Jan 282019
 
 January 28, 2019  Posted by at 11:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Bust of woman with arms raised 1922

 

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)
PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)
China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)
Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)
UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)
May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson (R.)
Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)
UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)
Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)
In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

 

 

Picked up these numbers last week on Twitter. Chavez announced cancer in late 2012, died early 2013. Oil prices only explain a smal part of it. Economic warfare does the rest.

@spectatorindex – Venezuela GDP growth.
2012: 5.6%
2013: 1.3%
2014: -3.9%
2015: -6.2%
2016: -17%
2017: -15%
2018: -16%

US Sanctions On Venezuela Are Killing Citizens – Former UN Rapporteur (Ind.)

The first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years has told The Independent the US sanctions on the country are illegal and could amount to “crimes against humanity” under international law. Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans. The comments come amid worsening tensions in the country after the US and UK have backed Juan Guaido, who appointed himself “interim president” of Venezuela as hundreds of thousands marched to support him. European leaders are calling for “free and fair” elections. Russia and Turkey remain Nicolas Maduro’s key supporters.

Mr De Zayas, a former secretary of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and an expert in international law, spoke to The Independent following the presentation of his Venezuela report to the HRC in September. He said that since its presentation the report has been ignored by the UN and has not sparked the public debate he believes it deserves. “Sanctions kill,” he told The Independent, adding that they fall most heavily on the poorest people in society, demonstrably cause death through food and medicine shortages, lead to violations of human rights and are aimed at coercing economic change in a “sister democracy”. On his fact-finding mission to the country in late 2017, he found internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, but said “economic warfare” practised by the US, EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.

In the report, Mr de Zayas recommended, among other actions, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as possible crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. The US sanctions are illegal under international law because they were not endorsed by the UN Security Council, Mr de Zayas, an expert on international law and a former senior lawyer with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns. “Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees,” Mr de Zayas said in his report.

Read more …

Xi remains nervous.

PBOC Fixes Yuan Dramatically Stronger Following Gold Spike (ZH)

PBOC fixed the yuan dramatically stronger against the dollar overnight, sending offshore yuan surging to its strongest against the dollar in six months. While the Chinese currency is reportedly strengthening on the heels of trade talks optimism (which is entirely the opposite of the rhetoric coming out of Washington), we note that this was the biggest positive shift in the yuan fix in 19 months…

Notably, the yuan is strengthening considerably more against the dollar than it is against the broad basket of trade partner currencies…Shanghai Accord 2.0? And coincidentally, the surge in yuan comes the day after gold prices broke out higher… Perhaps the PBOC’s aggressive action was prompted to manage the Yuan peg against gold back into balance?

Read more …

If you look closer, nothing seems very dramatic. But real estate has become such a huge part of the economy that Beijing must weigh curbing risks vs continued growth.

It’s also the speed with which this has happened. 10 years ago Chinese didn’t borrow for homes. It’s literally been used to mitigate the financial crisis.

China’s Real Estate Loan Growth Slows Further In 2018 (CNBC)

Loans to China’s property sector grew at a slower pace in 2018 as Beijing tightened home-purchase rules to curb bubble risk, but lending to property developers expanded slightly faster than the year before, central bank data showed on Friday. Outstanding yuan property loans grew 20% from a year earlier to 38.7 trillion yuan ($5.72 trillion) by end-December, compared with 20.9% growth in 2017, the PBOC said in a quarterly financial report. Outstanding mortgage lending climbed 17.8% year-on-year to 25.75 trillion yuan by the end of 2018, below a 22.2% rise in 2017, central bank data showed.

Policymakers have vowed to ensure “stable and healthy” development of the property market, repeatedly emphasizing that homes are for living in, not speculative investment. The government’s sustained drive to reduce debt risks in the economy has cooled the property market but a continued downturn in credit growth in the sector could add to growing pressures on the world’s second-largest economy. The real estate sector is a key driver of economic growth, so any further weakness could influence the pace and scope of fresh stimulus steps expected from Beijing this year.

Property investment is also looking wobbly, with analysts waiting to see if the government will risk loosening restrictions on home buyers that have kept speculation in check. Real estate investment in December rose 8.2% from a year earlier, down from 9.3% in November, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by the National Bureau of Statistics. That was just ahead of the slowest pace of growth last year at 7.7% recorded for October. Developers raised their borrowings last year though, with loans extended for property development up 22.6% in 2018 versus growth of 21.7% in 2017, the report showed. The central bank also said outstanding household loans jumped 18.2% to 47.9 trillion yuan by end-2018.

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How much can Brexit hurt the British? A lot, we must assume. Then again, if you fall for this stuff at this moment in time, maybe you deserve what’s coming. How about a crisis worse than the 1930s?

Britain’s Biggest Lender To Offer 100% Mortgages To First-Time Buyers (G.)

Britain’s biggest lender is to offer 100% mortgages to first-time buyers in a return to lending last seen before the financial crash – but only if the buyer has family that can stand behind the loan. Under the new Lloyds Bank “Lend A Hand” deal, a first-time buyer will be able to borrow up to £500,000 for a new home, without putting down a penny of deposit. The Lloyds move marks a major expansion into the first-time buyer market, as most other mainstream lenders demand a minimum deposit worth 5% of the property purchase price, although Barclays has offered a similar “family springboard” deal. Lloyds has priced the mortgages to undercut the Barclays offer.

The deal – part of what Lloyds said is a £30bn commitment to help first-time buyers – will reopen concern about a two-tier market where buyers with well-off families can elbow aside those without. Saving for a deposit is usually cited by first-time buyers as the biggest hurdle to home ownership. Lloyds said the average deposit put down by first-time buyers has climbed to £33,211, and a staggering £110,182 in London. The Lloyds deal requires that a member of the family – such as parent, grandparent or close relative – helps out. The bank will only grant the 100% mortgage if the family member puts a sum equal to 10% of the value of the property into a Lloyds savings account.

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“The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.”

UK Cannot Simply Trade On WTO Terms After No-Deal Brexit (G.)

The UK will be unable to have frictionless, tariff-free trade under World Trade Organization rules for up to seven years in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to two leading European Union law specialists. The ensuing chaos could double food prices and plunge Britain into a recession that could last up to 30 years, claim the lawyers who acted for Gina Miller in the historic case that forced the government to seek parliament’s approval to leave the EU. It has been claimed that the UK could simply move to WTO terms if there is no deal with the EU. But Anneli Howard, a specialist in EU and competition law at Monckton Chambers and a member of the bar’s Brexit working group, believes this isn’t true. “No deal means leaving with nothing,” she said. “The anticipated recession will be worse than the 1930s, let alone 2008.

It is impossible to say how long it would go on for. Some economists say 10 years, others say the effects could be felt for 20 or even 30 years: even ardent Brexiters agree it could be decades.” The government’s own statistics have estimated that under the worst case no-deal scenario, GDP would be 10.7% lower than if the UK stays in the EU, in 15 years. There are two apparently insurmountable hurdles to the UK trading on current WTO tariffs in the event of Britain crashing out in March, said Howard. Firstly, the UK must produce its own schedule covering both services and each of the 5,000-plus product lines covered in the WTO agreement and get it agreed by all the 163 WTO states in the 32 remaining parliamentary sitting days until 29 March 2019. A number of states have already raised objections to the UK’s draft schedule: 20 over goods and three over services.

To make it more complicated, there are no “default terms” Britain can crash out on, Howard said, while at the same time, the UK has been blocked by WTO members from simply relying on the EU’s “schedule” – its existing tariffs and tariff-free trade quotas. The second hurdle is the sheer volume of domestic legislation that would need to be passed before being able to trade under WTO rules: there are nine statutes and 600 statutory instruments that would need to be adopted. The government cannot simply cut and paste the 120,000 EU statutes into UK law and then make changes to them gradually, Howard said. “The UK will need to set up new enforcement bodies and transfer new powers to regulators to create our own domestic regimes,” she said.

Read more …

Fast and loose with Good Friday.

May To Seek Binding Changes To Irish Backstop – Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Theresa May will seek legally binding changes to the Irish backstop from the European Union in an attempt to break the deadlock over Brexit, lawmaker Boris Johnson wrote in The Telegraph on Sunday, citing senior government sources. The PM is looking to change the text of the agreement to insert either a sunset clause or a mechanism for the UK to escape without reference to the EU, Boris Johnson said in The Telegraph. The contentious backstop arrangement is designed to prevent a hard border between Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland by requiring Britain to keep some EU rules if it was unable to agree a trade deal with the bloc. Ireland said earlier on Sunday it would not accept any changes to the backstop agreement.

Read more …

The backstop will be May’s major point of contention this week. Stop her! There’s already talk of reinserting issues in the deal that have already been thrown out.

Ireland Stresses It Will Not Yield On Brexit Backstop (G.)

Ireland has launched a last-minute effort to warn Theresa May off any attempt to unravel the backstop, two days before a crucial Commons debate that may decide the next move for the UK’s rudderless Brexit policy. Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister and deputy prime minister, insisted the backstop – the mechanism to ensure there will be no hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland if Britain and the EU fail to strike a free trade deal – was “part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change”. In a forceful interview, he insisted it was only part of the withdrawal agreement because of the UK’s red lines.

On Tuesday Tory Brexiters may get the chance to vote for amendments that would signal their willingness to back May’s Brexit deal subject to the backstop’s either being removed or time-limited. Ministers have not formally backed any of the anti-backstop amendments, which are incompatible with the deal that May agreed with UK leaders, but if one were to pass by a majority, she would be able to present the EU with a firm idea of what changes might get her deal through parliament – something that as yet remains unclear to Brussels. In an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Coveney said he did not see the need for further compromise because “the backstop is already a compromise”.

Although originally Northern Ireland-specific, it was made UK-wide at the request of May, he said. “And the very need for the backstop in the first place was because of British red lines that they wanted to leave the customs union and single market,” he said.

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Many Brits are so poor they can’t even think of stockpiling.

UK Military Bases Stockpiling To Prepare For No-Deal Brexit (Sky)

Britain has begun stockpiling food, fuel, spare parts and ammunition at military bases in Gibraltar, Cyprus and the Falklands in case of a no-deal Brexit, Sky News has learnt. Extra supplies are also being built up at bases in the UK to reduce the risk of the armed forces running short and being unable to operate if it suddenly becomes much harder to import and export day-to-day goods after 29 March. Military chiefs have spent at least £23m on what is being described as “forward-purchased” goods, Sky News understands. The move is part of contingency planning by the government – codenamed Operation Yellowhammer – to reduce disruption if Britain departs from the European Union without an agreement, according to three defence sources.

“An army marches on its stomach. If supply lines breakdown they struggle,” one source said. Any blockage in the flow of food and other vital items to Britain’s military bases overseas could impact on operations and affect thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen. There is a concern that supplies delivered to British troops in the rest of Europe – the UK has a permanent presence in Cyprus and a base on the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, which shares a border with Spain – could be impacted, according to the sources.

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We haven’t seen any of it yet.

Brexit Exposes Growing Fractures In UK Society (G.)

Britons have become angrier since the referendum to leave the EU, according to a survey which suggests there is widespread unhappiness about the direction in which the country is heading. 69 per cent of respondents said they felt their fellow citizens had become “angrier about politics and society” since the Brexit vote in 2016, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, a long-established, annual survey of trust carried out across the globe. 40 per cent of people think others are now more likely to take part in violent protests, the UK results from the survey show, even though violent political protest in Britain is rare.

One person in six said they had fallen out with friends or relatives over the vote to leave the bloc, the survey found. Edelman, which said the findings exposed a “disUnited Kingdom”, found widespread concern about where the government was heading, particularly among those who voted remain, and those who backed Labour. Overall, about 65% of Britons think the country is “on the wrong track”, the survey suggests. Amongst remain voters the figure is 82%, but even among leave voters the figure is 43%. Some 60% of people who identify with the Conservatives think the country is heading in the right direction, but among Labour identifiers, the figure is just 20%.

Read more …

The coal phase-out is part of a 500 billion-euro switch away from fossil fuels and toward renewables..

Compensating coal-mining regions & consumers for higher electricity prices expected to cost German taxpayer up to €78bn.

But across the border lies Italy, and next to it Greece. How are they going to pay for such a switch? And if they don’t, what’s the use of Germany doing it?

In Germany’s Plan To Phase Out Coal, A Big Polluter Will Benefit (BBG)

A proposal to stop Germany from using coal for power generation within two decades may leave an unexpected beneficiary: The company that burns the most of the fuel. While RWE AG was quick to say it’s “too soon” to shed all fossil fuel plants by 2038, the recommendations outlined this weekend by a panel advising Chancellor Angela Merkel called for compensation for the utilities and 40 billion euros ($45.6 billion) for regions coping with the transition. Together, the measures would significantly soften the blow on industry from Merkel’s vow to scale back greenhouse gases. They show how far the government has moved away from a quick clampdown on the most polluting fossil fuel and give more certainty for the future of some of RWE’s most valuable assets.

And while the proposals could yet be watered down by politicians, they signal a longer life for many of the utility’s plants than environmentalists had hoped for. “We believe that clarity, compensation payments, and a relatively long phase-out period should trigger a re-rating for the company’s conventional power generation,” said Guido Hoymann, an analyst at the private bank B. Metzler Seel. Sohn & Co. KGaA who added RWE to a list of top 10 German stocks.

Germany’s 120 or so remaining coal and lignite plants have a combined capacity of about 45 gigawatts. That’s enough to feed 40 percent of the nation’s power demand or about 32 million homes. Germany is already falling short on its targets to slash greenhouse gas emissions and sees closing coal plants as one of the most important ways to make the reductions needed. The coal commission includes members from the main political parties, environmental groups and industry charged with developing a consensus that Germany can live with for years to come.

Read more …

Jun 252017
 
 June 25, 2017  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Marc Riboud Paris 1953

 

Dems Push Leaders To Talk Less About Russia (Hill)
UK Housing Crisis Threatens A Million Families With Eviction By 2020 (G.)
The Answer Is Wages, Not Capital (Angusto)
Not All Fossil Fuels Are Going Extinct (BBG)
Reclaiming Public Services (TNI)
Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy? (DQ)
Health Spending In Greece Down 40% In 2009-2015 (Amna)
Moody’s Raises Greece’s Sovereign Bond Rating After Bailout (AFP)
Greece, A Guinea Pig For A Cashless And Controlled Society (MPN)
Monsanto And Bayer Are Maneuvering To Take Over The Cannabis Industry (WT)

 

 

Endlessly ironic that publications like the Hill write on this. They are more responsible for all the nonsense than any politicians are.

Dems Push Leaders To Talk Less About Russia (Hill)

Frustrated Democrats hoping to elevate their election fortunes have a resounding message for party leaders: Stop talking so much about Russia. Democratic leaders have been beating the drum this year over the ongoing probes into the Trump administration’s potential ties to Moscow, taking every opportunity to highlight the saga and forcing floor votes designed to uncover any business dealings the president might have with Russian figures. But rank-and-file Democrats say the Russia-Trump narrative is simply a non-issue with district voters, who are much more worried about bread-and-butter economic concerns like jobs, wages and the cost of education and healthcare.

In the wake of a string of special-election defeats, an increasing number of Democrats are calling for an adjustment in party messaging, one that swings the focus from Russia to the economy. The outcome of the 2018 elections, they say, hinges on how well the Democrats manage that shift. “We can’t just talk about Russia because people back in Ohio aren’t really talking that much about Russia, about Putin, about Michael Flynn,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told MSNBC Thursday. “They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to make the mortgage payment, how they’re going to pay for their kids to go to college, what their energy bill looks like. “And if we don’t talk more about their interest than we do about how we’re so angry with Donald Trump and everything that’s going on,” he added, “then we’re never going to be able to win elections.”

Ryan is among the small group of Democrats who are sounding calls for a changing of the guard atop the party’s leadership hierarchy following Tuesday’s special election defeat in Georgia — the Democrats’ fourth loss since Trump took office. But Ryan is hardly alone in urging party leaders to hone their 2018 message. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) has been paying particularly close attention to voters’ concerns because he’s running for governor in 2018. The Russia-Trump investigation, he said, isn’t on their radar. “I did a 22-county tour. … Nobody’s focusing on that,” Walz said. “That’s not to say that they don’t think Russia and those things are important, [but] it’s certainly not top on their minds.”

Read more …

Elections it is then. A rudderless society.

UK Housing Crisis Threatens A Million Families With Eviction By 2020 (G.)

More than a million households living in private rented accommodation are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 because of rising rents, benefit freezes and a lack of social housing, according to a devastating new report into the UK’s escalating housing crisis. The study by the homelessness charity Shelter shows that rising numbers of families on low incomes are not only unable to afford to buy their own home but are also struggling to pay even the lowest available rents in the private sector, leading to ever higher levels of eviction and homelessness. The findings will place greater pressure on the government over housing policy following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in west London, which exposed the neglect and disregard for people living in council-owned properties in one of the wealthiest areas of the capital.

The Shelter report highlights how a crisis of affordability and provision is gripping millions with no option but to look for homes in the private rented sector due to a shortage of social housing. Shelter says that in 83% of areas of England, people in the private rented sector now face a substantial monthly shortfall between the housing benefit they receive and the cheapest rents, and that this will rise as austerity bites and the lack of properties tilts the balance more in favour of landlords. Across the UK the charity has calculated that, if the housing benefit freeze remains in place as planned until 2020, more than a million households, including 375,000 with at least one person in work, could be forced out of their homes. It estimates that 211,000 households in which no one works because of disability could be forced to go.

Graeme Brown, the interim chief executive at Shelter, said: “The current freeze on housing benefit is pushing hundreds of thousands of private renters dangerously close to breaking point at a time when homelessness is rising.” A total of 14,420 households were accepted by local authorities as homeless between October and December 2016, up by more than half since 2009 – with 78% of the increase since 2011 being the result of people losing their previous private tenancy. Local authorities are under a legal obligation to find emergency accommodation, such as in bed and breakfasts.

Read more …

A kernel of truth does not a good reasoning make.,

The Answer Is Wages, Not Capital (Angusto)

As in any other religion, faith lies behind capitalism. Faith that capital is a panacea always and in any situation: to push economic growth or to help less developed countries to catch up. Yet the fact is that the EU countries that were the main receivers of cohesion funds, before the extension to the East, later became rescued countries – and we have never before had as much capital on tap along with current low growth.

Both these facts should be enough to break the faith in capital or, at least, to recognise its limits. Let’s see those limits in the above-mentioned causes. The virtue of capital transfers to help low developed countries is based in old Marshall Plan history, which attributes the successful German recovery after WW2 to USA loans. Sure, those loans helped, but the necessary knowledge was already there and the capital transfers allowed the Germans to rebuild their supply capacity. Conversely, in the EU rescued countries, entering the EU came with a local supply capacity destruction, in Schumpeterian terms, for which cohesion funds were unable to compensate. As a result, their domestic demand outstripped internal supply and trade deficits became recurrent until the financial crash.

The key element was not capital but knowledge and its absence or availability in both situations; something very obvious but all too often forgotten. If capital has any virtue it comes from its origin: the capacity to produce output sufficient to recover the inputs used, to satisfy consumption needs and to save a part to be invested as new inputs for raising future output. It means that the virtue is not in the savings/capital itself but in the capacity to generate it. That’s why capital transfers that simply increased the receivers’ inputs provision, without increasing the output/input ratio –or system efficiency–, were in the end wasted money. To avoid this, it would have been necessary to increase the receivers’ efficiency, which is much more correlated with parameters like educational levels than with capitalization! Again, knowledge is the key question.

Furthermore, capital on its own is not only unable to help less developed countries catch up on their wealthier peers but it’s also unable to propel economic growth on its own, as we are now seeing. After years of letting profits grow at the cost of wages, hoping that greater capital would bring greater growth, now we hear companies claiming that they do not invest because they do not have sufficient demand to justify the investment. The clear solution would be to increase wages, but no single company will do it out of fear that the others won’t follow suit. In fact, what any company hopes is that the others increase wages and salaries but not itself. That’s why a global agent is needed: trade unions and the public administration! The latter to increase its spending to guarantee full employment and the former profiting from full employment to bargain higher salaries.

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Bloomberg’s valiant attempt to make you see it doesn’t understand energy. Well done!

Not All Fossil Fuels Are Going Extinct (BBG)

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s latest New Energy Outlook points the way to a sunny, windy future for the global electric power industry. That doesn’t mean that fossil fuels (or nuclear power) will vanish. It also doesn’t mean that all fossil fuels are the same. The future of natural gas and coal is a tale of two resources — one a story of rising fortunes, the other of slow decline. The latest outlook on natural gas is brighter than ever: BNEF’s forecast for gas shows a higher estimate for consumption in 2040 than in previous years, with a short decline at the end of this decade.

Coal is a different matter. Coal demand is expected to peak late next decade, then decline almost every year to reach a low of 3.1 billion metric tons in 2040, about 25% lower than at its peak.

This long-term outlook is nuanced, as it should be. The aggregated demand for each fuel from 2020 to 2040 has not changed much in three successive New Energy Outlook reports. Total gas consumption has only increased 6% since the 2015 report, while coal consumption from 2020 to 2040 – despite the plunge that is now expected, as noted above – has only changed 3.5%, and was exactly the same in 2016. However, the shape of that coal curve is still important, even if the volume hasn’t changed much. A coal mine that opens today could have a 60-year life, but it is likely to be one fraught with oversupply and competition from other coal producers, as well as other technologies. So how does the 2017 New Energy Outlook for gas and coal compare to how major oil companies and the International Energy Agency see it? For gas, everyone agrees: Consumption grows. Shell expects gas consumption to more than double and, perhaps not surprisingly, Exxon Mobil and BP also expect consumption to increase at least 50%. BNEF’s expectations are a bit more muted.

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Looks a tad hippyish, but as I’ve said a million times, no society should ever sell its basics to anyone. It’s lethal.

Reclaiming Public Services (TNI)

Reclaiming Public Services is vital reading for anyone interested in the future of local, democratic services like energy, water and health care. This is an in-depth world tour of new initiatives in public ownership and the variety of approaches to deprivatisation. From New Delhi to Barcelona, from Argentina to Germany, thousands of politicians, public officials, workers, unions and social movements are reclaiming or creating public services to address people’s basic needs and respond to environmental challenges. They do this most often at the local level. Our research shows that there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalisation of public services worldwide since 2000, involving more than 1,600 municipalities in 45 countries.

Why are people around the world reclaiming essential services from private operators and bringing their delivery back into the public sphere? There are many motivations behind (re)municipalisation initiatives: a goal to end private sector abuse or labour violations; a desire to regain control over the local economy and resources; a wish to provide people with affordable services; or an intention to implement ambitious climate strategies. Remunicipalisation is taking place in small towns and in capital cities, following different models of public ownership and with various levels of involvement by citizens and workers. Out of this diversity a coherent picture is nevertheless emerging: it is possible to build efficient, democratic and affordable public services. Ever declining service quality and ever increasing prices are not inevitable. More and more people and cities are closing the chapter on privatisation, and putting essential services back into public hands.

Ulli Sima, Vienna City Councilor for the Environment and Wiener Stadtwerke: “As early as 2001, Vienna protected drinking water with a constitutional decision. Municipal services must remain public and should not be sacrificed to private profit. We want to ally with other cities for strong municipal servicest.” Eloi Badia, the Barcelona Councilor for presidency, water and energy: “It is important to demystify the process of privatisation that has been launched in recent years by several governments, because it’s a model that has not proved its efficiency, failing to offer a better service or a better price.”

Célia Blauel, President of Eau de Paris and Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of the environment, sustainable development, water and the energy-climate plan: “Bringing local public services under public control is a major democratic issue, especially for such essential services as energy or water. It means greater transparency and better citizen supervision. In the context of climate change, it can contribute to leading our cities toward energy efficiency, the development of renewables, the conservation of our natural resources, and the right to water. ”

Read more …

Yesterday I wrote: “To paraphrase Juncker: “When things get serious in Europe, no rules or laws are immune to lies.”

Today, Don Quijones says: “..when things get serious in the EU, laws get bent.”

That ends to the Cyprus model before it was even truly inaugurated.

Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy? (DQ)

When things get serious in the EU, laws get bent and loopholes get exploited. That is what is happening right now in Italy, where the banking crisis has reached tipping point. The ECB, together with the Italian government, have just this weekend to resolve Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, two zombie banks that the ECB, on Friday night, ordered to be liquidated. Unlike Monte dei Pachi di Siena, they will not be bailed out primarily with public funds. Senior bondholders and depositors will be protected while shareholders and subordinate bondholders will lose their shirts. However, as the German daily Welt points out, subordinate bondholders at Monte dei Pachi di Siena had billions of euros at stake, much of it owned by its own retail customers who’d been sold these bonds instead of savings products such as CDs. So for political reasons, they were bailed out.

Junior bonds play a smaller role at the two Veneto-based banks. According to the Welt, the two banks combined have €1.33 billion (at face value) in junior bonds outstanding. They last traded between 1 cent and 3 cents on the euro. So worthless. Only about €100 million were sold to their own customers, not enough to cause a political ruckus in Italy. So they will be crushed. The good assets and the liabilities, such as the deposits, will be transferred to a competing bank. According to a rescue plan apparently drawn up by investment bank Rothschild that surfaced a few days ago, Intesa Sao Paolo, Italy’s second largest bank, would get these good assets and the deposits (liabilities), for the token sum of €1, while all the toxic assets (non-performing loans) would be shuffled off to a state-owned “bad bank” – and thus, the taxpayer.

According to the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, the bad bank would be left holding over €20 billion of festering assets. “Intesa gets a free gift, the state takes on all the bad stuff and the taxpayer pays,” said at the time Renato Brunetta, parliamentary leader for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. It is testament to just how desperate the situation has become in Italy’s banking crisis. The country’s largest lender, Unicredit, is in no position to help out: it had to raise €13 billion of new capital earlier this year just to keep itself afloat. Whether the deal with Intesa is still possible after the ECB’s decision to liquidate the banks, and what form this deal, if any, will take, and how much the taxpayer will have to fork over, and how to sugarcoat this in the most palatable terms is what the Italian government is currently trying to hammer out in its emergency meeting.

Read more …

How anyone can label this anything but ‘criminal’ is beyond me.

Health Spending In Greece Down 40% In 2009-2015 (Amna)

Health spending in Greece plunged 40% in the 2009-2015 period, Deloitte said in a survey released on Thursday. According to the survey, health spending fell to €14.1 billion in 2014, hit by a significant shrinking in medical/pharmaceutical coverage by the state and the social insurance system. It also stressed that this sharp decline mostly hit pharmacies and other professionals in the health sector and less the country’s hospitals. Hospital spending fell to €6.2 billion in 2015, from €9.0 billion in 2009, for an average annual decline of 6.0%, while average annual decline in the retail sector reached 7.0% and 9.0%, respectively. Deloitte said the state social insurance system covers 59.1% of total health spending in Greece, with patients covering 35.5% -a %age significantly higher compared with other European countries (UK 9.5%, France 6.7%, Italy 21.7%).

3.7% of total health spending is covered by private insurance contracts. Private hospitals were also hit during the 2009-2015 period, leading to more consolidation as the number of private hospitals fell by 6.0% and their size grew by around 1.0%. The total number of private and state hospitals in Greece was 283, mostly in Attica, offering 45,900 beds. The survey said that the number of beds surpassed demand by at least 18%. The survey noted that health spending recovered slightly to €14.7 billion in 2015 and stressed that international investors were showing strong interest for business deals in Greece.

Read more …

Want Moody’s to be nice to you? Slash your health system by 40%.

Moody’s Raises Greece’s Sovereign Bond Rating After Bailout (AFP)

Credit ratings agency Moody’s late Friday raised Greece’s long-term issuer rating to “Caa2” from “Caa3” after eurozone governments extended a credit lifeline to the country. Moody’s also changed its outlook to “positive”, up from “stable” previously, saying it saw signs that the heavily indebted country’s economy was stabilising. It pointed to a mid-June agreement reached by Greece’s creditors to relaunch an aid plan to the country, which had been blocked for months due to disagreements between eurozone countries – especially Germany – and the IMF. The move reduces the spectre of a short-term crisis, after eurozone governments agreed to give Greece a new credit lifeline of some €8.5 billion ($9.5 billion). Moody’s said it expected Greece’s debt ratio to stabilise this year at 179% of GDP, adding that growth should return to the economy this year and next.

Greece returned to growth in the first quarter of 2017, with a 0.4% increase in GDP, according to figures revised upwards in early June. “It is too early to conclude that economic growth will be durable,” Moody’s said. The IMF, which links financial aid to debt relief, has also signed an “agreement in principle” to allow immediate assistance that avoids a payment crisis in Athens this summer. It said Thursday that negotiations with creditors for debt reduction had “made progress”. “If we did not think there was a good chance of reaching a debt deal, we would not have chosen that route,” an IMF spokesman said. Moody’s also raised the long-term country ceilings for foreign-currency and local-currency bonds to B3 from Caa2.

Read more …

Another kernel of truth that proves writing articles is not that easy.

Greece, A Guinea Pig For A Cashless And Controlled Society (MPN)

The IMF, which day after day is busy “saving” economically suffering countries such as Greece, also happens to agree with this brave new worldview. In a working paper titled “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing,” which the IMF claims does not necessarily represent its official views, the fund nevertheless provides a blueprint with which governments around the world could begin to phase out cash. This process would commence with “initial and largely uncontested steps” (such as the phasing out of large-denomination bills or the placement of upper limits on cash transactions). This process would then be furthered largely by the private sector, providing cashless payment options for people’s “convenience,” rather than risk popular objections to policy-led decashing.

The IMF, which certainly has a sterling track record of sticking up for the poor and vulnerable in society, comforts us by saying that these policies should be implemented in ways that would augment “economic and social benefits.” These suggestions, which of course the IMF does not necessarily officially agree with, have already begun to be implemented to a significant extent in the IMF debt colony known officially as Greece, where the IMF has been implementing “socially fair and just” austerity policies since 2010, which have resulted, during this period, in a GDP decline of over 25%, unemployment levels exceeding 28%, repeated cuts to what are now poverty-level salaries and pensions, and a “brain drain” of over 500,000 people—largely young and university-educated—migrating out of Greece.

Indeed, it could be said that Greece is being used as a guinea pig not just for a grand neoliberal experiment in both austerity, but de-cashing as well. The examples are many, and they have found fertile ground in a country whose populace remains shell-shocked by eight years of economic depression. A new law that came into effect on January 1 incentivizes going cashless by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10% of one’s income via credit, debit, or prepaid card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold. Beginning July 27, dozens of categories of businesses in Greece will be required to install aptly-acronymized “POS” (point-of-sale) card readers and to accept payments by card.

usinesses are also required to post a notice, typically by the entrance or point of sale, stating whether card payments are accepted or not. Another new piece of legislation, in effect as of June 1, requires salaries to be paid via direct electronic transfers to bank accounts. Furthermore, cash transactions of over €500 have been outlawed. In Greece, where in the eyes of the state citizens are guilty even if proven innocent, capital controls have been implemented preventing ATM cash withdrawals of over €840 every two weeks. These capital controls, in varying forms, have been in place for two years with no end in sight, choking small businesses that are already suffering.

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Inevitable. Chemists go where they smell money.

Monsanto And Bayer Are Maneuvering To Take Over The Cannabis Industry (WT)

You may remember hearing back in September that Bayer, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, made a deal to buy out Monsanto for $66 billion. Although Monsanto was voted the most evil company in the world in 2013 and its reputation has continued to fall since, Bayer still went ahead with the buyout. A merger between these two companies is unsurprising, as though they both have long histories of involvement with Nazism and chemical weapons like agent orange which have devastated Vietnam since the war. In fact, Bayer began as a break-off company of the infamous IG Farben, which produced the chemical weapons used on the Jews during the Nazi reign. After the war, Farben was forced to break up into several companies, including BASF, Hoeschst, and Bayer.

Soon after at the Nuremberg trials, 24 Farben executives were sent to prison for crimes against humanity. However, in a matter of just 7 years each of them was released and began filling high positions in each of the former Farben companies, and many of them began working for the Russian, British, and American governments through a joint intelligence venture called “Operation Paperclip”: (“IG (Interessengemeinschaft) stands for “Association of Common Interests”: The IG Farben cartel included BASF, Bayer, Hoechst, and other German chemical and pharmaceutical companies. As documents show, IG Farben was intimately involved with the human experimental atrocities committed by Mengele at Auschwitz. A German watchdog organization, the GBG Network, maintains copious documents and tracks Bayer Pharmaceutical activities.” – Alliance for Human Research Protection)

After all these years, Bayer is now richer and more powerful than their predecessor company I.G. Farben ever was. According to Big Buds Magazine, Monsanto and Scotts Miracle-Gro have a “deep business partnership” and plan on taking over the cannabis industry. Hawthorne, a front group for Scotts, has already purchased three of the major cannabis growing companies: General Hydroponics, Botanicare, and Gavita. Many other hydroponics companies have also reported attempted buyouts by Hawthorne. (“They want to bypass hydroponics retail stores…When we said we won’t get in bed with them they said, ‘Well, we could just buy your whole company like we did with Gavita and do whatever we want.’” – Hydroponics Lighting Representative) Jim Hagedorn, CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro, has even said that he plans to “invest, like, half a billion in [taking over] the pot business… It is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in lawn and garden.”

He has also invested in companies such as Leaf, which grows cannabis in an electronically regulated indoor terrarium accessible via smartphone. It is logical that Bayer, being the parent company, would work together with Monsanto in order to share secrets which would advance mutual business. Many people in the cannabis industry have been warning about this, including Michael Straumietis, founder and owner of Advanced Nutrients. (“Monsanto and Bayer share information about genetically modifying crops,” Straumietis notes. “Bayer partners with GW Pharmaceuticals, which grows its own proprietary marijuana genetics. It’s logical to conclude that Monsanto and Bayer want to create GMO marijuana.” – Michael Straumietis)

Read more …

Feb 042017
 
 February 4, 2017  Posted by at 2:43 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Esther Bubley Boy who rides to school daily on Greyhound bus, Washington Court House, Ohio 1943

 

It’s been a while since the Automatic Earth featured an article from Energy Matters, the site run by our longtime friend Euan Mearns, Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Aberdeen, and his co-conspirator Roger Andrews, a British engineer/geophysicist, semi-retired in Mexico. But I read a piece by Roger yesterday that I like, because it allows me to rant against all the false claims emanating from countries and companies about the share of renewable power in their total energy consumption.

Roger focuses on the railway system in the Netherlands, run by NS, which recently claimed that it operates on 100% wind power. This is of course, if you know anything about electricity generation and the grid, a preposterous claim, and that the company has the guts to make such a claim can only serve to prove how little the general public knows about the topic. Or they wouldn’t dare. Green is still so sexy in certain circles, and actual knowledge so poor, that companies like the NS feel no scruples about stretching their ‘greenness’ into absurd theater territory.

Google does something similar. And you might be inclined to think that the topic is so important for both the companies and the people they seek to please with their claims that grossly exaggerating the numbers would be out of the question, but not so. Instead, “Google announced that it will purchase enough renewable energy to match 100% of its operations in 2017”. And that is not the same as running on renewables, which is what is being suggested (in carefully cherry-picked terms). I like this assessment by electronicdesign.com:

Is Google’s Renewable Energy Plan What It Seems?

“Essentially, Google is contracting for green energy from places that can never reach its data centers. If it were as simple as Google claims, it would be easy to build a renewable power sector. New York City could execute a massive number of contracts with wind farms in upstate New York because they are on the same grid.“ [..]

Google is promising to buy—on an annual basis—the same amount of megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable energy as the amount of megawatt-hours of electricity that it consumes for its worldwide operations. This approach will benefit the renewable energy market even though it is still generating the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions with or without its 100% renewable energy purchasing plan.

Google ‘buys renewable energy’ in various places around the world, but its servers don’t run on it. It’s exactly like companies buying carbon permits from poorer nations; an excuse to keep polluting. As both the permits and the renewables are traded in markets where prices are low and/or heavily subsidized. As for the scale involved, “In 2015, Google consumed 5.7 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, which is nearly as much electricity as the city of San Francisco.” And don’t forget it keeps consuming ever more as the company grows. That’s a lot of fossil fuels. The medieval ‘principle’ of absolution inevitably comes to mind.

As for the Netherlands’ railways, Roger concludes below, after explaining why, that “the Netherlands’ electrified railways continue to be powered dominantly by fossil fuel electricity. The “Harried Dutch commuters” who are “travelling on one of the most environmentally friendly rail networks in the whole of Europe, if not the world” are being sold a bill of goods.”

 

I would like to add that because of continuing issues related to intermittency and baseload, which are nowhere near being solved, the very grid itself that is used to deliver the ‘renewable’ electricity couldn’t exist without fossil fuels. Or, in other words, if there were only ‘green’ sources of electricity, there would be no grid. How much can be moved towards ‘green’ sources is still somewhat debatable, but just like solar panels and wind turbines cannot build themselves but need fossil fuels to be produced, there is a limit far far below the 100% both Google and the Dutch railways are (deceitfully?) toying around with. Here’s Roger:

 

 

a target=”new” href=”https://euanmearns.com/do-the-netherlands-trains-really-run-on-100-wind-power/”>Do The Netherlands’ Trains Really Run On 100% Wind Power?

This question generated a number of comments in the last Blowout so I thought I would take a quick look at it. I find that the electrified portion of the Dutch railway network (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, or NS) runs on grid electricity that comes dominantly from fossil fuel generation (natural gas and coal). NS claims 100% wind power because it has a contract with various wind farms to produce enough energy to power its rail system, but this is just an accounting transaction. Only a small fraction of the power delivered to its trains actually comes from wind.

First some details on the Netherlands’ electricity sector. As shown in the table below installed capacity is dominantly fossil fuel, with natural gas making up 61% of total installed capacity and coal 15%. Wind contributes 4,117MW, representing 13% of the capacity mix. (Data from ENTSO-E ):

No details on the current generation mix are readily available, but as shown in Figure 1 gas and coal supplied around 80% of the Netherlands’ electricity between 2000 and 2013 and it’s likely that this percentage still applies.

Figure 1: The Netherlands’ generation mix 2000-2013. Data from Frontier Economics

How much of the Netherlands’ electricity is supplied by wind? According to Cleantechnica
wind power in the Netherlands generates 7.4 billion kWh (7.4TWh) of electricity annually, and according to BP the Netherlands’ total electricity generation in 2015 was 109.6TWh. However, wind power consumption in the Netherlands in 2015 was 12.5TWh, indicating that about 5TWh of wind power was imported during the year. So while wind contributes about 7% to the Netherlands’ electricity generation it contributes about 11% to the country’s electricity consumption. Either figure comfortably exceeds the amount of electricity NS uses to power its electric trains, which is variously quoted as either 1.2 or 1.4TWh/year.

The Netherlands imports wind power basically because it’s falling behind its EU renewable energy targets. But how does NS know the power it imports is wind? Because Eneco, which contracts to supply NS with wind power, gets a “Guarantee of Origin” from the exporter under which the exporter confirms that the power came from wind and assigns the rights to it to NS. As Cleantechnica puts it: “the GoO system allows for the transfer of the rights to call electricity green from those who actually generate renewable energy to those who don’t but want to classify their power as such. The actual amount of green energy produced is unaffected.”

There is, however, a problem. For NS to use only wind power from wind farms to power its rail system the wind farms must be connected directly to NS’s railways. (Figure 2: Note the dotted lines showing non-electrified track. According to LJ Electrical only 2,231km of NS’s total 3,223km of track is electrified):

Figure 2: The Netherlands’ railway network.

And of course no such connections exist. The two Dutch wind farms that have contracted to sell power to NS (Noordoostpolder and Luchterduinen) are both connected directly to the Dutch grid, along with all the other power plants in the country, and NS draws its power from the grid:

Figure 3: The Netherlands’ electricity grid. Grid connections for the Luchterduinen and Nordpoostpolder wind farms (locations approximate) are shown in black.

When wind power is fed into a grid it becomes inextricably mixed with all the vibrating electrons from other generation sources to the point where there is no way of knowing where any power taken from the grid came from. Grid power in fact reflects the overall generation mix, which in the case of the Netherlands is dominantly gas and coal with only a small contribution from wind. How much wind? Over the course of this year the average will be around 11%, equal to wind power’s share of the Netherlands’ annual grid electricity consumption.

And only half of the wind power NS has contracted for comes from the Netherlands. The other half comes from “newly built wind farms in …. Belgium and Finland”. Wind power now supplies about 10% of Belgium’s electricity, so power imported from the Belgian grid will be about 10% wind. Wind power from Finland can be discounted. Only about 2% of Finland’s generation mix is wind, and by the time it passes through the Finnish, Swedish and German grids on its way to the Netherlands it will effectively have disappeared. Imports from the German grid, however, will contain about 14% wind power, although not wind power that NS has contracted for. Putting these numbers together indicates that only 10-15% of the electricity consumed annually by NS’s electric trains will come from wind, with the rest a mixture that includes mostly Dutch gas and coal plus a small amount of Belgian and German coal, nuclear and lignite – and maybe even a little German solar.

The supply of wind power to the Dutch grid will also not be constant. I have no wind records for the Netherlands but P.F. Bach supplies data for Belgium, which should be a close analogy, and Figure 4 shows Belgian wind generation for September 2014:

Figure 4: Belgian wind generation, September 2014

With an installed capacity of around 1850MW in this month the overall wind capacity factor was 11% and there were a number of occasions on which wind generation fell effectively to zero for hours on end. During these periods wind generation in the neighboring Netherlands would also have fallen to low levels. Were these conditions to repeat themselves now, and if NS’s trains were powered exclusively by wind, they would almost certainly come to a halt. (Although Eneco, NS’s wind power procurer, claims that its “wind farm portfolio guarantees sufficient capacity to cover such eventualities” . Apparently Eneco can make the wind blow to order.)

So how does NS justify the claim that all Dutch trains run on 100% wind power? Well, it actually claims that only the electrified portion runs on 100% wind. Only the Guardian has seen fit to publish a correction:

An earlier version said all Dutch trains were now 100% powered by wind-generated electricity, according to the national railway company NS. The company said all electric trains were now powered by wind energy. (my emphasis)

And how does NS justify this lesser claim? According to Railway Technology because it has a:

“green energy contract – thought to be among the largest yet signed in Europe – between power supplier Eneco and VIVENS, an energy procurement joint venture comprising Netherlands Railways (NS), Veolia, Arriva, Connexxion and rail freight firms”, and because

“NS and Eneco have carefully selected a list of wind farms that fulfil their criteria of being traceable, sustainable – or renewable – and additional, or new”, and because

“This partnership ensures that new investments can be made in even newer wind farms, which will increase the share of renewable energy. In this way, the Dutch railways aim to reduce the greatest negative environmental impact caused by CO2 in such a way that its demand actually contributes to the sustainable power generation in the Netherlands and Europe.”

The first two are “feel good” justifications that have no practical impact. The third – that by purchasing wind power that would otherwise have gone elsewhere NS is leaving the door open for more wind projects and more CO2 reductions – is the only one that offers any tangible benefits. But there is no guarantee that the unfilled demand will be met by renewables, and in any event the 1.2-1.4TWh/year consumed by NS represents barely more than 1% of the Netherlands’ annual electricity consumption and a totally negligible fraction of European consumption. This is hardly enough to make a big deal about.

And meanwhile the Netherlands’ electrified railways continue to be powered dominantly by fossil fuel electricity. The “Harried Dutch commuters” who are “travelling on one of the most environmentally friendly rail networks in the whole of Europe, if not the world” are being sold a bill of goods.

 

 

May 012015
 
 May 1, 2015  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Hine A heavy load for an old woman. Lafayette Street below Astor Place, NYC 1912

Japan Is Bust: “More QE – Everywhere!” (Albert Edwards)
Marc Faber: Stocks Are About To Fall 40%—At Least! (CNBC)
Britain’s Scandal-Battered Banks Paralyzed as Election Looms (Bloomberg)
Chinese Banks Are Clobbering The US (CNBC)
Greece’s Decade-Long Relationship With Merkel (Kathimerini)
Greece Signals Concessions In Crunch Talks With Lenders (Reuters)
Greece Struggles To Make Payments To More Than 2 Million Pensioners (FT)
Why’s Europe QE Might End Sooner Than Thought (CNBC)
Why Did The US Pay A Former Swiss Banker $104 Million? (CNBC)
The Public Sector is a Milk Cow For Private Enterprise (Paul Craig Roberts)
Hookers, Kidneys & Nose Jobs: Most Searched Cost Obsessions By Country (RT)
The Day After Damascus Falls (Robert Parry)
The U.S. Oil Production Decline Has Begun (Art Berman)
The Traumatic Restructuring Of Austria’s Cooperative Banking System (Coppola)
Public Accounts Should Be Approved By The Citizens (Beppe Grillo’s blog)
Could You Live In A 320-Square-Foot Home? (Yahoo!)
Monsanto Approaches Syngenta Again About a Takeover (Bloomberg)
Church of England Dumps Fossil-Fuel Investments (Bloomberg)
Study Finds Climate Change Threatens 1 in 6 Species With Extinction (NY Times)

“it’s only after you’ve lost everything that you are free to do endless, unlimited QE. After all, what’s the downside?”

Japan Is Bust: “More QE – Everywhere!” (Albert Edwards)

“one area though where Abenomics has undoubtedly failed is that the Bank of Japan has not achieved its 2% core inflation target. When the BoJ started QE in April 2013 they stated that they wanted to hit their 2% inflation target for core CPI at the earliest possible time, with a time horizon of about two years?. Well that is now! Yet most key measures of CPI inflation are set to crash to, or even below, zero in the months ahead as the estimated 2% effect of last year’s VAT hike is set to drop out of the yoy calculations. Core CPI inflation that the BoJ targets, which excludes just fresh food, has been running at 2% yoy in February (March data out this Friday).

But I prefer to focus of the readily available CPI ex food and energy (known in Japan as core core CPI), which for some peculiar reason does not get followed that closely by the market. At the same time as the March national CPI is published, April’s CPI data for the Tokyo area also will be released. The headline and core (ex fresh food) CPI will be just above zero yoy. But the core core Tokyo CPI (ex food and energy) is likely to have dipped below zero as VAT drops out as the rate in March was already only running at 1.7%.[..] Regular readers will know that I am pretty horrified by the global Quantitative floodgates that have been opened since the 2008 Great Recession.

Once an emergency measure of dubious effect, it is now a never ending stream of confetti money being thrown around the world to inflate asset prices. QE has now become the policy variable of first resort. Personally I think this will all end very badly. But why, I often asked, am I so much more positive about the Japanese outcome than I am the US, UK or eurozone? To be sure I would agree with the Japan sceptics. But I am bullish because I believe that the Japanese fiscal situation is so bad that the authorities had no option but to begin their QQE in April 2013 and there is indeed, as Peter Tasker says, no turning back. Russell Jones is also correct that the BoJ will become more and more aggressive and inventive for the simple reason that Japan is bust.

Read more …

“The market is in a position where it’s not just going to be a 10% correction.”

Marc Faber: Stocks Are About To Fall 40%—At Least! (CNBC)

After years of forecasting gloom and doom for stocks only to watch them surge, Marc Faber is sounding the alarm as loud as ever. Faber, editor of The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report, believes that stocks in the U.S. and in many places around the globe are in a central bank-fueled bubble. And while he can’t put a time on when that perceived bubble will pop, he prognosticates that once it does, the outcome will be horrifying. “For the last two years, I’ve been thinking that U.S. stocks are due for a correction,” Faber said Wednesday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” “But I always say a bubble is a bubble, and if there’s no correction, the market will go up, and one day it will go down, big time.”

“The market is in a position where it’s not just going to be a 10% correction. Maybe it first goes up a bit further, but when it comes, it will be 30% or 40% minimum!” Faber asserted. A 40% decline from Wednesday’s close would take the S&P 500 to 1,264, a level that hasn’t been seen since the early days of 2012. Faber says low yields and stimulative central bank policies around the world have led to a condition in which “all assets are grossly overvalued … and eventually this will unwind and cause some problems.” Despite his massively bearish call, Faber said he’s “not short the market yet,” since he doesn’t know how high stocks could go in the interim. Still, he makes clear that “I’m not interested to buy momentum, I’m interested to buy value.”

Read more …

“U.K. taxpayers sunk about $1.5 trillion into banks in 2008 and 2009 to prop up the nation’s failing system..” Of banks that collected many billions in fines since.

Britain’s Scandal-Battered Banks Paralyzed as Election Looms (Bloomberg)

Whatever the outcome of Britain’s election next week, the outlook for the country’s banks is worsening. Almost seven years since the industry received the biggest taxpayer bailout in history, public confidence in banks is near an all-time low and lenders’ efforts to boost profit are being frustrated by investigations into alleged currency and interest rate-rigging. Since the coalition government took power in 2010, U.K. bank stocks have lost 7%. Their U.S. counterparts have returned 46%. “You can hardly believe we are now seven years into this crisis, and we’ve still got billions in fines to come and virtually none of the major banks predicting decent returns for at least another three to four years,” said Ed Firth at Macquarie. “If you told us that in 2007, we just wouldn’t have believed it.”

The industry’s prospects look to be getting worse as both major political parties distance themselves from the City, London’s financial district, before the May 7 election. The Bank of England is preparing harsher stress tests this year that may force firms to bolster capital buffers and new rules require expensive firewalls to be created around consumer operations. A levy on banks’ balance sheets has been increased eight times since 2010. U.K. taxpayers sunk about $1.5 trillion into banks in 2008 and 2009 to prop up the nation’s failing system, and still own 79% of money-losing RBS and a fifth of Lloyds. Before the election, the tarnished reputation of the industry has taken another battering with HSBC embroiled in allegations it aided tax evasion. The Asian-focused lender said last week it may leave London because of rising tax and regulatory costs and Standard Chartered may join them.

Read more …

“In 2004, the U.S. side had assets double those of China and net income equal to 339%; now those respective numbers are 71.6% and 50.8%..”

Chinese Banks Are Clobbering The US (CNBC)

China’s banks are taking over the world, or at least pushing their U.S. counterparts out of the leadership role. Bank earnings this week in the world’s second largest economy paint a dour picture for American financial institutions, according to analyst Dick Bove at Rafferty Capital Markets. “The Chinese government is now following a policy to allow its banks to expand faster. It has reduced their required reserve ratios,” Rafferty’s vice president of equity research said in a note to clients. “The United States continues to follow a policy to shrink the biggest banks in this country.”

The picture gets especially ugly when comparing the “Big Four” U.S. banks—JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo—to their Chinese counterparts, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China and Bank of China. In 2004, the U.S. side had assets double those of China and net income equal to 339%; now those respective numbers are 71.6% and 50.8%, according to Bove. That precipitous slide comes as direct result of regulators trying to hamstring banks through excessive regulation, even though the four institutions in question have managed to gain a historically high share of the U.S. industry. In fact, the top five now control 45% of the entire industry’s assets, according to SNL Financial (the list also includes U.S. Bancorp).

Even so, Bove said U.S. bank operations are being confined through tighter regulations, such as those from the Dodd-Frank provisions. “The fact that U.S. banks are unable to lend as much as they did historically as a% of capital is not good for the U.S. economy,” he said. “Moreover, there are growing signs that the liquidity that characterized U.S. financial markets is being harmed by current policy.” Despite the strongest earnings of any sector in the S&P 500—a 16.1% annualized gain in the first quarter for financials—banks stocks are struggling, collectively down about 1.8%. Bove said that’s no coincidence. He also worries that the implementation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank—essentially a development fund that will provide capital to developing Asian economies to which the U.S. does not belong—is another shot against U.S. international finance standing.

Read more …

Angela Palin: “Her southbound trips usually ended in the Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria, from where she could see Greece..”

Greece’s Decade-Long Relationship With Merkel (Kathimerini)

Last week, hopes of an honest compromise between Athens and its international creditors rested on a meeting between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of an emergency European Union summit on immigration. In her 10th year at the helm of Germany, the low-key East German physicist – with patience and persistence, skill in tactical maneuvering, and in-depth knowledge of the key European issues and the role of her country – has emerged as the uncontested protagonist of the European stage. It is ironic that, to a great extent, Merkel owes her prominence to Greece. As she said in a speech in 2012 (mentioned in Alan Crawford and Tony Czuczka’s biography “Angela Merkel: A Chancellorship Forged in Crisis”), as a young woman she would spend her summers traveling all over that part of the Eastern bloc where she was allowed access.

Her southbound trips usually ended in the Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria, from where she could see Greece, just a few kilometers away, and wished that one day she would be able to visit. If she sensed that one day she would come to the country as an honored guest, it is less likely she believed that she would be treated more or less like a conqueror. Before the Greek crisis, the German chancellor had no strategic vision for Europe. After its outbreak, she had to cook up a basic recipe: austerity and structural reform as a means of adapting Europe to a globalized world, mechanisms for supporting indebted countries with strict conditionality and no option for debt mutualization, and the involvement of the IMF.

For many, this is an ineffective and unjust policy which places the lion’s share of the adjustment burden on the countries of Europe’s south, yet it has prevailed, becoming the action that determines every reaction. Speaking with high-ranking officials in Greece and Germany, Kathimerini attempts to trace the evolution of bilateral relations in the Merkel era and how the chancellor emerged from the shadow of Helmut Kohl to step into the limelight of European developments.

Read more …

Hollow talk: “(Is) the euro zone prepared for eventualities, the answer to that is: ‘yes’.”

Greece Signals Concessions In Crunch Talks With Lenders (Reuters)

Greece’s government signaled the biggest concessions so far as talks with lenders on a cash-for-reforms package started in earnest on Thursday, but tried to assure leftist supporters it had not abandoned its anti-austerity principles. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s three-month-old government is under heavy pressure at home and abroad to reach an agreement with European and IMF lenders to avert a national bankruptcy. A new poll showed over three-quarters of Greeks feel Athens must strike a deal at any cost to stay in the euro. An enlarged team of Greek negotiators began talks with the so-called Brussels Group representing the euro zone, the IMF and the ECB to discuss which reforms Greece will turn into legislation rapidly in exchange for aid.

The talks are expected to continue through the May Day holiday weekend until Sunday, with Tsipras willing to step in to speed things up if necessary, a Greek official said. In a sign of seriousness, both sides agreed on a news blackout at the meeting, a euro zone official said. Greece wants an interim deal by next week, hoping this will allow the ECB to ease liquidity restrictions before a €750 million payment to the IMF falls due on May 12. Athens has suggested it will struggle to pay the installment. Before that, it also has to repay €200 million to the IMF by May 6, although this is expected to be less of a problem. The head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said at a meeting with members of the Dutch parliament that the bloc was prepared for any outcome. Asked whether there was a “plan B” should Greece default or be forced out of the euro zone, he said: “(Is) the euro zone prepared for eventualities, the answer to that is: ‘yes’.”

Read more …

Curiously leading from the FT.

Greece Struggles To Make Payments To More Than 2 Million Pensioners (FT)

The Greek government was struggling on Thursday to complete payments to more than 2 million pensioners after claiming that a “technical hitch” had delayed an earlier disbursement. Elderly Athenians waited at branches of the National Bank of Greece, the state-controlled lender handling the bulk of pension payments, which are staggered over several days. “Normally I only withdraw half the money at the end of the month, but today I’m taking it all,” said Sotiria Zlatini, 75, a former civil servant. “There are so many rumors going round because of the government’s problems and what happened two days ago.”

The left-wing Syriza-led government scrambled to pay pensions and public sector salaries in February and March after failing to reach agreement with international lenders on unlocking €7.2 billion of bailout aid. On Tuesday, the main state social security fund, IKA, delayed pension payments by almost eight hours. The heavily loss-making fund relies on a monthly subsidy from the budget to be able to cover its obligations. “I went to the ATM in the morning before going to the supermarket but the money wasn’t there… I went back at eight in the evening feeling quite anxious, but it had arrived,” said Socrates Kambitoglou, a retired civil engineer.

Dimitris Stratoulis, deputy minister for social security, said a technical problem with the interbank payment system had caused the delay. Payments were made normally on Wednesday, said a senior Greek banker. But an official with knowledge of the government’s cash position denied there had been a technical hitch. He said the payments were held up because the state pension funds “were still missing several hundred million euros on Tuesday morning”. Another official said inflows of €500 million on Wednesday had eased the situation and €300 million was due to be paid on Thursday. “We’re probably going to make it this month,” he said.

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Draghi blows the bubble so hard he may have to stop?!

Why’s Europe QE Might End Sooner Than Thought (CNBC)

A constant supply of strong economic data has come out of the euro zone this month, just weeks after the European Central Bank President Mario Draghi launched of a much-anticipated bond-buying plan. So strong, in fact, that analysts are expecting that the ECB’s quantitative easing program might be over sooner than originally thought. Draghi’s original plan was to maintain the asset purchase program until the end of September 2016, or until there is a “sustained adjustment in path of inflation”. The central banker even expressed his surprise at last month’s Governing Council meeting when questioned on the potential of an early exit from QE, but investors are also suggesting he may not be faced with much of a choice.

Since the March launch of the €60 billion-a-month program, loans to the private sector in the euro area, a gauge of economic health, have started growing again, ECB data released this week showed. Retail sales in the region have seen a revival, as a dip in February was preceded by four successive monthly increases. Meanwhile German unemployment plummeted to a 24-year low and the euro zone ended four months of deflation in April, official data revealed on Thursday. With unemployment falling and wages starting to pick up in some parts of the currency area, consumer spending will also likely rise during 2015.

This record jobless data from Europe’s largest economy could put the September 2016 QE deadline into question, but not until later in the year, analysts suggest. “Compared to a year ago, the number of persons registered as unemployed has declined by 2.9 million people, indicating that the trend in labor market improvement remains firm,” said chief euro zone economist at Pantheon Economics, Claus Vistesen. “The German unemployment rate is currently at its lowest level since 1991 raising the risk of wage pressures, which could also make life difficult for the ECB in terms of continuing QE, but this is unlikely to become a story for the market until the end of Q3 at the earliest.

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Good story on a guy who isn’t done with either Washington or New York.

Why Did The US Pay A Former Swiss Banker $104 Million? (CNBC)

Bradley Birkenfeld was released from federal prison in August 2012 after serving 2Ω years for his role as a Swiss banker hiding millions of dollars for wealthy American clients. Five weeks later, he found himself in the kitchen of a small rental house in Raymond, New Hampshire. At that moment, Birkenfeld was an ex-con. He was out of work, infamous in a famously discreet profession, and probably unemployable as a private banker anywhere. But then his lawyer walked into the room, carrying a check from the U.S. Treasury to Birkenfeld for $104 million minus taxes. On the face was a picture of the Statue of Liberty. It was Birkenfeld’s cut as a whistleblower of the massive settlement his former employer the Swiss bank UBS had paid to the United States government in a settlement for helping Americans dodge taxes.

As Birkenfeld signed the check, he was transformed from convicted felon to government-made multimillionaire. “It was vindication,” Birkenfeld said. “I am glowing. I love it.” Today, Birkenfeld has a new rental house by the ocean in New Hampshire, two Porsches, and a collection of pricy vintage hockey gear to display in his own Boston Bruins luxury box. He’s made charitable contributions in his community. And he’s planning to open a sports museum. You’d think he’d be happy. But Birkenfeld, 50, a big man with a brash style and a temper, isn’t done with the U.S. Department of Justice. He’s on a quest, he said, to force the government to explain why it was so aggressive in prosecuting him, but let nearly everyone else involved in the scam get off with light penalties or none at all.

Now Birkenfeld is telling his story exclusively to CNBC. Wealthy, out of prison and soon to be removed from federal probation, he says he’s now free to explain how he came to be the man who ended the tradition of bank secrecy and got rich in the process. The reverberations from Birkenfeld’s disclosures have been titanic, playing out on a global stage. The United States in 2009 forced UBS to pay a $780 million penalty and admit it conspired to defraud the United States by impeding the IRS from obtaining information on American taxpayers hiding money in Switzerland. In 2014, banking giant Credit Suisse pleaded guilty and said it would pay $2.6 billion in penalties. American investigators soon followed the trail of hidden money to banks in Israel, India and around the world.

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“The real Social Security crisis is that the government does not have the money to redeem its IOUs.”

The Public Sector is a Milk Cow For Private Enterprise (Paul Craig Roberts)

Social Security and Medicare are under attack from Wall Street, conservatives, and free market economists. The claims are that these programs are unaffordable and that the programs can be run more efficiently and at less cost if privatized. The programs are disparaged as “entitlements.” The word has come to imply that entitled people are getting something at great cost to everyone else. Indeed, entitlements have become conflated with welfare. In fact, Social Security and Medicare are financed by an earmarked payroll tax paid by employees. (Economists regard the part of the payroll tax that is paid by employers as part of the employee’s wage.)

According to the Social Security and Medicare trustees, Social Security as presently configured can pay full promised benefits for the next two decades and with current payroll tax and demographic trends can pay 75% of benefits thereafter. Medicare can pay full benefits for 12 more years and 90% of promised benefits thereafter. It makes sense to look ahead–something that democracies seldom do–but there is no current crisis. The Carter administration did look ahead and put in place a series of future increases in the payroll tax sufficient to keep the programs in the black for several decades into the future. Shortly thereafter in 1981 there was a claim that there was a short-term financing problem.

The National Commission on Social Security Reform was created. Alan Greenspan was appointed chairman, and the commission is known as the Greenspan Commission. What the commission did was to accelerate in time the payroll tax increases that were already in place. In my opinion, this was done in order to reduce projected federal budget deficits that concerned Wall Street and Republicans. The consequence of the accelerated payroll tax increases is that over the next decades the programs accrued large surpluses in the trillions of dollars that the federal government spent on other programs, substituting for the surplus payroll revenues non-marketable Treasury IOUs to Social Security and Medicare.

Far from entitlements worsening the federal deficit, entitlement surpluses have reduced it. The real Social Security crisis is that the government does not have the money to redeem its IOUs. The government, of course, will print money to bail out the banks’ uncovered casino bets, but not to bail out the elderly from the theft of their funds. The government has wasted trillions of dollars on wars that have enriched the military/security complex by killing, maiming, and displacing millions of peoples in seven countries, but Washington “cannot afford” Social Security and Medicare. Representing the people is not something “our” representatives do. They are too busy representing a handful of private interest groups such as the financial sector, the military/security complex, and agribusiness.

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Entertaining and then some.

Hookers, Kidneys & Nose Jobs: Most Searched Cost Obsessions By Country (RT)

The cost of flying a MiG fighter in Russia, buying kidneys in Iran, prostitutes in Ukraine and rhinoplasty in S. Korea are just a few of the most popular Google requests worldwide, a new map shows. It does give some weird insights into the countries. Fixr.com, a cost-estimating website has put together a map of the world with the most-Googled things in each country, using the autocomplete formula of “How much does * cost in [x country].” The search results turned out to be hilarious and informative, and gave a peek into humanity’s cost obsessions per country. “Looking at some of the most popular Google searches throughout the World reveals some cultural differences, but also many key similarities. It also provides insights into the sometimes strange things people think about when they are alone,” says fixr.com website.

Russians are most interested in “How much does it cost to fly a MiG [military aircraft] in Russia?” Iranians are eager to sell or to buy kidneys, while the South Koreans are obsessed with their appearance and fixated on rhinoplasty (nose plastic surgery) costs. The Chinese, Apple’s biggest iPhone market, desire iPhones, of course. On Tuesday, Apple said it sold more iPhones in China than in the US. The cost of a prostitute is the most Googled demand in a range of countries, such as in Brazil, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Colombia and Latvia. Slaves crop up in Mauritania, diamonds shine in Sierra Leone and cocaine fires up Honduras, Chile and Taiwan – these are some of the most Googled and weird demands in each of these countries. Why Japanese people want watermelons or Armenians are obsessed with carpets is as yet a mystery.

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When choaos backfires on the empire…

The Day After Damascus Falls (Robert Parry)

If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets the same fate as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, much of Official Washington would rush out to some chic watering hole to celebrate – one more “bad guy” down, one more “regime change” notch on the belt. But the day after Damascus falls could mark the beginning of the end for the American Republic. As Syria would descend into even bloodier chaos – with an Al-Qaeda affiliate or its more violent spin-off, the Islamic State, the only real powers left – the first instinct of American politicians and pundits would be to cast blame, most likely at President Barack Obama for not having intervened more aggressively earlier.

A favorite myth of Official Washington is that Syrian “moderates” would have prevailed if only Obama had bombed the Syrian military and provided sophisticated weapons to the rebels. Though no such “moderate” rebel movement ever existed – at least not in any significant numbers – that reality is ignored by all the “smart people” of Washington. It is simply too good a talking point to surrender. The truth is that Obama was right when he told New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman in August 2014 that the notion of a “moderate” rebel force that could achieve much was “always … a fantasy.”

As much fun as the “who lost Syria” finger-pointing would be, it would soon give way to the horror of what would likely unfold in Syria with either Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front or the spin-off Islamic State in charge – or possibly a coalition of the two with Al-Qaeda using its new base to plot terror attacks on the West while the Islamic State engaged in its favorite pastime, those YouTube decapitations of infidels – Alawites, Shiites, Christians, even some descendants of the survivors from Turkey’s Armenian genocide a century ago who fled to Syria for safety.

Such a spectacle would be hard for the world to watch and there would be demands on President Obama or his successor to “do something.” But realistic options would be few, with a shattered and scattered Syrian army no longer a viable force capable of driving the terrorists from power. The remaining option would be to send in the American military, perhaps with some European allies, to try to dislodge Al-Qaeda and/or the Islamic State. But the prospects for success would be slim. The goal of conquering Syria – and possibly re-conquering much of Iraq as well – would be costly, bloody and almost certainly futile.

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“Unless oil prices rebound above $75 or $85 per barrel, the rig count won’t matter because there will not be enough money to complete more wells..”

The U.S. Oil Production Decline Has Begun (Art Berman)

The U.S. oil production decline has begun. It is not because of decreased rig count. It is because cash flow at current oil prices is too low to complete most wells being drilled. The implications are profound. Production will decline by several hundred thousand of barrels per day before the effect of reduced rig count is fully seen. Unless oil prices rebound above $75 or $85 per barrel, the rig count won’t matter because there will not be enough money to complete more wells than are being completed today. Tight oil production in the Eagle Ford, Bakken and Permian basin plays declined approximately 111,000 barrels of oil per day in January. These declines are part of a systematic decrease in the number of new producing wells added since oil prices fell below $90 per barrel in October 2014.

Deferred completions (drilled uncompleted wells) are not discretionary for most companies. Producers entered into long-term rig contracts assuming at least $90 oil prices. Lower prices result in substantially reduced cash flows. Capital is only available to fulfill contractual drilling commitments, basic costs of doing business, and to complete the best wells that come closest to breaking even at present oil prices. Much of the new capital from junk bonds and share offerings is being used to pay overhead and interest expense, and to pay down debt to avoid triggering loan covenant thresholds. Hedges help soften the blow of low oil prices for some companies but not enough to carry on business as usual when it comes to well completions.

The decrease in well completions provides additional evidence that the true break-even price for tight oil plays is between $75 and $85 per barrel. The Eagle Ford Shale is the most attractive play with a break-even price of about $75 per barrel. Well completions averaged 312 per month from January through September 2014 when WTI averaged $100 per barrel. When oil prices dropped below $90 per barrel in October, November well completions fell to 214. As prices fell further, 169 new producing wells were added in December and only 118 in January.

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Very little scrutiny in the press of Austria’s banking troubles. Which is strange considering the tight links to Germany and Eastern Europe.

The Traumatic Restructuring Of Austria’s Cooperative Banking System (Coppola)

Austria’s banking system is undergoing traumatic restructuring. This has been forced upon it by the legacy of the financial crisis and by the progressive removal of sovereign and sub-sovereign guarantees to comply with EU legislation. So far, we have seen the failures of Hypo Alpe Adria and its “bad bank” Heta, the forced rescue of Pfandbriefbank by its regional bank owners, some of which in turn will probably need rescuing by their provincial governments, and the forcible sale of Eastern European assets by Raffeisenbank and Erste Bank. The first of these is still suffering terrible losses: the second says it is slowly returning to profit. We shall see. The latest domino to fall is Austria’s system of cooperative banks, the Volksbanken. There are about 40 Volksbanken, which collectively own an “umbrella bank”, Volksbank AG, known as VBAG.

VBAG was originally created as a central clearing “hub” for its Volksbanken member-owners. It became a private limited company in 1974 and a commercial bank in 1991, after which it developed a life of its own, lending on its own account and acquiring interests not only within Austria but in Central and Eastern Europe. It rapidly built up a substantial portfolio of risky assets backed by insufficient equity. In the 2007-8 financial crisis in Europe, VBAG was initially damaged by the failure of Austria’s infrastructure bank Kommunalkredit AG, in which VBAG had a 50.78% stake: the other principal shareholder was the Belgian/French bank Dexia which was nationalized in 2008 after heavy losses following the fall of Lehman Brothers. VBAG’s stake in Kommunalkredit AG was bought by the Austrian Federal Government in November 2008 for a symbolic €1.

VBAG reported a full-year loss in 2008 of €420m, largely as a result of Kommunalkredit’s nationalization. But worse was to come. Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) was badly affected by the 2008 financial crisis. As investors spooked by the turmoil in the markets moved money to safe havens, several CEE countries slid into deep recession: the worst affected were Romania, Hungary and Latvia, all of which required EU/IMF assistance. Banks exposed to CEE suffered collapsing asset values and destruction of shareholder value. VBAG was one of the worst hit. It lost €1.1bn in 2009 due to losses on CEE loans and real estate. It was bailed out by the Austrian federal government, which provided it with €1bn of subordinated debt.

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Governments and derivatives.

Public Accounts Should Be Approved By The Citizens (Beppe Grillo’s blog)

It works like this. The public authorities are gambling with our taxes. The casino is managed by the commercial banks that provide money up front in return for hypothetical future gains using derivatives. Thus, the public authority gets money in advance on the basis of presumed gains and it uses this money to get by – until the end of the derivative contract. If things go wrong with the derivatives (something that regularly happens), the public accounts end up drastically in the red. Here we’re talking about billions and not just chicken feed. Obviously the citizens are unaware of all this and they find themselves deeper and deeper in debt. For example, the city of Milan has debts of about four billion. Who has authorised AlbertiniMorattiPisapia to get the people of Milan into debt?

The ones that do well out of this are the commercial banks together with the current politician who starts off useless public works (and/or brown envelopes stuffed with money) or, in the best case scenario, they do some temporary patching up of the accounts. The accounts should be approved by the tax-paying citizens who are the only true bank of the State. They shouldn’t be approved by the functionaries that play with our taxes. We want administrators, not croupiers. “For years, the government and the public authorities have been betting billions of euro at the expense of the citizens. They’ve been using derivatives, betting on the future, and regularly losing. The tax payer is always playing the part of the unfortunate citizen “Pantalone”.

For the commercial banks that set up these bets – and who often welcome into the ranks of their senior management, former ministers and high level functionaries thrown out of the government, the money is always to be found. Always! On 31 December 2014, the potential loss – the “mark-to-market” value was €42 billion, and that’s getting continuously worse. For months, the 5 Star MoVement has been asking for access to the public contracts containing derivatives, but they continue to be kept under lock and key. Hidden away. We want to see all the contracts made with the commercial banks. We want to really get to understand if it’s possible to defuse these atomic bombs that have been slipped in underneath us. It’s a citizen’s right.”

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The future of housing?

Could You Live In A 320-Square-Foot Home? (Yahoo!)

What if you said goodbye to the McMansion, man cave and fourth bathroom – and moved into a home that could fit in your garage? Would a minimalist lifestyle ease your anxiety and bolster your bank account? Or would the claustrophobia have you crawling out of your skin? In a new documentary premiering online today, Australian filmmaker Jeremy Beasley explores the tiny house movement. The film “Small is Beautiful” follows four people in Portland, Ore., at different stages of building and living in their own tiny homes. Tiny houses must be fewer than 320 square feet, the minimum size for manufactured housing, determined by HUD. They’re hand-built, using primarily wooden beams and constructed on a utility trailer. These structures are mobile but not intended to be driven from place to place.

Tiny homes come in all shapes and sizes and Beasley says you can find them all over the world. The average cost of one of these diminutive homes is around $23,000 and the average size is 186 square feet, according to The Tiny Life, a website focused on the tiny home way of life. Compare that to the median price of a new home in the U.S. at more than $277,000 as of March, with an average size of almost 2,600 square feet. This infographic has more statistics on tiny homes, but Beasley says for tiny house owners it’s often less about facts and figures and more about all-encompassing lifestyle. The tiny house movement began in the U.S. about 15 years ago. Beasley estimates there are between 500 and 1,000 people living in tiny homes.

He says it’s difficult to get an exact number of tiny home owners in the U.S. and abroad because many live “under the radar.” But he says they share some characteristics: “Freedom is definitely something a lot of people have in common,” he says, “as well as living sustainability and trying to lessen their footprint on earth.” Beasley says the tiny house movement is significant in a few states, including North Carolina, Texas and Vermont. Their presence is so well-known in Portland that it was parodied by the hit IFC comedy “Portlandia.” While it might be easy to make a good-natured joke about living in small spaces – New Yorkers certainly get their fair share of ribbing for living in “shoeboxes” – the film takes on some weighty topics.

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The empire of evil.

Monsanto Approaches Syngenta Again About a Takeover (Bloomberg)

Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, has approached Syngenta about a takeover, almost a year after a previous attempt fell apart, according to people familiar with the matter. Monsanto has discussed its interest with Syngenta in recent weeks, said two of the people, asking not to be identified discussing private information. Syngenta, which has a market value of about 29 billion Swiss Francs ($31 billion), has concerns about a combination, which would face antitrust hurdles, the people said, and the companies may fail to reach an agreement, they said. Combined with Syngenta, Monsanto would become the largest player in the world for both seeds and crop chemicals and a formidable competitor to Bayer, BASF and Dow Chemical.

Basel-based Syngenta is the world’s largest maker of crop chemicals whereas St. Louis-based Monsanto is the largest maker of seeds and dominates the global market for genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans. Monsanto jumped as much as 3.6% in afterhours trading, after closing at $113.96 in New York, giving the company a market value of $54 billion. The companies held preliminary talks last year with advisers about a combination, before Syngenta’s management decided against negotiations, people familiar with the matter said at the time. No agreement was made after concerns were raised about the strategic fit, antitrust issues and relocating the company.

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How about the Vatican?

Church of England Dumps Fossil-Fuel Investments (Bloomberg)

It appears coal mining isn’t God’s work. The Church of England will dump its holdings in coal and oil-sand producers and has ruled out backing companies with exposure to the most polluting fossil fuels, joining the movement that wants investors to help fight climate change. The church’s investment arm said on Thursday that it will sell its £12 million ($18.4 million) coal and tar sands investments. The church also vowed not to invest in any business that get more than 10% of its revenues from the fuels, ruling out companies from Glencore to Suncor. The move by the church, created by Henry VIII’s split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century and still headed by the Queen, is a victory for environmental activists seeking to stigmatize oil and coal companies in the way South Africa and tobacco companies have previously been targeted.

“Climate change is already a reality,” said the Reverend Richard Burridge, who is deputy chair of the church’s ethical investment advisory group. “The church has a moral responsibility to speak and act on both environmental stewardship and justice for the world’s poor who are most vulnerable to climate change.” About 200 institutions worldwide have pledged to scale back investments in polluting industries, including Glasgow University in Scotland and Stanford University in California. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, built with profits from Standard Oil, said last year it will sell its coal and tar-sand investments.

Prince Charles, who will become head of the Church of England when his mother dies and has long campaigned on environmental issues, has ensured his private investments and charitable foundations do not have any fossil fuel holdings, the Financial Times reported on April 26. Still, many big institutions are continuing to support such industries. Last month Oxford University refused to join the movement, joining Harvard and Yale universities, which control the biggest endowments in the U.S., in sidestepping requests to remove oil and coal companies from their investment funds.

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Only roaches will be left.

Study Finds Climate Change Threatens 1 in 6 Species With Extinction (NY Times)

Climate change could drive to extinction as many as one in six animal and plant species, according to a new analysis. In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut, also found that as the planet warms in the future, species will disappear at an accelerating rate. “We have the choice,” he said in an interview. “The world can decide where on that curve they want the future Earth to be.” As dire as Dr. Urban’s conclusions are, other experts said the real toll may turn out to be even worse. The number of extinctions “may well be two to three times higher,” said John J. Wiens, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona.

Global warming has raised the planet’s average surface temperature about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution. Species are responding by shifting their ranges. In 2003, Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas and Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University analyzed studies of more than 1,700 plant and animal species. They found that, on average, their ranges shifted 3.8 miles per decade toward the planet’s poles. If emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continue to grow, climate researchers project the world could warm by as much as 8 degrees Fahrenheit. As the climate continues to change, scientists fear, some species won’t be able to find suitable habitats.

For example, the American pika, a hamsterlike mammal that lives on mountains in the West, has been retreating to higher elevations in recent decades. Since the 1990s, some pika populations along the species’ southernmost ranges have vanished. Hundreds of studies published over the past two decades have yielded a wide range of predictions regarding the number of extinctions that will be caused by global warming. Some have predicted few extinctions, while others have predicted that 50% of species face oblivion. There are many reasons for the wide variation. Some scientists looked only at plants in the Amazon, while others focused on butterflies in Canada. In some cases, researchers assumed just a couple of degrees of warming, while in others they looked at much hotter scenarios.

Because scientists rarely were able to say just how quickly a given species might shift ranges, they sometimes produced a range of estimates. To get a clearer picture, Dr. Urban decided to revisit every climate extinction model ever published. He threw out all the studies that examined just a single species, such as the American pika, on the grounds that these might artificially inflate the result of his meta-analysis. (Scientists often pick out individual species to study because they already suspect they are vulnerable to climate change.) Dr. Urban ended up with 131 studies examining plants, amphibians, fish, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates spread out across the planet. He reanalyzed all the data in those reports.

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Jan 082015
 
 January 8, 2015  Posted by at 11:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Old Absinthe House, bar, New Orleans 1906

Most Americans Are One Paycheck Away From The Street (MarketWatch)
Ron Paul On Paris Attack: Bad Foreign Policy ‘Invites Retaliation’ (Breitbart)
Why Oil Will Go Even Lower (CNBC)
The Worrying Math From US Shale Plays (Ron Patterson)
White House Doesn’t Feel Pressure To Expand US Crude Exports (Reuters)
Oil Investors Pour Most Money Into Funds in 4 Years (Bloomberg)
World’s Best Forecaster Targets Euro-Dollar Parity (Bloomberg)
Are Bond Yields Flashing A Panic Signal? (CNBC)
Eurozone Deflation Is The Final Betrayal Of Southern Europe (AEP)
A Tale Of Two Record Unemployments: Italy vs Germany (Zero Hedge)
German Unemployment Falls to Record Low on Strengthening Economic Recovery (Bloomberg)
Italy Jobless Rate Rises to Record Amid Growth Outlook Concerns (Bloomberg)
Greek Crisis Jolts QE Juggernaut as ECB Ponders Deflation (Bloomberg)
German Lawmakers Say Greek Debt Talks Possible After Vote (Bloomberg)
ECB Wants New Greek Government To Quickly Reach Deal With Creditors (Reuters)
Here’s One Road Map For A Greek Eurozone Exit (MarketWatch)
We Are Entering An Era Of Shattered Illusions (Alt-Market)
Fed Bullish On US Recovery (Reuters)
Japan Household Mood Worsens To Levels Before ‘Abenomics’ (Reuters)
China Steps In To Support Venezuela, Ecuador As Oil Prices Tumble
Lawmakers Up Pressure On Obama To Release Secret 9/11 Documents (Fox)
‘France Wants To Mend Ties With Russia’ (RT)
Fight Over Keystone Pipeline is Completely Divorced From Reality (Bloomberg)
Most Fossil Fuels Are ‘Unburnable’ (BBC)
The ‘Untouchable Reserves’ (BBC)
US Antibiotics Discovery Labelled ‘Game Changer’ For Medicine (BBC)

A gutted society.

Most Americans Are One Paycheck Away From The Street (MarketWatch)

Americans are feeling better about their job security and the economy, but most are theoretically only one paycheck away from the street. Approximately 62% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair, according to a new survey of 1,000 adults by personal finance website Bankrate.com. Faced with an emergency, they say they would raise the money by reducing spending elsewhere (26%), borrowing from family and/or friends (16%) or using credit cards (12%). “Emergency savings are not just critical for weathering an emergency, they’re also important for successful homeownership and retirement saving,” says Signe-Mary McKernan, senior fellow and economist at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on social and economic policy.

The findings are strikingly similar to a U.S. Federal Reserve survey of more than 4,000 adults released last year. “Savings are depleted for many households after the recession,” it found. Among those who had savings prior to 2008, 57% said they’d used up some or all of their savings in the Great Recession and its aftermath. What’s more, only 39% of respondents reported having a “rainy day” fund adequate to cover three months of expenses and only 48% of respondents said that they would completely cover a hypothetical emergency expense costing $400 without selling something or borrowing money. Why aren’t people saving? “A lot of people are in debt,” says Andrew Meadows, producer of “Broken Eggs,” a documentary about retirement. “Probably the most common types of debt are student loans and costs related to medical issues.”

He spent seven weeks traveling around the U.S. and interviewed over 100 people about why they haven’t saved enough money. “People are still feeling the heat from the Great Recession.” Some 44% of senior citizens have enough savings to cover unexpected expenses versus 33% of millennials, Bankrate.com found. On the upside, the Bankrate survey found that 82% of Americans keep a household budget, up from 60% in 2012. Even in the age of the smartphone, most people keep a budget the old-fashioned way, either with a pen and paper (36%) or in their heads (18%). Just 26% of those surveyed say they use a computer program or smartphone app.

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That’s exactly what I said yesterday in I Follow Charlie.

Ron Paul On Paris Attack: Bad Foreign Policy ‘Invites Retaliation’ (Breitbart)

On Wednesday’s “The Steve Malzberg Show” on NewsMax TV, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) tied the Paris shooting, along with other Western domestic terrorist attacks to the bad foreign policies of those countries. “Partially what the Secretary of State said is true,” Paul said. “This is pretty obscene, when it comes to violence, and libertarians are pretty annoyed by anybody who initiates violence. “The context of things, France has been a target for many, many years, because they’ve been involved in foreign affairs in Libya, and they really prodded us along in — recently in Libya, but they’ve been involved in Algeria, so they’ve had attacks like this, you know, not infrequently,” he added.

“So, it does involve, you know, their foreign policy as well. When people do this, you know, the rejection of the violence has to be made, and with that I agree. I put blame on bad policy that we don’t fully understand, and we don’t understand what they’re doing because the people who are objecting to the foreign policy that we pursue, they do it from a different perspective. They see us as attacking them, and killing innocent people, so yes, they, they have — this doesn’t justify, so don’t put those words in my mouth — it doesn’t justify, but it explains it.” Paul cited U.S. involvement in the Middle East that helped to inspire the rise of ISIS.

“And this is why we say if we had somebody do to us what we have done to so many countries in the Middle East, and how many people we’ve killed, and sending over drones, and bombing, being involved in all these wars, and supporting dictators one week, and taking away the support — and the stupidity of us sending all those weapons into Syria, ending up in the hands of ISIS — and right now we’re even sending more weapons. You know, because ISIS took all the American weapons. It’s that overall policy which invites retaliation, and they see us as intruders. But it’s a little bit more complex, you know, when they hit us, either here at home, and hit civilians, and what’s happening in France. But I don’t think you can divorce these instances from the overall foreign policy.”

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“The median estimate of more than 30 forecasters in a Bloomberg survey is $1.15 by the end of 2016.”

World’s Best Forecaster Targets Euro-Dollar Parity (Bloomberg)

Being more bearish on the euro than the consensus helped ING become the world’s most accurate currency forecaster in 2014. The Dutch bank sees no reason to change its strategy now, breaking from the pack to predict a drop to parity with the dollar within two years. After watching the 19-nation currency slide as low as $1.1792 today from last year’s high of $1.3993 in May, ING sees it continuing to weaken all the way to $1, a level last seen in 2002. The median estimate of more than 30 forecasters in a Bloomberg survey is $1.15 by the end of 2016. ING expects measures by the European Central Bank to boost the euro zone’s flagging economy and avoid deflation will have direr consequences for the currency than most other firms. Few investors will want the euro as policy makers expand the money supply, especially as the Federal Reserve makes dollar assets more attractive by raising interest rates.

“We are one of the most bearish houses on euro-dollar,” Petr Krpata, a foreign-exchange strategist at ING in London, said yesterday by phone. “It looks as if the Fed will start hiking rates sooner rather than later, potentially even late in the second quarter, and this will further fuel the divergence on policy.” ING topped Bloomberg’s rankings of foreign-exchange analysts for the four quarters ended Dec. 31, rising from second place previously and supplanting German lender Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg in the No. 1 slot. In one of its best calls, ING predicted at the start of 2014 the euro would fall 13% to $1.20 by Dec. 31, compared with a median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of $1.28 at the time. The shared currency ended the year at $1.2098, and traded at $1.1798 as of 9:39 a.m. in London.

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Or is it a loss of sanity signal?

Are Bond Yields Flashing A Panic Signal? (CNBC)

Government bond yields in the U.S., Europe and Japan are plumbing lows, suggesting a flight to safety, but analysts aren’t ready to hit the panic button. “This is the first time ever that rates are this low, as even during the 1930s rates were well above current levels,” Steven Englander, head of G-10 foreign-exchange strategy at Citigroup, said in a note this week, noting the average G-3 10-year government bond yield is below 1%. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield was trading around 1.98% late Tuesday in the U.S. after starting the year around 2.17%. Germany’s 10-year bund was around 0.47%, around all-time lows, after ending 2014 around 0.54%, while the Japanese government bond (JGB) was around 0.30%, a tad up from the record low 0.265% touched earlier this week. Bond prices move inversely to yields.

“This is not happening during the panic phase of a crisis, but after the panic is over and we have had significant recoveries in asset prices globally,” he said. But rather than a panic signal, he calls it “more a sign that investors think we are going nowhere for a long time.” Others are also disregarding the idea that declines in already low bond yields may be a warning signal. “The markets seem to be suggesting that you have perhaps even a recessionary environment, not dissimilar to an emerging market crisis, an Asian crisis or even the GFC (global financial crisis),” Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS, said at a presentation for the bank’s private banking clients. He cited the 30-year U.S. Treasury’s around 40 basis point drop in yield in the first three trading days of this year, saying it may be the biggest drop in the 30-year’s yield since records began.

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“U.S. oil production rose again—to 9.132 million barrels a day, on par with the largest output in more than three decades.”

Why Oil Will Go Even Lower (CNBC)

New data showing a surge in U.S. gasoline and diesel fuel supplies spell more trouble for oil prices but is good news for consumers. The Energy Information Administration on Wednesday reported that U.S. gasoline stocks rose by 8.1 million barrels last week, compared with expectations for a 3.4 million barrel build. Distillate stocks, including diesel fuel and heating oil, rose by 11.2 million barrels, more than five times the amount expected. Gasoline futures for February slumped more than 2% on the Nymex to $1.32 per gallon, but West Texas Intermediate oil futures rose slightly to $48.62 per barrel even though the large supply of refined products means lower demand for oil in coming weeks.

The data showed a bigger-than-expected drop of 3.1 million barrels in crude inventories last week, but it also showed that U.S. oil production rose again—to 9.132 million barrels a day, on par with the largest output in more than three decades. Production was at 9.12 million barrels a day last week, and has been above 9 million barrels daily since early November. The surge in U.S. production, largely from shale drilling, is what set off a price war between OPEC and other producers as U.S. crude displaced that of other competitors. OPEC, at its last meeting on Thanksgiving, adopted a strategy of standing back and letting the market determine price. That has helped drive oil down further and faster than many analysts had expected.

Analysts see oil prices weakening further through the second quarter before leveling off and rising in the fourth quarter. “Despite the falling rig count, we tend to hover near 30-year highs in output,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. He said Wednesday’s weekly data reaffirmed his negative outlook for oil prices. U.S. oil production is expected to continue to grow over the next several months, as producers pump at current levels and some even more, particularly if they are cash strapped. Analyst say it will be several months before cutbacks in capital spending start to show up in decreased oil output. “My outlook’s pretty bearish. I don’t know if it can possibly get more bearish,” Kilduff said. “I still think we’re going to punch the clock on $33 and see what happens from there.”

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Decline rates even worse than thought.

The Worrying Math From US Shale Plays (Ron Patterson)

There has been considerable dispute over how many new wells required to keep production flat in the Bakken and Eagle Ford. One college professor posted, over on Seeking Alpha, figures that it would take 114 rigs in the Bakken and 175 in Eagle Ford to keep production flat. He bases his analysis on David Hughes’ estimate that the legacy decline rate for Bakken wells is 45% and 35% for Eagle Ford wells. And he says a rig can drill 18 wells a year, or about one well every 20.3 days. The EIA has come up with different numbers. The data for the chart below was taken from the EIA’s Drilling Productivity Report. The EIA has current legacy decline at about 6.3% per month for Bakken wells and about 7.7% per month for Eagle Ford wells. That works out to be about 54% per year for the Bakken and 62% per year for Eagle Ford. I believe the EIA’s estimate of legacy decline, in this case, is fairly accurate.

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“If you look at what’s going on in the market and actions that the Department took, I think that … there’s not a lot of pressure to do more.”

White House Doesn’t Feel Pressure To Expand US Crude Exports (Reuters)

The White House does not feel pressure to loosen restrictions on U.S. oil exports further and views debate over the issue as resolved for now, John Podesta, a top aide to President Barack Obama, told Reuters in an interview. The drop in oil prices and the Commerce Department’s move to allow companies to ship as much as a million barrels per day of ultra-light U.S. crude to the rest of the world has taken pressure off the administration to do more. “At this stage, I think that what the Commerce Department did in December sort of resolves the debate. We felt comfortable with where they went,” Podesta said from his West Wing office in the most substantive comments yet from a White House official on the contentious issue of exporting abundant U.S. shale oil. “If you look at what’s going on in the market and actions that the Department took, I think that … there’s not a lot of pressure to do more.”

His comments may disappoint some Republicans and energy companies such as Hess Corp. which have lobbied for more relief from a ban they view as a relic of the 1970s Arab oil embargo. While few analysts expected Obama to make a serious effort to repeal the ban – a delicate political topic due to widespread fears among Americans that doing so could inflate gasoline prices – some had hoped that further modest measures to ease its impact might emerge this year. By standing pat, however, Obama may avoid clashing with his environmentalist supporters who have begun to campaign against lifting the restrictions, hoping that might keep a lid on domestic oil drilling by depressing local prices. Some refiners such as PBF Energy, which have benefited from the abundance of U.S. shale oil, also oppose easing the ban. Podesta, who plans to leave the administration in early February and help Hillary Clinton if she decides to run for president, has played a critical role on energy and climate policy during his one-year tenure with Obama.

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Well, if you need to gamble ..

Oil Investors Pour Most Money Into Funds in 4 Years (Bloomberg)

Investors betting oil will rebound from the lowest prices in 5 1/2-years poured the most money in more than four years into funds that track crude. The four biggest oil exchange-traded products listed in the U.S. received a combined $1.23 billion in December, the most since May 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Another $109.9 million was added this month through Jan. 5. Investors are piling into oil ETFs even after West Texas Intermediate crude tumbled the most since 2008 last year amid signs of rising supply and weak demand. Shares outstanding of the four funds surged to the highest since 2009. “Commodity investors can be contrarian investors,” said Matt Hougan, president of research firm ETF.com. “There are a lot of true believers in the commodity space. A lot of people are attached to the idea that oil’s natural price should be $100, not $50.”

The U.S. Oil Fund (USO), the biggest oil ETF, attracted $629.9 million in December and $100.4 million so far this month. The fund (DBO), which follows WTI prices, added 1.8% to $18.369 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange. The number of U.S. Oil Fund shares on loan to short sellers was 3.93 million on Jan. 5, down from as high as 9.53 million last month, data compiled by Markit and Bloomberg show. Money is pouring into oil ETFs even as commodity-linked index liquidations surged to a record $17 billion in the first 11 months of last year, Barclays said in a report yesterday. Total commodity assets under management fell to $276 billion in November, the lowest since early 2010, according to the bank.

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“There is a risk of a real economic vicious cycle: less investment, which in turn reduces potential growth, the future becomes even grimmer and investment is reduced even further ..”

Eurozone Deflation Is The Final Betrayal Of Southern Europe (AEP)

The eurozone has let it happen. Europe’s authorities have so mismanaged monetary and fiscal strategy that the whole currency bloc has tipped into deflation. The drop in the eurozone’s headline price index to -0.2% in December scarcely captures the significance of what is happening. Deflationary forces have been gaining a grip on all the crisis states of the South for 18 months. A chorus of economists began warning two years ago that the region was sailing close to the wind by letting inflation drift ever lower, leaving itself one shock away from a loss of policy traction. That shock is now hitting in successive waves: the Russia crisis; China’s over-investment glut; and now the collapse of oil prices. Textbook theory suggests that a halving of energy costs should be cause for celebration, a tax cut for consumers. It is very different calculus when inflation is already zero, bond yields are plummeting to 14th century lows across the world, and market psychology is becoming “unhinged” – to use central banking vernacular.

“Normally, any central bank would prefer to look through a positive supply shock,” said Peter Praet, the European Central Bank’s chief economist. “But we may not have that luxury at present. Shocks can change: in certain circumstances supply shocks can morph into demand shocks via second-round effects.” Mr Praet said families and firms are already adapting pre-emptively to the new order, describing what amounts to a classic deflation trap. “There is a risk of a real economic vicious cycle: less investment, which in turn reduces potential growth, the future becomes even grimmer and investment is reduced even further,” he told Börsen-Zeitung. Mr Praet warned that an “underemployment equilibrium” is setting in, invoking the term used by Keynes in the 1930s. He exhorted “all the authorities”, including governments, to step up to their responsibilities and take “urgent action”. This is a man who knows that monetary union is in deep crisis.

His boss, Mario Draghi, has been bending every sinew for a long time to head off this awful moment. He went to Berlin as far back as November 2013 to plead for understanding from Germany’s economic elites, warning even then that radical measures were needed to secure a “safety margin against deflationary risks”. He feared that the downward slide was pushing EMU crisis countries into a deeper rut as they tried to claw back competitiveness. “Real debt burdens rise,” he said. Mr Draghi did not invoke Irving Fisher’s classic text published in 1933 – Debt-Deflation Theory of Great Depressions – but his message was the same. Falling prices are not benign in highly-leveraged economies. There comes a point when the sailing ship does not right itself by the normal swing of the cycle. It tips too far and capsizes. Try to right it then. The Japanese are still trying 15 years later.

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Zero Hedge noticed the same phenomenon I did earlier in yesterday’s I Follow Charlie. As I said: “If the European economy doesn’t magically recover, the north will – continue to – save its economies by strangling the south.”

A Tale Of Two Record Unemployments: Italy vs Germany (Zero Hedge)

For the first time ever, Italy’s unemployment rate is more than twice that of its European Union (one region, one monetary policy) neighbor Germany. As Germany’s jobless rate fell for the 3rd month in a row to 6.5% (the lowest level in records going back more than two decades), Italian unemployment unexpectedly rose to a record high at 13.4% (well above the euro-region rate of 11.5%). Of course, while these two nations ‘economic’ state diverges by the most on record, bond yields are at record lows in both – leaving us (and everyone else) questioning, just what it is that ECB QE will do to help Europe’s economies?

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Here’s the German part:

German Unemployment Falls to Record Low on Strengthening Economic Recovery (Bloomberg)

German unemployment fell for a third month in December to a record low, signaling that growth in Europe’s largest economy will accelerate in 2015. The number of people out of work fell a seasonally adjusted 27,000 to 2.841 million in December, the Federal Labor Agency in Nuremberg said today. The adjusted jobless rate dropped to 6.5%, the lowest level in records going back more than two decades.

The rest of that article is just a whole load of nonsense, hubris and whale blubber. But then you contrast it with this:

Italy Jobless Rate Rises to Record Amid Growth Outlook Concerns (Bloomberg)

Italy’s unemployment rate increased more than forecast to a new high of 13.4% in November as companies failed to hire on concern the country’s longest recession on record isn’t about to end. The jobless rate rose from a revised 13.3% in October, the Rome-based national statistics office Istat said in a preliminary report today. The November reading is the highest since the quarterly series began in 1977.

Two more weeks of this endless discussion …

Greek Crisis Jolts QE Juggernaut as ECB Ponders Deflation (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi has more evidence than ever to start quantitative easing as soon as this month – if only he can find a way to deal with Greece. Two weeks before the first monetary-policy meeting of the year on Jan. 22, governors gathered yesterday and discussed the decision over dinner. Hours earlier, data showed the first annual drop in consumer prices since 2009 and stubbornly high unemployment, handing the European Central Bank president a stronger case for buying government bonds. Overshadowing their meal was the return of Greek tensions, with the prospect that elections three days after the meeting will bring a party to power that wants to restructure the nation’s debt. That threat adds a new dimension to the argument for Draghi, whose chief challenge in convincing opponents of quantitative easing is to show it won’t turn into a bailout for recalcitrant governments.

“The case for further ECB action is strong and the negative rates of inflation will provide great mood music for Draghi to push QE through the Governing Council,” said Nick Kounis, head of macro research at ABN Amro Bank NV in Amsterdam. “The Greek issue could complicate the announcement and the ECB may well hold off from providing the details until March, giving it a chance to see how the situation turns out.” Euro-area consumer prices dropped an annual 0.2% in December as oil costs plunged, and November unemployment remained near a record at 11.5%. Draghi has argued that slumping energy prices may worsen inflation expectations, a development the ECB won’t be able to ignore. A decision in favor of large-scale government-bond purchases still has hurdles to overcome.

Policy makers including Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann have spoken publicly against them, citing legal risks and the likelihood that a program would reduce the incentive for governments to reform their economies. The treatment of Greek bonds, which are rated junk by the three major credit-rating companies, demands particular attention by officials. The ECB already owns 8% of the nation’s debt, and has committed to accept it as collateral in refinancing operations as long as the country stays in a program to ensure its reform efforts stay on track. Greek opposition party Syriza, which leads in opinion polls, has campaigned on an anti-austerity platform that includes relief on the nation’s debt. That leaves the ECB facing a dilemma over whether to buy the bonds.

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Greece can get anything it wants, as long as Germany’s interests are secured. And that’s the whole problem.

German Lawmakers Say Greek Debt Talks Possible After Vote (Bloomberg)

Germany is leaving the door open to discussing debt relief with Greece’s next government, lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition said, signaling a more flexible stance than her administration has taken publicly. While writing off Greek debt isn’t on the table, talks on easing the repayment terms on aid that Greece received from European governments are possible after the country’s parliamentary elections on Jan. 25, the lawmakers from Germany’s two biggest governing parties said. The condition is that Greece sticks to its austerity commitments, they said.

The potential opening reflects scenarios under discussion in Merkel’s coalition for how to respond if Greek voters oust Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a Merkel ally who has enforced German-led demands for austerity, and elect anti-austerity leader Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party. “There should be talks with any government that emerges from the election,” Ingrid Arndt-Brauer, a Social Democrat who chairs the lower house’s finance committee, said in an interview. “You can talk about extending maturities and easing the interest rate on loans with a left-wing government, too.” A senior lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union said Germany will talk with any elected Greek government, including about an easing of aid conditions, as long as Greece doesn’t renege on its austerity commitments.

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If the creditors are willing to forgive enough debt, this shouldn’t be a problem. 😉

ECB Wants New Greek Government To Quickly Reach Deal With Creditors (Reuters)

The European Central Bank wants Greece’s new government to soon reach an agreement with its European partners to enable the country’s banks to continue to have access to funding, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Thursday. “The ECB sent clear and stern messages to Athens yesterday through Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras asking for an agreement with European partners soon after the election so that liquidity access to banks can continue,” the paper said. ECB funding to Greek banks rose 2.3% to €44.85 billion in November. Banks have reduced their exposure but still depend on ECB funding for liquidity.

Citing the country’s central banker, the paper said the ECB will maintain its funding access to the nation’s lenders as long as Athens remains under a bailout program and continues to meet its obligations. “As regards the upcoming election, the ECB is not taking any side but wants whatever government emerges to be formed soon and complete negotiations with the (EU/IMF/ECB) troika so that there is agreement on the day after,” Kathimerini said. The paper said business and household deposits dropped by about €2.5 billion in December, according to estimates by bankers who do not see the situation as a cause for concern.

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“.. preparations must be made in secret by a small group of officials and then acted on more or less straightaway ..”

Here’s One Road Map For A Greek Eurozone Exit (MarketWatch)

Remember Grexit? Looming elections in Greece have people again talking about the possibility of a country leaving the euro. If it were to come to that, it wouldn’t be a simple task. And some economists fear the turmoil that would surround a breakup could trigger another global financial crisis. While financial markets aren’t exactly up in arms over the prospect, it’s worth a closer look at exactly how a Greek exit might play out. One possible path was detailed by economist Roger Bootle, the founder of London-based research firm Capital Economics. In fact, the plan won the 2012 Wolfson Economics Prize, which was a contest for proposals on how to dismantle the eurozone. Here are some of the plan’s highlights:

Secret preparations, capital controls: This would be necessary because word of an exit would prompt a run on the banks. After all, who would want to leave their euros parked in a Greek bank to see them converted overnight into drachmas? “Accordingly, preparations must be made in secret by a small group of officials and then acted on more or less straightaway,” wrote Bootle and his associates. Temporary capital controls, including temporary closure of the banks, would be essential just before departure. Parity with the euro (at first): In order to maintain price transparency and boost confidence, it would be best to introduce the new currency at parity with the euro. In other words, if the price of an item was €1.35, it would now be 1.35 drachmas. They note that the drachma would, of course, be free to fall on foreign exchange markets and that it is actually crucial that it does so.

Redenominated debt, substantial default: The government should redenominate its debt in the new currency and make clear it plans to renegotiate the terms, which would likely include a “substantial default,” they wrote, while also making clear the intention to resume servicing remaining debt as soon as possible. Bootle and his team offered several other recommendations, including a call for the national central bank of an exiting country to implement inflation-targeting and stand ready to inject liquidity into its own banking system, using quantitative easing, if necessary. They must also make clear they’re ready to recapitalize banks, the plan recommends.

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“.. the idea that such things can happen despite a consensus of social and geopolitical health does not seemed to have soaked into the thick skulls of average people.”

We Are Entering An Era Of Shattered Illusions (Alt-Market)

The structure of history is held together by two essential and distinct kinds of links, two moments in time to which no one is immune: moments of epiphany, and moments of catastrophe. Sometimes, both elements intermingle at the birth of a singular epoch. Men often awaken to understanding in the midst of great crisis; and, invariably, great crises can erupt when men awaken. These are the moments when social gravity vanishes, when the kinetic glue of normalcy melts away, and we begin to see the true foundations of our world, if a foundation exists at all. Catastrophe occurs when too many people refuse to accept that around us always are two universes at work. There is the cold, hard reality that underlies everything. And on the surface is a veil of deceit and compromise. The more humanity compromises vital truths in order to enjoy the comfort of illusions, the more mind-shattering it will be when those illusions fall away. These two worlds can coexist only for short periods of time, and they will always and eventually collide. There is no other possible outcome.

I think it could be said that the more polarized our realities become, the more explosive and disastrous the reaction will be when the separation is removed. I feel it absolutely necessary to relate this danger because today humanity is living so historically far from the bedrock of reality, political reality, social reality and economic reality that the stage has been set for a kind of full spectrum destabilization that has never been seen before. Though my analysis tends to lean toward the economic side of things, I am not only speaking of shattered illusions in the financial realm. In my next article, one last time I plan to go over nearly every mainstream economic statistic used today to misdirect the public (from national debt to unemployment to inflation to retail sales and corporate profits) and expose why they are false while giving you the real numbers. For now, I want to discuss the core problem of self-deception, the problem that makes all the rest of our problems possible.

When the initial phase of the global collapse was triggered in 2007 and 2008, there was a substantial explosion in interest and education in terms of liberty issues and alternative economic awareness. I remember back in 2006 when I had just begun writing for the movement that the ratio of people on any given Web forum or in any given public discussion was vastly opposed to alternative viewpoints and information — at least 50-1 by my observations. We were at the height of the real estate frenzy; everyone was buying houses with money they didn’t have and borrowing on their mortgages to purchase stuff they didn’t need. Life was good. The shock of the credit crisis came quickly and abruptly for most people, and there has been a considerable shift in the kinds of discussions many are willing to entertain about our future. Yet the idea that such things can happen despite a consensus of social and geopolitical health does not seemed to have soaked into the thick skulls of average people.

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Setting the stage for rate hikes.

Fed Bullish On US Recovery (Reuters)

U.S. central bankers have looked beyond a global deflation threat, fear of energy-sector bond defaults, and a surge of oil patch layoffs to reach what appears to be a firm conclusion: the U.S. recovery is here to stay. New trade data released on Wednesday and signs of ever-stronger consumer spending confirmed the United States remains the bright spot in a global economy plagued by uncertainty. The trade deficit shrank in November to less than $40 billion, providing a boost to growth as Americans spent less on imported oil. Meanwhile, the first corporate reports from the Christmas season showed at least some of that money trickling into stores as J.C. Penney said same-store sales rose 3.7% in November and December, pushing the company’s stock up nearly 20%.

At its December policy-setting meeting, according to minutes released on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve took close stock of plunging world oil prices and turmoil in Europe and decided that those negative trends would not undo that underlying strength. “Several participants … suggested that the real economy may end up showing more momentum than anticipated, while a few others thought that the boost to domestic spending coming from lower energy prices could turn out to be quite large.” The minutes set the stage for what could be a key economic theme this year: how the global system will react as Fed policy diverges from that of other major central banks. The European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan are expected to further loosen monetary conditions in coming weeks or months, while the luster has fallen from emerging markets that had been attracting record levels of investment in recent years.

“These minutes defined the environment post-tapering,” said Robert Tipp, chief investment strategist at Prudential Fixed Income in New Jersey. “If the Fed moves aggressively it would suck up capital from emerging markets.” Global conditions have arguably weakened since the Fed’s Dec. 16-17 meeting, and the minutes note that the United States would not be immune if the world economy turns sharply down. There is already fallout. Credit analysts have honed in on the debts of companies involved in oil and gas exploration and production, with Standard & Poor’s downgrading half a dozen firms at the end of 2014 and concluding the entire sector will be under pressure if prices remain so low.

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Abecomics has been far worse than a mere failure.

Japan Household Mood Worsens To Levels Before ‘Abenomics’ (Reuters)

Japanese households’ sentiment worsened in December to levels last seen before premier Shinzo Abe unleashed radical stimulus policies two years ago, a central bank survey showed, underscoring the challenges he faces reviving the economy. The diffusion index measuring how households felt about the current state of the economy stood at minus 32.9 in December, down 12.5 points from September, the Bank of Japan’s quarterly survey on people’s livelihood showed on Thursday. Abe’s ruling party won a landslide victory in a snap poll in December last year, giving the premier a fresh mandate to proceed with his “Abenomics” mix of massive fiscal, monetary stimulus and structural reforms dubbed “Abenomics.”

That is the lowest level since December 2012, when Abe won the previous election and launched his radical program aimed at breaking the economy free of a long deflationary phase. While the policies helped weaken the yen and boost stock prices, the effect on the economy has been disappointing as companies remain hesitant over boosting wages and capital spending. Another index gauging households’ livelihood fell 3.1 points to minus 47.2, the worst level since 2011, the survey showed. A negative reading means respondents who feel they are worse off than three months ago exceed those who fell better off.

Many of those who replied that they are worse off complained of rising costs of living and stagnant wage growth, a sign households are feeling the pinch from a sales tax hike in April 2014 and rising import costs due to the weak yen. The weak reading suggests Abe’s decision last November to delay a second sales tax hike, initially planned for October 2015, did little to brighten sentiment. It also highlights the dilemma of the BOJ, which is printing money aggressively to achieve its 2% inflation target sometime during the fiscal year beginning in April. More than 80% of respondents expect prices to rise a year from now, roughly unchanged from September. But 83.8% of households consider rising prices as undesirable, up from 78.8% in September, the survey showed.

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More than happy to.

China Steps In To Support Venezuela, Ecuador As Oil Prices Tumble

China stepped up its courtship of Latin American countries Thursday, promising to double trade with the region by 2025 and offering fresh loans to support left-wing governments in Venezuela and Ecuador. At a meeting in Beijing with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, President Xi Jinping said that annual bilateral trade would rise to $500 billion over the next 10 years, and that China would invest some $250 billion in the region in that period. That would threaten the U.S.’s traditional pre-eminence as the region’s biggest trading partner, inevitably diluting its political clout there. However, it’s not clear quite how Xi arrived at his figures. Although trade and investment have rocketed in the last 20 years as China has sucked up natural resources from around the world to fuel its industrialization, growth slowed sharply in the first 11 months of last year, as China refocused its economy on domestic demand.

According to CELAC figures, trade volumes grew only 1.3% year-on-year in the first 11 months of 2014. Despite that, China remains the biggest buyer for Venezuelan oil, Chilean copper and Argentinian soybeans, among other things. Of more immediate impact than Xi’s promises Thursday were agreements to bankroll the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador, two of the most viscerally anti-U.S. regimes in the region and two oil exporters who are struggling with the consequences of the 60% drop in oil prices since the start of last year. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was reported as saying that he had secured over $20 billion in investment from the state-owned institutions Bank of China and China Development Bank, adding to over $45 billion in the last 10 years. He didn’t give details of the loans’ terms. Ecuador, meanwhile, said it had agreed a new $5.3 billion credit line with China’s Export-Import Bank and $2.2 billion in other funding.

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Saudi involvement in the attacks.

Lawmakers Up Pressure On Obama To Release Secret 9/11 Documents (Fox)

Congressional lawmakers on Wednesday ramped up efforts to get President Obama to release 28 top-secret pages from a 9/11 report that allegedly detail Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the terror attacks. Lawmakers and advocacy groups have pushed for the declassification for years. The effort already had bipartisan House support but now has the backing of retired Florida Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, a former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman whom supporters hope will help garner enough congressional backing to pressure Obama into releasing the confidential information. “The American people have been denied enough,” North Carolina GOP Rep. Walter Jones said on Capitol Hill. “It’s time for the truth to come out.”

Jones has led the effort with Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch, among the few members of Congress who have read the 28 redacted pages of the joint House and Senate “Inquiry into Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terror Attacks,” initially classified by President George W. Bush. They introduced a new resolution on Wednesday urging Obama to declassify the pages. Jones and other lawmakers have described the documents’ contents as shocking. That 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens is already known. But Graham and the congressmen suggested the documents point to Saudi government ties and repeatedly said Wednesday that the U.S. continues to deny the truth about who principally financed the attacks – covering up for Saudi Arabia, a wealthy Middle East ally.

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Don’t be surprised if France moves quickly on this.

‘France Wants To Mend Ties With Russia’ (RT)

France intends to take a lead in de-escalating the confrontation with Russia as a face-saving measure while the EU is facing big economic challenges, John Laughland, Director of studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, told RT.

RT: Francois Hollande on Monday said that sanctions against Russia “must stop now.” What does this statement from the French leader mean for the upcoming talks?

John Laughland: I think that means that France is intending to take a lead in deescalating the confrontation with Russia and in seeing an end to sanctions, in seeing the sale of the Mistral helicopter carrier ships and also in seeing a de facto – at least – recognition of the annexation of Crimea. I said this back in December when Francois Hollande, the French president visited Vladimir Putin on the way back from Kazakhstan. It was clear that he was taking the lead then, taking a lead against Germany and against Mrs. Merkel of who many people thought that she would be pro-Russian force in Europe. She’s turned out to be very opposite. And we are seeing France assuming a relatively traditional position now in foreign policy and reassuming and reasserting its traditional friendship with Russia. So I’m relatively optimistic about these latest statements.

RT: Hollande added that progress has to be made at the talks. Moscow has been actively engaged in the peace process in eastern Ukraine. The latest talks saw hundreds of prisoners returned by both Kiev and eastern militias, but the sanctions still remain. So what exactly constitutes progress?

JL: He is saying that he wants to sell the Mistral, he wants to get rid of the problem, he would like, as he said, the end of the sanctions and so on. He assured himself, extremely understanding for the Russian position. He didn’t mention Crimea. He implied that Crimean annexation would be accepted, and he showed understanding as well for Russian opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine. When he says “progress” I regard that as purely a face-saving phrase. The fact is that Ukraine is off the headlines now. We haven’t had much news from Ukraine for many weeks now in the Western media. Quite frankly it is off people’s radar screen. Providing it stays off the radar screen, providing it stays off headlines it would be a good time – if that is indeed his intention – to move on from this unfortunate episode.

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As I said: why bother?

Fight Over Keystone Pipeline is Completely Divorced From Reality (Bloomberg)

In the six years since TransCanada Corp. first sought U.S. approval to build the pipeline, the debate over Keystone XL pipeline has, somewhat strangely, become one of the central fights in U.S. politics. It’s about to get even bigger. On Wednesday, Republicans will inaugurate the new Congress by taking up a Senate bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would connect oil producers in Western Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. The House will vote on the measure on Friday. Several years ago, liberals looking for a cause to rally around settled on Keystone because the oil it would transport, extracted from tar sands, is especially damaging to the environment. James Hansen, then the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, famously declared that if the pipeline goes forward and Canada develops its oil sands “it will be game over for the planet.”

Conservatives seized on Keystone because it offered a clear example of liberals prioritizing the environment over the jobs the pipeline’s construction would create, an effective political attack in a lousy economy. President Obama’s anguish over whether or not to approve it only added to the appeal. As a result, Keystone has attained tremendous symbolic importance for both Democrats and Republicans. But this is the opposite of how it should be — the political fight has become completely divorced from reality. The pipeline’s actual importance to oil markets, the economy and the environment has steadily diminished. Whoever wins, the “victory” will be pointless and hollow. The liberal claim that blocking Keystone would limit Canadian oil sands development, or even slow Canadian oil exports to the United States, has turned out to be wrong.

Over the last four years, Canadian exports to the Gulf Coast have risen 83%. Last year, U.S. oil imports from Canada hit a record. This year, Canadian oil producers expect shipments to double. One way producers achieved this is by building new pipelines, such as the Flanagan South pipeline, which can transport 600,000 barrels a day of heavy crude, and expanding old ones. At the same time, the Canadian government has approved two new lines as a fallback to Keystone—one running east to Quebec, the other west to the Pacific—that avoid the U.S. entirely. Collectively, these projects dwarf Keystone’s 800,000 barrel-a-day capacity. “Keystone is kind of old news,” Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at Austin, Texas-based RBN Energy, told Bloomberg News. “Producers have moved on and are looking for new capacity from other pipelines.”

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“Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2C goal.”

Most Fossil Fuels Are ‘Unburnable’ (BBC)

Most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will need to stay in the ground if dangerous global warming is to be avoided, modelling work suggests. Over 80% of coal, 50% of gas and 30% of oil reserves are “unburnable” under the goal to limit global warming to no more than 2C, say scientists. University College London research, published in Nature journal, rules out drilling in the Arctic. And it points to heavy restrictions on coal to limit temperature rises. “We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2C temperature limit,” said lead researcher Dr Christophe McGlade, of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources.

“Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2C goal.” Past research has found that burning all of the world’s fossil fuel resources would release three times more carbon than that required to keep warming to no more than 2C. The new study uses models to estimate how much coal, oil and gas must go unburned up to 2050 and where it can be extracted to stay within the 2C target regarded as the threshold for dangerous climate change. The uneven distribution of resources raises huge dilemmas for countries seeking to exploit their natural resources amid attempts to strike a global deal on climate change:
• The Middle East would need to leave about 40% of its oil and 60% of its gas underground
• The majority of the huge coal reserves in China, Russia and the United States would have to remain unused
• Undeveloped resources of unconventional gas, such as shale gas, would be off limits in Africa and the Middle East, and very little could be exploited in India and China
• Unconventional oil, such as Canada’s tar sands, would be unviable.

The research also raises questions for fossil fuel companies about investment in future exploration, given there is more in the ground than “we can afford to burn”, say the UCL scientists. “We shouldn’t waste a lot of money trying to find fossil fuels which we think are going to be more expensive,” co-researcher Prof Paul Ekins told the BBC. “That almost certainly includes Arctic resources. It will certainly include a lot of the shale gas resources in Europe, which have not really been explored or exploited at all.”

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Different take on same story.

The ‘Untouchable Reserves’ (BBC)

Is the “carbon bubble” wobbling in the face of a new assault? A paper in the journal Nature has lent support to the notion that combating climate change and developing more fossil fuels are mutually contradictory. Its key message is that keeping global temperature rise within 2C means leaving in the ground 80% of known coal reserves, 50% of gas and 30% of oil. The University College London authors invite investors to ponder whether $670bn, the amount they say was spent last year on seeking and developing fossil fuels, is a wise use of money if we can’t burn all the fuel we’ve already found.

The movement to divest from fossil fuel companies is being prompted by the small but increasingly influential NGO Carbon Tracker, which argues that investment has created a carbon bubble of fossil fuel assets that will be worthless if climate change is taken seriously. The managers of the Rockefeller fortune have heard its message and already divested from coal. The University of Glasgow’s investment fund will avoid fossil fuels altogether. NGO 350.org is gathering support for a similar campaign in the US, and Norway’s vast government pension fund is seeking to pressure companies to take their climate responsibilities more seriously.

Surprisingly, the Bank of England has also chipped in. It is conducting an enquiry into the risk of an economic crash if future climate change rules render coal, oil and gas assets worthless. The findings will be interesting; even if the enquiry team are alarmed by the potential extent of stranded assets, they can hardly make their case bluntly for fear of creating a stampede. To heap on the pressure, the talks leading to the prospective climate deal in Paris in December will debate whether fossil fuels can be completely phased out by 2050. Oil firms like Shell have stated their confidence in the energy status quo that has formed the economic bedrock of modern society and helped billions out of poverty. They say they see no risk to their business model (because executives privately do not believe that politicians will keep their promises on carbon limits). And they have hopes that technology to capture and store carbon will give their products a new lease of life.

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This would save a lot of lives in the future. Then again, we’d start feeing them to farm animals, and restart the whole cycle.

US Antibiotics Discovery Labelled ‘Game Changer’ For Medicine (BBC)

The decades-long drought in antibiotic discovery could be over after a breakthrough by US scientists. Their novel method for growing bacteria has yielded 25 new antibiotics, with one deemed “very promising”. The last new class of antibiotics to make it to clinic was discovered nearly three decades ago. The study, in the journal Nature, has been described as a “game-changer” and experts believe the antibiotic haul is just the “tip of the iceberg”. The heyday of antibiotic discovery was in the 1950s and 1960s, but nothing found since 1987 has made it into doctor’s hands. Since then microbes have become incredibly resistant. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis ignores nearly everything medicine can throw at it. The researchers, at the Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, turned to the source of nearly all antibiotics – soil. This is teeming with microbes, but only 1% can be grown in the laboratory.

The team created a “subterranean hotel” for bacteria. One bacterium was placed in each “room” and the whole device was buried in soil. It allowed the unique chemistry of soil to permeate the room, but kept the bacteria in place for study. The scientists involved believe they can grow nearly half of all soil bacteria. Chemicals produced by the microbes, dug up from one researcher’s back yard, were then tested for antimicrobial properties. The lead scientist, Prof Kim Lewis, said: “So far 25 new antibiotics have been discovered using this method and teixobactin is the latest and most promising one. “[The study shows] uncultured bacteria do harbour novel chemistry that we have not seen before. That is a promising source of new antimicrobials and will hopefully help revive the field of antibiotic discovery.”

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 November 11, 2014  Posted by at 7:24 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


Marjory Collins Window of Jewish religious shop on Broome Street, New York Aug 1942

There are things in this world which simply look plain stupid, and then there are those that at closer examination prove to be way beyond stupid. How about this one:

1) G20 taxpayers (you, me) subsidize the fossil fuel industry. That in itself is crazy enough, and it should stop as per last week; industry participants must be able to fend for themselves, or fold. That they don’t, speaks to a very unhealthy level of power in and over our political systems. Subsidizing coal and oil is as insane as bailing out Wall Street banks. It’s money that defies gravity, by flowing from the bottom to the top, from the poor to the rich.

2) Then there’s the huge amount of the subsidies: $88 billion a year. That could solve a lot of misery for a lot of people. It adds up to well over $1 trillion in this century alone. Next time you feel good about prices at the pump, please add that number, it should set you straight.

3) But that’s just the start. Those $88 billion go towards exploration for new oil, gas and coal resources which, according to the UN’s IPCC climate panel, can never even be ‘consumed’ lest we go way beyond our – minimum – goals for CO2 concentrations and a global 2ºC warming limit.

4) And it keeps getting better. For who do you think pays for the research conducted for the IPCC reports? That’s right, the same G20 taxpayer. As in: you and me. We pay for both ends of the divine tragedy. We got it al covered. We pay for exploratory drilling in the Arctic, the Gulf of Mexico and all other ever harder to find, riskier and more polluting resources.

If this were not about us, we’d undoubtedly declare ourselves stark raving mad. Since it does directly involve us, though, we of course favor a more nuanced approach. Like sticking our heads in the sand.

I got that $88 billion a year number from a new report by British thinktank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Washington-based analysts Oil Change International, The Fossil Fuel Bailout: G20 Subsidies For Oil, Gas And Coal Exploration. The Guardian has a few more juicy tidbits:

Rich Countries Subsidising Oil, Gas And Coal Companies By $88 Billion A Year

Rich countries are subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by about $88bn (£55.4bn) a year to explore for new reserves, despite evidence that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.

The most detailed breakdown yet of global fossil fuel subsidies has found that the US government provided companies with $5.2bn for fossil fuel exploration in 2013, Australia spent $3.5bn, Russia $2.4bn and the UK $1.2bn. Most of the support was in the form of tax breaks for exploration in deep offshore fields.

The public money went to major multinationals as well as smaller ones who specialise in exploratory work, according to British thinktank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Washington-based analysts Oil Change International.

Britain, says their report, proved to be one of the most generous countries. In the five year period to 2014 it gave tax breaks totalling over $4.5bn to French, US, Middle Eastern and north American companies to explore the North Sea for fast-declining oil and gas reserves. A breakdown of that figure showed over $1.2bn of British money went to two French companies, GDF-Suez and Total, $450m went to five US companies including Chevron, and $992m to five British companies.

Britain also spent public funds for foreign companies to explore in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Ghana, Guinea, India and Indonesia, as well as Russia, Uganda and Qatar, according to the report’s data, which is drawn from the OECD, government documents, company reports and institutions.

The figures, published ahead of this week’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, contains the first detailed breakdown of global fossil fuel exploration subsidies. It shows an extraordinary “merry-go-round” of countries supporting each others’ companies. The US spends $1.4bn a year for exploration in Columbia, Nigeria and Russia, while Russia is subsidising exploration in Venezuela and China, which in turn supports companies exploring Canada, Brazil and Mexico.

“The evidence points to a publicly financed bail-out for carbon-intensive companies, and support for uneconomic investments that could drive the planet far beyond the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to no more than 2C,” say the report’s authors.

“This is real money which could be put into schools or hospitals. It is simply not economic to invest like this. This is the insanity of the situation. They are diverting investment from economic low-carbon alternatives such as solar, wind and hydro-power and they are undermining the prospects for an ambitious UN climate deal in 2015,” said Kevin Watkins, director of the ODI.

“The IPCC [UN climate science panel] is quite clear about the need to leave the vast majority of already proven reserves in the ground, if we are to meet the 2C goal. The fact that despite this science, governments are spending billions of tax dollars each year to find more fossil fuels that we cannot ever afford to burn, reveals the extent of climate denial still ongoing within the G20,” said Oil Change International director Steve Kretzman.

The report further criticises the G20 countries for providing over $520m a year of indirect exploration subsidies via the World Bank group and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) to which they contribute funds.

That’s right, as you see in the graph we pay more towards Big Oil’s future profits then the companies do themselves. Without getting shares in those companies, mind you. We pay Big Oil and coal to produce more fossil fuels, and at the same time we pay the UN to publish reports demanding they produce less of them. Feel crazy yet?

Did you have any idea that your government sponsors oil companies with your money, which they don’t need, and certainly shouldn’t? Aren’t we supposed to at least take a serious look at alternative energy sources, and more importantly, use less energy, whether it’s coal or solar? If only to show we do indeed understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics?!

Big Oil, like Wall Street banks, should be, and can, take care of themselves, and very well. May I suggest you try and find out who in your respective government has given the thumbs up to these crazy handouts, and when you do, make sure they’re fired.