Nov 302017
 
 November 30, 2017  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Roger Viollet Great Paris Flood, Gare Saint-Lazare 1910

 

Goldman Warns Highest Market Valuations Since 1900 Mean Pain Is Coming (BBG)
The Last Time This Happened Was Just Months Before The Great Depression (ZH)
Pecking Order (Ben Hunt)
The Bitcoin Debate: Max Keiser vs. Steve Keen (RT)
Why We Can’t Trust Basic Economic Figures (Qz)
What Americans Spent The Most Money On In The Third Quarter (ZH)
Monetary Imperialism (Michael Hudson)
One In 10 London Families Rely On Food Banks To Survive (Ind.)
Half A Million UK Children Go To School Hungry Every Day (Ind.)
All Is Not Well In The Visegrad Economies (CER)
Pressure On Greece To Scrap Arms Deal With Saudi Arabia (G.)
Greece Moves Hundreds Of Asylum Seekers From Lesvos To Mainland (R.)
Common Pesticide Can Make Migrating Birds Lose Their Way (G.)
‘Shocking’ Rise In Rubbish Washing Up On UK Beaches (G.)
Lobster Found With Pepsi Logo ‘Tattoo’ (G.)

 

 

Bubble, anyone?

Goldman Warns Highest Market Valuations Since 1900 Mean Pain Is Coming (BBG)

A prolonged bull market across stocks, bonds and credit has left a measure of average valuation at the highest since 1900, a condition that at some point is going to translate into pain for investors, according to Goldman Sachs. “It has seldom been the case that equities, bonds and credit have been similarly expensive at the same time, only in the Roaring ’20s and the Golden ’50s,” Goldman Sachs International strategists including Christian Mueller-Glissman wrote in a note this week. “All good things must come to an end” and “there will be a bear market, eventually” they said. As central banks cut back their quantitative easing, pushing up the premiums investors demand to hold longer-dated bonds, returns are “likely to be lower across assets” over the medium term, the analysts said.

A second, less likely, scenario would involve “fast pain.” Stock and bond valuations would both get hit, with the mix depending on whether the trigger involved a negative growth shock, or a growth shock alongside an inflation pick-up. “Elevated valuations increase the risk of draw-downs for the simple reason that there is less buffer to absorb shocks,” the strategists wrote. “The average valuation percentile across equity, bonds and credit in the U.S. is 90%, an all-time high.” A portfolio of 60% S&P 500 Index stocks and 40% 10-year U.S. Treasuries generated a 7.1% inflation-adjusted return since 1985, Goldman calculated – compared with 4.8% over the last century. The tech-bubble implosion and global financial crisis were the two taints to the record.

Low inflation has prevailed in the current period, just as it did alongside economic growth in the 1920s and 1950s, according to the Goldman report. “The worst outcome for 60/40 portfolios is high and rising inflation, which is when both bonds and equities suffer, even outside recessions.” An increase in policy rates triggered by price pressures “remains a key risk for multi-asset portfolios. Duration risk in bond markets is much higher this cycle,” they wrote.

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Bubble? Hell, no.

The Last Time This Happened Was Just Months Before The Great Depression (ZH)

As Goldman observes: “we are closing in on the longest 60/40 bull market in history – there has been no 10% drawdown in real terms since 2009. A passive long-only balanced portfolio has delivered attractive risk-adjusted returns since the 90s. A favourable ‘Goldilocks’ macro backdrop, supported by the ‘Great Moderation’ and the central bank put, has boosted returns in both equities and bonds. However, after the recent ‘bull market in everything’, valuations across assets are as expensive as they have been this century, which reduces the potential for returns and diversification in balanced portfolios. Some more statistics: “We are nearing the longest bull market for balanced equity/bond portfolios in over a century – a simple 60/40 portfolio (60% S&P 500, 40% US 10-year bonds) has not had a drawdown of more than 10% since the GFC trough (8.7 years) and has delivered a 143% return (11% p.a.) since then.”

And when was the last time a balance portfolio had such a tremendous return? Goldman answers again: “The longest run has been during the Roaring 20s, ending with the Great Depression. The second longest run was the post-war ‘Golden age’ in the 50s – the 90s Boom has been in third place but is now fourth, after the current run. In other words, one would have to go back to some time in early 1929 to be looking at the kind of returns that a balanced “60/40” portfolio is generating today. In fact, the current period of staggering returns without a 10% total drawdown is now 8.7 years. How long was the comparable period in the 1928s? 9.1 years. Which means that if history is any guide, the second great depression is just around the corner.

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If we can agree that trickle down is just a ruse invented to trick the gullible, we should also agree that any and all QE is robbery in plain daylight.

Pecking Order (Ben Hunt)

Step One in the Pecking Order Lie is to promote a narrative of trickle-down economics — that making the rich even richer is a good thing for the non-rich. This is exactly what Ben Bernanke is saying here, that the Fed’s extraordinary efforts to prop up the stock market aren’t just good for the rich, but will be good for everyone once the “wealth effect” kicks in and the rich start spending their money. Whenever someone uses the phrase “wealth effect”, they are promoting a trickle-down narrative. How does trickle-down monetary policy work? By spending TRILLIONS of dollars to buy financial assets, the world’s central banks have inflated the prices of ALL financial assets, EVERYWHERE in the world. This is not a secret plan. This is not a hidden agenda. This is the avowed purpose of what central bankers call Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAPs).

The goal is to force us to “reach for yield”. The goal is to force us to buy more and more risky assets (stocks) at higher and higher prices. The Fed is trying to make the stock market go up. And they’re succeeding. Here’s a great chart from TCW showing how this works. The orange line is the growth rate of the US economy. The blue line is the growth rate of how rich we are. By tripling the stock market, the Fed has made us much richer than our economy has grown … SOOO much richer than our economy has grown. But the goodies of a trebled stock market aren’t evenly distributed. Who owns stocks? If we’re talking about households, leaving aside pension funds and endowments and other institutional investors, it’s the rich, mostly. And that household share of the Central Bankers’ Bubble doesn’t increase linearly with wealth, but exponentially, meaning that the really rich own a lot more stocks than the merely rich, so the really rich have gotten a lot richer than the merely rich.

Here’s a chart from Deutsche Bank showing the impact (it’s a year old, so the effect is even more pronounced today with the stock market 20% higher). Thirty years ago, the non-rich (the bottom 90% of American households by income) owned 35% of American household wealth. Today they own about 22%. Forty years ago, the really rich (the top 1/10th of 1% of American households by income) owned about 7% of American household wealth. Today they, too, own about 22%. Moreover, the gains of the really rich have mirrored the losses of the non-rich, which means that the well-off and merely rich (the remaining 9.9% of American households) haven’t seen much of a change one way or another.

Now this shift in relative wealth of the non-rich and the really rich didn’t start with the Central Bankers’ Bubble and its narrative of trickle-down wealth effects from monetary policy. It started roughly in 1980 with the Reagan narrative of trickle-down wealth effects from fiscal policy. And before we make overly facile comparisons with the 1920s and 1930s, this chart isn’t taking into account pensions and social security and other safety net features of the modern semi-sorta-welfare state. So I don’t know how historically abnormal today’s level of significant wealth inequality might be, whether it’s Louis XVI level inequality or simply robber baron level inequality. But I know that it IS.

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Love Max (as does Steve), but he doesn’t look good here. You don’t enter a discussion with Steve Keen without even trying to listen. And I remember Max pushing silver the same way he does bitcoin.

The Bitcoin Debate: Max Keiser vs. Steve Keen (RT)

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Netherlands as a (quasi-) legal money launderer.

Why We Can’t Trust Basic Economic Figures (Qz)

Donald Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he decries America’s trade deficits with countries around the world—and that’s not his fault. None of us do. Thanks to offshoring practices like those revealed in the Paradise and Panama Papers, global investment figures are “a big black hole,” says Daniel Haberly, an economic geographer at the University of Sussex. “We don’t really know what the world economy actually looks like. That’s the big burning question for me. We have this picture of what it looks like on paper but in reality it’s probably something completely different.” Look no further than the UK for an example of how crazy investment statistics are. The first name on its list of top foreign direct investors doesn’t surprise—it’s the world’s biggest economy, the United States.

Second place, however, isn’t such a behemoth. According to British government stats, the Netherlands supposedly shoveled £139.8 billion ($186 billion), 28% of its GDP, into the UK in 2015. Anglo-Dutch ties run long and deep, but can a country of just 17 million people really be investing so much cash into Britain alone? Quite simply, no. The Netherlands is not just a smallish European trading nation—it’s also one of the world’s biggest conduits for cash going to and from tax havens. When the British government broke down its FDI statistics this year (chapter 6), it realized that only 34.5% of that money actually came from the Netherlands; much of the rest being from European subsidiaries of big US companies or… from British companies rerouting their money.

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The US political system failing to tackle healthcare, with a ton of examples how to do it across the world, tells you all you need to know about how morally bankrupt it is.

What Americans Spent The Most Money On In The Third Quarter (ZH)

One month ago, when the BEA released its first estimate of the hurricane-impacted economy during the third quarter (which came in at a stronger than expected 3.0%) we were surprised to report that according to the Department of Commerce, in the third quarter the biggest driver of marginal spending was car sales (technically Motor Vehicles and Parts), which increased by $15.6 billion to $463.5 billion. Which, as we said at the time and considering recent US and global automakers data, was paradoxical in light of the ongoing decline in overall sales in the second half of 2017, and it was far too early to expect the post-hurricane spending spree. It was also surprising because as Americans splurged on cars, they pulled back on gasoline purchases, which was the single biggest detractor to spending, subtracting a marginal $3.5 billion in PCE, to $283.6 billion.

In any case, we concluded by saying that “we now await for the revisions to this initial estimate over the coming two months, because something tells us that the auto spending spree will be thoroughly revised well lower.” One month later, when the BEA released its second Q3 GDP estimate, it appears we were right: the contribution from motor vehicles was indeed revised lower, but not nearly as dramatically as we expected, only from a marginal increase of $15.6 million to $13.5 million. And yet, many other line items did see a downward revision, which means that something had to increase sharply to compensate for the downward revisions among other spending components.

Sure enough, something did: the old faithful “plug” which has saved the US economy every quarter for the past 4 years: Healthcare, or as it is better known, Obamacare, because with Trump failing to repeal Obama’s signature health law, it means that Healthcare will merrily “contribute to GDP” for years to come, by being the single biggest marginal spending item for the foreseeable future.

Finally, for a comparison of how dramatically the contribution of “Healthcare” was revised higher, here is a chart showing side by side the change in spending among all key line items. One can almost hear the orders “from above” to make GDP 3% or higher at any cost when looking at this chart.

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Must. Read. Like anything Hudson.

Monetary Imperialism (Michael Hudson)

In theory, the global financial system is supposed to help every country gain. Mainstream teaching of international finance, trade and “foreign aid” (defined simply as any government credit) depicts an almost utopian system uplifting all countries, not stripping their assets and imposing austerity. The reality since World War I is that the United States has taken the lead in shaping the international financial system to promote gains for its own bankers, farm exporters, its oil and gas sector, and buyers of foreign resources – and most of all, to collect on debts owed to it. Each time this global system has broken down over the past century, the major destabilizing force has been American over-reach and the drive by its bankers and bondholders for short-term gains.

The dollar-centered financial system is leaving more industrial as well as Third World countries debt-strapped. Its three institutional pillars – the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization – have imposed monetary, fiscal and financial dependency, most recently by the post-Soviet Baltics, Greece and the rest of southern Europe. The resulting strains are now reaching the point where they are breaking apart the arrangements put in place after World War II. The most destructive fiction of international finance is that all debts can be paid, and indeed should be paid, even when this tears economies apart by forcing them into austerity – to save bondholders, not labor and industry. Yet European countries, and especially Germany, have shied from pressing for a more balanced global economy that would foster growth for all countries and avoid the current economic slowdown and debt deflation.

After World War I the U.S. Government deviated from what had been traditional European policy – forgiving military support costs among the victors. U.S. officials demanded payment for the arms shipped to its Allies in the years before America entered the Great War in 1917. The Allies turned to Germany for reparations to pay these debts. Headed by John Maynard Keynes, British diplomats sought to clean their hands of responsibility for the consequences by promising that all the money they received from Germany would simply be forwarded to the U.S. Treasury. The sums were so unpayably high that Germany was driven into austerity and collapse. The nation suffered hyperinflation as the Reichsbank printed marks to throw onto the foreign exchange also were pushed into financial collapse. The debt deflation was much like that of Third World debtors a generation ago, and today’s southern European PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

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Medieval third world.

One In 10 London Families Rely On Food Banks To Survive (Ind.)

One in 10 London families are relying on charity handouts to eat and food banks are facing unprecedented strain in the run-up to Christmas, new figures reveal. One in four London parents worry about being able to afford to feed their children, the research found, while almost one in five have to choose between heating their homes or feeding their family. The exclusive poll, conducted by Kellogg’s to mark the start of The Independent and Evening Standard Help a Hungry Child campaign, exposed the devastating choices facing parents around the country as food banks struggle to keep up with growing demand. At least 146,798 three-day emergency parcels were handed out by Trussell Trust foodbanks in December 2016, a 47% spike compared to the average for the overall 2016/17 financial year, according to the charity.

Children accounted for 61,093 of those affected. Now the charity is warning 2017 could herald an even higher increase, following a 13% surge in food bank usage during the first six months of this year. The figures are revealed as a Labour MP urges the Government to accurately measure the number of people going hungry with a food insecurity bill. Emma Lewell-Buck, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger, will present the cost-neutral bill to the Commons on Wednesday. It will ask the Government to incorporate questions about how often people go without food into national surveys. She called rising food bank usage a “massive dereliction of state duty” and is urging Theresa May to take urgent action to recognise the scale of the problem.

“They have to admit what everybody already knows that the levels of hunger are far higher than we have realised,” she said. “It is the duty of the state, there is no way food banks should have filled the gap left by the welfare state that this Government has created.” She added: “Now food banks are becoming a pillar of the welfare state and they should not be and they should never have been.” The South Shields MP said getting a measure on the true scale of the numbers going hungry would force the Government into taking a more proactive stance in tackling hunger.

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Talk about a failed society…

Half A Million UK Children Go To School Hungry Every Day (Ind.)

When money is tight eight-year-old Emma’s parents are forced to send their daughter to school, tummy rumbling, without any breakfast. In the evening, she fills up on plain pasta or reduced microwave meals – cheap food her parents can afford. Emma says she often feels too tired to concentrate on her schoolwork. The situation Emma lives with is the devastating reality faced by the 500,000 children across the UK who go to school hungry each day. Eight million people in Britain – the world’s sixth largest economy – are living in food poverty, according to the United Nations (UN). And an estimated 870,000 children in England may be going to bed hungry each night because their parents are unable to provide the meals they need.

But not eating isn’t the only problem – access to nourishing and nutrient-filled food is simply out of reach for thousands of families living on the breadline, with far-reaching consequences for too many of Britain’s children. Dr George Grimble, a medical scientist at University College London, said the situation was “disastrous” for developing children, resulting in malnourishment, obesity and squandered potential. “When people are in poverty they are forced to buy the cheapest foods – filling but nutrient-lacking food,” Dr Grimble told The Independent. “Food poverty in the community overlays to a large extent on disease malnutrition.” More than 60% of paediatricians believe food insecurity contributed to the ill health among children they treat, according to a 2017 survey by the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health.

The harrowing hunger stats sit juxtaposed with the fact 100 million tons of food is wasted each year across the EU. More than 400 million meals’ worth of edible food was sent to landfill in 2016 which could have been redistributed to feed hungry people across Britain, according to the Government’s waste advisory body, Wrap.

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“..succumbed to populists..” is too easy a cop-out. These countries will define Europe going forward.

All Is Not Well In The Visegrad Economies (CER)

On the face of it, the Visegrad countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – are doing well economically. The data for GDP per head suggest a gradual convergence in living standards with Western Europe. They continue to attract a disproportionate share of inward investment in EU manufacturing, and their integration into EU-wide supply chains helps to explain why they are now collectively Germany’s most important trade partner, ahead of China and the US. But the political situation across the Visegrad is anything but rosy. Voters in all four countries have succumbed to populists. The reasons for this populism are complex, but economics probably provides a bigger part of the explanation than the positive headline numbers suggest.

In 2016, GDP per head in the Visegrad four (adjusted for price differences) ranged from 64% of eurozone levels in Poland to 82% in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland have experienced significant convergence in GDP per head with the eurozone over the last ten years (though it should be noted that the dire performance of the eurozone economy over that period was a major reason for this). But what matters to the average person is not GDP growth, but personal income growth, and hence living standards. And here the Visegrad picture is less reassuring. In 2016 worker ‘compensation’ (wages and salaries and other benefits) ranged from just 50% of the eurozone’s in Hungary to 59% in the Czech Republic. And the rate of convergence of compensation with the eurozone average has been slower than the rate of convergence of GDP.

Growth in consumption across the Visegrad countries has lagged behind growth in GDP, resulting in a sharp fall in consumption as a share of overall spending. This has happened in nearly all developed economies over the last decade, but the scale of the decline in all four Visegrad economies has been much greater. Average households have not seen enough of the fruits of economic growth. Those rewards have gone disproportionately to the owners of capital, and in these countries, that tends to mean foreigners. In the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, the most important sectors are largely or wholly foreign-owned. The Polish economy is much bigger and more diversified than the other three, but the level of foreign ownership is still very high.

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How about the pressure on US, France, UK?

Pressure On Greece To Scrap Arms Deal With Saudi Arabia (G.)

The Greek government has announced it will abide by any EU embargo on Saudi Arabia as it faces criticism over a controversial arms deal, including from its own MPs. As cracks appeared in the leftist-led coalition over the €66m weapons agreement with the kingdom, the administration’s spokesman said Athens would apply the law “by the letter” if EU sanctions were announced. “We are waiting to see the decisions of the European parliament and will act accordingly,” said Dimitris Tzannakopoulos. “The process is frozen.” Mounting tensions within the ruling Syriza party have matched international condemnation of the agreement by human rights groups. Amnesty International has said the munitions could end up being used by the Gulf state in its war against neighbouring Yemen, where civilian populations have borne the brunt of the conflict.

“[We] call on Greece to immediately rescind the sale and transfer of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and to refuse approval of the transport of every type of conventional weapons, ammunitions and war material to point of conflicts in Yemen,” the rights group said. Prominent members of the ruling Syriza party have questioned the morality of selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and on Tuesday the Greek parliament’s military procurements committee also hinted it may scrap the deal. “Greece is a hub of stability, peace and friendship in the greater region and that is what it should be exporting,” the former deputy European affairs minister Nikos Xydakis told the Guardian. “There is no need for this [deal] to go through and frankly when we’re talking about €66m, not €66bn, it isn’t worth the trouble. It’s not the sort of money that will save Greece.”

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Whose initiative? Brussels, Berlin?

Greece Moves Hundreds Of Asylum Seekers From Lesvos To Mainland (R.)

Greek authorities on Thursday said they have moved a few hundred asylum seekers from the island of Lesvos to the mainland in an effort to ease overcrowding in its camps. Thousands of asylum seekers have become stranded on Lesbos and four other islands close to Turkey since the European Union agreed a deal with Ankara in March 2016 to shut down the route through Greece. “I came to heaven from hell,” said 30-year old Mohammad Firuz, who lived for two months in a state-run camp in Lesvos.

Firuz was among 300 people, many of them women and children, aboard a ferry that reached the port of Piraeus early on Thursday morning. The asylum seekers would be taken to camps and apartments in the mainland, authorities said. Lesvos is now hosting some 8,500 asylum-seekers, nearly three times the capacity of state-run facilities. Violence often breaks out, mainly over delays in asylum procedures and poor living standards. Lesvos residents went on strike earlier this month to protest against European policies they say have turned it into a “prison” for migrants and refugees.

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This is just too nuts. Ban the shit.

Common Pesticide Can Make Migrating Birds Lose Their Way (G.)

The world’s most widely used insecticide may cause migrating songbirds to lose their sense of direction and suffer drastic weight loss, according to new research. The work is significant because it is the first direct evidence that neonicotinoids can harm songbirds and their migration, and it adds to small but growing research suggesting the pesticides may damage wildlife far beyond bees and other insects. Farmland birds have declined drastically in North America and Europe in recent decades and pesticides have long been suspected as playing a role. The first evidence for a link came in 2014 when a study in the Netherlands found that bird populations fell most sharply in the areas where neonicotinoid pollution was highest, with starlings, tree sparrows and swallows among the most affected.

“The reason our new study is special is this is not a correlation – it is actual experimental evidence,” said Prof Christy Morrissey, at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, who said the results shocked her. “The effects were really dramatic. We didn’t anticipate the acute toxicity, because the levels [of neonicotinoid] we gave them were so low. Three neonicotinoids were banned from use on flowering crops in the European Union in 2013 due to unacceptable risks to bees and other pollinators and a total outdoor ban is being considered. Canada is also considering a total ban. Neonicotinoids now pollute the environment across the world and pressure is growing to slash pesticide use, which research shows would not reduce food production on almost all farms.

The new research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, analysed the effect of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid on white-crowned sparrows that migrate from the southern US and Mexico to northern Canada in summer. Birds were given doses equivalent to less than a single corn seed and within hours became weak, developed stomach problems and stopped eating. They quickly lost 17-25% of their weight, depending on the dose, and were unable to identify the northward direction of their migration. “Basically, these birds became lost,” said Morrissey. Control birds that were not exposed to the insecticide were unaffected.

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Again: ban the shit.

‘Shocking’ Rise In Rubbish Washing Up On UK Beaches (G.)

The rubbish washing up on the UK’s beaches is continuing to increase, rising by 10% in 2017, the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) annual beach clean has revealed. Much of the waste is plastic, leading the MCS to call on the government to urgently introduce a charge on single-use plastic items, such as straws, cups and cutlery. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, recently announced the government is considering such action. About 12m tonnes of plastic litter enters the oceans every year, killing millions of marine animals. People are also believed to be inadvertently eating the plastic, potentially contaminated with toxic chemicals, via seafood. The MCS beach clean in September saw 7,000 volunteers scour 340 beaches and collect an average of 718 pieces of rubbish every 100 metres.

The survey uses a standard methodology and data from the last decade and shows a rising tide of litter along the coast. Most of the litter is small, unidentifiable fragments of plastic, broken down in the sea from larger objects and often mistaken for food by fish and birds. But 20% of the rubbish is packaging from “on the go” food and drink, such as cups, bottles, cutlery, stirrers and sandwich packets. “Our beach clean evidence shows a shocking rise in the amount of litter this year,” said Sandy Luk, MCS chief executive. “Our oceans are choking in plastic. We urgently need a levy on single-use plastic as a first step.” “We are concerned we are continuing on this upwards trend,” said Lizzie Prior, beach and river clean project officer at the MCS. “Plastic never goes away – it does not decompose. It just goes to smaller and smaller pieces and becomes much more harmful for our marine environment.”

She said the tax on plastic bags introduced in 2015, which has seen their use drop by 85%, had a rapid impact, with the number of bags found on beaches down by 40% since 2014. “It is really fantastic to see that small charge completely changed people’s behaviour,” she said. “A levy [on other single use plastic] would be a fantastic next step.”

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Any day now, McDonald’s will start beaming ads onto the surface of the moon.

Lobster Found With Pepsi Logo ‘Tattoo’ (G.)

Concerns over debris littering the world’s oceans are back in the spotlight after a Canadian fishing crew found a lobster with the blue and red Pepsi logo imprinted on its claw. Trapped in the waters off Grand Manan, New Brunswick, the lobster had been loaded onto a crate to have its claws banded when Karissa Lindstrand came across it. Lindstrand, who drinks as many as 12 cans of Pepsi a day, quickly spotted the resemblance. “I was like: ‘Oh, that’s a Pepsi can,’” she said. On closer look, it seemed more like a tattoo on the claw. “It looked like it was a print put right on the lobster claw.” Neither she or any of the crew had seen anything like it. More than a week after the find, debate has swirled over how it might have come to be: some believe the lobster might have grown around a can that ended up at the bottom of the ocean.

Others speculate that part of a Pepsi box somehow become stuck on the lobster. Lindstrand disputes these theories. The image on the claw was pixelated, she said, suggesting it couldn’t have come from a can. And the image on a Pepsi box is far too large to be what she saw on the claw. The logo looked like it came from a printed picture, but paper would have deteriorated in the ocean. “I’m still trying to wrap my brain around what exactly it was,” she said. The find comes amid growing concerns over the amount of debris accumulating in the world’s oceans. Between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic leak into the world’s oceans each year to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms, leading the record-breaking sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur to warn that by 2050 the sea could have more plastic in it than fish, by weight.

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Aug 302016
 
 August 30, 2016  Posted by at 8:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wynand Stanley Ice-packed Buick motor stunt, San Francisco 1922

Banks Get Ready For ‘Economic Nuclear Winter’ (CNBC)
The “Devastating” Truth Behind America’s Record Household Net Worth (ZH)
We Have Passed The Peak Of The Bubble (Maloney)
Oil Discoveries at 70-Year Low (BBG)
House Price Gloom In Canada A Lesson For Australia (AFR)
Unemployed Italians Lead Europe in Abandoning Job Hunt (BBG)
Apple Facing Back Taxes Running Into Billions Over Ireland Deal (G.)
Life After Community Death: A Food Bank (G.)
Judge: Kim Dotcom Can Livestream Legal Fight Against The US (AP)
60% Of South Asia’s Groundwater Too Contaminated To Use (AFP)
China Regulator To Curb News That Promotes ‘Western Lifestyles’ (R.)
EU Seeks To Protect Greek Statistics Office From Its Own Government (BBG)
Greek GDP Contraction In First Half 2016 Was Worse Than Thought (Kath.)
Turkey Warns Refugee Deal To Collapse Unless EU Grants Visa-Free Travel (Kath.)
6,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya Coast Overnight By Italian Coastguard (AFP)

 

 

Beautiful Brexit as the bubble burster.

Banks Get Ready For ‘Economic Nuclear Winter’ (CNBC)

The first half of 2016 has been a roller-coaster for financial markets. A combination of uncertainties surrounding the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union and weaker-than-expected corporate earnings results across the region means a tough second half looms. European banks, in particular, have had a very tough six months as the shock and volatility around Brexit sent banking stocks south. Major European banks like Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse saw their shares in free-fall after the referendum’s results were announced. In the U.K., RBS was the worst-hit, with its shares plunging by more than 30% since June 24. The current uncertainty over when the U.K. will start the process of quitting the EU has banks on tenterhooks. But a source told CNBC that banks are “preparing for an economic nuclear winter situation.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic, a source from a major investment bank told CNBC that financial services firms have put together a strategy in place that takes into account the worst-case scenario that could happen by the end of this year. “This could mean triggering Article 50, referendum in other European nations leading to a break-up of the euro or sterling hitting below $1.20 or lower. The banks are ready for anything now,” the source said. The source further explained that the challenge in 2016 is nothing compared to when the Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 and the banking sector is this time a lot more resilient. “Markets hate uncertainty and the events this year have unfortunately created a lot of mystery around what is going to happen next.”

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It’s all a bubble.

The “Devastating” Truth Behind America’s Record Household Net Worth (ZH)

Every quarter, as part of its Flows of Funds statement, the Fed releases a detailed breakdown of America’s assets and liabilities, of which the most interesting section is the one dealing with US household wealth and debt, and most importantly, their net worth. The last such release in June showed that as of March 31, total US household assets rose decidedly above $100 trillion, hitting an all time high $102.6 trillion, offset by $14.5 trillion in liabilities, resulting in $88.1 trillion in household net worth. It is worth noting that of this $100+ trillion in assets, 69% was in the form of financial assets (stocks, mutual funds, pensions, deposits, etc), and only $31.5 trillion was real, tangible assets including $26 trillion worth of real estate.

[..] as Pedro da Costa points out, when one looks beneath the surface, a “devastating” picture emerges: US inequality like no-one has seen it before. To help with this peek behind the scenes, we look at the latest, just released CBO report on Trends in Family Wealth, which shows that far from equitable, US wealth has never been so skewed. The picture in question:

Here are the CBO report’s summary findings: In 2013, aggregate family wealth in the United States was $67 trillion (or about four times the nation’s gross domestic product) and the median family (the one at the midpoint of the wealth distribution) held approximately $81,000, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. For this analysis, CBO calculated that measure of wealth as a family’s assets minus its debt. CBO measured wealth as marketable wealth, which consists of assets that are easily tradable and that have value even after the death of their owner. Those assets include home equity, other real estate (net of real estate loans), financial securities, bank deposits, defined contribution pension accounts, and business equity. Debt is nonmortgage debt, including credit card debt, auto loans, and student loans, for example.

But to get to the stunning punchline, one has to read The section on How Is the Nation’s Wealth Distributed? Here is the answer: In 2013, families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution held 76% of all family wealth, families in the 51st to the 90th percentiles held 23%, and those in the bottom half of the distribution held 1%. Average wealth was about $4 million for families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution, $316,000 for families in the 51st to 90th percentiles, and $36,000 for families in the 26th to 50th percentiles. On average, families at or below the 25th percentile were $13,000 in debt.

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“These people are just absolutely dangerous. They are going to drag the entire world economy down.”

We Have Passed The Peak Of The Bubble (Maloney)

What the central banks are doing has never worked and they keep on trying – you just hit that nail a little bit harder each time because it isn’t working. They have these theories and they think that the theory is correct that this – and no matter what the results are they say well, we just didn’t do enough of it. Japan has been trying this for 30 years now and it hasn’t worked. These people are just absolutely dangerous. They are going to drag the entire world economy down. You talked about the helicopter money that is now happening in Europe and so on. That is going to be coming to the United States soon. Coming to a Central Bank near you. It always has damaging results. They don’t look at this. It is a huge wealth transfer.

The immorality of an entity and everywhere I go I take a look at – when I would go speak in Singapore or Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Colombia, Peru doesn’t matter – Russia – everywhere I go I take a look, I go on the websites of the central bank for that country and I start gathering information. I haven’t found a central bank that is part of the government. They are all private. Here is a private entity that is allowed to create currency and now they are buying bonds from corporations? They can buy stocks. When they write a check and they buy something, currency is created and it enters circulation. A very large portion of it is Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac stuff. It is the mortgage backed securities. And so that means that they own real estate. This private corporation is able to counterfeit and purchase real estate legally. The morality of this is insane.

Keynesian economics isn’t even remotely plausible. But it’s what is taught all over the world. They don’t understand fundamental economics. This is the problem that we have: all economies on the planet are being run by economists that don’t understand economics. The purchasing power that is contained in currency is basically the agreement that we have as a society that we are all going to use that currency and we trust that currency and we store hours of our lives. We trade hours of our lives for currency. We work. That is the purchasing power. Then that currency measures the goods and services in a society. The true wealth.

They think that they can actually print wealth. When they print new units of currency, the only way it can get purchasing power is the moment that it is spent in the circulation – it has to steal it from somewhere else because it is empty when it comes into existence. There is no work that went into it. There are no hours of life traded for it. There is no product or service that it represents until it is spent in circulation and then it steals that purchasing power from all other units of currency. It is fraud. It is theft. They can’t actually stimulate an economy. All they can do is warp it. They can steal purchasing power from some areas of the economy and transfer it to another area of the economy pushing that area into a bubble. It is very, very disruptive.

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“EIA estimates that global oil demand will grow from 94.8 million barrels a day this year to 105.3 million barrels in 2026. “ I do not.

Oil Discoveries at 70-Year Low (BBG)

Explorers in 2015 discovered only about a tenth as much oil as they have annually on average since 1960. This year, they’ll probably find even less, spurring new fears about their ability to meet future demand. With oil prices down by more than half since the price collapse two years ago, drillers have cut their exploration budgets to the bone. The result: Just 2.7 billion barrels of new supply was discovered in 2015, the smallest amount since 1947, according to figures from consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. This year, drillers found just 736 million barrels of conventional crude as of the end of last month. That’s a concern for the industry at a time when the U.S. EIA estimates that global oil demand will grow from 94.8 million barrels a day this year to 105.3 million barrels in 2026.

While the U.S. shale boom could potentially make up the difference, prices locked in below $50 a barrel have undercut any substantial growth there. New discoveries from conventional drilling, meanwhile, are “at rock bottom,” said Nils-Henrik Bjurstroem at Oslo-based consultant Rystad Energy. “There will definitely be a strong impact on oil and gas supply, and especially oil.” Global inventories have been buoyed by full-throttle output from Russia and OPEC. They’ve flooded the world with oil despite depressed prices as they defend market share. But years of under-investment will be felt as soon as 2025, Bjurstroem said. Producers will replace little more than one in 20 of the barrels consumed this year, he said.

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We rapidly get used to seeing bubbles as new normal.

House Price Gloom In Canada A Lesson For Australia (AFR)

A commodity economy with record-breaking property prices, fuelled by ultra-low interest rates and Chinese buyers, raises taxes on foreign homebuyers. While the scenario is eerily similar to Australia, it is actually Canada and early signs are the property market is rapidly cooling. The unravelling could offer insight for Australians contemplating the state of the expensive local real estate market. A record one in five Canadians expect house prices to fall. The number of property price pessimists has nearly doubled since a 15% foreign buyer tax on Vancouver homes took effect on August 2. In the first two weeks since the tax came into effect, home sales fell 51% in the metropolitan area, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said.

Nanos Research chairman Nik Nanos told The Australian Financial Review that real estate was the “canary in the mine” for the Canadian economy and the foreign acquirer tax has had an immediate “chill” effect on confidence. “If we see a significant slide in confidence in real estate there will be an immediate negative knock-on effect on the Canadian economy because right now there is no energy [oil] economy to fall back on,” he said. The price of Canada’s biggest export, oil, has crashed over the past two years, much like iron ore and coal prices in Australia. Like Sydney and Melbourne, real estate prices in Canada’s most-liveable cities have surged in recent years.

A combination of low borrowing costs, strong demand, limited housing supply because of red tape and, anecdotally, foreign buyers mainly from China seeking to park their money in perceived safe havens offshore, pushed up values. Vancouver house prices soared 30% in the year ended May 31, and prices shot up 15% in Canada’s biggest city of Toronto. The median price for detached houses in Vancouver jumped to $C1.6 million.

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And you think this Union can stay together?

Unemployed Italians Lead Europe in Abandoning Job Hunt (BBG)

Going from the final quarter of 2015 through March of this year, 37% of unemployed Italians gave up their job search, while only 13% landed new work and a full half found their status unchanged. On the opposite end of the scale, very few Greeks – just 1% – gave up their job hunt while only 4% found new employment in the economically hard-pressed nation.

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Deductible from its US taxes.

Apple Facing Back Taxes Running Into Billions Over Ireland Deal (G.)

Apple could face back taxes running into billions with the European commission expected to rule against the company on Tuesday over its arrangements with the Irish government. A ruling by Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, could make Apple liable for billions of euros. Irish officials expect the commission to declare the arrangements unlawful under state aid rules. A decision against Apple and Ireland after a two-year investigation would rebuff US efforts to persuade the commission to drop its interest amid warnings about retaliation from Washington. The commission has been investigating whether Apple’s tax deals with Ireland, which have allowed the company to pay very little tax on income earned throughout Europe, amounted to state aid.

The commission opened a formal inquiry in September 2014 after publishing preliminary findings suggesting deals between Apple and Ireland in 1991 and 2007 involved state aid that was incompatible with the EU’s internal market. Apple and Ireland have denied repeatedly that they have a special deal. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has called the investigation “political crap” and said his company and Ireland would appeal against a ruling that Apple received state aid. The investment bank JP Morgan has warned that if the commission requires Apple to retroactively pay the Irish corporate tax rate of 12.5% on the pre-tax profits it collected via Ireland it could cost the company as much as $19bn.

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Of course I can’t read a story like this about a food bank in Britain without thinking about the project you and I are supporting in Greece -all over Greece. Where conditions are much worse still. I hope the Brits who read this realize that.

Life After Community Death: A Food Bank (G.)

I never expected to leave a food bank feeling optimistic. To visit a kitchen serving hundreds of free summer-holiday meals to kids who might otherwise go hungry – and come away pondering the lessons Westminster, and especially Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, should learn. But then, until last week, I hadn’t met the two women who run the Neo cafe. To understand what an achievement Neo is, you have to see what it’s up against. There’s the area, for a start: Birkenhead, now practically a byword for social deprivation. In parts of this town the life expectancy for baby boys is lower than in North Korea. Since the Brexit vote there’s been a boom in hand-waving commentary on “left-behind” Britain.

The columnists and studio guests should come here for a day, and see what their talking points look like as lived experience. Industrial decline? The once great shipbuilder Cammell Laird still clings on, but many of the other big employers have been wiped out. Insecure work? The usual features of an exploitative jobs market are all present, from zero-hours contracts and temp agencies to, most of all, low wages. And of course austerity, from benefit sanctions to multimillion pound cuts at Wirral council. Impose such conditions on a family and you create misery. Push them across an entire community and you get breakdown.

Widespread economic insecurity produces social instability. Relationships fail. Colin, a twentysomething on temp work, describes how his partner had to move out because “I couldn’t make my pay packet feed two”. Stop-start work makes planning budgets hard enough – it makes planning families impossible. Neighbours move in then move out, so you never know who’s living next door – and you’d all rather leave. One grandmother, Wendy, remembers how she cried on being offered a council house in Rock Ferry, the patch of town that’s home to Neo. Then Anne and Trish chip in with other problems: druggies and no-go areas, so that a kid from this estate can’t go to that one. Here, the horizons have shrunk so far that the neighbourhood can seem like a trap.

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Good. Let’s hear it.

Judge: Kim Dotcom Can Livestream Legal Fight Against The US (AP)

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom will be allowed to livestream his legal bid to halt his extradition to the United States, a New Zealand judge ruled Tuesday. Dotcom and three of his colleagues are appealing a December lower-court decision which allows them to be extradited to the U.S. to face conspiracy, racketeering and money-laundering charges. If found guilty, they could face decades in jail. Dotcom’s lawyer Ira Rothken told AP he was pleased with the decision. “It provides everybody in the world with a seat in the gallery of the New Zealand courtroom,” Rothken said. “It’s democracy at its finest.” Rothken said the livestreaming would begin Wednesday on YouTube. He said there would be a 20-minute delay to prevent any evidence that was protected by the court from becoming public. The appeal is expected to last six weeks.

Justice Murray Gilbert, the New Zealand judge hearing the appeal, had asked other media about Dotcom’s request and didn’t receive any objections. Rothken said the U.S. had opposed the plan on the basis it could taint a potential jury pool and could cede court control over evidence. December’s lower-court ruling came nearly four years after the U.S. shut down Dotcom’s file-sharing site Megaupload, which prosecutors say was widely used by people to illegally download songs, television shows and movies. Megaupload was once one of the internet’s most popular sites. Prosecutors say it raked in at least $175 million and cost copyright holders more than $500 million. But Dotcom and colleagues Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato argue they can’t be held responsible for people who chose to use the site for illegal purposes.

Rothken said the lower-court judge made an error of law in his ruling, and that broad safe-harbor provisions protect internet service providers from the types of charges his clients face.

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750 million people. Add China’s polluted water, and you get well over a billion.

60% Of South Asia’s Groundwater Too Contaminated To Use (AFP)

60% of the groundwater in a river basin supporting more than 750 million people in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh is not drinkable or usable for irrigation, researchers have said. The biggest threat to groundwater in the Indo-Gangetic Basin, named after the Indus and Ganges rivers, is not depletion but contamination, they reported in the journal Nature Geoscience. “The two main concerns are salinity and arsenic,” the authors of the study wrote. Up to a depth of 200m (650ft), some 23% of the groundwater stored in the basin is too salty, and about 37% “is affected by arsenic at toxic concentrations”, they said.

The Indo-Gangetic basin accounts for about a quarter of the global extraction of groundwater – freshwater which is stored underground in crevices and spaces in soil or rock, fed by rivers and rainfall. Fifteen to twenty million wells extract water from the basin every year amid growing concerns about depletion. The new study – based on local records of groundwater levels and quality from 2000 to 2012 – found that the water table was in fact stable or rising across about 70% of the aquifer. It was found to be falling in the other 30%, mainly near highly populated areas.

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Xi trying to assert power he doesn’t have.

China Regulator To Curb News That Promotes ‘Western Lifestyles’ (R.)

China will crack down on social and entertainment news that promotes improper values and “Western lifestyles”, the country’s broadcasting regulator said, the latest effort at censorship in an already strictly regulated media environment. President Xi Jinping has embarked on an unprecedented drive to censor media that do not reflect the views of Communist Party leaders. Authorities have already issued rules limiting “foreign-inspired” television shows and put tougher penalties on the spread of rumors via social media. Social and entertainment news must be dominated by mainstream ideologies and “positive energy”, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Monday, citing the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

News content should not make improper jokes, defile classics, or “express overt admiration for Western lifestyles”, the regulator said in a circular, according to Xinhua. “They should also avoid putting stars, billionaires or Internet celebrities on pedestals”, and not advocate overnight fame or hype family disputes, Xinhua said. China’s legislature this week is also reviewing a draft law that would require film industry workers to maintain excellent “moral integrity”, after recent cases in which celebrities had been arrested for drug offences and prostitution, Xinhua said in a separate report. Xi has been explicit that media must follow the party line, uphold the correct guidance on public opinion and promote “positive propaganda”. The term “positive energy” is a catch phrase that has been favored by China’s propaganda and internet authorities under Xi, referring to content that is morally uplifting and patriotic.

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A curious case of Brussels intervention. There’s nary a soul in Greece who doubts that Georgiou greatly exaggerated the Greek budget deficit in 2009 in order to make an EU bailout inevitable. Now the EU wants to label Greece’s scrutiny of this as “political interference in administrative matters”. But matters such as these can be investigated in simple ways: an objective look at the numbers. That’s not politics, but accounting. Thing is, if Georgiou did this, it was in collusion with the EU.

EU Seeks To Protect Greek Statistics Office From Its Own Government (BBG)

Greece’s finance chief said the next international aid payout to the country may be delayed as the European Union stepped up warnings about domestic political meddling in the Greek state. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos raised the possibility of the government in Athens failing to qualify on time for a €2.8 billion disbursement due in September from the euro area. That’s what remains of a €10.3 billion tranche that finance ministers approved in principle three months ago. “If there is a delay, it’ll be days not weeks,” Tsakalotos told Bloomberg News in Brussels on Monday before a meeting with EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. “Part of the reason for the meeting is to discuss the process to ensure there aren’t delays.”

Slipping timetables have been a regular feature of loan payouts to Greece since it first turned to the euro area and the IMF for a rescue in 2010. Now in it’s third bailout, the country faces continued creditor warnings about backsliding on overhauls that are a condition for aid. The European Commission sent the latest salvo to Athens, saying on Monday that criticism of the former head of Greece’s statistical agency by allies of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras risks undermining the credibility of Greek fiscal data. The commission, the EU’s executive arm, said the Greek government must push ahead under its aid program with commitments to curb political interference in administrative matters.

“The commission has long urged the implementation of the pillar of the program related to the modernization of the Greek state and public administration,” Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesman at the 28-nation body, told reporters in Brussels. “This also includes the need to depoliticize the Greek administration.” The political controversy centers on Andreas Georgiou, who faces felony charges in Greece for reporting a 2009 budget deficit that was more than five times the EU limit and that unleashed the euro-area debt crisis. The EU has vouched for data submitted by the Hellenic Statistical Authority under Georgiou from 2010 to 2015 and validated by EU statistics office Eurostat.

Greek Minister of State Nikos Pappas, Tsipras’s closest aide, asked publicly in early August whether Georgiou inflated the spending gap to force the country into a rescue. Avgi, a newspaper affiliated with Tsipras’s anti-austerity Syriza party, labeled Georgiou an “executioner” in an Aug. 4 editorial.

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And the Troika ensures it can only go downhill from here.

Greek GDP Contraction In First Half 2016 Was Worse Than Thought (Kath.)

The contraction of the Greek economy in the first half of the year has turned out to be greater than originally estimated. The revised data released on Monday by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) recorded a bigger drop in GDP on an annual basis, which will make it even more difficult for the government to meet the fiscal targets set for this year. Using previously unavailable data, ELSTAT has now calculated that first quarter GDP declined by 1% and not 0.8% year-on-year, while in the April-June period it fell by 0.9% and not 0.7% as originally thought.

That was the fourth consecutive quarter with a GDP contraction. Consumer spending fell 1.9% in the second quarter on an annual basis, exports of goods and services contracted 11.4% (with goods increasing 2.98% and exports dropping 26.5%), while imports declined 7.1%. Gross capital investments posted a 7% increase. On a quarterly basis, consumer expenditure dropped 0.2% from the first quarter, investment rose 1%, exports fell 1% and imports shrank 0.4%, ELSTAT data showed.

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Any attempt at granting visa-free travel now would break up the EU.

Turkey Warns Refugee Deal To Collapse Unless EU Grants Visa-Free Travel (Kath.)

In an interview with Kathimerini published on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has warned the EU that if it doesn’t grant Turkish citizens via-free travel to Europe by October “at the latest,” then Ankara will not continue implementing a deal struck in March with Brussels to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. “Despite the fact that irregular migration in the Aegean is now under control, we do not see the EU keen on delivering its promises,” he said, insisting that Turkey cannot continue on its own to stop irregular migration toward the EU while the latter does not assume its obligations. “We expect visa liberalization for Turkish citizens at the latest in October 2016,” said Cavusoglu, who was on an unofficial visit to Crete yesterday and held talks with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias, stressing the potential to further develop Greek-Turkish relations.

Visa liberalization was one of the conditions set by Turkey to sign up to the agreement, which was criticized by human rights groups, to stop the influx of migrant arrivals to Europe which reached more than a million last year. “We did our share in this cooperation… We have prevented new loss of lives and crushed migrant smuggling rings.” The EU missed a deadline late June for the granting of visa-free travel for Turks, saying it had not met all 72 pre-conditions set by Brussels to grant visa-fee travel. The EU also demanded Ankara review its anti-terrorism law. Ankara refused, saying it is critical in its fight against Islamic State and Kurdish militants.

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Numbers are rising again. This will stop only when we stop bombing and squeezing these people.

6,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya Coast Overnight By Italian Coastguard (AFP)

Around 6,500 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya, the Italian coastguard said, in one of its busiest days of life-saving in recent years. Dramatic images of one operation showed about 700 migrants crammed onto a fishing boat, with some of them jumping off the vessel in life jackets and swimming towards rescuers. A five-day-old baby was among those rescued along with other infants and was airlifted to an Italian hospital, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which took part in operations.

“The command centre coordinated 40 rescue operations” that included vessels from Italy, humanitarian organisations as well as the EU’s border agency Frontex, saving 6,500 migrants, the coastguard wrote on Twitter. “We’ve been particularly busy today,” a spokesman for the Italian coastguard told AFP. On Sunday more than 1,100 migrants were rescued in the same area. The total number of arrivals in Italy this year now stands at 112,500, according to the UN’s refugee agency and the coastguard, slightly below the 116,000 recorded by the same point in 2015.

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 November 23, 2014  Posted by at 11:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle November 23 2014


Hans Behm Windy City tourists at Monroe Street near State 1908

China’s Surprise Rate Cut Shows How Freaked Out The Government Is (Quartz)
The End of China’s Economic Miracle? (WSJ)
Hugh Hendry: “A Bet Against China Is A Bet Against Central Bank Omnipotence” (MW)
Central Banks in New Push to Prime Pump (WSJ)
Forget What Central Bankers Say: Deflation Is The Real Monster (Observer)
“I Am 100% Confident That Central Banks Are Buying S&P Futures” (Zero Hedge)
UK Chancellor Haunted By Deficit And £1.45 Trillion Debt Pile (Telegraph)
Junk Bonds Whipsawed as Trading Drought Rattles Investors (Bloomberg)
Pension Funds Lambaste Private-Equity Fees (WSJ)
Sun Sets On OPEC Dominance In New Era Of Lower Oil Prices (Telegraph)
Google Break-Up Plan Emerges From European Parliament (FT)
European Season of Political Discontent Rung In by UKIP (Bloomberg)
The Curse Of Black Friday Sales (NY Post)
UK Retailers Pin Hopes On American Shopping Extravaganza (Independent)
Don’t Prick The Christmas Spending Bubble, It Keeps Capitalism Alive (Observer)
Food Banks Face Record Demand As Low-Income Families Look For Help (PA)
Russia FM Lavrov Accuses West Of Seeking ‘Regime Change’ In Russia (Reuters)
Rapper May Face 25 Years In Prison Over ‘Gangsta Rap’ Album (RT)
We Need A New Law To Protect Our Wildlife From Critical Decline (Monbiot)

“The push that came to shove might have been the grim October data, which showed industrial output, investment, exports, and retail sales all slowing fast. Those data suggest it will be much harder to get anywhere close to the government’s 2014 target of 7.5% GDP growth .. ”

China’s Surprise Rate Cut Shows How Freaked Out The Government Is (Quartz)

Earlier [this week], the People’s Bank of China slashed the benchmark lending rate by 40 basis points, to 5.6%, and pushed down the 12-month deposit rate 25 basis points, to 2.75%. Few analysts expected this. The PBoC—which, unlike many central banks, is very much controlled by the central government—generally cuts rates only as a last resort to boost growth. The government has been rigorously using less broad-based ways of lowering borrowing costs (e.g. cutting reserve requirement ratios at small banks, and re-lending to certain sectors). The fact that the government finally cut rates suggests that these more “targeted” measures haven’t succeeded in easing funding costs for Chinese firms. The push that came to shove might have been the grim October data, which showed industrial output, investment, exports, and retail sales all slowing fast.

Those data suggest it will be much harder to get anywhere close to the government’s 2014 target of 7.5% GDP growth, given that the economy grew only 7.3% in the third quarter, its slowest pace in more than five years. But wait. Isn’t the Chinese economy supposed to be losing steam? Yes. The Chinese government has acknowledged many times that in order to introduce the market-based reforms needed to sustain long-term growth and stop piling on more corporate debt, it has to start ceding its control over China’s financial sector. Things like, for instance, setting the bank deposit rate artificially low, which generally punishes savers to benefit state-owned enterprises (SOEs). But clearly, the economy’s not supposed to be decelerating as fast as it is. Tellingly, it’s been more than two years since the central bank last cut rates, when the economic picture darkened abruptly in mid-2012, the critical year that the Hu Jintao administration was to hand over power to Xi Jinping.

The all-out push to boost growth that followed made 2013 boom, but also freighted corporate balance sheets with dangerous levels of debt. But this could only last so long; things started looking ugly again in 2014. Up until now, attempts to buoy the economy have mainly focused on helping out small non-state companies, says Mark Williams, chief economist at Capital Economics, in a note. Often ineligible for state-run bank loans, small firms have mostly been paying steep rates for shadow financing. Since the benchmark rate cut affects official loans given out by mostly state-run banks, today’s cut will mainly benefit SOEs, hinting that the authorities “apparently feel larger firms are now in need of support too,” writes Williams. In addition, lowering the amount banks charge for capital makes them less likely to lend. Though that should in theory be offset by the lowering of the deposit rate, savers have been shunting their money into higher-yielding wealth management products, making deposits increasingly scarce.

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“I could see empty apartment buildings stretching for miles, with just a handful of cars driving by. It made me think of the aftermath of a neutron-bomb detonation.”

The End of China’s Economic Miracle? (WSJ)

On a trip to China in 2009, I climbed to the top of a 13-story pagoda in the industrial hub of Changzhou, not far from Shanghai, and scanned the surroundings. Construction cranes stretched across the smoggy horizon, which looked yellow in the sun. My son Daniel, who was teaching English at a local university, told me, “Yellow is the color of development.” During my time in Beijing as a Journal reporter covering China’s economy, starting in 2011, China became the world’s No. 1 trader, surpassing the U.S., and the world’s No. 2 economy, topping Japan. Economists say it is just a matter of time until China’s GDP becomes the world’s largest. This period also has seen China’s Communist Party name a powerful new general secretary, Xi Jinping , who pronounced himself a reformer, issued a 60-point plan to remake China’s economy and launched a campaign to cleanse the party of corruption.

The purge, his admirers told me, would frighten bureaucrats, local politicians and executives of state-owned mega companies—the Holy Trinity of vested interests—into supporting Mr. Xi’s changes. So why, on leaving China at the end of a nearly four-year assignment, am I pessimistic about the country’s economic future? When I arrived, China’s GDP was growing at nearly 10% a year, as it had been for almost 30 years—a feat unmatched in modern economic history. But growth is now decelerating toward 7%. Western business people and international economists in China warn that the government’s GDP statistics are accurate only as an indication of direction, and the direction of the Chinese economy is plainly downward. The big questions are how far and how fast. My own reporting suggests that we are witnessing the end of the Chinese economic miracle.

We are seeing just how much of China’s success depended on a debt-powered housing bubble and corruption-laced spending. The construction crane isn’t necessarily a symbol of economic vitality; it can also be a symbol of an economy run amok. Most of the Chinese cities I visited are ringed by vast, empty apartment complexes whose outlines are visible at night only by the blinking lights on their top floors. I was particularly aware of this on trips to the so-called third- and fourth-tier cities—the 200 or so cities with populations ranging from 500,000 to several million, which Westerners rarely visit but which account for 70% of China’s residential property sales. From my hotel window in the northeastern Chinese city of Yingkou, for example, I could see empty apartment buildings stretching for miles, with just a handful of cars driving by. It made me think of the aftermath of a neutron-bomb detonation—the structures left standing but no people in sight.

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“China’s had a decade which has been very, very similar to that of the US in the 1920s.”

Hugh Hendry: “A Bet Against China Is A Bet Against Central Bank Omnipotence” (MW)

Merryn Somerset Webb: That brings us, I guess, to China. You were one of the first to point out the native problems in China. Your rather amazing video wandering around empty housing estates, etc, which I think was pretty well watched. What’s your view now?

Hugh Hendry: I think my view would surprise you. Before I surprise you, I would like to seek legitimacy of my view by telling you that I have made money. It’s been my most successful profit centre in the year to date, and we’ve made over 5% trading in China-related macro themes. In terms of surprising you, I am more sanguine about China. Actually I’ve been rather impressed by their policy responses over the last two years. When I look at China, China has got two components. It’s got this manic investment gross capital formation and in something which has been deepening these global deflationary fears, because they kept expanding over capacity industries such as cement and steel and undermining prices in the rest of the world. That in itself lowers these inflation figures below Central Bank targets. It becomes reflexive and then the central bank says “Crikey, I’ve got to be radical here. I’ve got to buy equities”. So there’s been that going on.

On the other hand, there’s been a robbing Peter to pay Paul, and China’s had a decade which has been very, very similar to that of the US in the 1920s. The US, people forget this, but Liaquat Ahamed – I’ve just destroyed his name, forgive me, but the Lords of Finance author – I reread it recently and I was very taken by the notion of how mean the Fed had been in the 1920s. Again, I say it to you with cathartic crisis, the response of the rest of the world is to be long dollars invested in America and that was certainly the case in the 1920s. But America was recovering nicely from the Great War and it had this incredible productivity revolution. There was great demand for credit and so it was fine on its own.

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What can you expect from Jon Hilsenrath?

Central Banks in New Push to Prime Pump (WSJ)

Two major central banks moved Friday to pump up flagging global growth, sending stock markets soaring but raising new questions about the limitations of a seven-year effort to use monetary policy to address economic problems. The People’s Bank of China announced a surprise reduction in benchmark lending and deposit rates, the first cuts since 2012, after other measures to boost faltering growth fell short. Hours later, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the bank might take new measures to boost inflation, now near zero, his strongest signal yet that the ECB is getting closer to buying a broader swath of eurozone bonds.

The moves came less than two weeks after the Bank of Japan said it would ramp up its own securities-purchase program known as quantitative easing, or QE, as the Japanese economy fell into recession. The twin steps Friday, half a world apart, sent global stock prices sharply higher, bolstered the U.S. dollar and boosted oil prices. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.4%, while Germany’s DAX index jumped 2.6%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 0.51%, and at 17810.06 is now closing in on the 18000 threshold that has never been surpassed. The Nikkei rose 0.3%. Amid the flurry of central bank activity, the dollar was the winner among global currencies, rising 0.27% against a broad index of other currencies to put it up 9% for the year.

Though the moves toward easier money in Europe and Asia are good for investors, they come with multiple risks. They could perpetuate or spark asset bubbles, or stoke too much inflation if taken too far. Also, they don’t address structural problems that policy makers in each economy are struggling to fix. The steps, particularly in Europe, represent a subtle endorsement of the Federal Reserve’s easy-money approach to postcrisis economics, but come as the U.S. central bank shifts its own low-interest-rate policies. The Fed last month ended a six-year experiment with bond purchases, and it has begun talking about when to start raising short-term interest rates as the U.S. economy improves, though those discussions are early and rate increases are likely months away, at the earliest.

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“Even low inflation can be damaging, particularly if it breeds the expectation that outright deflation will follow. If people expect prices to fall, they are encouraged to hold off spending.” Makes you wonder about Christmas sales.

Forget What Central Bankers Say: Deflation Is The Real Monster (Observer)

The European Central Bank might like to update its website – specifically, its educational video to teach teenagers about the importance of keeping prices in check. In it, a spotted, fanged, snarling “inflation monster” floods money into the marketplace, making vivid the perils of prices rising too quickly. Near the end of the cartoon a much smaller, smiling, pink creature makes a brief appearance – the “deflation monster”. Fear of inflation is understandable in a continent that saw devastating hyperinflation last century – a shock seen by some as pivotal in the rise of Hitler. But look around the eurozone now and the bigger threat is deflation. Even in the UK, inflation is well below the Bank of England’s target and the central bank expects it to fall further over coming months.

Oil prices have been falling, as have other commodity prices. In Britain a supermarket price war is pushing food prices down further still. Wages are barely budging and a price freeze for energy bills should also help to keep inflation low this winter. The Bank fully admits it failed to forecast this significant drop below the government-set 2% target for inflation. Governor Mark Carney used the Bank’s latest forecasts earlier this month to warn of “some pretty big disinflationary forces”, largely coming from abroad. He predicted inflation would fall even further, to below 1% over the next six months. If it does, he will face the unenviable task of being the first governor since BoE independence in 1997 to write a letter to the chancellor explaining why inflation is so low.

All of the 14 letters written until now have been because inflation missed the target too far in the other direction, overshooting by more than 1 percentage point. Aside from the awkwardness of the Dear George moment, there are very real reasons why Carney is saying the Bank needs to get inflation back to target. The inflation monster may be scary, but the deflation monster is by no means harmless. Even low inflation can be damaging, particularly if it breeds the expectation that outright deflation will follow. If people expect prices to fall, they are encouraged to hold off spending. Economic stagnation and rising unemployment can follow.

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Why would anyone doubt that?

“I Am 100% Confident That Central Banks Are Buying S&P Futures” (Zero Hedge)

I have been an independent trader for 23 years, starting at the CBOT in grains and CME in the S&P 500 futures markets long ago while they were auction outcry markets, and have stayed in the alternative investment space ever since, and now run a small fund. I understand better than most I would think, the “mechanics” of the markets and how they have evolved over time from the auction market to ‘upstairs”. I am a self-taught, top down global macro economist, and historian of “money” and the Fed and all economic and governmental structures in the world. One thing so many managers don’t understand is that the markets take away the most amounts of money from the most amounts of people, and do so non-linearly.

Most sophisticated investors know to be successful, one must be a contrarian, and this philosophy is in parallel. Markets will, on all time scales, through exponential decay (fat tails, or black swans, on longer term scales), or exponential growth of price itself. Why was I so bearish on gold at its peak a few years back for instance? Because of the ascent of non-linearity of price, and the massive consensus buildup of bulls. Didier Sornette, author of “Why Stock Markets Crash”, I believe correctly summarizes how Power Law Behavior, or exponential consensus, and how it lead to crashes. The buildup of buyers’ zeal, and the squeezing of shorts, leads to that “complex system” popping. I have traded as a contrarian with these philosophies for some time.

The point here is, our general indices have been at that critical point now for a year, without “normal” reactions post critical points in time, from longer term time scales to intraday. This suggests that many times, there is only an audience of one buyer, and as price goes up to certain levels, that buyer extracts all sellers. After this year and especially this last 1900 point Dow run up in October, and post non-reaction, that I am 100% confident that that one buyer is our own Federal Reserve or other central banks with a goal to “stimulate” our economy by directly buying stock index futures. Talking about a perpetual fat finger! I guess “don’t fight the Fed” truly exists, without fluctuation, in this situation. Its important to note the mechanics; the Fed buys futures and the actual underlying constituents that make up the general indices will align by opportunistic spread arbitragers who sell the futures and buy the actual equities, thus, the Fed could use the con, if asked, that they aren’t actually buying equities.

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“Public sector net debt, excluding public sector banks, was £1.45 trillion in October, and now represents almost 80pc of UK gross domestic product. Britain’s debt pile has increased by almost £100bn over the past year alone .. ”

UK Chancellor Haunted By Deficit And £1.45 Trillion Debt Pile (Telegraph)

The Government’s ability to reduce the deficit this year and tame Britain’s huge debt mountain is in doubt, despite a slight fall in borrowing last month. Public sector net borrowing, excluding public sector banks, fell to £7.7bn in October, from £7.9bn in the same month a year ago. The deficit was also in line with economists’ expectations. While an across-the-board rise in tax receipts, including a 1.5pc increase in income tax to £10.5bn in October, helped to reduce borrowing last month, the deficit remains £3.7bn – or 6pc – higher this year than in 2013. The Office for Budget Responsibility had forecast a 7pc increase in income tax receipts this year, which are currently down 0.4pc compared with the same period in 2013, at £81.5bn. Income from VAT and stamp duties increased by 4.9pc and 3.6pc, to £10.3bn and £1.3bn respectively in October, while corporation tax payments also edged up, despite weak oil and gas revenues.

The OBR is expected to revise up the Government’s borrowing forecasts on December 3, when the Chancellor will present the Autumn Statement. This will reduce the likelihood of any big tax giveaways before the next election. Samuel Tombs at Capital Economics said: “This year’s poor borrowing figures limit the Chancellor’s room for manoeuvre and undermine his argument that the public finances can be restored to a sustainable position after the next election through spending cuts alone.” Robert Chote, the chairman of the OBR, said last month that the Government was likely to miss its income tax targets this year as weak pay growth and a surge in low paid jobs means the Treasury rakes in less revenue than predicted. A Treasury spokesperson said borrowing remained “in line with the Budget forecast” and stressed that the Government would continue to take steps to “build a resilient British economy”.

The Treasury and OBR expect a “sizeable” increase in income tax receipts from self-employed workers in January 2015 as distortions related to the reduction of the top rate of tax unwind. Economists were sceptical that any January boost would make up the current shortfall. Michael Saunders, chief UK economist at Citibank, expects the deficit to overshoot the OBR’s forecast by £13bn this fiscal year, taking borrowing up to £100bn this year. “The tax and benefit reforms of the last 15 years have proved very successful in boosting employment and workforce participation, but also have eroded the extent to which economic recovery generates a fiscal windfall,” he said. The size of Britain’s debt pile also continued to balloon in October. Public sector net debt, excluding public sector banks, was £1.45 trillion in October, and now represents almost 80pc of UK gross domestic product.

Britain’s debt pile has increased by almost £100bn over the past year alone, and the Treasury is expected to pay almost £1bn a week in debt interest payments this year. Debt interest payments are now close to the Goverment’s combined transport and defence budget, with payments expected to rise to £75bn in 2018-19.

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Noted this before: as capital fless junk bonds, big bad things can happen.

Junk Bonds Whipsawed as Trading Drought Rattles Investors (Bloomberg)

Junk bond investors have a bad case of the jitters. Every bit of bad news is whipsawing prices, with bonds tumbling as much as 50% in a single day. “We’ve seen some flash crashes in the market,” said Henry Craik-White, analyst at ECM Asset Management. “If you get caught on the wrong side of a name, you can get severely punished in this market.” Investors are rattled because they’re concerned that a lack of liquidity in the bond market will make it impossible for them to sell holdings in response to negative headlines. Trading dropped about 70% since 2008, with a corporate bond that changed hands almost five times a day a decade ago now only being sold once a day on average, according to Royal Bank of Scotland. Alarms started ringing in September with the collapse of British retailer Phones 4u after Vodafone and EE refused to renew contracts. The retailer shut its business and sought creditor protection on Sept. 15, sending the company’s payment-in-kind bonds down to 1.9 pence on the pound, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

A month later, notes of Spanish online travel service EDreams Odigeo fell 57% in one afternoon when Iberia Airlines and British Airways said they were withdrawing tickets from the company’s websites. The 10.375% bonds almost fully recovered the following trading day when the airlines reinstated the tickets. Abengoa’s debt plunged as much as 32% last week amid investor confusion about how the Spanish renewable energy company accounted for $632 million of green bonds. The Seville-based company’s 8.875% notes dropped to 74 cents on the euro from 107 cents in two days and rebounded to 95 cents after Abengoa held a conference call to reassure bondholders.

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” .. a Dutch pension fund for nurses and social workers that she invests for paid more than €400 million (about $500 million) to private-equity firms in 2013..”

Pension Funds Lambaste Private-Equity Fees (WSJ)

Pension-fund managers from the Netherlands to Canada, searching for new ways to invest, lambasted private-equity executives at a conference in Paris this week for charging excessive fees. Ruulke Bagijn, chief investment officer for private markets at Dutch pension manager PGGM, said a Dutch pension fund for nurses and social workers that she invests for paid more than €400 million (about $500 million) to private-equity firms in 2013. The amount accounted for half the fees paid by the PFZW pension fund, even though private-equity firms managed just 6% of its assets last year, she said. “That is something we have to think about,” Ms. Bagijn said.

The world’s largest investors, including pension funds and sovereign-wealth funds, are seeking new ways to invest in private equity to avoid the supersize fees. Some investors are buying companies and assets directly. Others are making more of their own decisions about which funds to invest in, rather than giving money to fund-of-fund managers. Big investors are also demanding to invest alongside private-equity funds to avoid paying fees. Jane Rowe, the head of private equity at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which manages Can$141 billion (US$124.4 billion), is buying more companies directly rather than just through private-equity funds. The plan invests with private-equity firms including Silver Lake Partners and Permira, according to its annual report. Ms. Rowe told executives gathered in a hotel near Place Vendome in central Paris that she is motivated to make money to improve the retirement security of Canadian teachers rather than simply for herself and her partners.

“You’re not doing it to make the senior managing partner of a private-equity fund $200 million more this year,” she said, as she sat alongside Ms. Ruulke of the Netherlands and Derek Murphy of PSP Investments, which manages pensions for Canadian soldiers. “You’re making it for the teachers of Ontario. You know, Derek’s making it for the armed forces of Canada. Ruulke’s doing it for the social fabric of the Netherlands. These are very nice missions to have in life.”

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That’ one cute graph. But any article that quotes Yergin is dead in the water.

Sun Sets On OPEC Dominance In New Era Of Lower Oil Prices (Telegraph)

It wouldn’t be the first time that a meeting of OPEC has taken place in an atmosphere of deep division, bordering on outright hatred. In 1976, Saudi Arabia’s former oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani stormed out of the OPEC gathering early when other members of the cartel wouldn’t agree to the wishes of his new master, King Khaled. The 166th meeting of the group in Vienna next week is looking like it could end in a similarly acrimonious fashion with Saudi Arabia and several other members at loggerheads over what to do about falling oil prices. Whatever action OPEC agrees to take next week to halt the sharp decline in the value of crude, experts agree that one thing is clear: the world is entering into an era of lower oil prices that the group is almost powerless to change This new energy paradigm may result in oil trading at much lower levels than the $100 (£64) per barrel that consumers have grown used to paying over the last decade and reshape the entire global economy.

It could also trigger the eventual break-up of OPEC, the group of mainly Middle East producers, which due to its control of 60pc of the world’s petroleum reserves has often been accused of acting like a cartel. Even worse, some experts warn that a prolonged period of lower oil prices could reshape the entire political map of the Middle East, triggering a new wave of political uprisings in petrodollar sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf, which depend on the income from crude to underwrite their high levels of public spending and support less wealthy client states in the Arab world. “We are now entering a new era in world oil and we will have lower prices for some time to come,” says Daniel Yergin, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Quest: Energy Security and the Remaking of the Modern World. “Oil was really the last commodity in the super-cycle to remain standing.” Mr Yergin spoke exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph ahead of what is being called the most important gathering of OPEC in more than 20 years.

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Don’t think the Financial Times finds it a good idea.

Google Break-Up Plan Emerges From European Parliament (FT)

The European parliament is poised to call for a break-up of Google, in one of the most brazen assaults so far on the technology group’s power. The gambit increases the political pressure on the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to take a tougher line on Google, either in its antitrust investigation into the company or through the introduction of laws to curb its reach. A draft motion seen by the Financial Times says that “unbundling [of] search engines from other commercial services” should be considered as a potential solution to Google’s dominance. It has the backing of the parliament’s two main political blocs, the European People’s Party and the Socialists.

A vote to effectively single out a big US company for censure is extremely rare in the European parliament and is in part a reflection of how Germany’s politicians have turned against Google this year. German centre-right and centre-left politicians are the dominant force in the legislature and German corporate champions, from media groups to telecoms, are among the most vocal of Google’s critics. Since his nomination to be the EU’s digital commissioner, Germany’s Günther Oettinger has suggested hitting Google with a levy for displaying copyright-protected material; has raised the idea of forcing its search results to be neutral; and voiced concerns about its provision of software for cars.

Google has become a lightning rod for European concerns over Silicon Valley, with consumers, regulators and politicians assailing the company over issues ranging from its commercial dominance to its privacy policy. It has reluctantly accepted the European Court of Justice’s ruling on the right to be forgotten, which requires it to consider requests not to index certain links about people’s past. The European parliament has no formal power to split up companies, but has increasing influence on the commission, which initiates all EU legislation. The commission has been investigating concerns over Google’s dominance of online search for five years, with critics arguing that the company’s rankings favour its own services, hitting its rivals’ profits.

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Eh, no. UKIP did not start this.

European Season of Political Discontent Rung In by UKIP (Bloomberg)

Some 16,867 voters in southeast England ushered in a season of European political tumult that in an extreme scenario could lead to Britain exiting the European Union, Greece quitting the euro or Catalonia seceding from Spain. Victory by the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party in a British parliamentary contest was fueled by the same sense of economic injustice and antagonism to politics-as-usual that will unsettle Europe in coming months. It also gave a flavor of the potential fallout, as the pound fell against most of its 16 major peers. “The markets have a lot to worry about,” Edmund Phelps, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University in New York, said in an interview before the British vote. “It’s possible that we could see a swing toward the extreme right, and one must wonder what ramifications this would have for the European Union and the euro area.”

Since Greece’s runaway debt convulsed the euro region in 2010, Europe has avoided doomsday storylines like the breakup of the EU, the euro or a member state. Whether those risks were banished or merely deferred will become clearer in the next rounds of political jousting. Early elections are beckoning in Greece, Catalonia, Italy and Austria, and that’s before scheduled ballots including in the U.K. in May, Portugal in September or October and in Spain at year’s end. The re-emergence of political risk in Europe is cited by Royal Bank of Scotland Plc analysts including Alberto Gallo as among the “top trades” for 2015. Europeans rehearsed the revolt in last May’s European Parliament balloting, upping the vote count of anti-establishment parties to about 30% from 20%. The motley groups failed to form a cohesive force and mainstream parties retained control. Protest parties are now set to consolidate gains at the national level.

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I’ll pay plastic, please.

The Curse Of Black Friday Sales (NY Post)

After a tough 2014, nervous retailers couldn’t afford to wait for the traditional day after Thanksgiving to pull the trigger on holiday shopping discounts. So retail titans from Amazon to Walmart — and nearly every store in between — have been stretching the selling season with Black Friday discounts that started the day after Halloween. Macy’s, JCPenney and Toys R Us, which started opening on Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, are opening earlier than ever for Turkey Day 2014. Retail experts say the hysterical bombardment of deals both online and in stores all November long shows just how ineffective — and dysfunctional — the Black Friday business model has become. Just 28% of shoppers are expected to hit the stores the day after Thanksgiving this year, according to a survey released last week from Bankrate.com.

“Retailers know that big pop, the big Black Friday day — it’s not working,” said Bankrate.com analyst Jeanine Skowronski. Black Friday used to be the day retailers’ profit ledgers entered the black for the year. Now it’s known for chaos, stampeding crowds and deals that can be found with less hassle online or some other time. As shoppers struggle with stagnant wages and high food prices, stores are fighting to win their limited discretionary dollars and turn a profit amid all the price-cutting. Add to that, on Black Friday, picketers will be outside 1,600 Walmart stores, calling for higher wages and full-time jobs for those who want them. “Personally, I never go to a store on Black Friday—there’s no need to,” said Edward Hertzman, publisher of Sourcing Journal.

“A better sale is probably just around the corner, especially on seasonal merchandise.” Since the 2008 Black Friday trampling death of a Long Island Walmart employee by a mob of shoppers, the post Turkey Day doorbuster sales have been notorious for attracting dangerous crowds. This year, Walmart and other stores are staggering deals and trying new strategies to keep the crowds less dangerous. Stores began extending Black Friday to try to bounce back from the recession. Now, however, they have trained consumers to expect a constant stream of price cuts, and are jockeying for first place in a fiercely competitive race. The discounts may help stores reach the forecast of up to 4% revenue growth for the 2014 holiday season, but margins will suffer.

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Have they incorporated Alibaba’s Singles Day yet? How about if we have one ‘special’ event every week? Would they all shop like crazy?

UK Retailers Pin Hopes On American Shopping Extravaganza (Independent)

Black Friday begins on Monday. If that’s the sort of sentence that elicits a double-take, I can only apologise — and say, blame the Americans. Ever a nation to milk something for all it’s worth and a bit more, the US has turned the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers cut their prices, into a week-long extravaganza. So Amazon will begin its “Black Friday Deals Week” promotions from 8am on Monday, with “lighting deals” every 10 minutes and lasting until stocks run out. The climactic day will still be Friday, and this year, more than ever, Britain will be swamped with discounts online and in the High Street. Visa Europe is forecasting that £360,000 will be spent every minute, or £6000 per second on its cards next Friday.

Once the preserve of Amazon, which in 2010 brought the phenomenon of the day after Thanksgiving as the day for retailers to offer big bargains, it’s now become one of the most important dates in the retail calendar. Friday is already set to become the biggest online shopping day in the UK. [..] In the US, Black Friday got its name from Philadelphia, where the police had to cope with the collision of shoppers heading for the sales and American football fans going to the annual Army v Navy fixture. It quickly acquired another interpretation, as the day when stores moved from being in the red to the black. UK retailers are crossing their fingers and hoping that the second meaning comes true.

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So all we need to do is cut our holiday shopping?

Don’t Prick The Christmas Spending Bubble, It Keeps Capitalism Alive (Observer)

Global capitalism, as a system, simply doesn’t work. Russell Brand’s new book provides the proof. As does my new book. And the hundreds of other new books that are just out. And the Sainsbury’s advert. And all the current adverts for booze and perfume, chocolates and jewels, supermarkets and computer games. The gaudy, twinkly proof is going up all around us as the last of the leaves come down. It’s called Christmas. [..]

Christmas is an annual bubble – an irrational buying fever that’s actually scheduled. We know it will come and, like all bubbles, we know it will end. Unlike most bubbles, we also know precisely when it will end. The huge signs advertising a collapse in prices are already stacked in department stores’ stockrooms as the final spasm of Christmas Eve top-whack spending is taking place. At this time of year, the invisible hand gets delirium tremens – possibly from the number of drinks the invisible mouth is sticking away. Looked at with a Scrooge-like economist’s hat on (gift idea for an accountant!), this makes no sense. Millions of people are each buying hundreds of things they don’t need – often luxuries they can scarcely afford – and at a time when such items’ prices are artificially inflated because everyone else is also buying them.

Wait a couple of weeks and jumpers with reindeer on, chocolates in stocking-shaped presentation packs and sacks of brussels sprouts will be going for a song. The rational economic choice, even for an alcoholic gourmand who likes wearing jewels, would be to schedule a knees-up for 10 January. And, as every shopkeeper will tell you, a huge sector of our economy depends on this. Our already beleaguered high streets would be wastelands without it, the hellish out-of-town malls exist primarily to harness this “golden quarter” of spending. The capitalist dream that western economies aspire to live is sustained by a crazy retail spike caused by a bastardised form of religious observance.

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And now, after three pieces on shopping crazes, here’s your moment of zen:

Food Banks Face Record Demand As Low-Income Families Look For Help (PA)

Growing numbers of people on low incomes are turning to food banks to survive, new research has revealed. Almost 500,000 adults and children were given three days’ food in the first six months of the current financial year – a record – the Trussell Trust reported. The charity said the number of adults being referred to one of its 400 food banks had increased by 38% compared with the same period last year. Problems with social security were the biggest trigger for going to a food bank, but more than a fifth blamed low income. In the six months to September, 492,641 people were given three days’ food and support, including 176,565 children, compared with 355,982 during the same period in the previous year.

Trussell Trust chief executive David McAuley said: “Whilst the rate of new food banks opening has slowed dramatically, we’re continuing to see a significant increase in numbers helped by them. “Substantial numbers are needing help because of problems with the social security system but what’s new is that we’re also seeing a marked rise in numbers of people coming to us with low income as the primary cause of their crisis. “Incomes for the poorest have not been increasing in line with inflation and many, whether in low-paid work or on welfare, are not yet seeing the benefits of economic recovery. “Instead they are living on a financial knife-edge where one small change in circumstances or a life shock can force them into a crisis where they cannot afford to eat.”

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“He said that when international sanctions had been used against other countries such as Iran and North Korea, they had been designed not to harm the national economy.”

Russia FM Lavrov Accuses West Of Seeking ‘Regime Change’ In Russia (Reuters)

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West on Saturday of trying to use sanctions imposed on Moscow in the Ukraine crisis to seek “regime change” in Russia. His comments stepped up Moscow’s war of words with the United States and the European Union in their worst diplomatic standoff since the Cold War ended. “As for the concept behind to the use of coercive measures, the West is making clear it does not want to force Russia to change policy but wants to secure regime change,” Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as telling a meeting of the advisory Foreign and Defence Policy Council in Moscow. He said that when international sanctions had been used against other countries such as Iran and North Korea, they had been designed not to harm the national economy.

“Now public figures in Western countries say there is a need to impose sanctions that will destroy the economy and cause public protests,” Lavrov said. His comments followed remarks on Thursday in which President Vladimir Putin said Moscow must guard against a “colour revolution” in Russia, referring to protests that toppled leaders in other former Soviet republics. Western sanctions have limited access to foreign capital for some of Russia’s largest companies and banks, hit the defence and energy industries, and imposed asset freezes and travel bans on some of Putin’s allies.

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Move over, Pussy Riot?!

Rapper May Face 25 Years In Prison Over ‘Gangsta Rap’ Album (RT)

Brandon Duncan has no criminal record, but could face a life sentence of 25 years in prison as prosecutors say his latest album lent artistic motivation for a recent string of gang-related shootings. San Diego County prosecutors have charged Duncan, 33, with nine felonies connected to a wave of gang-related shootings in the California city. Although the musician has not been charged with discharging or providing firearms in the recent shootings, prosecutors say his musical lyrics encourage gang behavior. Duncan’s latest album, entitled “No Safety,” features a photograph of a revolver with bullets on the cover. The gangsta rapper, who is being held on $1 million bail, is scheduled to head to court in December. If found guilty of felony charges, Duncan could serve a life sentence of 25 years in prison, his lawyer said. San Diego police say Duncan is a gang member, who goes by the name TD.

In 2000, California, faced with an increase in gang-related violence, passed Proposition 21, which takes aim at individuals “who actively participates in any criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.” Prosecutors, citing a section of the law, argued that Duncan, through his music and gang affiliations “willfully promotes, furthers, or assists in any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang.” “We’re not just talking about a CD of anything, of love songs. We’re talking about a CD (cover)… There is a revolver with bullets,” said Deputy District Attorney Anthony Campagna, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. Duncan’s lawyer, Brian Watkins, disputes the claim, saying the prosecution’s use of an obscure California law is “absolutely unconstitutional” and impedes his client’s First Amendment right to the freedom of speech.

“It’s no different than Snoop Dogg or Tupac,” Watkins, naming other rappers known for their controversial lyrics, said. “It’s telling the story of street life.” “If we are trying to criminalize artistic expression, what’s next, Brian De Palma and Al Pacino?” said Watkins, in reference to the 1983 movie “Scarface” directed by De Palma and starring Pacino.

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“Our living wonders, which have persisted for millions of years, are disappearing in the course of decades.”

We Need A New Law To Protect Our Wildlife From Critical Decline (Monbiot)

One of the fears of those who seek to defend the natural world is that people won’t act until it is too late. Only when disasters strike will we understand how much damage we have done, and what the consequences might be. I have some bad news: it’s worse than that. For his fascinating and transformative book, Don’t Even Think About It: why our brains are wired to ignore climate change, George Marshall visited Bastrop in Texas, which had suffered from a record drought followed by a record wildfire, and Sea Bright in New Jersey, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. These disasters are likely to have been caused or exacerbated by climate change.

He interviewed plenty of people in both places, and in neither case – Republican Texas or Democratic New Jersey – could he find anyone who could recall a conversation about climate change as a potential cause of the catastrophe they had suffered. It simply had not arisen. The editor of the Bastrop Advertiser told him: “Sure, if climate change had a direct impact on us, we would definitely bring it in, but we are more centred around Bastrop County.” The mayor of Sea Bright told him: “We just want to go home, and we will deal with all that lofty stuff some other day.” Marshall found that when people are dealing with the damage and rebuilding their lives they are even less inclined than they might otherwise be to talk about the underlying issues.

In his lectures, he makes another important point that – in retrospect – also seems obvious: people often react to crises in perverse and destructive ways. For example, immigrants, Jews, old women and other scapegoats have been blamed for scores of disasters they did not create. And sometimes people respond with behaviour that makes the disaster even worse: think, for instance, of the swing to Ukip, a party run by a former banker and funded by a gruesome collection of tycoons and financiers, in response to an economic crisis caused by the banks. I have seen many examples of this reactive denial at work, and I wonder now whether we are encountering another one. The world’s wild creatures are in crisis. In the past 40 years the world has lost over 50% of its vertebrate wildlife. Hardly anywhere is spared this catastrophe. In the UK, for example, 60% of the 3,000 species whose fate has been studied have declined over the past 50 years. Our living wonders, which have persisted for millions of years, are disappearing in the course of decades.

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