 30,000ft view, which is how people had been viewing Facebook previously.” [..] “This is the biggest issue I’ve ever seen any technology company face in my time,” said Roger McNamee, Zuckerberg’s former mentor. “It’s not like tech hasn’t had a lot of scandals,” he said, mentioning the Theranos fraud and MiniScribe packing actual bricks into boxes instead of hard drives. “But no one else has played a role in undermining democracy or the persecution of monitories before. This is a whole new ball game in the tech world and it’s really, really horrible.”

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Isn’t it wonderful? When are people going to demand they stop doing this? But no political party can resist the temptation of influencing voters behavior, by whatever means.

UK Parties Spend Big On Facebook (G.)

Figures released this week by the Electoral Commission are the simplest way to demonstrate the growing influence of Facebook on British politics. Political parties nationally spent about £1.3m on Facebook during the 2015 general election campaign; two years later the figure soared to £3.2m. In each election it was the Conservatives that spent the most, with decidedly mixed results. For David Cameron’s successful re-election in 2015, the party spent £1.2m; that rose to £2.1m in 2017, but it was far less help to Theresa May. Sam Jeffers, the co-founder of Who Targets Me, a body that tries to monitor political Facebook advertising, says the difference stems from the fact that the Conservatives had a better overall strategy in 2015.

“In 2015 they targeted Lib Dem seats in the south-west; in 2017 they targeted Labour seats in London boroughs, spending money on seats they thought they would win but didn’t,” he says. Nevertheless, the Conservative success was so striking in 2015 that every other political party and campaign group felt it had to follow suit. The idea of marketing on Facebook was brought to the UK by the US political consultant Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Barack Obama in 2012, who Tory officials like to say boasted he had “1,000 pieces of data on every voter in the UK”.

It was a big change on the traditional model of supplementing canvass returns with broad demographic data supplied by Experian’s Mosaic, which divides people into groups such as “metro high flyers”, “classic grandparents” and “disconnected youth” – the kind of data used by all the main parties to help deliver targeted mailshots. The idea rapidly took hold – and was arguably tailor-made for the EU referendum in 2016. One of the reasons why the Conservatives made heavy use of Facebook marketing was because its canvassing operation is far weaker than Labour’s, forcing it to try to identify potential voters using technology.

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All sorts of theories and explanations; just admitting that people are dead broke remains a big taboo.

Death Of The High Street (Ind.)

On Friday, Next – broadly considered a bellwether of the UK fashion retail market – reported a punishing slump in profits, attributing the fall to a weak clothing market coinciding with “self-inflicted product ranging errors and omissions”. “In many ways,” Next said, “2017 was the most challenging year we have faced for 25 years.” Earlier in the week data from the Office for National Statistics showed that retail sales volumes had picked up by 0.8 per cent in February – which was significantly ahead of analyst expectations – but forecasters and economists are pessimistic. Volumes contracted in January, meaning that British retailers this year suffered their worst start to any year since 2013 and the headwinds are still raging.

Commenting on the latest data, economists Sreekala Kochugovindan and Fabrice Montagne at investment bank Barclays said that despite some relief in February, the rebound was not enough to offset the “Christmas drag”, when consumers largely shunned the high street in favour of the internet. And HSBC economist Elizabeth Martins dubbed February’s reading “the bounce before the beast”. She warned that figures next month would likely be additionally burdened by adverse weather conditions that disrupted transport links and kept shoppers from leaving their homes during the early part of March. “The data are better than expected, but considering they do not take into account the effects of the snow at all, they are not brilliant,” she said. “They reflect a small increase after two months of falls, and still point to underlying weakness in household spending.”

The British Retail Consortium, the trade association representing the UK retail sector, has also warned that sales are likely to remain sluggish throughout the rest of the year – a prognosis that will particularly pain shops like Ali’s on Oxford Street that sell items considered non-essential, like clothes, furniture and electronics, and those with a with a large bricks-and-mortar presence. Sarah Garrett, a 51-year old self-employed company director who lives in Notting Hill, speaks for many when she says that she’s of the opinion that “the high street is now a thing of the past”. “Online is definitely where it is at. Maybe I am lazy, but I just prefer home deliveries [from the likes of] Amazon,” she says. “Who wants to lug heavy bags from the supermarket anyway?”

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Mar 222018
 
 March 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper The Circle Theater, New York 1936

 

US Democrats Plan Crackdown On Booming Stock Buybacks (CNN)
‘Mother Of All Yield Shocks’ Is About To Crush Stocks – Stockman (MW)
Forget The Fed, Libor Is The Story Of The Year (ZH)
Fed’s Powell: Some Asset Prices Elevated, Overall Vulnerabilities ‘Moderate’ (MW)
Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates Again Amid ‘Strong’ Jobs Market (G.)
Mark Zuckerberg Says He’s ‘Really Sorry’ (CNBC)
Facebook Shareholders Sue As Share Price Tumbles (Ind.)
App Developer Kogan Calls Facebook’s Side Of The Story A “Fabrication” (BBG)
Austrian Lawyer Took on Facebook in Europe. He’s Ready to Do It Again (BBG)
Dutch Referendum On Spy Agency Tapping Powers Result Too Close To Call (R.)
‘Scary’ That Boris Johnson Represents A Nuclear Power – Russia (RT)
Scale Of UK Problem Debt At ‘Epidemic Levels’ – Archbishop Of Canterbury (Ind.)
EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer (R.)

 

 

There goes the S&P 500.

US Democrats Plan Crackdown On Booming Stock Buybacks (CNN)

Democrats in Congress want to rain on Wall Street’s buyback parade. Senator Tammy Baldwin plans to introduce a bill on Thursday that would prohibit companies from repurchasing their shares on the open market, Baldwin told CNNMoney. While the legislation faces an uphill battle getting through Republican-controlled Congress, it demonstrates a growing backlash against companies using extra cash to reward shareholders instead of sharing it with workers. Buybacks, which boost stock prices by making shares scarcer, have exploded in 2018 thanks to the huge windfall created by President Trump’s new tax law. American companies like Pepsi and Cisco have announced a total of $229 billion of buybacks so far this year, according to research firm TrimTabs.

Companies are on track to buy back the largest number of shares in at least a decade. Critics say this trend is deepening the chasm between America’s rich and poor because affluent families own the vast majority of the stocks. They argue the money would be better spent by investing in the future, paying workers more or offering better benefits and retraining programs. “I fear that if we don’t act, the impact on our economy and growth is going to be horrendous,” Baldwin told CNNMoney Wednesday. “This very partisan corporate tax bill has fueled a surge in stock buybacks that is hurting economic growth and shared prosperity for workers.” The bill, which is co-sponsored by Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz, would explicitly “prohibit public companies from repurchasing their shares on the open market.”

It would also repeal a 1982 SEC rule that gave companies the green light to buy back vast amounts of their own stock. Since 2008, US companies have spent $5.1 trillion to buy back their own stock, according to Birinyi Associates. Between 2007 and 2016, companies in the S&P 500 devoted 54% of their profits to stock buybacks, according to research by University of Massachusetts Lowell professor William Lazonick, who advised Baldwin’s office on the legislation. “This was not good for the US economy,” said Lazonick. He called Baldwin’s proposed crackdown “hugely positive,” even for long-term shareholders who will benefit from companies investing in something “instead of simply propping up the stock price.”

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And Libor.

‘Mother Of All Yield Shocks’ Is About To Crush Stocks – Stockman (MW)

David Stockman, the so-called “Father of Reaganomics,” hasn’t been shy — or close to right — about his frantically bearish calls in recent years Just last summer, he warned of a “horrendous storm” that could take the S&P 500 index all the way down to 1,600. From there, he took it up a notch in September, saying stocks are headed for a retreat of up to 70%. Well, it’s still up at 2,700. But the market’s volatile behavior of late has emboldened some bears to refresh and even ramp up their doomsday scenarios. Stockman is one of them. “There is not a snowball’s chance in the hot place that the mother of all yield shocks can be avoided,” Stockman wrote on his blog this week.

He explains that we’re in a uniquely dangerous position, one that really couldn’t have even happened under previous administrations. “Had Lyndon Johnson, Tricky Dick, Jimmy Carter or even Ronald Reagan suggested that the Federal Reserve buy government debt at rates which exceeded annual issuance by the U.S. Treasury, as was the case during the peak years of QE, they would have been severely attacked — if not subjected to impeachment — for advocating rank financial fraud,” Stockman claimed. He said ever since former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan “commenced the age of monetary central planning,” Wall Street has used deficits as a tool in Washington’s kit of “whatever it takes,” instead of something to be feared.

“Anything that could fuel even the appearance of short-term economic growth was embraced unthinkingly,” he said, “because ‘growth’ of any shape, form or quality became the predicate for endless increases in the stock market averages.” That’s a recipe for disaster, says Stockman.

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Whack-a-mole central bank style.

Forget The Fed, Libor Is The Story Of The Year (ZH)

We’ve been saying it for over a month: the most important, if widely underappreciated, factor for risk assets has been the surge in Libor and the blow out in the Libor-OIS spread, or short-term funding costs, which impacts everything from bank lending costs to the marginal cost of trillions in floating rate debt. Yesterday, Citi’s Matt King confirmed as much in a lengthy note explaining why the blowing out Libor, and Libor-OIS spread, are sending increasingly ominous signals: LIBOR is still the reference point for the majority of leveraged loans, interest-rate swaps and some mortgages. In addition to that direct effect, higher money market rates and weakness in risk assets are the two conditions most likely to contribute towards mutual fund outflows.

If those in turn created a further sell-off in markets, the negative impact on the economy through wealth effects could be greater even than the direct effect from interest rates. Now, another bank has joined the growing chorus of warnings over the soaring Libor and Libor-OIS. Jonathan Garner, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Strategist for Asia and Emerging Markets, told Bloomberg that the rising Libor rates is a bigger concern right now than a more hawkish Federal Reserve, and in fact, is “the story of the year.” As we have documented nearly daily, most recently yesterday, Libor has been rising since Feb. 7 for 31 consecutive sessions, reaching 2.2711% this morning, the highest since 2008. Meanwhile, its gap over risk-free rates, known as the Libor-OIS spread, has more than doubled since the end of January to 55.6 basis points, a level unseen since 2009.

“That’s a key reason why markets have struggled. The acceleration in the private borrowing market is the story of the year, not the Fed,” Garner told BloombergQuint. “What I think is really interesting is that in the private, LIBOR markets, the USD Libor has already moved far more aggressively than Fed Funds, so if you look at 6M USD Libor, it’s actually reached 2.375% whereas the Fed is likely to raise Fed Funds by a quarter of a point to 1.75%, so we’ve actually already for the interest rate that really determines corporate costs are experiencing a very significant increase in interest rates. So unless the Fed is in some ways super dovish, I think we’re already looking at a significant tightening of monetary policy in the US and in addition China is tightening monetary policy at the same time and this joint tightening is a key reason why we are so cautious on markets.”

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Jay Powell was hired to bore everyone to tears.

Fed’s Powell: Some Asset Prices Elevated, Overall Vulnerabilities ‘Moderate’ (MW)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday said some asset prices are elevated but said there weren’t many risks from it to the financial system. While some asset prices are elevated, particularly “some” equity prices and pockets of commercial real estate, financial vulnerabilities are still not at extreme levels, Powell said. He didn’t identify where specifically in the stock market he saw elevated prices. “The current view of the [FOMC] is that financial stability vulnerabilities are moderate,” Powell said during his first press conference, in answer to a question from MarketWatch. It was “key,” Powell said, that the housing sector is not in bubble territory.

Powell said he was not worried about excess leverage in the financial sector. The banking sector and household balance sheets are in good shape, he said. While there are “relatively elevated levels of borrowing” in nonfinancial corporations, “nothing… suggests serious risks.” “Overall, if you put all that into a pie, what you have is moderate vulnerabilities in our view,” he added. Powell said the Fed had “some tools” to combat financial instability “and I think we certainly use them.”

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Time to quit Fed watching.

Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates Again Amid ‘Strong’ Jobs Market (G.)

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates again on Wednesday, arguing that the US jobs market was “strong” and signalled it may accelerate the pace of increases next year. The quarter percentage point rise to a range of 1.5% to 1.75% was the sixth such increase since 2015 and comes as the Fed appears to be moving, slightly, more quickly to end an era of historically low interest rates that began during the last recession. The announcement came as the Fed chair, Jerome “Jay” Powell, gave his first press conference in the role he took over from his predecessor Janet Yellen in February. His surprise-free performance left US financial markets barely changed.

“The economic outlook has strengthened in recent months,” the Fed said in a statement. “Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate,” the Fed said in a statement. The rise, which was unanimously approved, comes after Congress passed two major bills that may spur the economy. In January Donald Trump signed off on a $1.5tn tax cut that reduces corporate and income tax rates. In February Congress agreed to a $300bn two-year increase in federal funding.

The Trump administration has claimed the tax cuts will fuel US economic growth above 3% next year, significantly above the 2.5% growth it achieved last year, but Powell said the Fed did not expect growth above 3% in the near future. “We have been through many years of growth rate around 2%,” said Powell. While there are elements in the tax cuts that could boost growth “we don’t know how big those effects will be”.

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Must have been some long sessions with the legal team. And people were asking “where’s Mark?”.

Mark Zuckerberg Says He’s ‘Really Sorry’ (CNBC)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has explicitly apologized forthe Cambridge Analytica data scandal that’s been making headlines over the last several days. “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” Zuckerberg said on CNN Wednesday evening, elaborating on the statement he posted to his Facebook page earlier in the day. People had criticized Zuckerberg on social media for not explicitly apologizing in his earlier post. Zuckerberg was addressing bombshell reports by The Observer and The New York Times published over the weekend alleged that London-based firm Cambridge Analytica improperly gained access to the personal data of more than 50 million users.

Since the news broke, Facebook’s stock price has plummeted, U.K. officials have opened a probe, and U.S. lawmakers have called for Zuckerberg to appear before a panel to address its handling of user data. Zuckerberg told CNN that he would be willing to testify before Congress, though he avoided committing himself to an appearance. “What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge,” Zuckerberg said. “If that’s me, then I am happy to go.” One of the issues at the heart of the incident is whether or not Facebook has done enough to safeguard users’ personal information.

In 2013, Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that harvested Facebook information from the roughly 300,000 people who used it as well as from their friends. Facebook changed its policies in 2014 to limit the data third-party apps could receive, but there were still tens of millions of people who would have had no idea that Kogan’s app had collected their data in the first place, or that it had ultimately been passed to Cambridge Analytica.

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If this ever comes before a real court, you get Pandora’s box. Expect Facebook to pay before a court date. And that will lower the shareholders’ shares even more.

Facebook Shareholders Sue As Share Price Tumbles (Ind.)

Facebook is being sued by US investors over the company’s tumbling share price after allegations that millions of users’ profile data had been harvested. A class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday after Facebook shares fell as much as 5.2% on Monday. By Wednesday the shares had crashed by 11%, wiping more than $57bn (£41bn) off the company’s value as it deals with the erupting privacy scandal. The undisclosed number of Facebook shareholders, led by Fan Yuan, say that they suffered losses after a whistleblower told The Observer that UK-based data company Cambridge Analytica had harvested and improperly used profile data of 50 million Facebook users.

“As a result of [Facebook’s] wrongful acts and omissions, and the precipitous decline in the market value of the company’s common shares, plaintiff and other class members have suffered significant losses and damages,” the lawsuit said. The legal action represents investors who bought Facebook shares between 3 February 2017 and 19 March 2018 – two days after news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. It alleges that throughout the period, Facebook made “materially false and misleading statements regarding the company’s business, operational and compliance policies”.

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Not even that part of the narrative is true.

App Developer Kogan Calls Facebook’s Side Of The Story A “Fabrication” (BBG)

The app developer who surreptitiously gathered and shared 50 million Facebook user profiles says the company was officially notified of his actions but failed to stop it. Aleksandr Kogan, a research associate in the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge, turned over his Facebook-generated personality research to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. In an email to university colleagues he called Facebook’s side of the story a “fabrication.” He said that in 2014 he used an official Facebook Inc. platform for developers to change the terms and conditions of his app from “research” to “commercial use,” and that at no point then did the social media company object.

Kogan’s position contradicts Facebook’s stance that Kogan violated the company’s terms and services and then lied about it. “We clearly stated that the users were granting us the right to use the data in broad scope, including selling and licensing the data,” Kogan wrote in a March 18 email obtained by Bloomberg. “These changes were all made on the Facebook app platform and thus they had full ability to review the nature of the app and raise issues.” [..] Kogan’s interpretation of events is potentially critical in better understanding what Facebook knew and when. [..] In the email, Kogan says that he hadn’t been interviewed by the FBI or any other law enforcement agencies, but would have no problem doing so.

He wrote that his app originally started as an academic project but turned to a commercial venture after being approached by the U.K. affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group, around 2013. He then formed a company called Global Science Research Ltd, and changed the name of his app to GSRApp, while also modifying the privacy terms from academic to commercial.

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Sue the intelligence community. Much more effective.

Austrian Lawyer Took on Facebook in Europe. He’s Ready to Do It Again (BBG)

Seven years ago, Max Schrems took on Facebook, ultimately winning a court order that led to stricter rules on international data transfers for the social network and other American tech giants. If your company has any contact with residents of Europe, he has this message: You could be next. Regulatory changes coming this spring “open unprecedented doors,” says Schrems, a 30-year-old lawyer from Austria. “Companies looking to make extra money with people’s data are on my target list.” The EU measure, called the General Data Protection Regulation, permits mass lawsuits similar to class actions in the U.S., he says, allowing him to increase pressure on companies to protect consumer data.

Schrems founded a group called noyb—for none of your business—that he aims to use as a vehicle for lawsuits he’ll start filing as soon as the rules kick in on May 25. He set up a crowdfunding campaign for noyb that has raised more than €300,000 ($370,000) from 2,500 contributors as well as the city of Vienna, labor unions, and small tech companies—and he already has a stack of potential complaints sitting on his desk in the small office he’s rented around the corner from Vienna’s opera house. “We will look for the bigger cases, where we’ll have the greatest impact,” he says.

[..] Schrems examined how Facebook treats customer data and says he discovered that the company didn’t fully purge information users had deleted. Although he never submitted the assignment, his research became the core of 22 complaints to data protection authorities in Ireland, Facebook’s European base. Schrems created a website called europe-v-facebook.org—but insists he bears no grudge against the social network. The company is “more of a test case,” he says. “I thought I’d write up a few complaints. I never thought it would create such a media storm.”

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Almost half of them voted to be spied on.

Dutch Referendum On Spy Agency Tapping Powers Result Too Close To Call (R.)

Dutch voters were on track to narrowly reject a nonbinding referendum granting spy agencies the power to install bulk taps on Internet traffic. With 83% of the vote counted in the early hours of Thursday, the “no” vote was 48.9%, against 47.2% “yes.” An exit poll by national broadcaster NOS had showed the yes camp narrowly winning. Though the referendum is nonbinding, Prime Minister Mark Rutte had vowed to take the result seriously, without committing to abide by the result. The tapping law has already been approved by both houses of parliament.

Dubbed the “trawling law” by opponents, the legislation will let spy agencies install taps targeting an entire geographic region or avenue of communication, store information for up to three years, and share it with allied spy agencies. Digital rights group Bits of Freedom, which had advised a “No” vote, said the law is not all bad, given that taps must be approved beforehand by an independent panel. But the group said it still fears privacy violations and urged that the law be reconsidered. Before the vote, Rutte said the law was needed to prevent terrorist attacks. “It’s not that our country is unsafe, it’s that this law will make it safer,” he said.

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You don’t compare the country that suffered most in WWII, to those who caused that suffering.

‘Scary’ That Boris Johnson Represents A Nuclear Power – Russia (RT)

British foreign minister Boris Johnson is poisoned with hatred and anger so it is scary that he represents a nuclear power, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday. Maria Zakharova was commenting on Johnson’s earlier statement that compared Russia’s hosting of this year’s World Cup to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. “Any such parallels and comparisons between our country, that lost millions of lives in the fight against Nazism, fought with an enemy on its own territory, and then liberated Europe [and Nazi Germany] are absolutely unacceptable,” she said, in a statement published on Facebook.

The Russian ministry spokeswoman then added that such statements are “unworthy of a head of a European state’s diplomatic service … It is clear that [Boris Johnson] is poisoned with hatred and anger,” she said, also denouncing his words as “unprofessional” and “rude.” It is “scary” that “this man is a representative of a nuclear power that bears a special responsibility for its actions in the international arena as well as for the preservation of international peace,” Zakharova said. Now “it is beyond the shadow of a doubt that all London’s actions … were aimed at setting up a spectre of an enemy out of Russia, using any, even the most absurd reasons,” Zakharova said. She then added that British politicians are now apparently seeking to fully boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson once again blatantly accused Russia of being behind the poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, as he was being quizzed by the Commons foreign affairs committee. He also said he believes the comparison between the World Cup and the 1936 Olympics “is certainly right” just because the sporting event would somehow “glorify” Putin, from his point of view.

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How will Britain not be like Greece in a few years time?

Scale Of UK Problem Debt At ‘Epidemic Levels’ – Archbishop Of Canterbury (Ind.)

The scale of problem debt is at “epidemic levels”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. The Most Rev Justin Welby made the comments in the foreword of a report compiled by debt help charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP). The report said, on average, CAP clients’ outstanding debt equates to 96% of annual household income when they seek help. Mr Welby, the charity’s patron, says in the report: “In 2017 we have seen warnings from many of our financial institutions about the scale of consumer borrowing. “Achieving economic stability together with economic justice for all is too easily overlooked.” He continues: “The scale of problem debt in our country is at epidemic levels.

“Jesus calls us to be hope-bringers and peace-givers. Where there are still lives filled with an oppressive hopelessness, where darkness has a grip, our mission is not done.” In 2013, the archbishop voiced concerns about energy price hikes and he also said in that year that the Church of England wanted to drive payday lenders out of business through the creation of credit unions. [..] The CAP report said that for people in severe financial hardship, a home may not be a place of refuge but rather a place without food in the cupboard, without heating, hot water or working household essentials. More than 1,000 CAP clients were asked about life before they got help from the charity. The research found nearly four in 10 (37%) clients were afraid to leave the home, 60% were afraid to answer the door and 73% were too scared to answer the phone.

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One day after the report about disappearing insects and birds in France, Brussels votes for more pesticides and GMOs. Nobody wants them.

EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer (R.)

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

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Mar 032018
 
 March 3, 2018  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Lilac Bush 1889

 

Juncker Threatens Tariffs On Harley-Davidson, Bourbon And Levi’s (G.)
Fed’s QE Unwind Marches Forward Relentlessly (WS)
S&P 500 Companies To Buy Back $800 Billion Of Their Own Shares This Year (MW)
End Times at the OD Corral (Jim Kunstler)
Theresa May Unveils Fragile Truce In Third Brexit Offering (G.)
Eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (USNews)
Low-Level Courts Turned Into Dickensian “Debt Collection Mills” (ICept)
The Devil Is in the Details of Citi’s Sordid History (Martens)
The Future Of Economic Convergence (WEF)
Elon Musk to Open Tesla R&D Plant in Greece (G.)
EU’s Wieser: Six Months Of Varoufakis Cost Greece €200 Billion (K.)
‘This Is All Stolen Land’: Canadian Offers To Share His With First Nations (G.)

 

 

I got this one: Translation: Jean-Claude Juncker finally gets his revenge on the 1960s (probably couldn’t get laid back in the day).

Also note: just about every headline and article says Trump wrote: “..trade wars are good, and easy to win..” He did not, or only after explaining conditions for that to be true: “..When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with ..” That makes a big difference. And therefore must be included.

Juncker Threatens Tariffs On Harley-Davidson, Bourbon And Levi’s (G.)

The IMF has warned that Donald Trump’s plan to impose stiff new US tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum would cause international damage – and also harm America’s own economy “The import restrictions announced by the US President (Donald Trump) are likely to cause damage not only outside the US, but also to the US economy itself, including to its manufacturing and construction sectors, which are major users of aluminum and steel,” the IMF said on Friday. The terse statement from the global body came as world leaders threatened retaliation against any fresh tariffs and the US president breezily asserted that “trade wars are good”.

In a morning tweet Trump wrote: “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!” The European Union, Germany, Canada and other countries have all threatened retaliation against plans to impose tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said US tariffs on steel and aluminum would be “absolutely unacceptable” and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned there would be consequences for the US.

“If the Americans impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, then we must treat American products the same way,” Juncker told German television stations. “We must show that we can also take measures. This cannot be a unilateral transatlantic action by the Americans,” he said. “I’m not saying we have to shoot back, but we must take action. “We will put tariffs on Harley-Davidson, on bourbon and on blue jeans – Levi’s,” he added.

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The consensus is more QE when this inevitably blows up. But maybe the Fed does see that coming, and has different plans.

Fed’s QE Unwind Marches Forward Relentlessly (WS)

The fifth month of the QE-Unwind came to a completion with the release this afternoon of the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ending February 28. The QE-Unwind is progressing like clockwork. Even during the sell-off in early February, the QE-Unwind never missed a beat. During QE, the Fed acquired Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae. During the QE-Unwind, the Fed is shedding those securities. According to its plan, announced last September, the Fed would reduce its holdings of Treasuries and MBS by no more than: • $10 billion a month in Q3 2017 • $20 billion a month in Q1 2018 • $30 billion a month in Q2 2018 • $40 billion a month in Q3 2018 • $50 billion a month in Q4 2018, and continue at this pace.

This would shrink the balance of Treasuries and MBS by up to $420 billion in 2018, by up to an additional $600 billion in 2019 and every year going forward until the Fed decides that the balance sheet has been “normalized” enough — or until something big breaks. For February, the plan called for shedding up to $20 billion in securities: $12 billion in Treasuries and $8 billion in MBS. On its January 31 balance sheet, the Fed had $2,436 billion of Treasuries; on today’s balance sheet, $2,424 billion: a $12 billion drop for February. On target! In total, since the beginning of the QE Unwind, the balance of Treasuries has dropped by $42 billion, to hit the lowest level since August 6, 2014:

[..] to determine if the QE Unwind is taking place with MBS, we’re looking for lower highs and lower lows on a very jagged line. Also today’s movements reflect MBS that rolled off two to three months ago, so November and December, when about $4 billion in MBS were supposed to roll off per month. The chart below shows that jagged line. Note the lower highs and lower lows over the past few months. Given the delay of two to three months, the first roll-offs would have shown up in early December at the earliest. At the low in early November, the Fed held $1,770.1 billion in MBS. On today’s balance sheet, also the low point in the chart, the Fed shows $1,759.9 billion. From low to low, the balance dropped by $10.2 billion, reflecting trades in November and December:

And the overall balance sheet? Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet dropped from $4,460 billion at the outset of the QE Unwind in early October to $4,393 billion on today’s balance sheet, the lowest since July 9, 2014. A $67-billion drop:

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“The list includes Dow components Boeing, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Citigroup, American Express, Goldman Sachs, Mircrosoft, Apple, Cisco and Intel.”

S&P 500 Companies To Buy Back $800 Billion Of Their Own Shares This Year (MW)

S&P 500 companies will buy back a record $800 billion of their own shares in 2018, funded by savings on tax, strong earnings and the repatriation of cash held overseas, J.P. Morgan said Friday. That will far exceed the $530 billion in share buybacks that was recorded in 2017, analysts led by Dubravko Lakos-Bujas wrote in a note. Companies have already announced $151 billion of buybacks in the year to date. “There is room for further upside to our buyback estimates if companies increase gross payout ratios to levels similar to late last cycle when companies returned >100% of profits to shareholders (vs. 83% now),” said the note. “Corporates tend to accelerate buyback programs during market selloffs.”

The stock market has experienced two bouts of steep declines so far this year, the first in early February, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1,175 points in a single session to mark its biggest ever one-day point drop, driven by fears about interest rate hikes. There were $113.4 billion of buyback announcements in February, a three-year high, according to Trim Tabs Investment Research. The second selloff was ignited on Thursday, after President Donald Trump said he is planning to impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, triggering a more than 500 point drop in the Dow at its worst level, on fears the move would spark a trade war. The Dow was down another 300 points in early trade Friday.

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“Enjoy the last few weeks of relative normality.”

End Times at the OD Corral (Jim Kunstler)

Surely, the Deplorables of Flyover Land will not like the dumping of their Golden champion one bit. I’d stay away from post offices and other parcels of federal property for a while. If a bunch decides to march on the nation’s capital, it will be a messier affair than anything the hippies pulled off back in the day, perhaps the first battle of Civil War 2. The financial markets wobbled and puked on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, finally mirroring the tremendous stresses in our politics. They’ve been every bit as jacked on unreality as the two major parties for years now. The markets, after all, are not the economy itself, just indexes of the supposed values of things, stocks, bonds, gold, soybeans, etc., and the Federal Reserve has been jamming hallucinogens down their craw since the last little seizure in 2008.

The markets don’t seem to like the new chairman of the Fed, a cipher named Jay Powell. In his first big public performance since stepping into Janet Yellen’s tiny shoes this week, Powell managed to do a complete 180 in 24 hours on whether his outfit will stick to four rate hikes this year… or maybe just ride to the rescue of the floundering markets with their old tricks of lowering interest rates and “printing” shitloads of new “money” to get those animal spirits going again in the S & P. Absolutely nothing Powell’s Fed might try will work. In fact they will only make the cratering indexes fall deeper and harder, along with the value of the US dollar. Interest rates can’t go any higher, anyway, without blowing up half the paper obligations on earth.

Businesses will be terrified to transact. You can’t do much with a crippled financial system. The authorities and the news media will call it a “recession” but a sore-beset public will know it is the start of something a whole lot worse. As a nice side-dish to this banquet of consequences, the Democratic party will be deprived of its only reason to live the past two years: to shove Donald Trump off-stage. And the Republicans will be blamed twice over: once, for not coming to Trump’s defense, and again for getting behind him in the first place. Enjoy the last few weeks of relative normality.

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She’s never sounded more hollow. Theresa May is a certified masochist.

Theresa May Unveils Fragile Truce In Third Brexit Offering (G.)

If Theresa May’s first two speeches unfurled the promise of a “red, white and blue” Brexit, a cold grey day in March will be remembered as the moment a more faded flag was fluttered. As the nation took shelter from the beast from the east, this was intended to be May’s “reality bites” speech. Ten times she used the word “recognise” to underline she no longer believed Britain could have it all. “We recognise that we cannot have exactly the same arrangements with the EU as we do now,” she said. “We recognise this would constrain our ability to lower regulatory standards. We need to face up to facts. Our access to each other’s markets will be less”.

Little wonder that by the time it came for questions, and a German newspaper asked: “Is it all worth it?” The prime minister had to pause awkwardly before replying: “We are not changing our minds.” Much attention will focus on the remaining chasm between Downing Street’s hopes and the increasingly intransigent position adopted in Brussels. There was little to explain how they might solve the current crisis over Northern Ireland in the three weeks allotted. It would be churlish though not to acknowledge creeping realism from a politician whose heart has never really seemed in it. The weary call for “pragmatic common sense” was directed at both her own party and Europe.

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It’s useless to compare GSEs to the private sector. They exist to make ensure government control over the housing bubble.

Eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (USNews)

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s recent request for a bailout from the U.S. Treasury (read American taxpayers) has brought back into the public’s eye the unresolved legal status of these two government sponsored enterprises. In this debate, the assumption is that the GSEs, or some replacement entities benefiting from a government guarantee, are necessary for an effective housing finance market. The GSEs, however, do very little that cannot be done – and is not already done – by the private sector. In addition, these institutions pose a significant financial risk to U.S. taxpayers. Weighing this cost against the minimal benefits makes the case that the GSEs should be eliminated.

Without the GSEs, the mortgage market would not look radically different than it does today. Proponents argue that the GSEs lower mortgage rates, ensure the availability of the standard 30-year fixed rate mortgage, support home ownership and lend to people with lower incomes or weaker credit profiles, all of which the private sector presumably would not do. Not true on all fronts. First, the GSEs do not offer lower mortgage rates for consumers despite a government guarantee that allows them to raise capital at a lower cost than the private sector. In the past, the GSEs were able to charge lower mortgage rates by taking risks for which they were not compensated. The result was a massive build-up of housing risk in the run-up to the financial crisis of 2007-08.

Since 2009, the GSEs have been required to recognize risk in their pricing of mortgages, which has driven up their mortgage rates relative to the private sector. As a consequence, since 2014, new research undertaken with my colleague Steve Oliner shows that mortgage rates for private portfolio whole loans have been about one-quarter percentage point below GSE rates – after controlling for risk characteristics. And contrary to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s recent statement, the private market could ensure the availability of the 30-year fixed-rate mortgages on its own. Data from CoreLogic show that 76% of private portfolio mortgages originated in 2017 were 30-year mortgages, not much below the GSE’s 85% share.

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Unstoppable.

Low-Level Courts Turned Into Dickensian “Debt Collection Mills” (ICept)

Federal law outlawed debt prisons in 1833, but lenders, landlords and even gyms and other businesses have found a way to resurrect the Dickensian practice. With the aid of private collection agencies, they file millions of lawsuits in state and local courts each year, winning 95 percent of the time. If a defendant fails to appear at post-judgement hearings known as “debtors’ examinations,” collectors can seek a warrant for contempt of court — even if the debtor didn’t realize they were being sued. [..] “A Pound of Flesh: the Criminalization of Private Debt,” the ACLU report, sheds light for the first time on the frequency of modern-day debt imprisonment, estimating that courts are issuing tens of thousands of arrest warrants each year for debtors owing as little as $30.

Forty-four states permit judges to issue these warrants, often known as “body attachments,” in civil cases. “This has been a largely invisible problem, because the people it’s happening to typically don’t have lawyers and aren’t speaking out,” says Jennifer Turner, a human rights researcher at ACLU. “Many low-level courts have essentially become debt-collection mills.” One in three Americans has a debt that’s been turned over to a private collection agency, and the ACLU found cases of warrants being issued over almost every kind of consumer debt—payday and auto loans, utility bills, even daycare fees. Many cases begin with an emergency expense that someone is unable to pay, sending them into a spiral of debt and imprisonment.

The use of cash bail often compounds the problem; debtors languish in jail for up to two weeks, according to the report. In some jurisdictions, judges routinely set bail at the exact amount of the debt owed, then surrender it to the collector once paid. In other cases documented by the ACLU, people with outstanding medical debt were too ill to go to court, as in the case of an Indiana mother of three who had been living with family in Florida while she recovered from thyroid cancer. Unbeknown to her, a small claims court had issued three warrants in a suit over her unpaid medical bills, and she was arrested when she returned home.

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In case anyone starts telling you about Kushner and Citi.

The Devil Is in the Details of Citi’s Sordid History (Martens)

Wall Street On Parade has extensively reported in the past on the dubious dealings of Citigroup in Washington. Citigroup is the bank that pressured the Bill Clinton administration into repealing the depression-era Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. That act had prevented Wall Street’s speculating investment banks and brokerage firms from owning commercial banks that take in FDIC insured deposits in order to prevent another 1929-1932 style Wall Street crash. Just nine years after the repeal of Glass-Steagall, Wall Street experienced another epic crash, with Citigroup playing a major role in the contagion. Citigroup received the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history, taking in $45 billion in equity from the U.S. Treasury;

A government guarantee on $300 billion of Citigroup’s dubious assets; the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) guaranteed $5.75 billion of its senior unsecured debt and $26 billion of its commercial paper and interbank deposits; and the Federal Reserve secretly funneled $2.5 trillion in almost zero-interest loans to units of Citigroup between 2007 and 2010. Citigroup was created by the merger of Citicorp (parent of Citibank) and Travelers Group (which owned investment bank Salomon Brothers and brokerage firm Smith Barney). It would not have been allowed to exist but for the largess of the Clinton administration. And the Clintons needed a lot of financial help when they exited the White House.

In a June 9, 2014 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Hillary Clinton said this: “We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.” One institution that had big confidence in the Clintons’ future earning power was Citigroup. “According to PolitiFact, Citigroup provided a $1.995 million mortgage to allow the Clintons to buy their Washington, D.C. residence in 2000. That liability does not pop up on the Clinton disclosure documents until 2011, showing a 30-year mortgage at 5.375% ranging in face amount from $1 million to $5 million from CitiMortgage. The disclosure says the mortgage was taken out in 2001.

“Citigroup also paid Bill Clinton hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees after he left the White House. It committed $5.5 million to the Clinton Global Initiative — a program which brings global leaders together annually to make action commitments. Citigroup employees have also been major campaign funders to Hillary Clinton’s political campaigns.”

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Oh, no!! Turns out developing markets have borrowed all their growth as well…

The Future Of Economic Convergence (WEF)

The world is now facing what observers are calling a “synchronized” growth upswing. What does this mean for the economic “convergence” of developed and developing countries, a topic that lost salience after the Great Recession began a decade ago? In the 1990s, developing economies, taken as a whole, began to grow faster than their advanced counterparts (in per capita terms), inspiring optimism that the two groups’ output and income would converge. From 1990 to 2007, the developing economies’ average annual per capita growth was 2.5 percentage points higher than in the advanced economies. In 2000-2007, the gap widened, to 3.5 percentage points.

Though not all countries made progress – many small economies did not do well – on an aggregate basis, the structure of the world economy was being transformed. Asian countries were catching up at a particularly rapid clip, driven by the large, dynamic economies of India and, even more so, China (which experienced nearly three decades of double-digit GDP growth). After the global financial crisis began in 2007, however, the dynamic changed. At first, it seemed that convergence was accelerating. With advanced-economy growth having ground to a halt, developing countries’ lead in per capita growth increased to four percentage points.

By 2013-2016, however, growth slowed in many emerging economies – particularly in Latin America, with Brazil experiencing negative growth in 2015 and 2016 – while growth in the United States picked up. Are we, as some observers have claimed, witnessing the end of convergence? The answer will depend on developing economies’ ability to find and tap new, more advanced sources of growth. In the past, the key engine of convergence was manufacturing. Developing countries that had finally acquired the needed skills and institutions applied advanced-country technologies locally, benefiting from plentiful, low-cost labor.

But, as Dani Rodrik has argued, that source of easy copycat catch-up has mostly been exhausted. The low-hanging fruit in manufacturing has already been picked. Technological catch-up is more difficult in the services sector, which now accounts for a larger share of total value-added. Moreover, today’s cutting-edge technologies – such as robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and bioengineering – are more complex than industrial machinery, and may be more difficult to copy. And, because intelligent machines can increasingly fill low-wage jobs, developing countries’ cost advantage may have been diminished significantly.

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Musk makes his latest victim. There’s one question that must always be asked in these cases: How much in subsidies does he get for this project? Articles that do not ask this should not be published, because they’re mere propaganda.

Elon Musk to Open Tesla R&D Plant in Greece (G.)

Elon Musk may have plans to colonise Mars but back on planet Earth he is extending his reach to Athens, by opening an engineering facility called Tesla Greece. Musk’s electric car business is an unsung success story for the Greek diaspora, with three of Tesla’s top designers boasting degrees from the National Technical University of Athens. Tesla’s plans for the country have such “game-changing potential” that the head of the Hellenic Entrepreneurs’ Association, Vasilis Apostolopoulos, has pledged to hand over his own industrial plant for free as a testing ground for new products.

Addressing delegates at the annual Delphi economic forum, Apostolopoulos said: “I have personally emailed Musk to welcome Tesla Greece … and to say that for the next 10 years I will give, at zero cost to his company, my group’s own industrial plant outside Corinth so that Greece can be on the frontline of global innovation.” Describing the move as a “vote of confidence” in the debt-stricken country, Apostolopoulos, who is chief executive of the Athens Medical Group, a leading private healthcare provider, said he was also prepared to offer full medical coverage for a year to all of Tesla Greece’s staff members and international staff visiting the country on company business.

“It is the least we can do to thank and welcome Mr Musk’s vote of confidence in Hellenic business, research and technology,” he told the Guardian. Outside the UK, the Netherlands and Germany, the electric car manufacturer has no presence in Europe. Its Greek office is expected to attract at least 50 engineers to run a research and development centre out of the state-run Demokritos Centre for Scientific Research. The centre is expected to act as a base for southeast Europe. “Greece has a strong electric motor engineering talent, and technical universities offering tailored programmes and specialised skills for electric motor technology,” a spokesperson told Electrek, a US news website.

It is understood that Tesla’s three Greek designers – principal motor designer Konstantinos Laskaris; motor design engineer Konstantinos Bourchas; and staff motor design engineer Vasilis Papanikolaou – are preparing to move back to Athens under the company’s plans. Demokritos has welcomed the news. “We are very happy to receive all the talented engineers who are returning to work beside us,” it said in a statement.

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In his book ‘Adults in the Room’, Yanis had nothing good about ‘the most powerful man in the EU’. Now, Wieser comes with an unverifiable and fully nonsensical story, that he knows even many Greeks will swallow hook line and sinker.

EU’s Wieser: Six Months Of Varoufakis Cost Greece €200 Billion (K.)

The first six months of the leftist-led SYRIZA government cost Greece around €200 billion, former Euro Working Group chief Thomas Wieser told the Delphi Economic Forum on Friday, describing that estimate as “safe” and “conservative.” In a discussion being moderated by the executive editor of Kathimerini, Alexis Papachelas, Wieser noted that the SYRIZA-led government was basically provoking Grexit from its rise in late January to July of that year. Wieser noted that in 2010, the German government decided that the participation of the IMF in the rescue program for Greece was necessary, noting that the Eurozone lacked the technical knowhow for that sort of program. He noted that former US President Barack Obama took an active role during Greece’s crisis, adding that then Treasury Secretary Jack Lew would call the Eurogroup chairman at the time, Jeroen Dijsselbloem up to five times a week.

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“..Somehow it turns out I’m the first white person to think about giving the land back since Marlon Brando..”

‘This Is All Stolen Land’: Canadian Offers To Share His With First Nations (G.)

Joel Holmberg had been batting the idea around for years. But the final decision came last month, as he scrolled through the online vitriol that erupted after a white farmer was acquitted of killing a young Cree man in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Holmberg turned to social media, but instead of joining in the often-vicious debate surrounding that case, he offered to share his family’s five-acre property in northern Alberta with a First Nations family. There would be no bills, no rent, he explained. Instead the family could join him, his wife and two children in living off the land; hunting, fishing and growing food.

“I wanted to offer some sort of hope,” said Holmberg. “It was really disgusting to see the way the racist people were speaking. I wanted to let them know that it’s not everyone in Canada that feels that way.” The invitation to share his acreage near Barrhead, about 100km north-west of Edmonton, seemed like a fair one. “We all know in our heart the truth, that this is all stolen land,” said the 45-year-old. “They’re our hosts and we’re their guests and they’ve been criminally abused for far too long and it has to stop.” Holmberg said his appreciation for First Nations culture began as a child growing up in British Columbia, when members of the Sinixt First Nation began bringing him along as they hunted and fished.

“I had the opportunity to do sweats with them and learn about their culture from them and learn about the real history of Canada,” he said. He continued to delve into Canada’s rich tapestry of indigenous cultures as he moved around the country, from the Northwest Territories to Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “They’re the kindest people I’ve ever met. They’ve been there for me in the worst times in my life when I needed help the most,” he said. “It is very clear to my family and I, that it is us that will be blessed by this thing happening most of all.”

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