Apr 082019
 


Pablo Picasso Young girl throwing a rock 1931

 

British Voters Say Give Us A Strong Leader Willing To Break The Rules (R.)
May Faces Intense Cabinet Pressure Over Prospect Of Lengthy Brexit Delay (G.)
Labour Jewish Members Declare Party’s Leadership ‘Antisemitic’ (Ind.)
Sorry Is The Easiest Word – But Should Democrats Stop Their Apology Tour? (G.)
Mulvaney Says Democrats Will ‘Never’ See Trump Tax Returns (AFP)
US Urges Immediate Halt To Military Operations In Libya (R.)
Gold Is Moving Back Into The Center Of The Financial System – Rubino (USAW)
Facebook Are ‘Morally Bankrupt Liars’ – New Zealand Privacy Commissioner (G.)
Chelsea Manning’s ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Moment (Kiriakou)
Midwest Floods Hammer US Ethanol Industry (R.)
Greek Pensioners Have Become The Biggest Single Group Of Taxpayers (K.)
Pain-Care Specialist Agrees To Testify Against Purdue (R.)
Drinks Bottles Now Biggest Plastic Menace For Waterways (G.)

 

 

History rhymes.

British Voters Say Give Us A Strong Leader Willing To Break The Rules (R.)

British voters want a strong leader who is willing to break the rules and force through wide scale reform after three years of Brexit crisis pushed confidence in the political system to a 15-year low. The 2016 referendum revealed a United Kingdom divided over much more than EU membership, and has sparked impassioned debate about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and what it means to be British. Yet more than a week since the United Kingdom was originally supposed to leave the EU on March 29, nothing is resolved: it remains uncertain how, when or if it ever will.


Research by the Hansard Society found that 54 percent of voters want a strong leader who is willing to break the rules while 72 percent said the system needs “quite a lot” or “a great deal” of improvement. Confidence in the system at the lowest level in the 15-year history of the survey, lower even than after the 2009 expense scandal when lawmakers were shown to have charged taxpayers for everything from an ornamental duck house to cleaning out a moat. [..] “People are pessimistic about the country’s problems and their possible solution, with sizeable numbers willing to entertain radical political changes.” Just a quarter of people had confidence in lawmakers’ handling of Brexit.

Read more …

They had people vote for something, and then spent 3 years haggling over what that something was. At the very least that’s the wrong way around.

May Faces Intense Cabinet Pressure Over Prospect Of Lengthy Brexit Delay (G.)

Theresa May is facing intense cabinet pressure to avoid the prospect of a long Brexit delay, amid increasing expectations that last ditch cross-party talks on a compromise departure plan will not produce anything concrete. Before a crucial EU summit later this week, the prime minister is facing a fast-diminishing range of options that could split the Conservative party and prompt a mass cabinet walkout, or could result in the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on Friday. May’s only response on Sunday was a homespun video that called for a compromise solution, but while praised for its conversational style, it lacked any fresh detail on proposals to break the Brexit impasse.

With Labour reiterating it had yet to learn even the basics of concessions May might offer after her dramatic call last week for consensus, the timetable looked tight to agree anything before the European council gathering on Wednesday evening. Under the terms of the previous brief extension agreed with the EU, if Brussels does not agree another delay, a no-deal Brexit will happen on Friday. May has requested a pause until 30 June, but Brussels is keen on a wait of up to a year, which could be broken earlier if a solution is found. On Monday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, will hold talks with the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.

At the weekend, Varadkar said his own preference was for a longer extension than 30 June. Also on Monday, Jeremy Corbyn is due to hold meetings with Sinn Fein’s leaders in London. The party’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, is expected to tell Corbyn that Irish interests must be protected whatever the outcome of his Brexit negotiations with Theresa May.

Read more …

Corbyn talks to May and very predictably this drivel comes out again. Corbyn’s no anti-semite, but he defends Palestinians. That’s why there’s this.

But at the same time, he’s the one who allows this to happen. The Labour Party should be talking about what’s happening to Julian Assange in the heart of London, not be in some nonsense war on alleged anti-semitism.

Labour Jewish Members Declare Party’s Leadership ‘Antisemitic’ (Ind.)

Jewish Labour members have branded the party leadership as antisemitic in a fresh blow to Jeremy Corbyn. The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) passed the damning motion at its annual general meeting on Sunday, accusing Mr Corbyn of having “condoned antisemitism and antisemites”. The group said the Labour leader was “unfit to be prime minister” and that a government he led “would not be in the interests of British Jews”. JLM is Labour’s only official Jewish affiliate and has been part of the party for almost 100 years. One source at the meeting told The Independent the decision to approve the motion of no confidence in Mr Corbyn was “almost unanimous”.


It reads: “The leadership of the Labour Party have demonstrated that they are antisemitic, and have presided over a culture of antisemitism in which they have failed to use their personal and positional power to tackle antisemitism, and have instead used their influence to protect and defend antisemites. “Jeremy Corbyn is directly responsible, whether through his own actions, where he appears to have condoned antisemitism and antisemites, or through his inaction to tackle the wider problem within the party.” The motion said JLM “has no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to understand, respond to or solve the problem” and claimed “his leadership of the Labour Party combined with his past actions and associations shows a complete disregard for the Jewish community in Britain”.

Read more …

Why the Democrats are toast: long article on tons of apologies, but not a word about what they really should apologize for: Russiagate.

Sorry Is The Easiest Word – But Should Democrats Stop Their Apology Tour? (G.)

For Joe Biden, it was his discomfiting touching of women. For Pete Buttigieg, his use of the phrase “all lives matter”. For Tulsi Gabbard, her comments about homosexuality. For Kirsten Gillibrand, her positions on immigration. For Kamala Harris, her record on criminal justice. For Beto O’Rourke, his jokes about his wife and children. For Bernie Sanders, his staff perpetrating sexual harassment in the last campaign. For Elizabeth Warren, her claim to Native American ancestry. Democrats running for president in 2020 are on an “apology tour”, seeking to atone for past political sins. Some voters welcome it as an antidote to Donald Trump, an overdue attempt to set the social and political bar higher for the 21st century. Others are anxious that the candidates’ supporters will try to tear each other down with “wokeness” tests that could leave the party hopelessly divided.

[..] In February, comedian Bill Maher urged viewers of his HBO show: “No more swiping left on presidential candidates. Let’s give them a chance. Let’s not eat our own the way we nitpicked Hillary [Clinton] to death over her emails and other bullshit.” Maher added: “Kamala Harris has already had to play defence because it’s come out, when she was a prosecutor, she prosecuted people. Not very progressive. She should have found a way to apply more forgiveness, and the fact that she didn’t is unforgivable. Elizabeth Warren claimed to be Native American – so what? Trump claimed to be human.”

Republicans sense an opportunity to frame Democrats as consumed by identity politics and virtue signalling. Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, wrote in February: Democrats are about to ≠embark on the first woke primary, a gantlet of political correctness that will routinely wring abject apologies out of candidates and find fault in even the most sure-footed. The passage of time will be no defense. Nor the best of intentions. Nor anything else.

Read more …

“If the Democrats want to know “if the IRS is doing its job auditing the president, they could ask the IRS..”

Mulvaney Says Democrats Will ‘Never’ See Trump Tax Returns (AFP)

A formal request from a Democratic committee chairman to see six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns was forcibly rejected Sunday by a top presidential aide, who said Democrats would “never” see the documents. Trump is the first US president since Richard Nixon to refuse to divulge his tax information. Representative Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, sparked a contentious battle on Wednesday when he made the request using a little-known provision in the tax code, saying, “It is critical to ensure the accountability of our government and elected officials.” But when Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was asked Sunday whether Democrats would ever see the returns, he was unequivocal. “Never,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Nor should they.”

Mulvaney asserted that since voters knew ahead of the 2016 election that Trump would not reveal his returns and then elected him anyway, the matter was “already litigated.” He said that while there are legal provisions for the Internal Revenue Service to turn tax papers over to the Ways and Means Committee – the chief tax-writing committee in the House – a “political” attack is not a valid reason. Separately, Jay Sekulow, a private attorney for Trump, argued that the Democratic-controlled House was trying to move beyond its constitutionally mandated role of oversight into the realm of law enforcement. If the Democrats want to know “if the IRS is doing its job auditing the president, they could ask the IRS,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“A Ways and Means hearing about IRS enforcement as a way to get to the president’s private individual and business tax returns makes no sense, both constitutionally and statutorily,” Sekulow said. But Dan Kildee, a Democratic member of Ways and Means, took strong exception. “We’re looking very carefully as to whether or not the IRS is properly auditing and enforcing tax law on the president of the United States, and we’re considering legislative changes toward that end,” he said on ABC.

Read more …

Thank you, Hillary and Obama.

US Urges Immediate Halt To Military Operations In Libya (R.)

The United States called on Sunday for an immediate halt to military operations in Libya as the Libyan National Army headed by Khalifa Haftar advanced on the capital, Tripoli. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that Washington was “deeply concerned about fighting near Tripoli” and urged talks to end the fighting. “We have made clear that we oppose the military offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces and urge the immediate halt to these military operations against the Libyan capital,” Pompeo said in urging de-escalation. Eleven people were killed and 23 wounded in clashes in southern Tripoli, the Health Ministry of the U.N.-backed Libyan government of National Accord said late on Sunday.


The ministry gave no details of whether the casualties were civilians or fighters. Lawless since 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi was toppled by rebels backed by NATO air strikes, Libya has become the transit point for hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. Haftar, 75, who casts himself as a foe of Islamist extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mold of Gaddafi, enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.

Read more …

“.. in the next recession, we will be taking on huge amounts of new debt at an accelerating rate.”

Gold Is Moving Back Into The Center Of The Financial System – Rubino (USAW)

The end part of this story is how good all this is for gold. . . . The next thing from the Fed will be a rate cut, and it will increase and not decrease its balance sheet. . . . We are going to go preemptively to monetary easing, and that’s really new. This is very, very new. You normally don’t do this. You wait until you see a bear market and a slowdown in the economy that gets people laid off before you start aggressively easing. Apparently, we are going to do that stuff before that stuff starts happening. Who knows what the impact of that will be? If it works the way they want, more people will get hired, wages will pick up and we’ll have inflation in the 4% or 5% range before you know it.”

So, with near record low yields on bonds and near record high prices for stocks, Rubino has just one question. Rubino says, “What’s cheap? Gold and silver. What is down and what is cheap relative to the fundamentals. It’s not just the price of gold and silver, it’s how much gold and silver exists relative to how much paper wealth is in the world. The amount of gold and silver that we are bringing out of the ground is growing at 1% or 2% per year. The amount of paper wealth in the world is growing exponentially. . . .Gold is moving back into the center of the global financial system.”

Another big factor to consider is debt. Rubino says, “Every big country is running deficits that are dramatically bigger than they were five years ago. In the U.S., we are back to $1 trillion a year deficits, which is Obama Administration post Great Recession kind of numbers, and we are doing it 10 years into an expansion. . . . So, in the next recession, we will be taking on huge amounts of new debt at an accelerating rate.

Read more …

Now we’re talking.

Facebook Are ‘Morally Bankrupt Liars’ – New Zealand Privacy Commissioner (G.)

New Zealand’s privacy commissioner has lashed out at social media giant Facebook in the wake of the Christchurch attacks, calling the company “morally bankrupt pathological liars”. The commissioner used his personal Twitter page to lambast the social network, which has also drawn the ire of prime minister Jacinda Ardern for hosting a livestream of the attacks that left 50 dead, which was then copied and shared all over the internet. “Facebook cannot be trusted,” wrote Edwards. “They are morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide (Myanmar), facilitate foreign undermining of democratic institutions.


“[They] allow the live streaming of suicides, rapes, and murders, continue to host and publish the mosque attack video, allow advertisers to target ‘Jew haters’ and other hateful market segments, and refuse to accept any responsibility for any content or harm. “They #dontgiveazuck” wrote Edwards. He later deleted the tweets, saying they had prompted “toxic and misinformed traffic”. Edwards was responding to an interview given by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to America’s ABC network, in which he failed to commit to any changes to the Facebook live technology, including a time delay on livestreams. Zuckerberg said incidents like the live streaming of the Christchurch mosque attacks were the result of “bad actors”; not bad technology and a time delay would disrupt the enjoyment of users who broadcast events like birthday parties or group hangouts.

Read more …

Pete Seeger did in the 1950’s what Chelsea is doing today.

Chelsea Manning’s ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ Moment (Kiriakou)

Contrary to popular belief, President Obama did not pardon Manning in the final days of his administration. Instead, he commuted her sentence, simply releasing her from prison. The conviction still stands and Manning is still in legal jeopardy. Prosecutors could still decide to charge her with crimes related to the original charges. With that said, was Manning’s subpoena a ham-fisted attempt to get her to contradict herself in new testimony, thus inviting another felony charge for perjury or making a false statement? Were prosecutors trying to get Manning to implicate herself in some process felony? Or were they simply trying to force her to turn rat on Julian Assange?

Again, Manning could have simply answered each question with “I don’t recall.” She would have been home in time for dinner. Instead, she made a political point—one that all of us should want to emulate. That point is “Don’t tread on me.” That point is “I’m willing to jeopardize my freedom to protect yours.” I say often that in my time at the CIA, I learned that CIA culture is such that employees are taught that everything in life is a shade of gray. But that is simply not true. Some things are black and white, right or wrong. This is one of those things. It’s the government that’s the enemy here, not Manning or Assange.

Remember, the American people own the information that Manning and Assange are accused of releasing. We have a right to know what our government is doing in our name. We have a right to know whether the government is covering up crimes. We have a right to know when—and why—those Americans who commit war crimes or crimes against humanity are not being prosecuted. The mainstream media doesn’t tell us. But Wikileaks does. We wouldn’t know about some of the most egregious war crimes of the past two decades without Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to share their politics. You don’t have to want to go out and have a beer with them. But you do have to respect what they’ve done.

Read more …

Stupid industry anyway.

Midwest Floods Hammer US Ethanol Industry (R.)

The March floods that punished the U.S. Midwest have roiled the ethanol industry, hammering prices and trapping barrels in the country’s interior while the U.S. coasts suffer from shortages of the biofuel. The historic March floods have dealt a series of blows to large swaths of an ethanol industry that was already struggling with high inventories and sluggish domestic demand growth. And the ethanol shortages are one factor pushing gasoline prices in Los Angeles and Southern California to the highest in the nation and they could top $4 a gallon for the first time since 2014, according to tracking firm GasBuddy.


Benchmark price for ethanol used in most supply contracts initially jumped on news of the floods but has been hobbled by rising waters around the Chicago hub that have halted barges and sales. That stands in contrast to prices on the coasts, which rose dramatically – drawing in heavy imports from Brazil, the main U.S. ethanol competitor. The floods inflicted billions of dollars in damage to crops and homes in the U.S. Midwest, and knocked out roughly 13% of ethanol capacity. U.S. ethanol is made from corn and required by the government to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply to reduce emissions. While some ethanol plants were flooded, the primary effect of the rising waters was to shut rail lines that serve as the main arteries for corn and ethanol deliveries.

Read more …

Q: how long can you keep an economy running that has more pensioners than workers?

Greek Pensioners Have Become The Biggest Single Group Of Taxpayers (K.)

Pensioners constitute the biggest single group of taxpayers in Greece, confirming the ominous predictions about the impact of an aging population on growth and state finances. The number of pensioners expanded since the starts of the financial crisis more than any other group, coming to outnumber even salaried workers. The relevant data from the Independent Authority for Public Revenue are impressive, showing that in nine out of the country’s 13 regions, pensioners make up the biggest group of taxpayers, ahead of salaried workers, farmers and freelance professionals. In certain regions both the number of pensioners and their declared incomes are above those of the other groups.

For instance, in the region of Western Greece, pensioners account for 40.1% of taxpayers and 40% of the total declared income. Statistical data processing reveals that since end-2014 the number of pensioners in Greece has shot up by 233,000. Going back to the outbreak of the crisis at the start of the decade, there is an additional 588,360: From 1,667,428 pensioners in 2010 there are now 2,255,788. The active population is therefore declining at a rapid rate: Before the economic crisis broke out, pensioners accounted for 29% of taxpayers, while today their share has climbed to 35.4%. However, the same data also reveal the dramatic shrinking of pensioners’ incomes during the crisis: Back in 2010 their declared annual income amounted to 27 billion euros, as each one of them declared an average 16,228 euros per year; today the yearly declared income of pensioners comes to just 11,175 euros, reduced by 31.13%.

The regional data are quite astonishing in terms of the growing dominance of pensioners among taxpayers: In Attica, by far the country’s most populated region, salaried workers come to 935,955 and pensioners are 804,755. The annual income of pensioners is 10.3 billion euros, according to 2018 figures, while that of salaried workers is 15.2 billion. In Western Greece, the region that includes Patra – Greece’s third city – pensioners dwarf salaried workers, as there are 153,452 of the former against just 111,979 of the latter.

Read more …

Well, actually he’s a company shill trying to stay out of jail.

Pain-Care Specialist Agrees To Testify Against Purdue (R.)

A physician ally of Purdue Pharma LP whose views helped drive the explosive growth in the use of addictive pain relievers for common aches and pains in the United States has agreed to testify against the OxyContin maker and other drug companies, newly disclosed court records show. Dr. Russell Portenoy, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, was an early advocate for the use of opioids for chronic pain, a position he shared in medical journal articles, with regulators, at physician conferences and in other forums. He also was named as a defendant in some of the lawsuits filed by cities, counties and states seeking to hold opioid makers – including Endo and Mallinckrodt Plc – and their distributors liable for the cost of the U.S. opioid epidemic.


But Portenoy began talking to plaintiffs’ lawyers as early as January 2018 and later struck a deal with the plaintiffs to serve as a cooperating witness, the records show. In exchange for his dismissal from the suits, Portenoy provided the plaintiffs with documentation of opioid makers’ payments to him over the years, as well as a 36-page declaration that lays out what he would say on the witness stand. Portenoy’s previously confidential cooperation agreement and declaration were made public Friday as a part of a discovery ruling by David Cohen, a special master in the federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, where hundreds of the opioid lawsuits have been consolidated. In an email, Cohen said it was possible the records should have been filed under seal out of public view.

Read more …

Is it bad enough yet to call it hopeless?

Drinks Bottles Now Biggest Plastic Menace For Waterways (G.)

Plastic bottles, the detritus of our throwaway water and soft drinks habits, are the most prevalent form of plastic pollution in European waterways, according to a new report. Food wrappers, including crisp and sweet packets, were the second biggest form of plastic pollution in rivers, followed by cigarette butts. All of these forms of litter can cause problems for wildlife and fish, and are hard to clean up once they have found their way into the water. Plastic bags were found to make up only 1% of plastic rubbish in freshwater, reflecting years of efforts to reduce their use, including charges on them in the UK and many other European countries.

Consumers should be more aware of what they can do to prevent the fouling of waterways, from using cotton buds with paper sticks to binning wet wipes instead of flushing them, and bringing their own receptacles for food takeaways, according to the Plastic Rivers report from Earthwatch Europe and Plastic Oceans UK. “The products we buy every day are contributing to the problem of ocean plastic,” said Jo Ruxton, chief executive of Plastic Oceans UK. “Our discarded plastic enters rivers from litter generated by our on-the-go lifestyle and items we flush down toilets. This throwaway approach is having much more serious consequences and the report shows really simple ways to avoid this problem and stop plastic pollution.”

Although most attention on the plastic scourge has focused on the plight of oceans, about 80% of plastic rubbish flows into them from rivers. Many experts believe that focusing on the clean-up of rivers is the best way to choke off the flow of existing rubbish into seas, while the ultimate source of the problem – our dependence on throwaway plastic products – is tackled.

Read more …

Jan 032016
 
 January 3, 2016  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Russell Lee Bike rack in Idaho Falls, Idaho 1942

“This Is The Worst Global Dollar GDP Recession In 50 Years” (ZH)
New Year’s Hangover For Wall Street: Earnings Season Misery (MarketWatch)
China’s Factories In The Grip Of Longest Contraction In Six Years (Ind.)
How a Turbulent Year Derailed China’s Reform (WSJ)
Chinese State-Owned Finance Firm Goes Global To Raise Funds (SCMP)
2015: Peak Cognitive Dissonance (Noland)
Bank of Greece Governor Warns on Measures as Tsipras Defiant on Pensions (BBG)
UK Homeowners Count The Cost As Floods Force Prices To Plummet (Observer)
US Midwest Calls In National Guard As Flood Disaster Unfolds
Iran’s Leader Vows ‘Divine Vengeance’ Over Cleric’s Execution In Saudi (R/AFP)
Expect More Weasel Words Over Saudi Arabia’s Grotesque Butchery (Robert Fisk)
Cuba Santeria Priests See Explosive Migration, Social Unrest In 2016 (Reuters)
Refugees At UK Military Base In Cyprus Trapped In Asylum ‘Limbo’ (Guardian)
Drowned Toddler Becomes Europe’s First Refugee Casualty Of 2016 (AFP)

Burning down the house.

“This Is The Worst Global Dollar GDP Recession In 50 Years” (ZH)

The following brief summary of the global economic situation should, once and for all, end all debate about whether the world is “recovering” or is now mired deep in a recession. From DB’s 2016 Credit Outlook:

“Debt has continued to climb since the crisis with Global Debt/GDP still on the rise, with no obvious sign of when this rise stops for many major countries. Indeed much of the post GFC increase in debt has been raised on the back of the commodity super-cycle which is currently unraveling in EM and the US HY market. Outside of this, the US overall has de-levered to some degree but even there debt levels remain very high relative to all of history excluding the GFC period. With limited tolerance from the authorities to see defaults erode the huge debt burden, the best hope for a more normal financial system is for activity levels to increase so we can slowly grow the economy into the debt burden. However this requires strong nominal GDP growth and we continue to see the opposite.

The left hand graph of Figure 6 looks at a global weighted average of Nominal GDP growth in the G7. On this measure we are still seeing historically weak activity. In dollar terms the situation is even worse. The right hand chart of Figure 6 shows a much more volatile global NGDP series which converts the size of each economy in dollar terms and then looks at the growth rate YoY. With the recent strength in the USD we are seeing a huge global dollar nominal GDP recession – the worst since the 1960s. Whilst this might not be a series that is followed, it does show the sharp contraction of dollar activity levels in the global economy over the last year or so which has to have ramifications given it’s the most important global financial market currency.”

What DB did not point out but is obvious, is that the synthetic dollar squeeze of the past year has made the global collapse now even worse than what was experienced during the great financial crisis, and it is getting worse by the day. And so, with the world trapped in the worst USD-based GDP recession in 50 years, here is the question for Yellen: with every other central bank easing and the Fed tightening, what happens to i) the USD in the future and ii) to future world growth in USD.

Read more …

“..of the 25 consumer discretionary companies that have issued earnings outlooks for the fourth quarter, none of them met or exceeded the Wall Street consensus at the time.”

New Year’s Hangover For Wall Street: Earnings Season Misery (MarketWatch)

Investors didn’t have a lot to celebrate on New Year’s Eve, but that doesn’t mean Wall Street’s start to 2016 won’t suffer a hangover thanks to the upcoming earnings season. U.S. stocks finished last year on a somber note with both the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 snapping multiyear winning streaks. Only the Nasdaq escaped the year unscathed, turning in a 5.7% gain on the year. After a dreary 2015 for stocks, it appears the upcoming earnings season is only going to prolong that misery. Once again weighed down by the energy and materials sectors, the S&P 500 is expected to see a decline in earnings of 4.7% from the year-ago period, according to John Butters at FactSet.

The only sectors expected to see any gain in fourth-quarter earnings are telecom, financials, consumer discretionary and health care. That expected decline in S&P 500 earnings looks to eat into gains made in the previous year’s fourth quarter. In 2014, fourth-quarter earnings rose just less than 4% from the year-ago period, according to FactSet. Quarterly earnings per share for the S&P 500 peaked at $30.33 in the fourth quarter of 2014. Now, that’s expected to drop to $29.38 a share for the fourth quarter of 2015. Additionally, of the 25 consumer discretionary companies that have issued earnings outlooks for the fourth quarter, none of them met or exceeded the Wall Street consensus at the time.

Read more …

What jobs? “Beijing instructed state-owned business to offer jobs to around 300,000 soldiers that it is making redundant..”

China’s Factories In The Grip Of Longest Contraction In Six Years (Ind.)

China gave global investors a miserable welcome to 2016 when the world’s second-largest economy revealed yesterday that its industrial output contracted yet again in December – marking the longest losing streak for Chinese factories since 2009. The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) survey of Chinese manufacturers came in at 49.7, up slightly on the previous month. But any reading below 50 signals contraction and this was the fifth month in a row of decline for China’s factories. Fears about the rapid slowing in the Chinese economy, the main motor for international GDP growth since the global financial crisis, dragged down global stock markets in 2015. And China’s waning demand for commodity imports hammered emerging market economies from Brazil to South Africa.

But analysts said continued industrial production contraction would prompt more stimulus from the Beijing authorities to avert a “hard landing”. “Monetary policy will stay accommodative and the fiscal policy will be more proactive,” argued Zhou Hao of Commerzbank in Singapore. The Chinese central bank has already cut interest rates six times since November 2014 to support growth. It has also reduced banks’ reserve requirements, freeing them up to lend more to businesses. Analysts at Nomura said there was a “medium to high” likelihood of more monetary easing later this month. The PMI index of industrial employment fell slightly in December, and Liu Liu, an economist at China International Capital Corporation, said concerns over jobs would force the hand of the authorities: “As steel, coal and other over-capacity industries close more factories, the employment situation will likely remain grim, calling for a greater role of fiscal policy.”

Earlier this week Beijing instructed state-owned business to offer jobs to around 300,000 soldiers that it is making redundant as part of its restructuring of the People’s Liberation Army. Industrial export orders shrank for the 15th month in a row, with the index in December coming in at 47.5. Exports have made a negligible contribution to China’s GDP growth since the financial crisis, with almost all the expansion being driven by investment spending and household consumption. But some interpreted Beijing’s slight loosening of the yuan’s peg with the dollar last year as an attempt to bolster Chinese exports.

Read more …

Reform has become just a word. Xi will not let go. Before you know it we’ll be looking at Xibenomics.

How a Turbulent Year Derailed China’s Reform (WSJ)

China had one of the best-performing stock markets in the world in 2015. Yet it was a dismal year for Chinese markets. Chinese stocks suffered an unprecedented summer crash that wiped out 43%, or $5 trillion, of their value at one point. That was followed by an abrupt 2% currency devaluation in August that sent shock waves through global markets. Bold reforms seen as crucial to Beijing’s efforts to turn around a slowing economy, such as a modern stock-listing system and lighter capital controls, stalled as the market turmoil unnerved authorities. The episodes demonstrate the stresses China is experiencing as it tries to shift its economy from one fed by debt and heavy industry into one driven by consumption.

For investors, the events of 2015 jolted their faith in China’s capacity to continue driving global growth. Authorities have backtracked on financial liberalization and roiled the country’s finance industry with investigations into brokers, traders and regulators in an effort to apportion blame for the stock market’s sharp pullback. “Recent volatility in the stock market and currency markets has eroded political support for market-oriented reforms and shaken confidence in the leadership’s economic-management skills,” said Eswar Prasad, a Cornell University professor and former China head of the IMF. The year doesn’t look so bad when measured from beginning to end: The Shanghai Composite Index was up 9.4% in 2015. The small-cap Shenzhen market was up more than 63%.

But the middle of the year was a mess. China’s top leaders began 2015 with high hopes for reform and for the stock market, which was then rallying, fueled by margin lending and monetary easing from the central bank. Now, Beijing enters the new year in a cautious mood, making it harder to carry out the overhauls that the government and analysts believe are necessary to keep the Chinese economy growing. “Without bold reforms, the economy will slow further, capital flight will intensify and the yuan will weaken more, which will erode confidence further,” said Chaoping Zhu, economist at UOB-Kay Hian Holdings, a Singapore-based brokerage.

Read more …

Beijing needs cash.

Chinese State-Owned Finance Firm Goes Global To Raise Funds (SCMP)

One of China’s state-owned finance firms is looking global amid the country’s economic slowdown, planning to raise funds abroad and engage foreign partners as it improves corporate governance and beefs up risk control. Changchun Urban Development Investment Holding (Group) was given a BBA1 rating by Moody’s and a BBB+ by Fitch Ratings. Both credit rating agencies saw the company as having a stable outlook. The company was set up by combining state assets in Changchun, capital city of northeastern Jilin province. Changchun Urban Development is one of thousands of local-government-backed financing vehicles – state-owned entities that raise funds for local governments to finance costly infrastructure and public facility works.

While the firm will be China’s fourth such vehicle to issue debt overseas – after the Qingdao City Construction Investment Group, Beijing Infrastructure Investment and Zhuhai Da Hengqin Investment – it will be the first in the northeast region to do so. “Changchun Urban Development will extend business coverage overseas. We are prepared against the impact of the United States Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike, while we don’t rule out the possibility of issuing foreign debt in the short term,” its CEO Gao Feng said. Chinese companies tend to choose Hong Kong, Singapore and Europe as their destinations in issuing debt, but Changchun Urban Development said markets in South Korea and Japan were also options as both countries were keen to invest in China’s northeast region.

Being rated by foreign credit rating agencies was one way to improve corporate governance, the company said. It has opened investment companies in Changchun and Beijing and is setting up a brokerage unit in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong unit was preparing a roadshow to promote its debt issue plans, Gao said. “We will make big moves in both the domestic and overseas markets to lower costs and will launch an initial public offering to optimise corporate governance,” Gao said. “We’re not short of money, but we lack good partners. We need to know investors and they need to have qualified resources in overseas markets, which would help the company go abroad and participate in China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative.”

Read more …

Bullishness prevails based on perceived continuing central bank largesse.

2015: Peak Cognitive Dissonance (Noland)

The year 2015 was extraordinary. Incredibly, despite powerful confirmation of the bursting global Bubble thesis, market optimism remained deeply entrenched. All leading strategists surveyed in December by Barron’s remained bullish – some were borderline crazy optimistic. Optimism withstood a commodity price collapse. Crude, the world’s most important commodity, crashed almost 35% to an eleven-year low, much to the peril of scores of highly leveraged companies and countries. The Bloomberg Commodities Index dropped 25%, its fifth straight year of declines. Copper fell 24%, with platinum and palladium down about 30%. In agriculture commodities, wheat fell 20%, with soybeans and corn down about 10%. Coffee sank 25%.

Bullishness persevered through deepening EM turmoil and a crisis of confidence. The Brazilian real dropped about a third (worst year since 2002), and Brazil’s sovereign debt suffered major losses. Brazil’s corporate debt market was pummeled (Petrobras, Vale, BTG, Samarco, etc.) while confidence in the nation’s major banks and government waned. Russia and Turkey showed further deterioration. Fragility surfaced in EM linchpin Mexico. Currencies suffered generally throughout EM – Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, etc. Collapsing currency peg regimes saw almost 50% devaluations for the Azerbaijani manat and Kazakh tenge. Argentina devalued the peso 30% versus the dollar. Throughout EM, dollar-denominated debt became a market concern.

Optimism survived the major financial tumult that unfolded in China. Early 2015 stimulus efforts stoked “Terminal Phase” excess in Chinese equities, a Bubble that came crashing down in a 40% summer drubbing. An August yuan devaluation destabilized markets across the globe. Aggressive (invasive) monetary, fiscal and regulatory measures somewhat stabilized equities and the yuan, at the heavy cost of extending “Terminal Phase” excess throughout the Credit system (i.e. corporate debt and “shadow banking”). The yuan posted a 4.5% 2015 decline against the dollar, the worst performance since 1994. The “offshore yuan” trading in Hong Kong dropped 5.3%.

Bullishness endured despite the August global market “flash crash.” And while the summer market dislocation provided important confirmation of mounting fragilities throughout the markets on a global basis, the bulls interpreted the event as further validating their view of unwavering central bank support and liquidity backstops. The Fed’s September flip-flop emboldened speculative excess, with U.S. equities back within striking distance of record highs by early-November.

Read more …

Tensions between Stournaras and Tsipras have never abated.

Bank of Greece Governor Warns on Measures as Tsipras Defiant on Pensions (BBG)

Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras gave a stark warning about the risk of Greece failing to reach an agreement with its creditors on a set of measures attached to the country’s bailout as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reiterated his government won’t succumb to “unreasonable” demands for additional pension cuts. The EU is now much less prepared to deal with another Greek crisis, Stournaras wrote in an article published in Kathimerini newspaper, in an unusually strong public intervention, as Europe’s most indebted state braces for negotiations with creditor institutions on a set of tough economic steps, including pension and income tax reform. A repeat of the 2015 standoff which pushed Greece to the verge of leaving the euro area would entail risks that the country’s economy may not be able to withstand, the central banker said.

After months of brinkmanship which resulted in the imposition of capital controls last summer, the government of Alexis Tsipras signed a new bailout agreement with the euro area committing Greece to economic overhauls and additional belt-tightening in exchange for emergency loans of as much as €86 billion. Greece will implement the agreement, Tsipras said in an interview with Real News newspaper published Saturday, adding though, that creditors should be aware that the country “won’t succumb to unreasonable and unfair demands” for more pension cuts. Greece will reform its pension system, which is on the “brink of collapse” through “equivalent” measures targeting proceeds equal to 1% of the country’s GDP in 2016, Tsipras said.

The proposals include raising mandatory employer contributions, according to the country’s Labor Minister, George Katrougalos. Creditors oppose an increase in compulsory contributions, as they argue these create a disincentive for hiring workers and declaring incomes.
Negotiations with the troika will be “tough,” and the government is redoubling its efforts to find “diplomatic” support, Katrougalos said in an interview with To Ethnos newspaper, also published Saturday.

Read more …

Expect no help.

UK Homeowners Count The Cost As Floods Force Prices To Plummet (Observer)

People trying to sell their properties in flood-hit parts of north-west England have begun dramatically dropping their prices amid fears that houses in some roads have become virtually unsellable. Large homes in and around the Warwick Road area of Carlisle, which in December 2015 experienced its second major flooding episode in a decade, have started to appear on the market for only 60% of their November values – leaving some people wondering whether they will ever be able to move house. After serious flooding elsewhere, house prices have generally recovered within a few years, according to estate agents in affected areas. This is particularly the case in national parks or other locations where there is strong demand for second and holiday homes. Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire was hit by severe floods in 2007 but while prices took an initial dip, average property values in the town soon returned.

It was a similar story in Cockermouth, Cumbria, which was devastated by floods in November 2009. The deluge brought by Storm Desmond flooded 5,000 homes in Cumbria and Lancashire – but this time the effect on house prices could be much longer lasting, say some agents. Simon Brown, a valuer at one of Carlisle’s oldest estate agents, Tiffen & Co, said he did not expect any houses in the affected roads to sell soon unless they were offered at a large discount. “It had been a decade since the last big floods and prices had pretty much recovered. I’m not saying people had been hoodwinked, but they believed the flood defence work had been carried out and that the properties were safe. Now that it has happened again, I can’t see people being keen to buy in these roads again for a good long time, if ever,” he said.

Brown described how a large Victorian house that would have sold for more than £270,000 a month ago had just been put on the market for £170,000 in its flood-damaged state by an owner who could not face going through the drying for a second time. “Most outsiders to the city would be amazed at the resilience that the residents have shown, and the way that the community has rallied round to help each other,” he said. “However, the people in the worst affected roads look completely snookered. You can always sell a home if the price is cheap enough, but there must be a growing fear that those in the affected streets will never see their pre-flood values ever again.”

Read more …

“It’s almost as if you’re living on some other planet..”

US Midwest Calls In National Guard As Flood Disaster Unfolds

Floods have submerged towns, roads, casinos and shopping malls around the south and midwest for more than three days, prompting governors in Illinois and Iowa to call in the national guard. Sixteen states issued flood warnings covering some eight million people. By Saturday floodwaters had begun to subside in many areas, reopening several important highways, after topping levees in the region late on Friday. But swollen rivers have yet to crest in southern states, alarming governors in Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi. At Dardanelle, Arkansas, the National Weather Service recorded the Arkansas river at 41ft, nine feet above flood stage.

Missouri governor Jay Nixon said the overflow off the Mississippi would overtake the records set by “the great flood of 1993”, which killed 50 people, broke hundreds of levees and caused thousands to flee their homes. Nixon visited Eureka and Cape Girardeau in eastern Missouri, where floodwaters caused widespread damage, and announced the federal government had approved his request to declare an emergency to help with the massive cleanup and recovery operation. The governor described the scale of the flood damage as other worldly. “It’s almost as if you’re living on some other planet,” he said, standing near a growing pile of debris in a park in Eureka, about an hour’s drive west of St Louis on the banks of the Meramec river, which flows into the Mississippi. “This is just a tiny fraction of the trail of destruction,” the governor told reporters.


Missouri Flood 2016 – Cape Girardeau – Jan 1st – Aerial Drone 4K Footage

Read more …

Saudis are trying to provoke warfare, attempting to draw in Iran and Russia.

Iran’s Leader Vows ‘Divine Vengeance’ Over Cleric’s Execution In Saudi (R/AFP)

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has renewed his attack on Saudi Arabia over its execution of a leading Shia cleric, saying that politicians in the Sunni kingdom would face divine retribution for his death. “The unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians,” state TV reported Khamenei as saying on Sunday. It said he described the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as a “political error”. “God will not forgive… it will haunt the politicians of this regime,” he said. Saudi Arabia executed Nimr and three other Shia alongside dozens of alleged al-Qaida members on Saturday, signalling it would not tolerate attacks by either Sunni jihadists or members of the Shia minority seeking equality.

Khamenei added: “This oppressed cleric did not encourage people to join an armed movement, nor did he engage in secret plotting, and he only voiced public criticism … based on religious fervour.” In an apparent swipe at Saudi Arabia’s western allies, Khamenei criticised “the silence of the supposed backers of freedom, democracy and human rights” over the execution. “Why are those who claim to support human rights quiet? Why do those who claim to back freedom and democracy support this (Saudi) government?” Khamenei was quoted as saying. The executions sparked protests around the region with a mob storming the Saudi embassy in Tehran and setting fire to part of the building before they were dospersed by the police. In Bahrain, police tear gas to control a crowd of protesters and there were also demonstrations in India and in London. More protests are expected in Iran and Lebanon on Sunday.

Read more …

“..Iran’s own clerics have already claimed that the beheading will cause the overthrow of the Saudi royal family.”

Expect More Weasel Words Over Saudi Arabia’s Grotesque Butchery (Robert Fisk)

Saudi Arabia’s binge of head-choppings – 47 in all, including the learned Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, followed by a Koranic justification for the executions – was worthy of Isis. Perhaps that was the point. For this extraordinary bloodbath in the land of the Sunni Muslim al-Saud monarchy – clearly intended to infuriate the Iranians and the entire Shia world – re-sectarianised a religious conflict which Isis has itself done so much to promote. All that was missing was the video of the decapitations – although the Kingdom’s 158 beheadings last year were perfectly in tune with the Wahabi teachings of the ‘Islamic State’. Macbeth’s ‘blood will have blood’ certainly applies to the Saudis, whose ‘war on terror’, it seems, now justifies any amount of blood, both Sunni and Shia.

But how often do the angels of God the Most Merciful appear to the present Saudi interior minister, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef? For Sheikh Nimr was not just any old divine. He spent years as a scholar in Tehran and Syria, was a revered Shia leader of Friday prayers in the Saudi Eastern Province, and a man who stayed clear of political parties but demanded free elections, and was regularly detained and tortured – by his own account – for opposing the Sunni Wahabi Saudi government. Sheikh Nimr said that words were more powerful than violence. The authorities’ whimsical suggestion that there was nothing sectarian about this most recent bloodbath – on the grounds that they beheaded Sunnis as well as Shias – was classic Isis rhetoric. After all, Isis cuts the heads of Sunni ‘apostates’ and Sunni Syrian and Iraqi soldiers just as readily as it slaughters Shias.

Sheikh Nimr would have got precisely the same treatment from the thugs of the ‘Islamic State’ as he got from the Saudis – though without the mockery of a pseudo-legal trial which Sheikh Nimr was afforded and of which Amnesty complained. But the killings represent far more than just Saudi hatred for a cleric who rejoiced at the death of the former Saudi interior minister – Mohamed bin Nayef’s father, Crown Prince Nayef Abdul-Aziz al-Saud – with the hope that he would be “eaten by worms and will suffer the torments of hell in his grave”. Nimr’s execution will reinvigorate the Houthi rebellion in Yemen, which the Saudis invaded and bombed this year in an attempt to destroy Shia power there. It has enraged the Shia majority in Sunni-rules Bahrain. And Iran’s own clerics have already claimed that the beheading will cause the overthrow of the Saudi royal family.

Read more …

What will America do if millions want to move?

Cuba Santeria Priests See Explosive Migration, Social Unrest In 2016 (Reuters)

Priests offering New Year’s prophecies from Cuba’s Afro-Cuban religion forecast an explosion in migration and social unrest worldwide in 2016. Many on the Caribbean island eagerly wait for guidance from the Santeria religion’s annual forecast. Santeria, with roots in West African tradition brought to Cuba by slaves, is practiced by millions of Cubans. This year, the island’s official association of priests, known as babalawos, predicted an “explosion” of migration and “social unrest provoked by desperation.” The yearly reading is for Cuba and the world at large, but the babalawos did not state which predictions, if any, apply to Cuba specifically.

“The predictions of Ifa (divination system) warn world leaders that if no action is taken, we may lead our people to a massive migration provoked by different things, desperation among them,” priest Lazaro Cuesta told a news conference in Havana. The flow of migrants from the Communist-ruled island jumped by about 80 percent last year as the process of detente between Washington and Havana, announced in December 2014, stirred fears that preferential U.S. asylum rights for Cubans may soon end. Cuesta said war, economic hardship, political conflict and terrorism are sparking worldwide migration. He did not give specifics about the priests’ social unrest prediction, but offered a metaphor: “When you are in your room and it’s really hot, desperation makes you run out of the room. If we give you an air conditioner, you stay put.”

“I can be living in a hot room and I don’t leave running because it’s my room,” Cuesta said. “I’m living alongside everyone else in Cuba, and I’m not leaving.” Based on this year’s forecast, the babalawos recommend “establishing favorable accords with respect to migration policy,” and “reaching a balance between salaries and the high cost of basic necessities.” Earlier this week, Cuban President Raul Castro told the National Assembly, the country’s single-chamber parliament, that an economic slowdown is expected in 2016. Food prices have increased more than 50 percent on the island over the last four years, according to official media. The average salary throughout the island is less than $30 a month. “A person who economically considers himself incapable of living in the place where he is is going to look for a better future somewhere else,” said Cuesta.

Read more …

More shame on Britain.

Refugees At UK Military Base In Cyprus Trapped In Asylum ‘Limbo’ (Guardian)

The British government has been accused of being “deceitful” and dodging its legal responsibilities to a group of refugees whose failing boats washed ashore in a British military zone on Cyprus late last year. The Ministry of Defence has stated that the 114 people who came ashore are the responsibility of Cyprus and, according to the refugees, has said they will be sent to Lebanon, from where their boats set sail, if they do not seek asylum with Cypriot authorities. However, human rights groups say Britain is shirking its legal responsibilities – fearful that the route could be seen as a “back door” to Britain – and coercing people into staying put while paying Cyprus to house and feed them. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said a 2003 UK-Cyprus memorandum made it clear that “asylum seekers arriving directly on to the SBA [sovereign base area] are the responsibility of the UK”.

Ibrahim Maarouf, a Palestinian English teacher who fled first from Syria and then from a refugee camp in Lebanon with his wife and two children, said he felt utter despair about his future. “We are being fed and we have a room with a common toilet we share with 15 families,” he told the Observer. “It’s very humiliating to be stuck here and the days are passing and no one will say anything to us. We are without hope. We had had enough of suffering, we wanted to go to Greece, and my aim was to go to Belgium to find work and a new life, but the boat couldn’t handle this trip, so we landed here by mistake. “Cyprus is a poor country, with no work already for people here. We are told we have to apply for asylum here or be sent back. One sick woman was told she could see a doctor, but only if she first agreed that she would seek asylum in Cyprus.

“If I had died under Isis bombs, that was my fate. If I had died in Lebanon, that was my fate. But I would like a chance to have a life. I would ask David Cameron, ‘Don’t make a lesson of me’.” The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said in November that the situation had been resolved, as Cyprus had agreed to take the refugees, but that has been denied by lawyers working for the families. Tessa Gregory of the firm Leigh Day, who is acting for several of the families and individuals involved, said there was a “clear breach” of British obligations towards the migrants, who had made land on what was technically British soil, and it was wrong to delegate their fate to Cyprus.

Read more …

The year starts off with the same indescribable sadness that the previous one ended with. Europe will NOT be able to shake this off or live it down.

Drowned Toddler Becomes Europe’s First Refugee Casualty Of 2016 (AFP)

A drowned two-year-old boy has became the first known refugee casualty of the year after the crowded dinghy he was travelling in slammed into rocks off Greece’s Agathonisi island. The other 39 passengers, including a woman who had fallen overboard, were rescued after local fishermen raised the alarm. Ten of the survivors were taken to hospital to be treated for hypothermia. The rubber vessel had set off from Turkey in the early morning in windy weather. The charity Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), which helps save migrants and refugees at sea, deployed its fast-rescue Responder boat to help bring the stranded passengers to safety in a joint operation with the Hellenic coastguard. The toddler’s body was pulled out of the water by fishermen, according to the coastguard.

The refugees, including the child’s mother, were taken to the port of Pythagorio on Samos, the nearest island, which is 50km away. There was no immediate information about their nationalities. “Nothing can prepare you for the horrific reality of what is going on. Today we came face to face with one of the youngest victims of this ongoing refugee crisis. It is a tragic reminder of the thousands of people who have died trying to reach safety in miserable conditions,” said MOAS founder Christopher Catrambone in a statement. Despite the cold and choppy winter waters, large numbers of migrants and refugees are still setting sail from Turkey to make the hazardous journey across the Aegean in the hope of reaching Greece.

Read more …

Dec 292015
 
 December 29, 2015  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


DPC Sloss City furnaces, Birmingham, Alabama 1906

Weak Demand, Vessel Surplus Mean Horror 2016 For Commodities Shipping (Reuters)
Energy Stocks Fall Along With Oil Prices (WSJ)
Saudi Riyal In Danger As Oil War Escalates (AEP)
Saudis Plan Unprecedented Subsidy Cuts to Counter Oil Plunge (BBG)
Saudi Arabia Plans Subsidy Cuts as King Unveils 2016 Budget (BBG)
Where Next For The Three Arrows Of Abenomics? (Telegraph)
Record Merger Boom Won’t Stop In 2016, Because Money Is Still Cheap (Forbes)
China Control Freaks (BBG)
China Clamps Down on Online Lenders, Vows to Cleanse Market (BBG)
China Central Bank Says To Keep Reasonable Credit Growth, Yuan Stable (Reuters)
Cost Of UK Floods Tops £5 Billion, Thousands Face Financial Ruin (Guardian)
UK Factories Forecast To Shed Tens Of Thousands Of Jobs In 2016 (Guardian)
Questions and Answers (Jim Kunstler)
Qatari Royals Rush To Switzerland In Nine Planes After Emir Breaks Leg (AFP)
Freak Storm In Atlantic To Push Arctic Temps Over 50º Above Normal (WaPo)
German States To Spend At Least €17 Billion On Refugees In 2016 (Reuters)
Schaeuble Slams Greece Over Refugee Crisis, Aims For Joint EU Army (Reuters)
Selfishness On Refugees Has Brought EU ‘To Its Knees’ (IT)
Refugee Arrivals In Greece Rise More Than Tenfold In A Year (Kath.)

Forward looking.

Weak Demand, Vessel Surplus Mean Horror 2016 For Commodities Shipping (Reuters)

Shipping companies that transport commodities such as coal, iron ore and grain face a painful year ahead, with only the strongest expected to weather a deepening crisis caused by tepid demand and a surplus of vessels for hire. The predicament facing firms that ship commodities in large unpackaged amounts – known as dry bulk – is partly the result of slower coal and iron ore demand from leading global importer China in the second half of 2015. The Baltic Exchange’s main sea freight index – which tracks rates for ships carrying dry bulk commodities – plunged to an all-time low this month. In stark contrast, however, tankers that transport oil have in recent months enjoyed their best earnings in years. As crude prices have plummeted, bargain-buying has driven up demand, while owners have moved more aggressively to scrap vessels to head off the kind of surplus seen in the dry bulk market.

Symeon Pariaros, chief administrative officer of Athens-run and New York-listed shipping firm Euroseas, said the outlook for the dry bulk market was “very challenging”. “Demand fundamentals are so weak. The Chinese economy, which is the main driver of dry bulk, is way below expectations,” he added. “Only companies with very strong balance sheets will get through this storm.” The dry bulk shipping downturn began in 2008, after the onset of the financial crisis, and has worsened significantly this year as the Chinese economy has slowed. The Baltic Exchange’s main BDI index – which gauges the cost of shipping such commodities, also including cement and fertiliser – is more than 95% down from a record high hit in 2008. The index is often regarded as a forward-looking economic indicator. With about 90% of the world’s traded goods by volume transported by sea, global investors look to the BDI for any signs of changes in sentiment for industrial demand.

Read more …

Very thin trading.

Energy Stocks Fall Along With Oil Prices (WSJ)

A fresh selloff in the oil market weighed down U.S. stocks, with energy shares posting sharp losses. Major U.S. indexes pared their steepest declines but still ended the day in negative territory, returning some of last week’s gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 23.90 points, or 0.1%, to 17528.27, after falling as much as 115 points intraday. The S&P 500 index fell 4.49, or 0.2%, to 2056.50. The Nasdaq Composite Index declined 7.51, or 0.1%, to 5040.99. Just 4.8 billion shares changed hands Monday, marking the lowest full day of U.S. trading volume this year, in a holiday-shortened week. Markets in London and Australia were closed Monday for Boxing Day. The U.S. stock market will be closed Friday for New Year’s Day. Energy stocks notched some of the steepest declines across the market. Chevron posted the heaviest loss among Dow components, falling $1.69, or 1.8%, to $90.36.

Marathon Oil shed 95 cents, or 6.8%, to 12.98. “We’re just following the price of oil,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at brokerage First Standard Financial. December has been marked by unusually wide swings in U.S. stocks. A long-awaited interest-rate increase by the Federal Reserve earlier in the month has failed to quiet the recent volatility. A respite from the decline in oil prices last week helped lure investors into the energy sector. U.S. stocks last week posted their biggest weekly gains in more than a month, driven by the energy sector. But both oil prices and energy stocks remain sharply lower this year, even with last week’s rally. A global glut of crude oil has contributed to a 30% fall in U.S. oil prices this year. On Monday, U.S. crude prices fell 3.4% to $36.81 a barrel. Energy stocks in the S&P 500 are down 23% so far in 2015, while the S&P 500 is on track for a loss of 0.1%.

Read more …

if the dollar stays strong, the peg is history.

Saudi Riyal In Danger As Oil War Escalates (AEP)

Saudi Arabia is burning through foreign reserves at an unsustainable rate and may be forced to give up its prized dollar exchange peg as the oil slump drags on, the country’s former reserve chief has warned. “If anything happens to the riyal exchange peg, the consequences will be dramatic. There will be a serious loss of confidence,” said Khalid Alsweilem, the former head of asset management at the Saudi central bank (SAMA). “But if the reserves keep going down as they are now, they will not be able to keep the peg,” he told The Telegraph. His warning came as the Saudi finance ministry revealed that the country’s deficit leapt to 367bn riyals (£66bn) this year, up from 54bn riyals the previous year. The IMF has suggested Saudia Arabia could be running a deficit of around $140bn.

Remittances by foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are draining a further $36bn a year, and capital outflows were picking up even before the oil price crash. Bank of America estimates that the deficit could rise to nearer $180bn if oil prices settle near $30 a barrel, testing the riyal peg to breaking point. Dr Alsweilem said the country does not have deep enough pockets to wage a long war of attrition in the global crude markets, whatever the superficial appearances. Concern has become acute after 12-month forward contracts on the Saudi Riyal reached 730 basis points over recent days, the highest since the worst days of last oil crisis in February 1999. The contracts are watched closely by traders for signs of currency stress. The latest spike suggests that the riyal is under concerted attack by hedge funds and speculators in the region, risking a surge of capital flight.

A string of oil states have had to abandon their currency pegs over recent weeks. The Azerbaijani manat crashed by a third last Monday after the authorities finally admitted defeat. The dollar peg has been the anchor of Saudi economic policy and credibility for over three decades. A forced devaluation would heighten fears that the crisis is spinning out of political control, further enflaming disputes within the royal family. Foreign reserves and assets have fallen to $647bn from a peak of $746bn in August 2014, but headline figures often mean little in the complex world of central bank finances and derivative contracts. Dr Alsweilem, now at Harvard University, said the Saudi authorities have taken a big gamble by flooding the world with oil to gain market share and drive out rivals. “The thinking that lower oil prices will bring down the US oil industry is just nonsense and will not work.”

The policy is contentious even within the Saudi royal family. Optimists hope that this episode will be a repeat of the mid-1980s when the kingdom pursued the same strategy and succeeded in curbing non-OPEC investment, and preperaring the ground for recovery in prices. But the current situation is sui generis. The shale revolution has turned the US into a mid-cost swing producer, able to keep drilling at $50bn a barrel, according to the latest OPEC report. US shale frackers can switch output on and off relatively quickly, acting as a future headwind against price rises.

Read more …

End of free money.

Saudis Plan Unprecedented Subsidy Cuts to Counter Oil Plunge (BBG)

Confronting a drop in oil prices and mounting regional turmoil, Saudi Arabia reduced energy subsidies and allocated the biggest part of government spending in next year’s budget to defense and security. Authorities announced increases to the prices of fuel, electricity and water as part of a plan to restructure subsidies within five years. The government intends to cut spending next year and gradually privatize some state-owned entities and introduce value-added taxation as well as a levy on tobacco. The biggest shake-up of Saudi economic policy in recent history coincides with growing regional unrest, including a war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling pro-Iranian Shiite rebels.

In attempting to reduce its reliance on oil, the kingdom is seeking to put an end to the population’s dependence on government handouts, a move that political analysts had considered risky after the 2011 revolts that swept parts of the Middle East. “This is the beginning of the end of the era of free money,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based consulting firm Cornerstone Global Associates. “Saudi society will have to get used to a new way of working with the government. This is a wake-up call for both Saudi society and the government that things are changing.” This is the first budget under King Salman, who ascended to the throne in January, and for an economic council dominated by his increasingly powerful son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In its first months in power, the new administration brought swift change to the traditionally slow-moving kingdom, overhauling the cabinet, merging ministries and realigning the royal succession. The new measures are the beginning of a “big program that the economic council will launch,” Economy and Planning Minister Adel Fakeih told reporters in Riyadh. The subsidy cuts won’t have a “large effect” on people with low or middle income, he said.

Read more …

Immediate danger for House of Saud.

Saudi Arabia Plans Subsidy Cuts as King Unveils 2016 Budget (BBG)

Saudi Arabia said it plans to gradually cut subsidies and sell stakes in government entities as it seeks to counter a slump in oil revenue. The government expects the 2016 budget deficit to narrow to 326 billion riyals ($87 billion) from 367 billion in 2015. Spending, which reached 975 billion riyals this year, is projected to drop to 840 billion. Revenue is forecast to decline to 513.8 billion riyals from 608 billion riyals. The budget is the first under King Salman, who ascended to the throne in January, and an economic council dominated by his increasingly powerful son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The collapse in oil prices has slashed government revenue, forcing officials to draw on reserves and issue bonds for the first time in nearly a decade.

“The budget was approved amid challenging economic and financial circumstances in the region and the world,” the Finance Ministry said. “The deficit will be financed through a plan that considers the best available options, including domestic and external borrowing.” The 2015 deficit is about 16% of GDP, according to Alp Eke, senior economist at National Bank of Abu Dhabi. The median estimate of 10 economists in a Bloomberg survey was a shortfall of 20%. Oil made up 73% of this year’s revenue, according to the Finance Ministry. Non-oil income rose 29% to 163.5 billion riyals. The government has managed to reign in “some spending in the second half of the year,” Monica Malik at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank said. “With the further fiscal retrenchment that we expect in 2016, we think that the fiscal deficit should narrow to about 10.8% of GDP.”

For 2016, the government allocated 213 billion riyals for military and security spending, the largest component of the budget as the kingdom fights a war in Yemen against Shiite rebels. “In terms of defense expenditure in particular there’s the burden of the war in Yemen,” Nasser Saidi, president of Nasser Saidi & Associates, said by phone. The outcome for 2016 depends on “the course of the war in Yemen, oil prices, how much will subsidies actually get reduced, how effective are they in reigning in public spending and rationalizing some of the spending on large projects, and finally how good are they at reigning in current spending,” he said.

Read more …

” Japan’s debt pile is huge, at around 240pc of GDP, and the OECD warned this year that it could balloon to 400pc of GDP..”

Where Next For The Three Arrows Of Abenomics? (Telegraph)

The last sales tax increase threw the world’s third largest economy into recession. For this reason, things may start getting more complicated at the checkout. Policymakers announced last week that they plan to exempt food from the next hike. This would be the first time Japan has adopted different consumption tax rates since it was introduced in 1989. The government estimates this will cost about one trillion yen (£5.5bn) in lost revenues – equivalent to about a fifth of what it expects the increase to bring in. While cynics highlight the move as a ploy to win votes ahead of next year’s upper house elections, it is also a reminder that steering Japan out of its two-decade malaise remains a challenge. It’s been three years since prime minister Shinzo Abe took power with a promise to smash deflation and “take back Japan”.

Under the stewardship of Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, the country launched a multi trillion yen quantitative easing programme in 2013 that was beefed up to ¥80 trillion (£446bn) annually last October. Pessimists argue that Japan’s monetary steroids have had little impact. As economists at BNP Paribas highlight, real GDP has grown by just 2.2pc between the fourth quarter of 2012 and the third quarter of this year – or an average of just 0.8pc per year – a poor performance compared with its G7 peers. Japan’s recovery has been lacklustre since the 2008 crisis, and the economy would currently be in a quintuple-dip recession if growth for the third quarter of 2015 had not been revised up this month. This month, the Bank of Japan revised down its growth forecast for the year ending next March to 1.2pc, from 1.7pc, citing weaker global growth.

It also pushed back its expectation of achieving 2pc inflation to the second half of the year or early 2017, from a previous forecast of mid-2016. This is the second time the target date has been moved since Mr Kuroda pledged in April 2013 to lift consumer inflation to 2pc in “around two years”. Policymakers are already talking down their chances of reflating the economy. Consumer prices rose by just 0.3pc in the year to October, while core inflation, which strips out the impact of volatile food and energy prices, stood at 0.7pc. “If consumer prices were rising more than 1.5pc then I don’t think you could complain when talking about the price target,” said Akira Amari, Japan’s economy minister.

On a brighter note, nominal GDP, or the cash size of the economy, has risen at a more robust pace. This is important because nominal GDP determines a country’s ability to pay down its debt, most of which is fixed in cash terms. Japan’s debt pile is huge, at around 240pc of GDP, and the OECD warned this year that it could balloon to 400pc of GDP unless policymakers implemented vital structural reforms.

Read more …

M&A as a means to hide one’s indebtedness.

Record Merger Boom Won’t Stop In 2016, Because Money Is Still Cheap (Forbes)

It was a year for the record books when it comes to merger and acquisition activity. Nearly $5 trillion in deals were cut globally, a new all-time high, as dealmakers used consolidation to uncover cost cuts, bolster their scale and take advantage of historically low borrowing costs. Though 2016 may be a tougher year if emerging market growth slows further and the impact of a sharp rout in commodities hits North America, few expect today’s merger boom to slow. After all, most of the reasons M&A climbed from $3 trillion to $4 trillion and now a rounding error below $5 trillion remain. Corporations are using cheap debt financing to buy competitors and wrench out synergies that can quickly grow their earnings. Amid a mostly halting economic recovery in the United States, M&A has proven far more attractive and easy to pitch to investors than an expansion, which might require increased plant and equipment and rising expenses.

For the nation’s largest companies, there’s also been a race to increase market power, or respond to consolidation among competitors. In pharmaceuticals, these trends have manifest themselves in the race to merge with European-domiciled drugmakers who can access cash stockpiles without triggering repatriation tax and aren’t charged at U.S. rates globally. This has spurred a pharma merger wave that hit new records in 2015 and it isn’t expected to slow anytime soon. In technology, mergers are yet to hinge on tax savings. Instead, semiconductors facing tectonic shifts such as the adoption wireless devices and cloud computing are merging in an effort to round out their services. Consolidation in cable and telecommunications is being used to adapt to the commoditization of once lucrative services like video and data bundles.

The combination of overlapping wireless and broadband networks is also seen as an efficient way to build the infrastructure that’s needed to serve consumers’ shift to streaming media. Spongy financing markets have aided the M&A boom. Low economic growth, modest inflation and weak pricing power are all causing CEOs to look at engineering profits through share buybacks and mergers. Meanwhile, activist shareholders are putting pressure on C-Suites to provide a clear plan on how they reinvest profits. Bold bets have to be justified with credible return expectations and these days it seems the returns by way of M&A, not capital expenditure or expansion.

Read more …

Casino control.

China Control Freaks (BBG)

Can authorities in China really take a back seat? In the midst of a bull market (stocks are up more than 20% from their August lows), Beijing appears to be handing control over to companies for all new initial public offerings from March onward. The shift toward a more U.S.-style disclosure system, where any company can list so long as they provide the requisite information, has been a long time coming. In a more market-oriented system, the regulator concentrates on supervising publicly traded firms rather than acting as a gatekeeper. Such a system would give China’s cash-strapped corporates a funding alternative to shadow banks and online peer-to-peer lenders, and help clear a logjam of almost 700 companies waiting to sell shares for the first time. The question is, can Beijing truly stop its tinkering?

According to KPMG, China has imposed moratoriums on IPOs nine times in the A-share market’s relatively short 25-year history – four of those in the last decade during periods when things were heading south. The most recent halt, enforced in July after several blockbuster share sales and some stomach-churning stock declines, ended only last month when a government-engineered rally revived the market.Even when IPOs have been approved, social policy dominates. A few years ago, when China was trying to cool its then-heady real estate sector and rein in burgeoning bad loans, no developer or city commercial bank would have stood a chance getting listing approval. Instead, some went to Hong Kong to raise funds. The conundrum for the China Securities Regulatory Commission is that letting any (qualified) company sell shares would result in a glut and damp appetite for the state-owned firms that dominate the market.

However, rationing admittance to the IPO market means bureaucrats rather than investors are making the decisions, and has resulted in an insatiable demand for new stock. An even bigger challenge for the CSRC, whose seven-member listing committee currently vets IPO applications, is managing investor expectations. In a nation where investment options tend to be limited to volatile wealth management products, equally choppy real estate or low-yielding bank accounts, people have little recourse for their some $22 trillion in savings beyond stocks. That explains why retail investors own about 80% of publicly traded companies’ tradeable shares unlike the U.S., where institutional investors dominate. Such a prevalence of individuals, who don’t have class action lawsuits to fall back on in cases of corporate malfeasance, also makes for a stock market more akin to a casino than a funding tool.

Read more …

Shadow banking clamp down.

China Clamps Down on Online Lenders, Vows to Cleanse Market (BBG)

China’s banking regulator laid out planned restrictions on thousands of online peer-to-peer lenders, pledging to “cleanse the market” as failed platforms and suspected frauds highlight risks within a booming industry. Online platforms shouldn’t take deposits from the public, pool investors’ money, or guarantee returns, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said on Monday, publishing a draft rule that will be its first for the industry. The thrust of the CBRC’s approach is that the platforms are intermediaries – matchmakers between borrowers and lenders – that shouldn’t themselves raise or lend money. It rules out P2P sites distributing wealth-management products, a tactic that some hoped would diversify their revenue sources, and limits their use for crowdfunding.

“The rule is quite strict,” Shanghai-based Maizi Financial Services, which operates a P2P site and other investment platforms, said in a statement. “The industry’s hope of upgrading itself with wealth management products and adopting a diversified business model is completely dashed.” The banking regulator issued its plan at the same time as the central bank put out a rule to tighten oversight of online-payment firms. The looming clampdown – the regulator asked for feedback by Jan. 27 – comes as the police probe Ezubo, an online site that raised billions of dollars from investors according to Yingcan Group, a company which provides industry data. It also follows a stock boom and bust that was fueled by leverage, including some channeled through online lenders.

China had 2,612 online lending platforms operating normally as of November, with more than 400 billion yuan ($61.7 billion) of loans outstanding, while another 1,000 were “problematic,” the CBRC said. Firms such as Tiger Global Management, Standard Chartered and Sequoia Capital are among those to invest in the industry, which China initially allowed to develop without regulation. Under the planned rule, P2P platforms will need to register with local financial regulators and cannot help borrowers who want to raise money to invest in the stock market. They’re banned from crowdfunding “for equities and physical items,” a description that wasn’t clarified in the CBRC statement. “Many online lenders have strayed from the role of information intermediary,” the CBRC said in a separate statement, adding that it wanted to protect consumers and “cleanse the market.”

Read more …

Control clowns: “..a goal of doubling GDP and per capita income by 2020 from 2010..”

China Central Bank Says To Keep Reasonable Credit Growth, Yuan Stable (Reuters)

China’s central bank said on Monday that it would “flexibly” use various policy tools to maintain appropriate liquidity and reasonable growth in credit and social financing. The People’s Bank of China will keep the yuan basically stable while forging ahead with reforms to help improve its currency regime, it said in a statement summarizing the fourth-quarter monetary policy committee meeting. The PBOC said it would maintain a prudent monetary policy, keeping its stance “neither too tight nor too loose”. The prudent policy has been in place since 2011. “We will improve and optimize financing and credit structures, increase the proportion of direct financing and reduce financing costs,” it said. The central bank said it would closely watch changes in China’s economy and financial markets, as well as international capital flows.

Top leaders at the annual Central Economic Work Conference pledged to make China’s monetary policy more flexible and expand its budget deficit in 2016 to support a slowing economy as they seek to push forward “supply-side reform”. The PBOC has cut interest rates six times since November 2014 and lowered banks’ reserve requirements, or the amount of cash that banks must set aside as reserves. But such policy steps have yielded limited impact on the economy, as the government has been struggling to reach its growth target of about 7% this year. President Xi Jinping has said China must keep annual average growth of no less than 6.5% over the next five years to hit a goal of doubling GDP and per capita income by 2020 from 2010.

Read more …

Betcha Cameron is more concerned right now with London’s flood control than Lancashire’s.

Cost Of UK Floods Tops £5 Billion, Thousands Face Financial Ruin (Guardian)

The cost of the UK’s winter floods will top £5bn and thousands of families and businesses will face financial ruin because they have inadequate or non-existent insurance, a leading accountant has warned, as the government defended its record on flood defences. The prime minister faced growing anger from politicians in the north of England who accused the government of creating “a north-south gap” in financial support for flood-prevention schemes. On a tour of the region, David Cameron defended spending levels amid mounting criticism from MPs and council leaders. “We are spending more in this parliament than the last one and in the last parliament we spent more than the one before that,” he said during a stop in York.

“I think with any of these events we have to look at what we are planning to spend and think: ‘Do we need to do more?’ We are going to spend £2.3bn on flood defences in this parliament but we will look at what’s happened here and see what needs to be done. We have to look at what’s happened in terms of the flooding, what flood defences have worked and the places where they haven’t worked well enough.” But Judith Blake, leader of Leeds city council, said a flood prevention scheme for the city was ditched by the government in 2011, and warned that there was “a very strong feeling” across the region that the north was being short-changed.

“I think there’s a real anger growing across the north about the fact that the cuts have been made to the flood defences and we’ll be having those conversations as soon as we are sure that people are safe and that we start the clean-up process and really begin the assess the scale of the damage. “So there are some very serious questions for government to answer on this and we’ll be putting as much pressure on as possible to redress the balance and get the funding situation equalised so the north get its fair share.” Labour MP Ivan Lewis, meanwhile, challenged Cameron to back up his vision of the Northern Powerhouse by sending immediate help to residents and businesses in his Bury South constituency.

[..] On Monday, as the waters receded in the worst hit areas, residents began to face up the scale of the damage. In York telephone lines and internet connections were down and some cash machines were not working. Many of the bars and shops that were open were only taking cash. In Hebden Bridge in Calderdale, volunteers spent the day clearing out schools, shops and homes that had been overwhelmed by filthy floodwater – a scene repeated in scores of towns and cities across the region. Forecasters warned another storm – Storm Frank – is expected to bring more rain to the west and north of the UK on Wednesday. It is feared that up to 80mm (3in) will fall on high ground and as much as 120mm (4.7in) in exposed locations, accompanied by gale force winds..

Read more …

Oh yeah, an economy others are jealous of.

UK Factories Forecast To Shed Tens Of Thousands Of Jobs In 2016 (Guardian)

British manufacturers will shed tens of thousands of jobs next year as they battle a tough export market, the fallout from steel plant closures and a collapse in demand from the embattled North Sea oil industry, an industry group has forecast. The manufacturers’ organisation EEF said the factory sector will shrug off this year’s recession and eke out modest growth in 2016 but it warned a number of risks loom on the horizon, chief among them a sharper downturn in China that could trigger a global slump. A cautious mood has prompted many firms to plan cuts to both jobs and investment in a further blow to George Osborne, after the latest official figures showed UK economic growth had faltered and that his “march of the makers” vow had failed to translate into a manufacturing revival.

EEF said its latest snapshot of manufacturers’ mood shows some bright spots for 2016, however, particularly in the car, aerospace and pharmaceutical sub-sectors. They will be the main drivers behind overall manufacturing growth of 0.8% in 2016, following an expected 0.1% contraction this year. Those sub-sectors will also buck the wider manufacturing trend of job cuts with an employment increase in 2016, EEF predicts. “Some of the headwinds have been a consistent theme over 2015 – the collapse in oil and gas activity, weakness in key export markets, and strong sterling. Others, like disappointing construction activity and the breakdown in the steel industry, have piled on the pain since the second quarter of 2015,” said EEF’s chief economist, Lee Hopley, in the report. “It’s not all doom and gloom however, with the resilience of the transport sectors and the rejuvenation of the pharmaceuticals industry providing reasons for cheer in UK manufacturing.”

Read more …

“..it would require dedication to clear goals and the hard work of altering all our current arrangements – and giving up these childish fantasy distractions about space and technology.”

Questions and Answers (Jim Kunstler)

The really big item in last night’s 60-Minutes newsbreak was that the latest Star Wars movie passed the billion dollar profit gate a week after release. That says just about everything you need to know about our floundering society, including the state of the legacy news media. The cherry on top last week was Elon Musk’s SpaceX company’s feat landing the first spent stage of its Falcon 9 rocket to be (theoretically) recycled and thus hugely lowering the cost of firing things into space. The media spooged all over itself on that one, since behind this feat stands Mr. Musk’s heroic quest to land humans on Mars. This culture has lost a lot in the past 40 years, but among the least recognized is the loss of its critical faculties. We’ve become a nation of six-year-olds.

News flash: we’re not going Mars. Notwithstanding the accolades for Ridley Scott’s neatly-rationalized fantasy, The Martian (based on Andy Weir’s novel), any human journey to the red planet would be a one-way trip. Anyway, all that begs the question: why are we so eager to journey to a dead planet with none of the elements necessary for human life when we can’t seem to manage human life on a planet superbly equipped to support us? Answer: because we are lost in raptures of techno-narcissism. What do I mean by that? We’re convinced that all the unanticipated consequences of our brief techno-industrial orgy can be solved by… more and better technology! Notice that this narrative is being served up to a society now held hostage to the images on little screens, by skilled people who, more and more, act as though these screens have become the new dwelling place of reality.

How psychotic is that? All of this grandstanding about the glories of space goes on at the expense of paying attention to our troubles on this planet, including the existential question as to how badly we are fucking it up with burning the fossil fuels that power our techno-industrial activities. Personally, I don’t believe that any international accord will work to mitigate that quandary. But what will work, and what I fully expect, is a financial breakdown that will lead to a forced re-set of human endeavor at a lower scale of technological activity. The additional question really is how much hardship will that transition entail and the answer is that there is plenty within our power to make that journey less harsh.

But it would require dedication to clear goals and the hard work of altering all our current arrangements – and giving up these childish fantasy distractions about space and technology. Dreaming about rockets to Mars is easy compared to, say, transitioning our futureless Agri-Biz racket to other methods of agriculture that don’t destroy soils, water tables, ecosystems, and bodies. It’s easier than rearranging our lives on the landscape so we’re not hostage to motoring everywhere for everything. It’s easier than educating people to both think and develop real hands-on skills not dependent on complex machines and electric-powered devices.

Read more …

Wild theories welcome.

Qatari Royals Rush To Switzerland In Nine Planes After Emir Breaks Leg (AFP)

Unidentified individuals travelling in as many as nine planes belonging to Qatar’s royal family made an emergency trip to Switzerland over the weekend for medical reasons, according to a Swiss official. A spokesman for Switzerland’s federal office of civil aviation confirmed local media reports that multiple aircraft made unscheduled landings at the Zurich-Kloten airport overnight from 25 to 26 December and that the planes were part of the Qatari royal fleet. He gave no details as to who was on board or who any of the potential patients may have been. “The emergency landing clearance was given by the Swiss air force,” he told AFP, explaining that the civil aviation office was closed during the hours in question.

Qatari authorities later said that the country’s former ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, had been flown to Switzerland over the weekend for surgery after breaking a leg. The Qatari government’s communications office said early on Tuesday that Sheihk Hamad suffered “a broken leg while on holiday” and was flown to Zurich on Saturday to receive treatment. The office says the 63-year-old sheikh underwent a successful operation and was in Zurich “recovering and undergoing physiotherapy.” The government declined to say how or where Sheikh Hamad broke his leg but the royal family had reportedly been on holiday in Morocco at a resort in the Atlas mountains. Night landings and takeoffs are typically forbidden at Zurich-Kloten to avoid disturbing local residents.

Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Georg Farago told AFP in an email that the federation was informed about the “stay of members of Qatar’s royal family in Switzerland”, without giving further details. According to Zurich’s Tages Anzeiger newspaper, the first Qatari plane, an Airbus, landed in Zurich from Marrakesh shortly after midnight on 26 December. A second flight landed at Zurich-Kloten at 5am (0400 GMT) on 26 December, with a third plane coming 15 minutes later, both having originated in Doha, the paper reported. According to Tages Anzeiger, the medical emergency in question was so significant that six more planes linked to the Qatari royal family and government landed in Zurich through the weekend. Sheikh Hamad is believed to have been in poor health for years. He ruled the oil-and-gas-rich Qatar from 1995 until handing over power to his son, Sheikh Tamim, in 2013.

Read more …

“It’s as if a bomb went off. And, in fact, it did.”

Freak Storm In Atlantic To Push Arctic Temps Over 50º Above Normal (WaPo)

The vigorous low pressure system that helped spawn devastating tornadoes in the Dallas area on Saturday is forecast to explode into a monstrous storm over Iceland by Wednesday. Big Icelandic storms are common in winter, but this one may rank among the strongest and will draw northward an incredible surge of warmth pushing temperatures at the North Pole over 50 degrees above normal. This is mind-boggling. And the storm will batter the United Kingdom, reeling from recent flooding, with another round of rain and wind. Computer model simulations show the storm, sweeping across the north central Atlantic today, rapidly intensifying along a jet stream ripping above the ocean at 230 mph. The storm’s pressure is forecast by the GFS model to plummet more than 50 millibars in 24 hours between Monday night and Tuesday night, easily meeting the criteria of a ‘bomb cyclone’ (a drop in pressure of at least 24 mb in 24 hours),

By Wednesday morning, when the storm reaches Iceland and nears maximum strength, its minimum pressure is forecast to be near 923 mb, which would rank among the great storms of the North Atlantic. (Note: there is some uncertainty as to how much it will intensify. The European model only drops the minimum pressure to around 936 mb, which is strong but not that unusual). Winds of hurricane force are likely to span hundreds of miles in the North Atlantic. Environmental blogger Robert Scribbler notes this storm will be linked within a “daisy chain” of two other powerful North Atlantic low pressure systems forming a “truly extreme storm system.” He adds: “The Icelandic coast and near off-shore regions are expected to see heavy precipitation hurled over the island by 90 to 100 mile per hour or stronger winds raging out of 35-40 foot seas. Meanwhile, the UK will find itself in the grips of an extraordinarily strong southerly gale running over the backs of 30 foot swells.”

[..] Ahead of the storm, the surge of warm air making a beeline towards the North Pole is astonishing. [..] It’s as if a bomb went off. And, in fact, it did. The exploding storm acts a remarkably efficient heat engine, drawing warm air from the tropics to the top of the Earth. The GFS model projects the temperature at the North Pole to reach near freezing or 32 degrees early Wednesday. Consider the average winter temperature there is around 20 degrees below zero. If the temperature rises to freezing, it would signify a departure from normal of over 50 degrees.

Read more …

Hope some of that goes toward giving them jobs.

German States To Spend At Least €17 Billion On Refugees In 2016 (Reuters)

Germany’s federal states are planning to spend around €17 billion on dealing with the refugee crisis in 2016, newspaper Die Welt said on Tuesday, citing a survey it conducted among their finance ministries. The sum, bigger than the €15.3 billion that the central government planned to allocate to its education and research ministry in 2015, is a measure of the strain that the influx is causing across the country as a whole. Germany is the favoured destination for many of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, partly due to the generous benefits that it offers.

The German states have repeatedly complained that they are struggling to cope, and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy has caused tensions within her conservative camp. Die Welt said that excluding the small city state of Bremen, which did not provide any details, current plans suggested the states’ combined expenditure would be €16.5 billion. The paper said actual costs would probably be even higher because the regional finance ministries had based their budgets on an estimate from the federal government that 800,000 refugees would come to Germany in 2015. In fact, 965,000 asylum seekers had already arrived by the end of November.

Read more …

Finance ministers have no place intervening in politics.

Schaeuble Slams Greece Over Refugee Crisis, Aims For Joint EU Army (Reuters)

Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and a senior Bavarian politician criticized Greece on Sunday over the way it is managing its role in Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War Two. Schaeuble, who has clashed repeatedly with Greek officials this year over economic policy, told Bild am Sonntag that Athens has for years ignored the rules that oblige migrants to file for asylum in the European Union country they arrive in first. He said German courts had decided some time ago that refugees were not being treated humanely in Greece and could therefore not be sent back there. “The Greeks should not put the blame for their problems only on others, they should also see how they can do better themselves,” Schaeuble said.

Greece, a main gateway to Europe for migrants crossing the Aegean sea, has faced criticism from other EU governments who say it has done little to manage the flow of hundreds of thousands of people arriving on its shores. Joachim Herrmann, the interior minister of the southern state of Bavaria, that has taken the brunt of the refugee influx to Germany, criticized the way Greece is securing its external borders. “What Greece is doing is a farce,” Herrmann said in an interview with Die Welt am Sonntag newspaper, adding any that any country that does not meet its obligations to secure its external borders should leave the Schengen zone, where internal border controls have been abolished.

[..] In contrast to his criticism of Greece, Schaeuble sought to offer to compromise with eastern European countries that have voiced reluctance to accept migrants under EU quotas. “Solidarity doesn’t start by insulting each other,” Schaeuble said. “Eastern European states will also have to take in refugees, but fewer than Germany.” The influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants, many fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, also means that European countries will have to increase spending on defense, he said. “Ultimately our aim must be a joint European army. The funds that we spend on our 28 national armies could be used far more effectively together,” Schaeuble said.

Read more …

No, EU indifference on refugees has brought it down.

Selfishness On Refugees Has Brought EU ‘To Its Knees’ (IT)

The “ruinously selfish” behaviour of some member states towards refugees has brought the European Union to its knees, former attorney general Peter Sutherland has said. In a sharp denunciation of Europe’s failures on migration and social integration, Mr Sutherland, who is special representative to the United Nations secretary general for migration, said political “paralysis and ambivalence” was threatening the future of the EU and resulting in the rise of xenophobic and racist parties. With a population of 508 million, the EU should have had no insuperable problem welcoming even a million refugees “had the political leadership of the member states wanted to do so and had the effort been properly organised,” Mr Sutherland said. “But instead, ruinously selfish behaviour by some member states has brought the EU to its knees.”

There were several “honourable exceptions”, most notably German chancellor Angela Merkel, who he described as “a heroine” for showing openness and generosity towards refugees. Mr Sutherland made the remarks in the Littleton memorial lecture, which was broadcast on RTÉ radio on St Stephen’s Day. More than a million refugees and migrants arrived in the EU by land and sea in 2015, according to the International Organisation for Migration, making this the worst crisis of forced displacement on the continent since the second World War. Half of those arriving were Syrians fleeing a conflict that has left almost 250,000 people dead and displaced half the country’s pre-war population. A European Commission plan to use quotas to relocate asylum seekers arriving in southeastern Europe was adopted in the autumn against strong opposition from several states, including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Slovakia said it would take in only a few hundred refugees, and they would have to be Christians. Mr Sutherland said the razor and barbed wire fences being erected on the Hungarian border to keep out migrants and refugees “are not just tragic but they are also particularly ironic, as Hungarians were for so long confined by the Iron Curtain.” He recalled that in 1956, after their failed revolution, 200,000 Hungarian refugees were immediately given protection throughout Europe and elsewhere. “Yet now, prime minister Viktor Orbán is the most intransigent and vociferous opponent of taking refugees in the EU.” Mr Sutherland accused some heads of government of “stoking up prejudice” by speaking of barring Muslim migrants and said the absence of EU agreement on a refugee-sharing scheme meant a Europe of internal borders was increasingly likely to become a reality across the continent.

Read more …

Waiting for the next surge as soon as the weather gets better.

Refugee Arrivals In Greece Rise More Than Tenfold In A Year (Kath.)

Over 800,000 refugees and migrants entered Greece between the start of the year and the end of November, with the number of arrivals increasing more than tenfold compared to last year’s total of 72,632, data published by the Greek Police showed Monday. The number tallies with figures from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which puts total arrivals in Greece from January 1 to December 24 at 836,672. The UNHCR also reported that in the three-day period from December 24 to 26, daily arrivals in Greece came to 2,950, with the monthly average at 3,400 per day, a significant drop from November’s average of 5,040. Most arrivals continue to enter Greece via the islands close to Turkey, the main transit point for refugees and migrants fleeing strife in the Middle East and South Asia and trying to enter the European Union.

On Lesvos alone, authorities estimate that they continue to receive from 2,000 to 2,500 arrivals every day, down from an average of over 5,000 in November. Police on the eastern Aegean island on Monday said that more than 3,500 refugees and migrants were waiting to be ferried to the mainland by this afternoon, while at the island’s main registration center in Moria, there are a further 4,000 people waiting to be processed and granted permission to leave for Athens, from where they will continue their journey north. In the capital, meanwhile, the Asylum Service of the Citizens’ Protection Ministry on Monday published data showing that only 82 of the 449 applications it has submitted so far for the relocation of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea to other parts of the European Union have been successful.

The initial plan drawn up by European authorities was for a total of 66,400 refugees to be transferred from Greece to other EU member-states, though only 13 countries have come forward, offering to take in a total of 565 asylum seekers. The repatriations that have been successful have been to Luxembourg, which took in 30 people, Finland (24), Portugal (14), Germany (10) and Lithuania, which accepted four relocations.

Read more …

Dec 282015
 
 December 28, 2015  Posted by at 9:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


DPC Gillender Building, corner of Nassau and Wall Streets, built 1897, wrecked 1910 1900

Japan Output, Retail Sales Slump, Dampen Recovery Prospects (Reuters)
Japan Business Lobby Head Won’t Commit To Higher Wages (Reuters)
China Industrial Profits Fall For Sixth Straight Month (Reuters)
Head Of China Telecom ‘Taken Away’ As Probe Launched (AFP)
World Steel Chief Calls Chinese Glut ‘Serious And Critical’ (USA Today)
Shale’s Running Out of Survival Tricks as OPEC Ramps Up Pressure (BBG)
End Of Easy Money For Mini-Refiners Splitting US Shale? (Reuters)
China Fines Eight Shipping Lines $63 Million for Price Collusion (BBG)
The Danger Of Safety (Tengdin)
Britain Needs Dutch-Style Delta Plan To Stem Tide Of Floods (Guardian)
US Sees Bearable Costs, Key Goals Met For Russia In Syria So Far (Reuters)
US Foreign Arms Deals Increased Nearly $10 Billion in 2014 (NY Times)
Britain’s New, Open Way to Sell Arms (BBG)
China Passes Antiterrorism Law That Critics Fear May Overreach (NY Times)
China Approves New Two-Child Birth Policy (WSJ)
Greek Construction Sector Shrinks By 63% Since 2011 (Kath.)
Germany Hires 8,500 Teachers To Teach German To 196,000 Child Refugees (AFP)
Refugee Crisis Creates ‘Stateless Generation’ Of Children In Limbo (Guardian)

Oh, sure: “Manufacturers surveyed by the trade ministry expect to increase production by 0.9% in December and raise it by 6.0% in January. Zero Hedge take: ” • Household Spending plunges 2.9% YoY – worst since March (post-tax-hike) • Jobless Rate jumps to 3.3% (from 3.1%) • Industrial Production drops 1.0% MoM – worst in 3 months • Retail Trade tumbles 1.0% YoY – biggest drop since March (post-tax-hike) • Retail Sales plunges 2.5% MoM – Worst drop since Fukushima Tsunami (absent tax-hike)

Japan Output, Retail Sales Slump, Dampen Recovery Prospects (Reuters)

Japan’s factory output fell for the first time in three months in November and retail sales slumped, suggesting that a clear recovery in the world’s third-largest economy will be delayed until early in 2016. While manufacturers expect to increase output in coming months, the weak data casts doubt on the Bank of Japan’s view that an expected pick-up in exports and consumption will help jump-start growth and accelerate inflation toward its 2% target. Industrial output fell 1.0% in November from the previous month, more than a median market forecast for a 0.6% decline, data by the trade ministry showed on Monday. Separate data showed that retail sales fell 1.0% in November from a year earlier, more than a median forecast for a 0.6% drop, as warm weather hurt sales of winter clothing.

“We’re finally seeing signs of pick-up in exports, but the economy has yet to make a clear turnaround,” said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute. “There’s a risk consumption will remain sluggish and prevent economic growth from picking up,” he said. Japan’s economy narrowly dodged recession in July-September and analysts expect only modest growth in the current quarter, as consumption and exports lack steam. Some analysts warn the economy may suffer a contraction in October-December if household spending remains weak. Taro Saito, senior economist at NLI Research Institute, expects consumption in the current quarter to have risen less than a 0.4% quarter-on-quarter increase in July-September.

Wary of soft growth, the government plans nearly $800 billion in record spending in the budget for the fiscal year that will begin on April 1. The BOJ has signalled readiness to expand stimulus if risks threaten Japan’s recovery prospects. The central bank fine-tuned its stimulus programme on Dec. 18 to ensure it can keep up or even accelerate its money-printing. While sluggish emerging market demand dims the export outlook, analysts expect output to gradually increase early in 2016 as automakers ramp up production of new models. Manufacturers surveyed by the trade ministry expect to increase production by 0.9% in December and raise it by 6.0% in January.

Read more …

Abe can still go nuttier. Just watch him. He has one policy only, has been pumping it for 3 years now, and it has failed miserably (as we always said it must). So that’s his career. Next: panic.

Japan Business Lobby Head Won’t Commit To Higher Wages (Reuters)

The head of an influential Japanese business lobby won’t pass on the government’s requests to its members to raise salaries next year, a worrying sign that real wages may not increase fast enough to boost consumption in the country. Higher wages are crucial to policymakers’ efforts to break a decades-long cycle of weak growth and deflation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has won modest wage gains from the largest firms, but this has been slow to filter through the economy. Renewed concern about a slowdown in emerging markets and weak overseas demand could make more companies reluctant to raise wages. This could in turn scupper the government’s efforts to increase consumption and put the Bank of Japan’s 2% inflation target out of reach.

“The government is hoping for higher wages, but the Keizai Doyukai, as an organization that corporate executives personally belong to, is not going to tell its members what to do,” said Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of the Keizai Doyukai, which regularly participates in the government’s corporate policy panels and is one of Japan’s top three business lobbies. “Companies that don’t have money obviously won’t raise wages.” Since taking office in late 2012, Abe has repeatedly asked big business lobbies to encourage their members to raise wages at annual spring salary negotiations with unions. Abe will also raise the minimum wage by about 3% from next fiscal year to encourage salaries to rise more broadly throughout the economy.

Many companies have enjoyed record profits recently, so there is room for these companies to offer their workers higher pay, Kobayashi said. Japanese companies also have the funds needed to increase domestic investment in plants, research and develop their workers’ skills, he said. However, around 65% of people work at small and medium-sized enterprises, many of which are losing money and are therefore unlikely to raise salaries or spend extra money on training employees.

Read more …

“Profits of state-owned enterprises among major industrial firms saw a 23% slump in the first 11 months this year..”

China Industrial Profits Fall For Sixth Straight Month (Reuters)

Profits earned by Chinese industrial companies in November fell 1.4% from a year earlier, marking a sixth consecutive month of decline, statistics bureau data showed on Sunday. Industrial profits – which cover large enterprises with annual revenue of more than 20 million yuan ($3.1 million) from their main operations – fell 1.9% in the first 11 months of the year compared with the same period a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on its website. The November profits of industrial firms have seen some improvement from the previous month. In October, profits fell 4.6% from a year earlier. “The November industrial profit data matched earlier output data and they showed some signs of stabilizing, which are in line with recent data from other Asian countries,” said Zhou Hao at Commerzbank in Singapore, adding the figures were slightly better than market expectations.

The NBS said investment returns for industrial companies in November increased from a year earlier by 9.25 billion yuan ($1.43 billion). The jump in November profits from the auto manufacturing and electricity sectors, up 35% and 51% from a year earlier, respectively, helped narrow overall declines, the statistics bureau said. “Declines in industrial profits narrowed in November, but uncertainties still exist,” said He Ping, an official of the Industry Department at NBS. He added that inventory of finished goods grew at a faster pace last month. Profits of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) among major industrial firms saw a 23% slump in the first 11 months this year from the same period in 2014. Mining remained the laggard sector, with profits falling 56.5% in the same period. Aluminum producer China Hongqiao Group said in early December it would cut annual capacity by 250,000 tonnes immediately to curb supplies.

Eight Chinese nickel producers including state-owned Jinchuan Group, said they would cut production by 15,000 tonnes of metal in December and reduce output next year by at least 20% from this year, in a bid to lift prices from their worst slump in over a decade. China’s producer prices have been in negative territory for nearly four years due to weak domestic demand and overcapacity. The country’s top leader last week outlined main economic targets for next year after they held the annual Central Economic Work Conference, where it said the government will push forward “supply-side reform” to help generate new growth engines in the world’s second-largest economy while tackling factory overcapacity and property inventories.

Read more …

Hotshots keep disappearing over there. Think they have a luxury resort they all gather in?

Head Of China Telecom ‘Taken Away’ As Probe Launched (AFP)

The head of China Telecom, one of the nation’s big three telecoms firms, is under investigation for “severe disciplinary violations”, the government said Sunday, the latest high-profile target in a corruption crackdown. News of the probe into Chang Xiaobing, 58, was given in a statement on the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the watchdog of the ruling Communist Party. The term is normally a euphemism for graft. Chang had been “taken away”, according to an article in the respected business magazine Caijing, which added that he disappeared just days before a meeting of the state-owned company planned for December 28. A memo saying the meeting would be postponed was issued on the evening of the 26th, the article said.

Chang’s phone was switched off and he had not responded to multiple calls, it added. In August, after 11 years as chairman and party secretary of China’s second largest telecoms provider China Unicom, Beijing announced Chang would head China Telecom. That decision, Caijing said, was made despite widespread rumours that the executive was under investigation. It sparked speculation about an imminent tie-up between the two industry leaders and the third major player, China Mobile. In April the state news agency Xinhua reported that China was considering merging scores of its biggest state-owned companies to create around 40 national champions from the existing 111.

Authorities have been pursuing a hard-hitting campaign against allegedly crooked officials since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013, a crusade that some experts have called a political purge. Several high-profile business leaders have been caught up in the web of graft investigations after authorities pledged they would turn their efforts to the state-owned enterprise system, a bulwark of graft that has resisted multiple attempts at reform. The campaign is seen as an attempt to force executives of state firms, who jealously guard their prerogatives, to toe the party line, reducing resistance to structural reforms intended to bolster the slowing economy. Beijing announced it had begun investigations into the country’s telecom industry earlier this year, while Chang was still at China Unicom.

Read more …

2016 looks like a black year for steel. And not only steel.

World Steel Chief Calls Chinese Glut ‘Serious And Critical’ (USA Today)

The global steel industry is reeling amid a plunge in steel prices, a flood of low-priced imports from China and other countries, and a collapse in investment in pipes for oil drilling as a result of tumbling crude prices. USA TODAY economics reporter Paul Davidson spoke about these challenges with Wolfgang Eder, chairman of the World Steel Association and CEO of Austrian steel giant Voestalpine. The company has 46,000 employees worldwide and 2,500 workers and nearly two dozen factories in the USA.

Q: U.S. steelmakers are awaiting decisions on trade cases against China for illegally dumping steel below cost in this country. Is this a global problem? A: The current Chinese overcapacity problem affects all parts of the world. Chinese plants (are selling) not only to the U.S. but also to Europe. It’s an intensive discussion of what should be the reaction and an ongoing discussion to what extent Europe should follow the U.S. (in filing trade cases). The problem at the moment is enormous. I do hope we will find some balance again in the next months, but at the moment, the situation is a very serious and critical one.

Q: What’s the long-term solution? A: In the long run, a solution to the problem can only come from the reduction of capacities. According to OECD (countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ), there are 600 to 700 million tons of overcapacity (worldwide), the largest part in China. That means permanent pressure on margins and prices.

Q: Is the plunge in steel prices affecting your company, Voestalpine? A: We are not (selling) any material via the spot market. We do have only high-quality steel, and this steel is only sold based on contracts. We are, of course, the (supplier) for the German auto producers — BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche. So we are one of the largest suppliers for these car producers. They are only buying really high-tech, high-quality material where we can differentiate. Two-thirds (of production) is downstream — we make complete automotive components, exteriors of cars, we produce complete rail tracks.

Q: Still, you do make some raw steel, and the drop in prices has affected you, hasn’t it? A: We have started additional cost-cutting measures. We try to avoid layoffs because we do not want to lose highly qualified people. So for the time being, we have (cut staff) in only a very few locations — some in Germany, some in Brazil. And, of course, we try to extend our product range. We intend to sell more automotive parts.

Q: Have you been affected by the downturn in oil and gas drilling? A: We have not yet been affected by the weakness in the oil and gas market, but we do expect, looking forward … the second half (of the fiscal year) will be a really more difficult period. Inventories are extremely high now, of oil and gas, but also inventories for all the production equipment are at very high levels. We cannot expect oil and gas levels will come down quickly over the winter as they have reached levels we have never seen before. So it’s unlikely we’ll see recovery of this segment before the summer of next year.

Read more …

The same people eager to claim OPEC no longer functions are just as eager to say OPEC kills US shale.

Shale’s Running Out of Survival Tricks as OPEC Ramps Up Pressure (BBG)

In 2015, the fracking outfits that dot America’s oil-rich plains threw everything they had at $50-a-barrel crude. To cope with the 50% price plunge, they laid off thousands of roughnecks, focused their rigs on the biggest gushers only and used cutting-edge technology to squeeze all the oil they could out of every well. Those efforts, to the surprise of many observers, largely succeeded. As of this month, U.S. oil output remained within 4% of a 43-year high. The problem? Oil’s no longer at $50. It now trades near $35. For an industry that already was pushing its cost-cutting efforts to the limits, the new declines are a devastating blow. These drillers are “not set up to survive oil in the $30s,” said R.T. Dukes at Wood Mackenzie in Houston.

The Energy Information Administration now predicts that companies operating in U.S. shale formations will cut production by a record 570,000 barrels a day in 2016. That’s precisely the kind of capitulation that OPEC is seeking as it floods the world with oil, depressing prices and pressuring the world’s high-cost producers. It’s a high-risk strategy, one whose success will ultimately hinge on whether shale drillers drop out before the financial pain within OPEC nations themselves becomes too great. Drillers including Samson and Magnum Hunter have already filed for bankruptcy. About $99 billion in face value of high-yield energy bonds are trading at distressed prices, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Spencer Cutter.

The BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Energy Index has given up almost all of its outperformance since 2001, with the yield reaching its highest level relative to the broader market in at least 10 years. “You are going to see a pickup in bankruptcy filings, a pickup in distressed asset sales and a pickup in distressed debt exchanges,” said Jeff Jones at Blackhill Partners. “And $35 oil will clearly accelerate the distress.”

Read more …

“They also question how the new landscape will affect traders such as BP and Trafigura, which signed long-term contracts to buy all the output from those facilities.”

End Of Easy Money For Mini-Refiners Splitting US Shale? (Reuters)

Energy companies and oil trading firms that teamed up to build several mini-refineries that convert a swelling surplus of ultra-light U.S. crude into fuels for export seemed like a pretty safe investment bet for a while. The bet was built on several converging dynamics: an ever-rising supply of condensate; a U.S. refining system built to run heavier crudes; and a longstanding ban on crude exports that appeared unlikely to unwind amid partisan paralysis in Washington, D.C. Now, as U.S. oil output reverses its five-year rise and after lawmakers ended the 40-year-old export ban this month, oil executives and analysts question the wisdom of nearly $1 billion worth of so-called condensate splitters built over the past year, and the future of another $1.2 billion planned.

Traders are wondering what will happen with existing splitters run by companies such as Kinder Morgan. They also question how the new landscape will affect traders such as BP and Trafigura, which signed long-term contracts to buy all the output from those facilities. Other pending projects without guaranteed buyers could be abandoned, experts say. The once-restricted domestic crude not only faces increased competition. It also is hurt by the inversion of the global oil market, where once-abundant U.S. production is declining while global supplies are rising. This has eliminated the price discount that underpinned their model.

“It’s a much different competitive environment now that we don’t have distressed condensate,” said Sandy Fielden, an analyst with RBN Energy. While the same can be said of the nation’s larger, older fleet of full-scale refineries, splitters may be most exposed to the sudden changes, given their dependence on the most deeply discounted variety of oil. “Why would you distill it here if you can distill it elsewhere? The only reason you want to do it here is when it’s cheaper, but now it doesn’t make sense,” said Nick Rados, global business director of feedstocks for IHS Chemical.

Read more …

Peanuts.

China Fines Eight Shipping Lines $63 Million for Price Collusion (BBG)

China fined eight shipping lines 407 million yuan ($63 million) in total after finding them responsible for price collusion in the transportation of vehicles and heavy machinery. Japan’s Nippon Yusen, Mitsui OSK lines, Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha and Eastern Car Liner, Korea’s Eukor Car Carriers, Norway’s Wallenius Wilhelmsen, Chile’s Cia. Sud Americana de Vapores and its shipping line were the eight indicted after a year-long investigation, the National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement on its website Monday. The companies acknowledge wrongdoing, the top Chinese economic planning agency said. The probe follows similar investigations by the European Union in 2013 and Japan’s Fair Trade Commission.

Japanese regulators raided the offices of five shipping lines in 2013 over allegations they discussed raising rates together for transporting cars, and imposed fines on Nippon Yusen and Kawasaki Kisen in January 2014. AP Moeller-Maersk, CMA CGMand MSC Mediterranean Shipping were among companies in the European Union probe. Eukor will accept the Chinese decision and pay a fine of 284.7 million yuan, the company said in a statement on its website. The company also has implemented a competition law compliance program and corrective measures including antitrust compliance training, it said. Nippon Yusen has fully cooperated with the investigation by the Chinese agency and consequently received an immunity from the fine, the Japanese company said in a statement.

Read more …

Re: Minsky.

The Danger Of Safety (Tengdin)

The US Forest Service was created in 1905. Teddy Roosevelt signed the bill in response to a series of disastrous forest fires, like the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894. These fires threatened future commercial timber supplies, and the Federal Government had begun to establish national forest reserves. Why create them, people wondered, if they were just going to burn down? So the Forest Service established a systematic approach to fire control, building a network of roads, lookout towers, ranger stations, and communications. They also offered financial incentives for states to fight fires. With new technology, like airplanes, smokejumpers, and chemicals, they established their 10 am policy: every fire should be suppressed by 10 am the day following its initial report.

But a funny thing happened: by eliminating fire from the forest ecosystem, a lot of dead wood and other fuel accumulated over time. This insured that when fires did break out, they would become far more destructive. Moreover, scientists noted that fire was an essential part of many plant and tree life cycles. The Forest Service changed its approach from fire control to fire management-letting naturally occurring fires burn, unless they threatened developed areas. Is this part of what led to the Financial Crisis of 2007-2009? During the 25 years prior, economists had noted that more effective bank regulation and monetary policy had led to a “Great Moderation”-a significant dampening of the business cycle in the US and other developed nations.

It’s possible that reduced economic volatility led investors, homeowners, and banks to take on greater risks. In essence, the Fed’s policy of fire suppression allowed toxic assets to be created and distributed throughout the financial ecosystem. Highly regulated (and insured) banks were replaced by (uninsured) shadow banks. These assumed particular risks and contributed to a culture of increased systemic risk. When some of their assets began to unravel, it was impossible to contain the damage. We find a sort of risk-homeostasis in other areas. Anti-lock brakes encourage more aggressive driving; better skydiving gear allows hazardous high-speed maneuvers close to the ground. This is sometimes called the Peltzman effect: people behave as if they want a certain level of risk in their lives.

This appears to be the case with ecosystems and economies, too. Are safety measures useless, then? Absolutely not! The rate of accidental fatalities has fallen dramatically over time, and there are also fewer bank failures. But like the US Forest Service, we need to focus on risk management rather than risk reduction. Don’t assume government regulators will control your financial risks. Diversification, analysis, and-above all-not paying too much are still crucial, and always will be. The biggest risk, after all, is believing that we aren’t taking any risk. In a dynamic world, that’s guaranteed to fail.

Read more …

Britain lost decades not acting on what was already obvious all those years ago.

Britain Needs Dutch-Style Delta Plan To Stem Tide Of Floods (Guardian)

When more than 1,800 people died in the wake of the 1953 North Sea flood in the Netherlands, the national reaction was: never again. The resulting Delta programme to close off the south-western river delta from the sea was so bold that its name became synonymous with dealing with a crisis. If an issue needs a major response, you can be sure that a Dutch politician will call for a “Delta plan to tackle X”. It is time that the UK took some of that attitude and got a Delta plan to tackle flooding. Flooding has become an almost annual event in the UK. We are waiting for the next storm and flash flood to hit, with another group – or even the same group – of people evacuated, all followed by the promise of some money for a bit of flood defence work. As a nation, we can no longer afford to accept that.

Consider the personal misery for those affected, even in areas not traditionally flood-prone like Manchester and Leeds. Consider that the financial cost of these events will continue to rise – and not only for the government. Every home insurance policy now includes a £10.50 Flood Re levy to subsidise insurance for homes with a high risk of flooding. With the climate changing and becoming more volatile, we can expect heavier rain and more severe storms. Water management systems in the UK, and in particular in England, are unable to deal with what lies ahead. After almost every flood, journalists and policymakers go to the Netherlands to learn how they are adapting to climate change and what lessons there are for the UK. We see Dutch projects in the news, such as a neighbourhood with floating homes that forms part of a major national programme to create space for the rivers.

But those lessons never seem to be taken on board. Come the next flood, off they all go to Holland again. For the Dutch, water management goes to the core of their national identity. The country was forged in the battle against water. This common fight led to the pooling of resources and decision-making in regional water authorities – among the oldest democratic institutions in the world – which continue that work today. The national habit of consensus decision-making in tackling major issues became known internationally in the 90s as the “polder model”, echoing its water-based roots. No Dutch politician wants to be part of the generation that fails in the common endeavour against water, and no voter would accept someone caught sleeping on their watch.

The Netherlands has adapted to the changing nature of the threat. Today, the biggest danger is not the sea swallowing the land but the rain overwhelming it. The main focus no longer is building higher dykes and bigger dams, like they did after the 1953 flood. Instead, the Dutch have spent the past decade deepening and widening rivers, creating new side canals that provide extra capacity, and setting aside land as dedicated flood plains. This €2.3bn project is still ongoing. All this so that when the water does come, the swollen rivers can expand without flooding homes and causing misery. In Britain, we need to start to realise and accept that flooding is becoming an equally existential issue. There can be no northern powerhouse or sustainable prosperity anywhere if it risks being swept away by the rain.

Read more …

Putin won.

US Sees Bearable Costs, Key Goals Met For Russia In Syria So Far (Reuters)

Three months into his military intervention in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved his central goal of stabilizing the Assad government and, with the costs relatively low, could sustain military operations at this level for years, U.S. officials and military analysts say. That assessment comes despite public assertions by President Barack Obama and top aides that Putin has embarked on an ill-conceived mission in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that it will struggle to afford and that will likely fail. “I think it’s indisputable that the Assad regime, with Russian military support, is probably in a safer position than it was,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity. Five other U.S. officials interviewed by Reuters concurred with the view that the Russian mission has been mostly successful so far and is facing relatively low costs.

The U.S. officials stressed that Putin could face serious problems the longer his involvement in the more than four-year-old civil war drags on. Yet since its campaign began on Sept. 30, Russia has suffered minimal casualties and, despite domestic fiscal woes, is handily covering the operation’s cost, which analysts estimate at $1-2 billion a year. The war is being funded from Russia’s regular annual defense budget of about $54 billion, a U.S. intelligence official said. The expense, analysts and officials said, is being kept in check by plummeting oil prices that, while hurting Russia’s overall economy, has helped its defense budget stretch further by reducing the costs of fueling aircraft and ships. It has also been able to tap a stockpile of conventional bombs dating to the Soviet era.

Putin has said his intervention is aimed at stabilizing the Assad government and helping it fight the Islamic State group, though Western officials and Syrian opposition groups say its air strikes mostly have targeted moderate rebels. Russia’s Syrian and Iranian partners have made few major territorial gains. Yet Putin’s intervention has halted the opposition’s momentum, allowing pro-Assad forces to take the offensive. Prior to Russia’s military action, U.S. and Western officials said, Assad’s government looked increasingly threatened.

Read more …

Let’s all buy shares!

US Foreign Arms Deals Increased Nearly $10 Billion in 2014 (NY Times)

Foreign arms sales by the United States jumped by almost $10 billion in 2014, about 35%, even as the global weapons market remained flat and competition among suppliers increased, a new congressional study has found. American weapons receipts rose to $36.2 billion in 2014 from $26.7 billion the year before, bolstered by multibillion-dollar agreements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Those deals and others ensured that the United States remained the single largest provider of arms around the world last year, controlling just over 50% of the market. Russia followed the United States as the top weapons supplier, completing $10.2 billion in sales, compared with $10.3 billion in 2013.

Sweden was third, with roughly $5.5 billion in sales, followed by France with $4.4 billion and China with $2.2 billion. South Korea, a key American ally, was the world’s top weapons buyer in 2014, completing $7.8 billion in contracts. It has faced continued tensions with neighboring North Korea in recent years over the North’s nuclear weapons program and other provocations. The bulk of South Korea’s purchases, worth more than $7 billion, were made with the United States and included transport helicopters and related support, as well as advanced unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles. Iraq followed South Korea, with $7.3 billion in purchases intended to build up its military in the wake of the American troop withdrawal there.

Brazil, another developing nation building its military force, was third with $6.5 billion worth of purchase agreements, primarily for Swedish aircraft. The report to Congress found that total global arms sales rose slightly in 2014 to $71.8 billion, from $70.1 billion in 2013. Despite that increase, the report concluded that “the international arms market is not likely growing over all,” because of “the weakened state of the global economy.”

Read more …

What better sign is there of our collective insanity?

Britain’s New, Open Way to Sell Arms (BBG)

Champion cyclist Ryan Perry, a British army captain, was uncharacteristically tipsy the night of Nov. 25, but no one could blame him for enjoying the Champagne. Standing on the stage of a grand 15th century hall in London, the 28-year-old cradled a crystal plaque naming him the army’s sportsman of the year. Seated in front of him was one of the British military’s most influential officers, the chief of the general staff, or CGS. “Yesterday I was riding around Burnley in the wind and rain,” Perry told the crowd, referring to his seaside hometown. “Tonight I’m drinking Champagne with CGS.” Attending the banquet were executives from at least 20 contractors for the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence—including U.S.-based arms manufacturers Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon.

They raised glasses with senior military officials, many of whom are directly involved in spending some of the $268 billion in defense procurement the U.K. has planned for the next decade. The contractors paid for the black-tie dinner in the historic Guildhall. The corporations are sponsoring the dinner through Team Army, a charity established in 2011 after an antibribery law went into effect in the U.K. The law was enacted following a string of high-profile corruption cases, including some in defense deals. Team Army’s role is to be in the middle of what were once unofficial big-dollar transactions between generals and defense companies. “It’s as clean as we can make the damn thing,” says Lamont Kirkland, a general who ran the army’s boxing, rugby, and winter sports programs before retiring to lead the charity.

Arms makers and other contractors pay Team Army as much as £70,000 ($104,000) for memberships. The members sponsor tables or buy tickets for Champagne receptions and other fêtes. Corporate suites at premier soccer games, rugby matches, and horse races are also used to raise money. Contractors are invited to spend time at the events with the top brass who buy their wares. The charity uses money from the contractors to fund military sports programs, Paralympics, and elite military athletes. Top-draw competitions, including the annual army-navy rugby match at London’s 82,000-seat Twickenham Stadium, are used for more fundraising. Although the official numbers won’t be public until 2016, Team Army raised a record amount this year, Kirkland says. Since 2011 the charity has amassed about $4.5 million for military sports.

Read more …

China, US, France, what’s the difference?!

China Passes Antiterrorism Law That Critics Fear May Overreach (NY Times)

China’s legislature approved an antiterrorism law on Sunday after months of international controversy, including criticism from human rights groups, business lobbies and President Obama. Critics had said that the draft version of the law used a recklessly broad definition of terrorism, gave the government new censorship powers and authorized state access to sensitive commercial data. The government argued that the requirements were needed to prevent terrorist attacks. Opponents countered that the new powers could be abused to monitor peaceful citizens and steal technological secrets. Whether the complaints persuaded the government to dilute the bill was not clear: State news media did not immediately publish the text of the new law.

But an official who works for the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress indicated that at least some rules authorizing greater state access to encrypted data remained in the law. “Not only in China, but also in many places internationally, growing numbers of terrorists are using the Internet to promote and incite terrorism, and are using the Internet to organize, plan and carry out terrorist acts,” the official, Li Shouwei, told a news conference in Beijing. Mr. Li, a criminal law expert, said the antiterrorism law included a requirement that telecommunication and Internet service providers “shall provide technical interfaces, decryption and other technical support and assistance to public security and state security agencies when they are following the law to avert and investigate terrorist activities.”

The approval by the legislature, which is controlled by the Communist Party, came as Beijing has become increasingly jittery about antigovernment violence, especially in the ethnically divided region of Xinjiang in western China, where members of the Uighur minority have been at growing odds with the authorities. Chinese leaders have ordered security forces to be on alert against possible terrorist slaughter of the kind that devastated Paris in November. Over the weekend, the shopping neighborhood of Sanlitun in Beijing was under reinforced guard by People’s Armed Police troops after several foreign embassies, including that of the United States, warned that there were heightened security risks there around Christmas.

Read more …

“..Chinese people over the age of 65 will jump 85% to 243 million by 2030..”

China Approves New Two-Child Birth Policy (WSJ)

China’s lawmakers will allow all couples to have two children from the beginning of next year, implementing a new birth policy aimed at mitigating a potential demographic crisis. In a congressional meeting Sunday, Chinese lawmakers approved the new birth policy, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2016, Xinhua reported. Top Communist Party leaders had previously approved the new policy. The announcement sets a timeline for a policy that will replace the country’s controversial 35-year-old one-child policy. The National Health and Family Planning Commission, which implements China’s reproduction policy, said at the time it would move slowly to avoid population spikes. Demographers have warned China’s leaders for the past decade that falling birthrates in the nation may cause a future labor shortage that would endanger economic growth.

China has the world’s largest population at 1.37 billion, but its working-age population -those aged 15 to 64- is shrinking. The United Nations projects the number of Chinese people over the age of 65 will jump 85% to 243 million by 2030, up from 131 million this year. Many health experts say that while the new policy will likely enable up to 100 million couples to have additional children, they don’t expect a baby boom. Many Chinese couples say the cost of having children is prohibitive, and some will opt to have only one child. A previous relaxation of China’s one-child policy did not lead to a significant increase in baby numbers. Health officials previously said they are moving to simplify the birth application procedures for couples, who currently have to go through a complicated procedure that can often take months.

Read more …

This is actually an article on some grand projects that do still get built. I like the other side of the coin better.

Greek Construction Sector Shrinks By 63% Since 2011 (Kath.)

As construction continues to slump, the prevalent impression is that all building activity has come grinding to a halt. Yet this is only one side of the coin and mainly concerns private projects. According to data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), construction activity (measured by the number of permits issued) throughout the country dropped by 63.47% in the period from 2011 to 2014. Attica has been hit hardest by the economic crisis, with construction nosediving 73.10%, while the greatest losses have been seen in the residential property market. Up until the start of the crisis, 75% of investments in construction went toward residential property. In the third quarter of 2014, this had shrunk to 31%, with losses of €23.29 billion.

This is the “big picture” as a walk around any neighborhood in the Greek capital will attest. But there are also the shining exceptions, projects that were started well before the crisis or that defied the circumstances and forged ahead. The most important similarity between these projects is that they have progressed enough so they are no longer at risk of remaining on paper. And, irrespective of their scale, they are all important, if only on a symbolic level because they create a sense that something is happening, that there is movement in the works.

Read more …

Where did they find them?

Germany Hires 8,500 Teachers To Teach German To 196,000 Child Refugees (AFP)

Germany has recruited 8,500 people to teach child refugees German, as the country expects the number of new arrivals to soar past the million mark in 2015, Die Welt daily reported on Sunday. About 196,000 children fleeing war and poverty will enter the German school system this year, and 8,264 “special classes” have been created to help them catch up with their peers, Die Welt said, citing a survey carried out in 16 German federal states. Germany’s education authority says 325,000 school-aged children reached the EU country in 2015 during Europe’s worst migration crisis since the second world war.

Germany expects more than a million asylum seekers this year, which is five times more than in 2014. It has put a strain on its ability to provide services to all the newcomers. “Schools and education administrations have never been confronted with such a challenge,” Brunhild Kurth, who heads the education authority, told Die Welt. “We must accept that this exceptional situation will become the norm for a long time to come.” Heinz-Peter Meidinger, head of the DPhV teachers’ union, said Germany would need up to 20,000 additional teachers to cater for the new numbers. “By next summer, at the latest, we will feel that gap,” he said.

Read more …

Better solve this fast.

Refugee Crisis Creates ‘Stateless Generation’ Of Children In Limbo (Guardian)

Europe’s refugee crisis is threatening to compound a hidden problem of statelessness, with experts warning that growing numbers of children are part of an emerging “stateless generation”. Gender-biased nationality laws in Syria combined with ineffective legal safeguards in the EU states mean that many children born to Syrian refugees in Europe are at high risk of becoming stateless – a wretched condition of marginalisation that affects 10 million people worldwide. Under Syrian law, only men can pass citizenship on to their children. The UN estimates that 25% of Syrian refugee households are fatherless. “A lot of those who are resettled to Europe are women whose husband or partner was killed or lost and are being resettled with their kids or are pregnant at the time, so that is becoming a bigger problem,” said Zahra Albarazi of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, based in the Netherlands.

Sanaa* is a 35-year-old single mother who gave birth to her daughter, Siba*, in Berlin last year. “I went to the Syrian embassy and explained my situation but they said they cannot give Siba a passport because the father should be Syrian, and the father and mother married,” Sanaa said. Germany, in common with the rest of Europe, does not automatically grant citizenship to children born there. This means Siba does not have citizenship of any country. Under international treaties including the UN convention on the rights of the child, governments are obliged to grant nationality to any child born on their soil who would otherwise be stateless. But few EU countries have adopted this principle into domestic law and those that have consistently fail to implement it.

The UNHCR refugee agency estimates that at least 680,000 people in Europe are without citizenship of any country, although experts say the true figure is likely to be far higher because stateless people are hard to count. The statelessness problem is particularly bad in south-east Asia: in Myanmar alone the UN estimates there are more than 810,000 stateless people. But the situation in Europe is about to get much worse as a result of the unprecedented migration. Up until now, groups such as the Roma and Russian-speaking people from the Baltics have been most affected, although the UN blames statelessness on a “bewildering array of causes”, with people from a wide range of backgrounds finding they are not legally entitled to citizenship of any country.

No research has been done into the scale of statelessness among the children of Syrian refugees in Europe, but it is thought that many are likely to be in the same position as Siba. Statelessness in Europe can pose huge problems. Experts say many parents are unaware that their children are stateless. Often the children realise they do not have legal citizenship only when they reach adulthood and find they cannot legally work, marry, own property, vote or even graduate from school. [..] The UN says more than 30,000 babies born to Syrian refugees in Lebanon are at risk of statelessness. And research by Refugees International (RI) this year found that many of the 60,000 children born to Syrian refugees in Turkey since 2011 could be in the same position.

Read more …