Oct 062017
 
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Jean Renoir Les Grands Boulevards 1875

 

China’s Economic Boom Is About To Be Cut Short By Peak Oil (Ahmed)
A Volatility Trap Is Inflating Market Bubbles (BBG)
China Is In ‘Lock-down’ Ahead Of Its Most Important Meeting In Years (CNBC)
Bitcoin’s Rise Happened in Shadows of Finance. Now Banks Want In (BBG)
HSBC Traders Used Code Words to Trigger Front-Running (BBG)
US Rounds On Britain Over Food Quotas As Post-Brexit Trade Woes Deepen (Pol.)
Few Tears Are Being Shed In Quebec Over The Energy East Pipeline’s Demise (BBG)
Onshore Fracking To Begin In UK ‘Within Weeks’ (Ind.)
Catalan Separatists Squeezed Further as Spain Tightens Its Grip (BBG)
Apple Gave Uber ‘Unprecedented’ Access To Secret iPhone Backdoor (BI)
Tropical Storm Nate Kills 22 In Central America, Heads For US (R.)
Pesticides That Pose Threat To Humans And Bees Found In Honey (Ind.)
Tiny Pacific Island Nation Of Niue Creates Huge Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

 

 

From China’s government.

China’s Economic Boom Is About To Be Cut Short By Peak Oil (Ahmed)

A new scientific study led by the China University of Petroleum in Beijing, funded by the Chinese government, concludes that China is about to experience a peak in its total oil production as early as next year. Without finding an alternative source of ‘new abundant energy resources’ , the study warns, the 2018 peak in China’s combined conventional and unconventional oil will undermine continuing economic growth and ‘challenge the sustainable development of Chinese society’. This also has major implications for the prospect of a 2018 oil squeeze – as China scales its domestic oil peak, rising demand will impact world oil markets in a way most forecasters aren’t anticipating, contributing to a potential supply squeeze. That could happen in 2018 proper, or in the early years that follow.

There are various scenarios that follow from here – China could: shift to reducing its massive demand for energy, a tall order in itself given population growth projections and rising consumption; accelerate a renewable energy transition; or militarise the South China Sea for more deepwater oil and gas. Right now, China appears to be incoherently pursuing all three strategies, with varying rates of success. But one thing is clear – China’s decisions on how it addresses its coming post-peak future will impact regional and global political and energy security for the foreseeable future. The study was published on 19 September by Springer’s peer-reviewed Petroleum Science journal, which is supported by China’s three major oil corporations, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China Petroleum Corporation (Sinopec), and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

Since 1978, China has experienced an average annual economic growth rate of 9.8%, and is now the world’s second largest economy after the United States. The new study points out, however, that this economic growth has been enabled by “high energy consumption.” In the same period of meteoric economic growth, China’s total energy consumption has grown on average by 5.8% annually, mostly from fossil fuels. In 2014, oil, gas and coal accounted for fully 90% of China’s total energy consumption, with the remainder supplied from renewable energy sources. After 2018, however, China’s oil production is predicted to begin declining, and the widening supply-demand gap could endanger both China’s energy security and continued economic growth.

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“Zombie companies that would otherwise fail continue to be in business, refinancing at near-zero interest rates in bond markets.”

A Volatility Trap Is Inflating Market Bubbles (BBG)

A number of markets show not only elevated valuations, but also irrational behavior on the part of investors, including a suspension of traditional valuation models, an increase in trading volumes or “flipping” in the hopes of quick gains, and financial engineering. Potential bubbles can be found in emerging-market debt, technology stocks, U.S. high yield bonds, some sovereign debt, cryptocurrencies, properties — even art and collectibles. It is becoming clearer to economists and central bankers that even though we may be experiencing a long phase of growth, stretching the cycle with monetary stimulus inspired by crisis-era toolkits may be bringing several collateral effects. These include not only asset bubbles, but also a worsening of wealth inequality and a misallocation of resources.

Persistent low interest rates in the past have helped to roll forward an increasing amount of private and public debt to future generations, but this is no longer working. Economic fundamentals are different from the post-war period. Technology is deflationary. Demographics are no longer a tailwind, as there are fewer young people able to carry a higher debt burden in the future. The generation of so-called millennials is the first that will likely be poorer than their parents in the post-war period. Productivity is low as the economy suffers from hysteresis: a financial boom-bust cycle that can leave large swathes of the workforce out of the job market. The longer the debt cycle, the longer companies and workers develop business and skills in leverage-heavy sectors (e.g. finance, real estate, energy), the deeper the scars when the bust comes.

Often the misallocation is so large that low rates are necessary to keep people in their jobs: Zombie companies that would otherwise fail continue to be in business, refinancing at near-zero interest rates in bond markets.

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Xi will need drastic measures to tackle the debt disaster. But it may well be too late already.

China Is In ‘Lock-down’ Ahead Of Its Most Important Meeting In Years (CNBC)

Although the Chinese will head back to work and school on Monday, their country is expected to remain in a holding pattern ahead of a pivotal Communist Party Congress set to start later this month. “Commentators and markets rightly assume that the authorities are consumed by this transition and that all other policy matters are on the back-burner or in lock-down until after the Congress,” Freya Beamish, Pantheon Macroeconomics’ chief Asia economist, wrote in a recent note. The once-in-five-years meeting will usher in leadership changes that are likely to see incumbent President Xi Jinping extend his term and consolidate power. The coming years of Xi rule will be critical for the world’s second-largest economy as it grapples with the fallout from three decades of unbridled growth.

As Xi — the most powerful Chinese leader in decades — embarks on a new era, the meeting will review “faulty” outcomes from the economic reforms and review if China needs a new direction, said independent economist, Andy Xie. China undertook a series of market reforms in the last three decades that propelled the Communist country to the spot of the world’s second largest economy. Market watchers, however, are concerned about the nation’s debt-fueled growth, industrial overcapacity and capital outflows that may potentially spur a global economic crisis. The Communist Party has been working to steer outbound merger and acquisition activities over the last year, but major initiatives have slowed ahead of the Congress. That push is likely to pick up again in the fourth quarter, said Chunshek Chan, Dealogic’s global M&A research head.

No matter the macroeconomic concerns, the only thing on Beijing’s mind at this time is consolidating power in the country, Xie said: “It’s much more important now to strengthen the control of the Communist Party than anything else.” “The key is to have the Communist Party as a coherent organization to control everything in the society — that seems to be the case. The people at the top worry about the stability. Stability is always number one in China,” added Xie.

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“What are they going to do if bitcoin drops for a given client and they’ve given that client a ton of leverage on margin, and that client only has assets in bitcoin?”

Bitcoin’s Rise Happened in Shadows of Finance. Now Banks Want In (BBG)

At first, bitcoin was a way to make payments without banks. Now, with more than $100 billion stashed in digital currencies, banks are debating whether and how to get in on the action. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein tweeted Tuesday that his firm is examining the cryptocurrency. Other global investment banks are looking into facilitating trades of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, according to industry consultants. Bitcoin has surged more than 300 percent this year, drawing the attention of hedge funds and wealthy individuals. “They’re clearly receiving interest from their clients, both from retail investors and on the institutional side,” said Axel Pierron, managing director of bank consultant Opimas. “It’s highly volatile, it’s highly illiquid when you need to trade large volumes, so they see the opportunity for a new asset class which would require the capability of a broker-dealer.”

But bitcoin presents Wall Street with a conundrum: How do banks that are required by law to prevent money-laundering handle a currency that’s not issued by a government and that keeps its users anonymous? The debate has played out in the open recently, with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink saying that bitcoin was mostly used by criminals, while Morgan Stanley chief James Gorman took a more measured stance, saying it was “more than just a fad.” On Wednesday, UBS Chairman Axel Weber, a former president of Germany’s central bank, said he was skeptical about bitcoin’s future because “it’s not secured by underlying assets.” There’s even tension within some banks. On the same day Dimon trashed bitcoin, calling it a “fraud,” his firm’s private bank hosted a panel stocked with cryptocurrency investors.

Handling bitcoin would invite scrutiny from every major U.S. regulator, according to Joshua Satten, director of emerging technologies at Sapient Consulting. “From the perspective of the U.S. Treasury, do you classify it as an asset class or a currency?” Satten said. “If banks are starting to manage and hold bitcoin for their clients, you would have the OCC and the FDIC looking at how they classify the assets on their balance sheet and how they state the assets for the portfolio of a client.” And banks need to avoid antagonizing governments that are increasingly concerned about this area. For instance, China is cracking down by shutting cryptocurrency exchanges. Then there’s the risk that stems from its high volatility and lack of correlation to other major assets. “What are they going to do if bitcoin drops for a given client and they’ve given that client a ton of leverage on margin, and that client only has assets in bitcoin?” Satten said.

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Greed.

HSBC Traders Used Code Words to Trigger Front-Running (BBG)

A group of HSBC currency traders in London and New York feverishly jumped ahead of a $3.5 billion client order after they were tipped off using the code words “my watch is off,” a U.S. prosecutor told a federal judge. The buying frenzy was launched after Mark Johnson, HSBC’s former global head of foreign exchange who the bank chose to lead the transaction, alerted the traders via phone call that was recorded, the prosecutor said Thursday in Brooklyn, New York. Johnson is on trial for fraud. After the trial recessed for the day, prosecutor Carol Sipperly told U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis that the government wants the jury to hear the recordings on Friday, in which Johnson can be heard tipping off a trader in Hong Kong, a signal that she said eventually reached others on both sides of the Atlantic.

Prosecutors say Johnson and Stuart Scott, the bank’s former head of currency trading in Europe, along with these other traders, bought pounds before the transaction, collectively making the bank $8 million in illicit profit. Sipperly said the call involved Johnson, who was in New York that day, speaking to Scott who was in London, just before the Dec. 7, 2011, transaction for its client, Cairn Energy. “We actually have Mark Johnson telling Stuart Scott ‘Tell Ed my watch will be off,’” she said. “We have communications where the word ‘watch’ is used, and then within seconds, 20 seconds of ‘my watch is off,’ we have all that trading that’s been described. The word is instrumental in getting the information to the traders when it comes to their early front-running trades.”

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Things are getting messy.

US Rounds On Britain Over Food Quotas As Post-Brexit Trade Woes Deepen (Pol.)

The U.S. and other international trade heavyweights have dashed Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of a smooth Brexit by rejecting one of her core plans for reintegrating into global trade networks. Washington’s slap-down of Britain is the second big trade reality check for May in less than a fortnight. Only last week, the U.K.’s increasingly fragile position in trade disputes was exposed by the country’s inability to prevent new, ultra-high tariffs from the U.S. that could hit thousands of jobs in a plane factory in Northern Ireland. In a fast-developing second trade spat, Washington has teamed up with Brazil, Argentina, Canada, New Zealand, Uruguay and Thailand to reject Britain’s proposed import arrangements for crucial agricultural goods such as meat, sugar and grains after Brexit.

The fact that the U.K.’s opponents include the U.S., Canada and New Zealand is a significant setback because Britain is trying to style its former colonies as natural strategic and commercial allies after it has quit the EU. Since August, Britain and the EU have repeatedly insisted that they had reached an agreement on the terms under which Britain would buy in food from around the world after Brexit. Brussels currently negotiates all these quotas and tariffs on behalf of Britain and the 27 other EU countries jointly, but London will need to take independent control of these policies from March 2019. That creates a dilemma over how to divide up the EU’s current quota arrangements with other countries — agreed at the World Trade Organization — between the U.K. and the remaining 27. These tariff-rate quotas allow countries outside the EU to export certain goods into the bloc with reduced duties, but only up to a maximum limit.

The argument from Britain and the EU is that the rest of the world will be “no worse off” after Brexit — a key legal defense in trade disputes — if the EU’s quotas are simply reduced, and Britain takes a share of them. British Trade Minister Liam Fox told POLITICO in an interview that Britain had agreed to take a portion of the EU’s quotas based on the U.K.’s average consumption over the last three years. America and the six other big food exporters, however, wrote an unusually sharply worded letter of complaint dated September 26 to the U.K. and EU representatives at the World Trade Organization over the terms of such an arrangement. “We cannot accept such an agreement,” reads the letter, seen by POLITICO. The seven countries dispute the legal defense that the proposed post-Brexit arrangement would leave them “no worse off.”

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Transporting oil across thousands of miles just so you can sell it to Europe. Insane.

Few Tears Are Being Shed In Quebec Over The Energy East Pipeline’s Demise (BBG)

TransCanada had applied to build Energy East three years ago, seeking to open access for Western Canadian oil producers to the Atlantic Ocean for exports to Europe. It faced intense opposition in Quebec, where Premier Philippe Couillard said the C$15.7 billion ($12.5 billion) line posed a significant risk to its freshwater resources. Quebec has long required that TransCanada meet seven conditions before allowing construction of the pipeline. Among other demands, Quebec insisted that the project be subject to an environmental assessment and that TransCanada must guarantee an emergency plan in case of a spill, consult with communities including aboriginal groups along the route and ensure the project doesn’t reduce the province’s gas supply. Last month, TransCanada asked Canadian regulators for a 30-day suspension on its applications for the Energy East and Eastern Mainline projects, adding to doubt about the future of two major pipelines that the nation’s energy producers had hoped for.

The latest delay meant the writing was on the wall, Quebec Energy and Natural Resources Minister Pierre Arcand said Thursday. “We’re not the promoters of the project. The promoter made a commercial decision,” Arcand told reporters at the provincial legislature. “When they decided to suspend the project about one month ago, I thought we were inevitably going to go toward this decision.” Energy East “was supposed to cross more than 700 bodies of water,” Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel said separately in Quebec City. “This is a project that raised a lot of questions. We were still in the process of getting answers to our questions” from the company, he said. TransCanada’s decision “is great news,” Jean-Francois Lisée, head of the separatist Parti Quebecois, the official opposition in the provincial legislature, said in Quebec City. “Quebec’s territorial integrity is no longer threatened.”

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Feels like the Middle Ages.

Onshore Fracking To Begin In UK ‘Within Weeks’ (Ind.)

Fracking for shale gas will begin in the UK within weeks, the company undertaking it for the first time has announced. Third Energy said it plans to complete five fracks in North Yorkshire before the end of 2017. The controversial technique involves injecting liquid into underground rock at high pressures in order to create cracks that release trapped gas. This is then collected and used to generate electricity. Fracking has been vocally opposed by environmental campaigners but permits to use the technique have been approved by government ministers. Alan Linn, Third Energy’s technical director, said the final sign-off needed for fracking to begin was ‘imminent’.

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Vote count to be published today?!

Catalan Separatists Squeezed Further as Spain Tightens Its Grip (BBG)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy convenes his cabinet on Friday as the financial and political squeeze on the separatist government in Catalonia tightens. After a week of political drama that rocked financial markets, Rajoy will meet with his ministers in Madrid as events 600 kilometers (370 miles) to the northeast in the Catalan capital Barcelona threaten to spiral still further out of control. The region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, risks economic damage and European isolation if he pushes ahead with plans to declare Catalan independence based on a referendum that breached Spain’s constitution. CaixaBank, the symbol of the region’s financial strength, may follow Banc Sabadell in abandoning Catalonia when its board meets Friday.

For his part, Rajoy and his minority government will be loathe to risk a repeat of Sunday’s scenes of police beating peaceful voters that drew international condemnation and inflamed the separatist cause. With options to quell an increasingly bitter constitutional dispute fast running out, events may come to a head on Monday. That’s when Puigdemont had sought to evaluate the result of the independence vote at a session of the regional parliament – until it was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court. That means Rajoy may again have to send in the police to enforce a court ruling, and Puigdemont must decide if he’s ready to again defy the law. “There will be some formula for the Catalan Parliament to convene and hold its meeting as planned,” Jordi Sanchez, who heads the most powerful group among the separatists, known as the Catalan National Assembly, said in an interview in Barcelona. “There will be a plenary session.”

As anti-independence organizers plan rallies for this weekend in Madrid and in Barcelona, Catalan separatist are seeking to avoid an immediate declaration of independence. There’s a divide in the movement’s leadership, with most leaders keen to delay that leap into the unknown to create more time for a negotiated settlement, according to two people familiar with their plans. Puigdemont’s mainstream separatist group is concerned that a move toward independence would send the economy into a tailspin, the people said. But following Sunday’s illegal referendum on secession – which the regional government said won the support of 90%t of 2.3 million voters – hardliners from the anarchist party CUP are demanding a quick break with Spain.

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What a surprise. Apple is an Uber investor.

Apple Gave Uber ‘Unprecedented’ Access To Secret iPhone Backdoor (BI)

Uber’s iPhone app has a secret backdoor to powerful Apple features, allowing the ride-hailing service to potentially record a user’s screen and access other personal information without their knowledge. The existence of Uber’s access to special iPhone functions is not disclosed in any consumer-facing information included with Uber’s app, despite giving the company direct access to features so powerful that Apple almost always keeps them off limits to outside companies. Although there is no evidence that Uber used this access to take advantage of the iPhone features, the revelation of the app’s access to privileged Apple code raises important questions for a company already under investigation for a variety of controversial business practices.

Uber told Business Insider the code was not currently being used and was essentially a vestige from an earlier version of its Apple Watch app, but it set off alarm bells among experts. “Granting such a sensitive entitlement to a third-party is unprecedented as far as I can tell, no other app developers have been able to convince Apple to grant them entitlements they’ve needed to let their apps utilize certain privileged system functionality,” Will Strafach, a security researcher who discovered the situation, told Business Insider. [..] Apple became an Uber investor through its investment in Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing. In 2016, Didi merged with Uber’s Chinese subsidiary.

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It ain’t over.

Tropical Storm Nate Kills 22 In Central America, Heads For US (R.)

Tropical Storm Nate has killed at least 22 people in Central America as it battered the region with heavy rain while heading toward Mexico’s Caribbean resorts and the US Gulf Coast where it could strike as a hurricane this weekend. Several offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuated and others had shut production ahead of the storm. In Nicaragua, at least 11 people died, seven others were reported missing and thousands had to evacuate homes because of flooding, according to the country’s vice president, Rosario Murillo. Emergency officials in Costa Rica reported that at least eight people were had been killed, including two children. Another 17 people were missing, while more than 7,000 had to take refuge from Nate in shelters.

Two youths also drowned in Honduras due to the sudden swell in a river, while a man was killed in a mud slide in El Salvador and another person was missing, emergency services said. “Sometimes we think we think we can cross a river and the hardest thing to understand is that we must wait,” Nicaragua’s Murillo told state radio, warning people to avoid dangerous waters. “It’s better to be late than not to get there at all.“ Costa Rica’s government declared a state of emergency, closing schools and all other non-essential services. Highways in the country were closed due to mud slides and power outages were also reported in parts of country, where more than 3,500 police were deployed. The National Hurricane Centre said Nate could produce as much as 51 cm (20 inches) in some areas of Nicaragua, where schools were also closed. Nate is predicted to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane by the time it hits the US Gulf Coast on Sunday, NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

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Slow motion mass suicide.

Pesticides That Pose Threat To Humans And Bees Found In Honey (Ind.)

Three-quarters of the honey produced around the world contains nerve agent pesticides that can harm bees and pose a potential health hazard to humans, a study has shown. Scientists who tested 198 honey samples from every continent except Antarctica discovered that 75% were laced with at least one of the neonicotinoid chemicals. More than two-fifths contained two or more varieties of the pesticides and 10% held residues from four or five. Environmental campaigners responded by demanding a “complete and permanent” ban preventing any further use of neonicotinoids on farm crops in Europe. Experts called the findings “alarming”, “sobering” and a “serious environmental concern” while stressing that the pesticide residue levels found in honey generally fell well below the safe limits for human consumption.

However, one leading British scientist warned that it was impossible to predict what the long term effects of consuming honey containing tiny amounts of the chemicals might be. Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, said: “Beyond doubt … anyone regularly eating honey is likely to be getting a small dose of mixed neurotoxins. “In terms of acute toxicity, this certainly won’t kill them and is unlikely to do measurable harm. What we don’t know is whether there are long-term, chronic effects from life-time exposure to a cocktail of these and other pesticides in our honey and most other foods.”

[..] The new research published in the journal Science could not have come at a more sensitive time in Europe. EC policymakers are right now discussing whether to make the ban permanent and more wide ranging. A total ban would have a huge impact on cereal growers in the UK. For the study, an international team of European researchers tested almost 200 honey samples from around the world for residues left by five different neonicotinoids. [..] While in most cases the levels were well below the EU safety limits for human consumption, there were exceptions. Honey from both Germany and Poland exceeded maximum residue levels (MRLs) for combined neonicotinoids while samples from Japan reached 45% of the limits.

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“This commitment is not a sacrifice, it is an investment in the certainty and stability of our children’s future..”

“..the palm-dotted island’s name in the local language means “Behold, the Coconut”..

Tiny Pacific Island Nation Of Niue Creates Huge Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

The tiny Pacific island nation of Niue on Friday announced the creation of a huge marine sanctuary, saying it wanted to stop overfishing and preserve the environment for future generations. While Niue’s landmass is only 260 square kilometres (100 square miles), its remote location about 2,400 kilometres northeast of New Zealand means it lays claim to vast tracts of ocean. The government said that 40% of its exclusive economic zone, about 127,000 square kilometres representing an area roughly the size of Greece, would be set aside for the marine sanctuary. Premier Toke Talagi said his government wanted to stop the depletion of fish stocks and give the ocean space to heal to protect the environment for the next generation.

“This commitment is not a sacrifice, it is an investment in the certainty and stability of our children’s future,” he said. “We simply cannot be the generation of leaders who have taken more than they have given to this planet and left behind a debt that our children cannot pay.” Known locally as “The Rock”, Niue was settled by Polynesian seafarers more than 1,000 years ago and the palm-dotted island’s name in the local language means “behold, the coconut”. The British explorer captain James Cook tried to land there three times in 1774 but was deterred by fearsome warriors, eventually giving up to set sail for more welcoming shores and naming Niue “Savage Island”.

Read more …

Dec 142016
 
 December 14, 2016  Posted by at 10:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Louise Rosskam General store in Lincoln, Vermont 1940

Janet Yellen Needs To Announce Her Resignation — Not A Rate Hike (Crudele)
Stephen Roach Flags Trade, China Under Trump, Tillerson (CNBC)
Trump May Be Turning China’s $1.16 Trillion Of Treasuries Into A Weapon (F.)
China To Fine Unnamed US Automaker For ‘Monopolistic Behavior’ (R.)
Top US Spy Agency Has Not Embraced CIA Assessment On Russia Hacking (R.)
Lavrov Hints ISIS Recapture Of Palmyra Orchestrated By US (R.)
There Is More Than One Truth To Tell In The Awful Story Of Aleppo (Fisk)
How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change (Carney/Bloomberg)
Greece ‘Boxed In’ as EU and IMF Fight Over Nation’s Debt Relief Plan (G.)
Tsipras To Propose To EU Leaders That IMF Be Excluded (Kath.)
Crisis Leaves Greeks Gloomiest In Europe And Beyond (R.)
Final EPA Study Confirms Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water (EW)
A Crack In Antarctica Is Forming An Iceberg The Size Of Delaware (PopSci)

 

 

“Yellen is a lame-duck chair. And Trump is going to want to cook her goose. It isn’t going to be pheasant.”

Janet Yellen Needs To Announce Her Resignation — Not A Rate Hike (Crudele)

If Janet Yellen had any class, she wouldn’t just be announcing an interest rate hike this week – she would also be offering her resignation. Yellen was appointed chair of the Federal Reserve by President Obama in 2014. While most heads of government agencies will soon be offering their resignations to President-elect Donald Trump, the Fed is not a government agency. It’s an independent entity. Which means Yellen doesn’t have to resign. Her term as chair – which makes her, perhaps, the second-most powerful person in Washington — doesn’t end until January 2018. And even then, she can hang around as a mere board member – one of 14 – until 2024. So, although Yellen and her colleagues have screwed things up, they get to keep their jobs. And boy has the Fed screwed things up — both before and since the financial crisis that started in 2007. [..]

It’s clear that Trump doesn’t like Yellen. And she hasn’t said anything nice about the incoming president or his policies either. So the two aren’t likely to get along. Yellen has shown no inclination to give up her job even though Trump has lashed out at her. “I think the Fed is being totally controlled,” Trump said during a campaign stop at the Economic Club of New York. “They’re not raising rates. And they’re being controlled politically.” Welcome to reality, Mr. Trump. The Fed lost its independence four decades ago. And you’ll be trying to control it soon. Yellen has hit back at Trump, saying that his pledge to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure to help the economy was dangerous. She said that after Trump spent that much money, there “is not a lot of fiscal space should a shock to the economy occur.”

Yellen also continued to assert her preposterous notion that the “economy is operating close to full employment.” If true, why hasn’t she already raised interest rates vigorously? And why, if the economy was doing so well, did the election go so badly for the incumbents — the Democrats? The Fed boss understands economics better than Trump. The higher borrowing costs that are already being seen (and which the Fed will pile onto this week) will automatically cause government borrowing costs – and therefore, spending – to increase and make US debt levels much worse. How much worse? That depends on how high rates go and how reluctant the Chinese are to continue to lend us money, especially now that Trump has picked a fight with Beijing. Yellen is a lame-duck chair. And Trump is going to want to cook her goose. It isn’t going to be pheasant.

Read more …

Few people in the west know China the way Roach does.

Stephen Roach Flags Trade, China Under Trump, Tillerson (CNBC)

Stock markets are euphoric after Donald Trump’s victory as pundits bet on U.S. economic growth based on the president-elect’s stimulus plans, but be aware of trade deficits and funding U.S. consumption, said Yale economist and noted author on China, Stephen Roach. “Given the overall savings of the U.S., that spells bigger trade deficits and for a president who is clearly raising some protectionist flags at a time when our trade deficits are going to widen, that’s a big disconnect,” Roach, a former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and chief economist, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box”. “The idea of larger trade deficits colliding with protectionist shifts in policy is a very worrisome development for the U.S. and for the broader global economy,” added Roach.

Roach’s comments come against a background of Trump having campaigned on remedying a wide trade gap in favor of Beijing that he said was spurred by moves to artificially weaken the yuan and restrict entry into home markets. He has also angered China by taking a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and calling into question the foundations of the “One China” policy. China is the world’s top holder of U.S Treasurys, and any major change in that stance would have broad macroeconomic impact. “The deeper question is less about the integrity of the leadership skills he can bring to the job, but how much scope for action he will have in the Trump administration … (after) Mr Trump has made some very strong statements about a number of critical foreign policy issues,” said Roach.

Roach also commented broadly on issues that will have to be resolved in the early phase of a Trump administration, including how a U.S. savings shortfall will be financed, suggesting choices of higher interest rates or a weak dollar as possibilities. He also expects a reassessment of Trump’s economic policies and outcomes in late 2017. As for Trump’s goals to shore up the battered manufacturing industries, Roach said Americans will have to pay a price for penalizing offshore operations. “As they bring those activities home, the cost of goods sold, the prices that go to American families who are hard strapped who voted for Mr. Trump, those prices are going to go up … We can’t have it both ways,”he said.

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Only, the author doesn’t really say how.

Trump May Be Turning China’s $1.16 Trillion Of Treasuries Into A Weapon (F.)

When Donald Trump talks about China devaluing its currency it’s difficult for investors to figure out exactly what he’s trying to convey. China, in fact, is trying to strengthen its own currency against the dollar as part of an effort to prevent capital from leaving the country. It leaves people uncertain whether Trump–who has access to people who know the capital markets and can point out his mistake–simply misunderstands what’s happening in global capital markets, or if he’s picking a fight with China. Trump’s decision to take a phone call Dec. 2 from Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen, sent off alarms in Beijing, and leaders there appear to be moving toward the conclusion that Trump is picking a fight. Trump’s response that the longstanding U.S. “one China” policy may be a bargaining chip in potential trade negotiations made matters worse.

China subsequently sent a bomber capable of carrying a nuclear payload outside its borders over the contested South China Sea in a show of force aimed at expressing displeasure with Trump’s posture. China held $1.16 trillion of U.S. government debt as of September, according to the most recent data available from the Treasury. That’s down by $100 billion from the year before. During that period Treasuries have actually rallied, with the benchmark 10-year note yield falling to 1.60% from 1.99%. China’s reduction in holdings didn’t hurt the bond market, as the economic stresses that led them to allocate cash away from Treasuries led other investors to seek out safety in the debt. China is well-positioned to use the bond market to show its displeasure with the U.S. in a manner that would be more than symbolic: it could sell more Treasuries. For the President-elect, who has plans to borrow to pay to ramp up infrastructure spending, that could cause real pain. The 10-year note yield has risen to a two-year high of 2.49% up from 1.88% on election day.

For more than a decade, politicians have expressed concern that China and other foreign government could use their significant stakes in Treasuries against the U.S. by dumping them on the market. Such a move would potentially drive borrowing costs throughout the U.S. sharply higher. Bond market conventional wisdom has been that this would be unlikely because it would reduce the value of the seller’s remaining reserves, weakening it’s own capital bulwarks against a future crisis. Trump’s pugnacity mixed with his seeming willingness to ignore facts contrary to his argument make it hard to assess his motives, which may scramble conventional thinking and raise the risks of an unorthodox response from China.

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Let the games begin.

China To Fine Unnamed US Automaker For ‘Monopolistic Behavior’ (R.)

China will soon slap a penalty on an unnamed U.S. automaker for monopolistic behavior, the official China Daily newspaper reported on Wednesday, quoting a senior state planning official. News of the penalty comes at a sensitive time for China-U.S. relations after U.S. president-elect Donald Trump called into question a long-standing U.S. policy of acknowledging that Taiwan is part of “one China”. Beijing maintains that self-ruled Taiwan is a wayward province of China and has never renounced the use of force to take it back. Investigators found the U.S. company had instructed distributors to fix prices starting in 2014, Zhang Handong, director of the National Development and Reform Commission’s price supervision bureau, was quoted as saying.

In an exclusive interview with the newspaper, Zhang said no one should “read anything improper” into the timing or target of the penalty. China, the world’s largest auto market, has become crucial to the strategies of car companies around the world, including major U.S. players General Motors and Ford. “We are unaware of the issue,” said Mark Truby, Ford’s chief spokesman for its Asia-Pacific operations. In a statement, GM said: “GM fully respects local laws and regulations wherever we operate. We do not comment on media speculation.”

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There’s just so much borrowing going on. And that was never the Chinese way.

Just Another Chinese Cash Crunch, But Bigger (BBG)

In markets where investors are highly leveraged, things tend to happen slowly at first, then fast. China is having one of those moments, and as with the 2008 crisis, it can’t be pinned on one event. On Monday, the Shanghai Composite Index sank 2.5%, then extended that decline Tuesday before rebounding to close little changed. The one-year government note yield rose 7 basis points to 2.72%, on top of Monday’s 15 basis-point increase. The root cause may be banks. There’s clearly a liquidity squeeze on Chinese lenders. Nothing new there: Financial institutions tend to face higher demand for cash in December, and this year that’s been exacerbated because Chinese New Year falls early – the holiday, when many people withdraw deposits to buy gifts and travel, begins Jan. 28.

Perhaps more important, banks also want to boost the deposits they can account for as of Dec. 31, when they close their books. Financial institutions struggled to meet a loan-to-deposit ratio ceiling of 75%, and that cap was scrapped in June. None of the banks wants to show that the amount they lend is completely disconnected from what they have in the coffers, however. Which may explain why short-term deposit rates are far higher than longer-term ones. In simple terms, this is a seasonal cash crunch. The issue is that this time it’s on steroids, because it comes after several months when the People’s Bank of China increased short-term rates. This boosted funding costs for wealth-management products and for investors using leverage to buy everything from stocks to bonds to iron ore. As some of the trades begin to offer negative returns, these investors are selling.

Curiously, Hong Kong is going through a similar issue because of the impending Federal Reserve rate increase. Then the vicious circle of leverage begins: Assets being sold drop below agreed levels, triggering margin calls – or the requirement that someone borrowing money to buy securities post more cash to back up the loan. To meet those calls, investors sell more of their securities, putting further pressure on prices and prompting new margin calls. The slump in Chinese stocks last year was exacerbated by just such a dynamic. Investors must now hope that China has learned the lesson from that rout and will use its pension funds to steady the market. Otherwise, if this selloff really is the result of a liquidity squeeze, it’s unlikely to stop before February, when people return from the holiday.

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And neither has the FBI.

Top US Spy Agency Has Not Embraced CIA Assessment On Russia Hacking (R.)

The overseers of the U.S. intelligence community have not embraced a CIA assessment that Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Republican President-elect Donald Trump win the 2016 election, three American officials said on Monday. While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) does not dispute the CIA’s analysis of Russian hacking operations, it has not endorsed their assessment because of a lack of conclusive evidence that Moscow intended to boost Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, said the officials, who declined to be named. The position of the ODNI, which oversees the 17 agency-strong U.S. intelligence community, could give Trump fresh ammunition to dispute the CIA assessment, which he rejected as “ridiculous” in weekend remarks, and press his assertion that no evidence implicates Russia in the cyber attacks.

Trump’s rejection of the CIA’s judgment marks the latest in a string of disputes over Russia’s international conduct that have erupted between the president-elect and the intelligence community he will soon command. “ODNI is not arguing that the agency (CIA) is wrong, only that they can’t prove intent,” said one of the three U.S. officials. “Of course they can’t, absent agents in on the decision-making in Moscow.” The FBI, whose evidentiary standards require it to make cases that can stand up in court, declined to accept the CIA’s analysis – a deductive assessment of the available intelligence – for the same reason, the three officials said. [..] In October, the U.S. government formally accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against American political organizations ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election. President Barack Obama has said he warned Vladimir Putin about consequences for the attacks.

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That’s quite the claim. Especially since all western reporting contradicts even the possibility.

Lavrov Hints ISIS Recapture Of Palmyra Orchestrated By US (R.)

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said talks with the United States on Syria were at a dead end, and Islamic State’s advance to Palmyra may have been staged by the United States and its regional allies to allow Syrian rebels in Aleppo a respite. During a visit to Belgrade, Lavrov said Russia was ready to quickly negotiate with the United States the opening of corridors for the pullout of rebels from Aleppo, but said these would have to be agreed before any ceasefire happened. “Our American colleagues do, so to speak, agree with that, and from Dec. 3 when we met John Kerry in Rome they supported such a concept and even gave us their approval on paper,” Lavrov told reporters at a news conference with his Serbian counterpart on Monday.

“But after three days they revoked that agreement and returned to their old, dead-end position which comprises this: Before the agreement on corridors there has to be a truce… as I understand, this would just mean the rebels would get a break,” he said. Earlier in the day, a military source said the Syrian army was on the verge of announcing victory in its battle to retake rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The Syrian army made new advances on Monday after taking the Sheikh Saeed district, leaving rebels trapped in a tiny part of the city. Lavrov also said he believed that Islamic State’s seizure of Palmyra might have been engineered by the U.S.-led coalition to divert attention from Aleppo. “That leads us to a thought – and I am sincerely hoping I am wrong, that this is all orchestrated, coordinated to give a break to those bandits that are in eastern Aleppo,” he said.

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Robert Fisk suggests Lavrov may be on to something.

There Is More Than One Truth To Tell In The Awful Story Of Aleppo (Fisk)

[..] it’s time to tell the other truth: that many of the “rebels” whom we in the West have been supporting – and which our preposterous Prime Minister Theresa May indirectly blessed when she grovelled to the Gulf head-choppers last week – are among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East. And while we have been tut-tutting at the frightfulness of Isis during the siege of Mosul (an event all too similar to Aleppo, although you wouldn’t think so from reading our narrative of the story), we have been willfully ignoring the behaviour of the rebels of Aleppo. Only a few weeks ago, I interviewed one of the very first Muslim families to flee eastern Aleppo during a ceasefire. The father had just been told that his brother was to be executed by the rebels because he crossed the frontline with his wife and son.

He condemned the rebels for closing the schools and putting weapons close to hospitals. And he was no pro-regime stooge; he even admired Isis for their good behaviour in the early days of the siege. Around the same time, Syrian soldiers were privately expressing their belief to me that the Americans would allow Isis to leave Mosul to again attack the regime in Syria. An American general had actually expressed his fear that Iraqi Shiite militiamen might prevent Isis from fleeing across the Iraqi border to Syria. Well, so it came to pass. In three vast columns of suicide trucks and thousands of armed supporters, Isis has just swarmed across the desert from Mosul in Iraq, and from Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria to seize the beautiful city of Palmyra all over again.

It is highly instructive to look at our reporting of these two parallel events. Almost every headline today speaks of the “fall” of Aleppo to the Syrian army – when in any other circumstances, we would have surely said that the army had “recaptured” it from the “rebels” – while Isis was reported to have “recaptured” Palmyra when (given their own murderous behaviour) we should surely have announced that the Roman city had “fallen” once more under their grotesque rule. Words matter. These are the men – our “chaps”, I suppose, if we keep to the current jihadi narrative – who after their first occupation of the city last year beheaded the 82-year-old scholar who tried to protect the Roman treasures and then placed his spectacles back on his decapitated head.

By their own admission, the Russians flew 64 bombing sorties against the Isis attackers outside Palmyra. But given the huge columns of dust thrown up by the Isis convoys, why didn’t the American air force join in the bombardment of their greatest enemy? But no: for some reason, the US satellites and drones and intelligence just didn’t spot them – any more than they did when Isis drove identical convoys of suicide trucks to seize Palmyra when they first took the city in May 2015. There’s no doubting what a setback Palmyra represents for both the Syrian army and the Russians – however symbolic rather than military. Syrian officers told me in Palmyra earlier this year that Isis would never be allowed to return. There was a Russian military base in the city. Russian aircraft flew overhead. A Russian orchestra had just played in the Roman ruins to celebrate Palmyra’s liberation.

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The craziest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change (Carney/Bloomberg)

From rising sea levels to more severe storms and more intense droughts, climate change will present serious risks to, and create major opportunities for, nearly every industry. Citizens, consumers, businesses, governments, and international organisations are all taking action. And entrepreneurs are developing disruptive technologies that will create and destroy value. The challenge is that investors currently don’t have the information they need to respond to these developments. This must change if financial markets are going to do what they do best: allocate capital to manage risks and seize new opportunities. Without the necessary information, market adjustments to climate change will be incomplete, late and potentially destabilising.

Public policy, consumer demand and technological innovation are driving a shift towards a low-carbon economy. Which companies and industries are most, and least, dependent on fossil fuels? And who stands ready to provide resilient and sustainable infrastructure? Which financial institutions are best positioned to gain and which to lose? In every case, which firms have the governance, resources and the strategy to manage, and profit from, these major shifts? We believe that financial disclosure is essential to a market-based solution to climate change. A properly functioning market will price in the risks associated with climate change and reward firms that mitigate them. As its impact becomes more commonplace and public policy responses more active, climate change has become a material risk that isn’t properly disclosed.

In response to a G20 request to consider the financial stability risks, the Financial Stability Board created a taskforce on climate-related financial disclosures. Its purpose is to develop voluntary, consistent disclosures to help investors, lenders and insurance underwriters manage material climate risks. As befits a solution by the market for the market, the taskforce is led by members of the private sector from across the G20, including major companies, large investors, global banks and insurers. After a year of intensive work and widespread consultation its recommendations are now publicly available. They concentrate on the practical, material disclosures most relevant to investors and creditors and which can be compiled by all companies that raise capital as well as financial institutions.

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Poul Thomsen was always a disgrace.

Greece ‘Boxed In’ as EU and IMF Fight Over Nation’s Debt Relief Plan (G.)

The row over how to stabilise the indebted Greek economy has resurfaced with renewed vigour after the European Union on Tuesday angrily rejected charges by the IMF that its current rescue programme is “not credible”. The spectre of the country’s economic crisis flaring up again deepened as the extent of the differences between creditors was laid bare. Caught in the middle, Athens also ratcheted up the rhetoric, as its finance minister told the Guardian that the IMF was “economising with the truth”. “Greece is being boxed into a corner,” said Euclid Tsakalotos, claiming that the country was under intense pressure to specify new austerity measures that made “no economic or political sense”. The war of words intensified after the IMF issued a 1,300-word statement distancing itself from the economic policies underpinning the nation’s latest bailout.

The adjustment programme agreed last summer in exchange for €86bn (£72bn) worth of rescue loans – a plan the IMF has so far refused to support – was based on measures that were “unfriendly to growth”, wrote Poul Thomsen, who directs the IMF’s European department, and Maurice Obstfeld, its chief economist. “It is not the IMF that is demanding more austerity,” the officials argued in a blog published late on Monday. “If Greece agrees with its European partners on ambitious fiscal targets, don’t criticise the IMF … when we ask to see the measures required to make such targets credible.” Athens, they said, had agreed to achieve a budget surplus – where state tax income exceeds expenditure – of 3.5% of GDP once the bailout expired in 2018, a feat that was not feasible without further cuts, said the IMF.

On Tuesday, the European commission hit back, insisting that the economic fundamentals were not only sound, but working. “The European institutions consider that the policies of the ESM program are sound and if fully implemented can return Greece to sustainable growth and can allow Greece to regain market access,” said commission spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt. The plan, she added, had undergone “several parts of scrutiny”, and even the European court of auditors had provided feedback, which had been taken into account. [..] Hopes of a political breakthrough are now resting on meetings Tsipras will have later this week with German and French leaders. But on past form, lenders are unlikely to yield, and Greek officials are now worrying that the row could be the precursor of the IMF pulling out of the programme altogether.

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“s it likely when around 45% of pensioners receive monthly payments below the poverty line of €665, and almost 4 million people, that is more than a third of the population, have been classed as being at risk of poverty or social exclusion, that Greece’s main problem is that pensions and tax credit allowances are too generous?”

Tsipras To Propose To EU Leaders That IMF Be Excluded (Kath.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is to suggest to European counterparts this week that the IMF should be left out of the Greek program, sources have told Kathimerini. Tsipras is expected to sound out Francois Hollande, who he is due to hold talks with Wednesday, and Angela Merkel, with whom he will have a working lunch on Friday, about the idea of the Fund no longer having a role in Greece’s bailout. If an agreement cannot be reached on this proposal, Tsipras will put forward the possibility of the IMF retaining just a technical role in the program. Athens believes that the political cost of the Fund remaining on board has become too high after the latest spat between the government and the organization, which flared up as the institutions returned to the Greek capital for further talks aimed at completing the bailout review.

The talks resumed under a cloud after the IMF’s European director Poul Thomsen and head of research Maurice Obstfeld published a blog post on Monday night in which they denied that the Fund was responsible for asking Greece to adopt more austerity measures and claimed that the country’s pensions and tax benefits are still too generous. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos confronted the IMF mission chief Delia Velculescu over the blog post when talks between the Greek government and the institutions resumed in Athens Tuesday. Velculescu is said to have assured the Greek minister that the IMF did not want to make negotiations harder but simply to express its view.

A little earlier, Tsakalotos had publicly countered the claims made by the IMF officials in their article. “In effect [the Fund] is arguing for Greek pensioners and poorer wage earners to make further economies, while it economizes on the truth,” he told The Guardian. “Greek expenditure on both pensions and other subsidies is about 70% of the EU average and 52% of that of Germany. Is it likely when around 45% of pensioners receive monthly payments below the poverty line of €665, and almost 4 million people, that is more than a third of the population, have been classed as being at risk of poverty or social exclusion, that Greece’s main problem is that pensions and tax credit allowances are too generous?” he added.

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But of course they are short on anti-depressants too.

Crisis Leaves Greeks Gloomiest In Europe And Beyond (R.)

Greece’s debt crisis has made its population the unhappiest not only in western Europe but also in comparison with people in some former Communist countries, a study showed on Tuesday. The “Life in Transition” survey conducted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank has questioned households across a broad region since 1991 as the Cold War came to an end, but Greece was included for the first time this year. Over 92% of Greeks said the debt crisis had affected them, with 76% of households suffering reduced income due to wage or pension cuts, job losses, delayed or suspended pay or fewer working hours.

Only one in 10 Greeks were satisfied with their financial situation and only 24% with life overall, compared with 72% in Germany and 42% in Italy, the two western European countries used as comparisons. The figure was 48% in post-communist countries. Austerity measures demanded by international creditors have been tough on Greeks. Pensions, for example, have been reduced by about a third since the crisis began in 2009. Only 16% of the respondents in Greece saw their situation improving over the next four years, compared with 48% in post-communist countries and 35 and 23% in Germany and Italy, respectively. “This signals that, despite the recent political changes and attempts at economic reforms that have taken place in the country, Greeks do not see their situation improving for the foreseeable future”, the report said.

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So that stops all fracking, right?!

Final EPA Study Confirms Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water (EW)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its widely anticipated final report on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, confirming that the controversial drilling process indeed impacts drinking water “under some circumstances.” Notably, the report also removes the EPA’s misleading line that fracking has not led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances,” the agency stated in a media advisory. This conclusion is a major reversal from the EPA’s June 2015 pro-fracking draft report. That specific “widespread, systemic” line baffled many experts, scientists and landowners who—despite the egregious headlines—saw clear evidence of fracking-related contamination in water samples.

Conversely, the EPA’s top line encouraged Big Oil and Gas to push for more drilling around the globe. But as it turns out, a damning exposé from Marketplace and APM Reports revealed last month that top EPA officials made critical, last-minute alterations to the agency’s draft report and corresponding press materials to soft-pedal clear evidence of fracking’s ill effects on the environment and public health. Thomas Burke, EPA deputy assistant administrator and science advisor, discussed the agency’s final report released Tuesday. “There are instances when hyrdofracking has impacted drinking water resources. That’s an important conclusion, an important consideration for moving forward,” Burke told reporters today, according to The Hill. Regarding the EPA’s contentious “national, systemic conclusion,” Burke said, “that’s a different question that this study does not have adequate evidence to really make a conclusive, quantified statement.”

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Small state, but big chunk of ice.

A Crack In Antarctica Is Forming An Iceberg The Size Of Delaware (PopSci)

An iceberg the size of Delaware is starting to break away from Antarctica. It began with a small crack, but has now grown 70 miles long and more than 300 feet wide. When it reaches the edges of the ice sheet, the state-sized chunk will drift away into the sea. The crack is a third of a mile deep—reaching all the way to the sea below. It’s a relatively new rift in the ice sheet, called Larsen C, but is following in its icy brethren’s footsteps: Larsen A and B both broke away from the main Antarctic sheet in the last two decades in much the same way. All three began with clefts in the ice and eventually floated away to disintegrate. That dramatic a cleft is unusual—it’s more common for ice sheets to slowly break up along the edges and fall in smaller chunks. Only in the last half century has it become common for the Antarctic to form these dramatic fault lines, and scientists say global warming is likely to blame.

NASA has been monitoring the Larsen ice sheets since Larsen A broke off in 1995. Larsen B followed it in 2002, and Larsen C is expected to go the same way soon. Operation IceBridge has surveyed the polar ice caps annually for the past eight years as a way to track changes in the glaciers and ice sheets. The MIDAS Project, a U.K.-based research group, first reported the Larsen C rift in 2014 and has kept a watchful eye on it ever since. [..] The more than 2,400 square miles that is likely to break away from Larsen C will only be about 12% of the ice sheet’s total area. But once that part comes loose, the MIDAS Project predicts that the rest of the sheet could become unstable and completely disintegrate. The crack is growing steadily and shows no signs of stopping, though the break won’t happen immediately. It takes much longer for ice sheets to break up—unlike many human relationships, this one will last through the holiday season.


A rare ice crack not formed by that squirrel from the Ice Age movies – NASA/John Sonntag

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Jun 252016
 
 June 25, 2016  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Underwood Typewriter Co., Washington, DC 1919

World’s 400 Richest People Lose $127 Billion on Brexit (BBG)
Global Markets Lose $2.1 Trillion In Brexit Rout (AFP)
[Friday Was] The Appetizer For Monday (ZH)
Alan Greenspan Says Brexit Is The ‘Tip Of The Iceberg’ For Europe (MW)
Bravo Brexit! (David Stockman)
The Sky Has Not Fallen After Brexit But We Face Years Of Hard Labour (AEP)
They Got It Wrong: Swarms of Global Chatterers Misread Brexit (BBG)
UK ‘Leave’ Vote Deflates Hopes For TTIP (R.)
Chinese Bankruptcies Surge More Than 50% In Q1; Worse To Come (ZH)
A Look At The Global Economic Malaise Through Deutsche Bank (MW)
Electoral Surge Of Far Left Likely To Shake Up Spanish Politics (R.)
Regling: Varoufakis’ FinMin Tenure Cost Greece €100 Billion (Kath.)
Hillary Clinton Adopts The Shorthand Of The Hyperinflation Fearmongers (Dayen)
Rural Pennsylvanians Say Fracking ‘Just Ruined Everything’ (CPI)
Italy Coastguard Rescues 7,100 In Mediterranean In Two Days (G.)

Try and feel sorry. I dare you.

World’s 400 Richest People Lose $127 Billion on Brexit (BBG)

The world’s 400 richest people lost $127.4 billion Friday as global equity markets reeled from the news that British voters elected to leave the European Union. The billionaires lost 3.2% of their total net worth, bringing the combined sum to $3.9 trillion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The biggest decline belonged to Europe’s richest person, Amancio Ortega, who lost more than $6 billion, while nine others dropped more than $1 billion, including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the wealthiest person in the U.K.

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Meaningless. If the euro loses against the dollar, what is lost exactly? Besides, it’s all virtual overkill anyway.

Global Markets Lose $2.1 Trillion In Brexit Rout (AFP)

Britain’s shock vote to pull out of the European Union wiped $2.1 trillion from global equity markets Friday as traders panicked in the face of a new threat to the global economy. Investors fled to the safety of gold, the yen and blue-chip bonds as the seismic shift in the structure of Europe left many huge questions hanging, including who will lead Britain following the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron. The Brexit vote sparked 8% losses in the Tokyo and Paris bourses, nearly 7% in Frankfurt and more than 3% in London and New York. Central banks stepped in to bolster confidence, promising to inject liquidity where needed and appearing to mitigate some of the sharpest losses.

Still, the pound crashed 10% to a 31-year low at one point, before rebounding slightly for a 9.1% loss against the greenback in late trade. The euro also plummeted, dropping 2.6% on the dollar. Benefitting from a massive safety selloff, gold jumped nearly 5% and the yen surged 4.2% against the dollar and 7.0% on the euro. The dollar at one point fell below 100 yen for the first time since November 2013. US 10-year treasury bond yields hit their lowest since 2012 at 1.42% before edging higher, while the German 10-year bund fell into negative territory for the second time in history.

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Try Italian banks: “..Monday is where we’re going to see a truer-look at “where the bodies are buried” and a more accurate “price discovery” process than what we’re seeing today..”

[Friday Was] The Appetizer For Monday (ZH)

RBC’s Charlie McElligott: “I do feel that Monday is where we’re going to see a truer-look at “where the bodies are buried” and a more accurate “price discovery” process than what we’re seeing today (as we’re washing out all the delta one flows which are dwarfing client trading)…lots of discipline being displayed thus far, with low turnovers and folks not chasing.

FTSE (UKX, benchmark equities index) is an absolute CHAMP right, trading -8.7% within the first 10 minutes of the open before clawing-back to all but -1.9% at ‘highs.’ Wrap your head around this: week-to-date, UKX is up over 2.8%! What’s the driver of today’s massive rally? People are getting their arms around the impact of this extraordinarily weak Sterling as a backdoor stimulus for exporters (ironic the power of what a departure from the EU can do vs what x # of kagillions of QE purchases couldn’t get done) and the inevitable rate cut from the BoE.

What I have to continue keeping one eyeball on is SX7E (EU banks index); the thing cannot get off mat. And if that can’t get off the mat, peripheries (and their sovereign debt) won’t either, as we re-enter the EU-crisis-era “Doom Loop” where widening sovereign spreads drag down the banks who are stuffed to the gills with them….vicious cycle, what else is new. FWIW, as I write and we’ve had this massive bounce in equities, Italian stocks (FTSEMIB) are back at their lows. This will likely be the next “hot zone” as we begin playing EU existential dominos (Spanish elections Sunday too).

My model Equity L/S portfolio is -285bps today. That is NOT cool. Elsewhere, from a thematic or factor perspective, we see the implications we spoke about earlier of the RAGINGLY STRONGER DOLLAR smashing the reflation / cyclical beta trade (value, energy, beta all struggling, while momentum mkt neutral works with defensive longs + and fins / biotech / energy -)”

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Of his own making.

Alan Greenspan Says Brexit Is The ‘Tip Of The Iceberg’ For Europe (MW)

The global economy is suffering from even bigger woes than the decision by U.K. voters to leave the European Union, Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Friday. ”This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Greenspan said in an interview on CNBC. “The global economy is in real serious trouble.” The rejection of British voters of the status quo in Europe was fueled by a “massive slowing” in the growth rate of real incomes that is widespread across Europe, Greenspan said. This, he said, is creating serious political problems that are not easy to resolve. Behind the slowdown in income is the sharp drop in worker productivity, according to Greenspan. Governments have to cut entitlements to reflect this weakness, he said.

The biggest concern is not a recession, but stagnation, the former Fed chief said. “The euro-area…is failing,” Greenspan said. “Greece is in real serious trouble and it is not going to continue in the euro very much longer irrespective of what is going on currently,” he said. Asked what he would do if he was still Fed chief, Greenspan said: “I would worry.” “This is the worst period I recall since I’ve been in public service,” he said. “There is nothing like it,” he said, including the 23% drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on a single day in October 1987.

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“..there will be payback, clawback and traumatic deflation of the bubbles. Plenty of it, as far as the eye can see.”

Bravo Brexit! (David Stockman)

At long last the tyranny of the global financial elite has been slammed good and hard. You can count on them to attempt another central bank based shock and awe campaign to halt and reverse the current sell-off, but it won’t be credible, sustainable or maybe even possible. The central banks and their compatriots at the EU, IMF, White House/Treasury, OECD, G-7 and the rest of the Bubble Finance apparatus have well and truly over-played their hand. They have created a tissue of financial lies; an affront to the very laws of markets, sound money and capitalist prosperity. So there will be payback, clawback and traumatic deflation of the bubbles. Plenty of it, as far as the eye can see.

On the immediate matter of Brexit, the British people have rejected the arrogant rule of the EU superstate and the tyranny of its unelected courts, commissions and bureaucratic overlords. As Donald Trump was quick to point out, they have taken back their country. He urges that Americans do the same, and he might just persuade them. But whether Trumpism captures the White House or not, it is virtually certain that Brexit is a contagious political disease. In response to today’s history-shaking event, determined campaigns for Frexit, Spexit, NExit, Grexit, Italxit, Hungexit and more centrifugal political emissions will next follow. Smaller government – at least in geography – is being given another chance. And that’s a very good thing because more localized democracy everywhere and always is inimical to the rule of centralized financial elites.

The combustible material for more referendums and defections from the EU is certainly available in surging populist parties of both the left and the right throughout the continent. In fact, the next hammer blow to the Brussels/German dictatorship will surely happen in Spain’s general election do-over on Sunday (the December elections resulted in paralysis and no government). When the polls close, the repudiation of the corrupt, hypocritical lapdog government of Prime Minister Rajoy will surely be complete. And properly so; he was just another statist in conservative garb who reformed nothing, left the Spanish economy buried in debt and gave false witness to the notion that the Brussels bureaucrats are the saviors of Europe. So the common people of Europe may be doubly blessed this week with the exit of both David Cameron and Mariano Rajoy. Good riddance to both.

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“..It was the first episode of a pan-Europe uprising against the Caesaropapism of the EU Project and its technocrat priesthood.”

The Sky Has Not Fallen After Brexit But We Face Years Of Hard Labour (AEP)

It is time for Project Grit. We warned over the final weeks of the campaign that a vote to leave the EU would be traumatic, and that is what the country now faces as markets shudder and Westminster is thrown into turmoil. The stunning upset last night marks a point of rupture for the post-war European order. It will be a Herculean task to extract Britain from the EU after 43 years enmeshed in a far-reaching legal and constitutional structure. Scotland and Northern Ireland will now be ejected from the EU against their will, a ghastly state of affairs that could all too easily lead to the internal fragmentation of the Kingdom unless handled with extreme care. The rating agencies are already pricing in a different British destiny. Standard & Poor’s declared that Brexit “spells the end” of the UK’s AAA status.

The only question is whether the downgrade is one notch or two, and that hangs on Holyrood. Moody’s has cocked the trigger too. Just how traumatic Brexit will be depends on whether Parliament can rise to the challenge and fashion a credible trade policy – so far glaringly absent – to safeguard access to European markets and ensure the viability of the City, and it depends exactly how Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Madrid, and Warsaw react once the dust settles. Both sides are handling nitroglycerin. Angry reproaches are flying in all directions, but let us not forget that the root cause of this unhappy divorce is the conduct of the EU elites themselves. It is they who have pushed Utopian ventures, and mismanaged the consequences disastrously.

It is they who have laid siege to the historic nation states, and who fatally crossed the line of democratic legitimacy with the Lisbon Treaty. This was bound to come to a head, and now it has. The wild moves in stocks, bonds, and currencies this morning were unavoidable, given the positioning of major players in the market, and given that the Treasury, the IMF, and the Davos brotherhood have been deliberately – in some cases recklessly – stirring up a mood of generalized fear.

[..] Some in Europe accuse the British people of strategic nihilism, of setting in motion the disintegration of the EU. It is true that French, Dutch, Italian, and Swedish eurosceptics are now agitating even more loudly for their own referenda, but voters are rising up across the EU in defence of national self-government and cultural ‘terroir’ for parallel reasons. Brexit is not the cause and this is not contagion. The latest PEW survey shows that anger with Brussels is just as great in most of Northwest Europe as it is Britain, and in France it is higher at 61pc. This referendum was never a fight between Britain and Europe, as so widely depicted. It was the first episode of a pan-Europe uprising against the Caesaropapism of the EU Project and its technocrat priesthood. It will not be the last.

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No-one got it more wrong than the bookmakers. At least, what they said.

They Got It Wrong: Swarms of Global Chatterers Misread Brexit (BBG)

A global cohort said before Thursday’s Brexit vote that Britain was unlikely to pull out of the European Union, the post-World War II international project that brought an unprecedented era of prosperity and peace. Yet some were led astray by the belief that free trade’s money and material goods outweighed nationalism and the tug of nostalgia. Conservative U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called the referendum, presumably confident he would win. He lost, and he’s now resigning. “Brits don’t quit,” Cameron said in an impassioned plea on Tuesday to voters to support remaining in the EU. “We get involved, we take a lead, we make a difference, we get things done.” The Brits quit.

Opinion polls on Brexit were all over the place; the theoretical lead had changed hands dozens of times since September, although “leave” never reached 50% support. Still, betting odds put the chance of remaining at 90% as the polls closed on Thursday. Ladbrokes was offering 4-to-1 on a leave vote, according to The Guardian. Even though most players in the market were actually backing leave, more money was bet on remain by the affluent, who were generally behind staying, Matthew Shaddick, head of political betting at Ladbrokes, wrote in a blog post. Bookies are trying to make money, not help people forecast results, so the vote worked out fine for Ladbrokes, he said.

“Is this just one of the inevitable, normal occasions where an outsider wins, or a fatal blow to the idea of betting markets as being a useful forecasting tool?” Shaddick said. “Maybe unsurprisingly, I tend to think the former, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to reflect on all of their potential flaws and decide how we best interpret them in the future.” The London-based Political Studies Association surveyed members, journalists, academics and pollsters from May 24 to June 2. Every group got it wrong. Overall, 87% of respondents said Britain was more likely to stay in the EU, 5% said it was likely to leave, and 8% said both sides had an exactly equal chance. The predicted probability of Britain voting to leave the EU: academics, 38%; pollsters, 33%; journalists, 32%; other, 38%; mean, 38%.

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The advantages keep coming in.

UK ‘Leave’ Vote Deflates Hopes For TTIP (R.)

Britain’s looming exit from the European Union is another huge setback for negotiations on a massive U.S.-EU free trade deal that were already stalled by deeply entrenched differences and growing anti-trade sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic. The historic divorce launched by Thursday’s vote will almost certainly further delay substantial progress in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks as the remaining 27 EU states sort out their own new relationship with Britain, trade experts said on Friday. With French and German officials increasingly voicing skepticism about TTIP’s chances for success, the United Kingdom’s departure from the deal could sink hopes of a deal before President Barack Obama leaves office in January.

“This is yet another reason why TTIP will likely be postponed,” said Heather Conley, European program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. “But to be honest, TTIP isn’t going anywhere, I believe, before 2018 at the earliest,” she said. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement on Friday that he was evaluating the UK decision’s impact on TTIP, but would continue to engage with both European and UK counterparts. “The importance of trade and investment is indisputable in our relationships with both the European Union and the United Kingdom,” Froman said. “The economic and strategic rationale for TTIP remains strong.”

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Xi can no longer hold off the tide. Q1: what happens to the unemployed? Q2: how are the shadow banks paid off?

Chinese Bankruptcies Surge More Than 50% In Q1; Worse To Come (ZH)

Two months ago, when looking at the soaring number of bond issuance cancellations and postponements as calculated by BofA, we commented that it was only a matter of time before the long overdue tide of corporate defaults, held by for so many years by the Chinese government which would do anything to delay the inevitable, was about to be unleashed. This prediction has indeed been validated and as the FT reports overnight, Chinese bankruptcies have surged this year “as the government uses the legal system to deal with “zombie” companies and reduce industrial overcapacity as part of a broader effort to restructure the economy.”

In just the first quarter of 2016, Chinese courts have accepted 1,028 bankruptcy cases, up a whopping 52.5% from a year earlier, according to the Supreme People’s Court. Just under 20,000 cases were accepted in total between 2008 and 2015. This is surprising because while China’s legislature had approved a modern bankruptcy law in 2007 it had barely been used for years, with debt disputes often handled through backroom negotiations involving local governments. “Bankruptcy isn’t just about creditor-borrower relations. It also touches on social issues like unemployment,” said Wang Xinxin, director of the bankruptcy research centre at Renmin University law school in Beijing. “For a long time many local courts weren’t willing to accept them, or local governments didn’t let them accept.”

However, following the dramatic collapse of global commodity prices, which as we showed last October meant that more than half of local companies could not afford to even make one coupon payment with cash from operations, Beijing had no choice but to throw in the towel. And as the FT adds, “bankruptcy courts have been recruited into China’s drive for “supply-side reform”, which centres on reduction of overcapacity in sectors such as steel, coal and cement.”

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Deflation.

A Look At The Global Economic Malaise Through Deutsche Bank (MW)

I like to keep an eye on major financials, as they are the backbone of the global economy. If the banks have problems, not much else will be doing all that great from a macro perspective. I know there are serious issues with European financials, as collapsing (and in some cases negative) government-bond yields, coupled with negative short-term policy rates, have basically shrunk their net-interest margins as their loans are priced off those rates. The same is the case in Japan. In the U.S, despite a massive flattening of the Treasury yield curve, we have so far been spared from this rather unfortunate banking situation.

So I punched out the ticker “DB” on my screen two Fridays ago and looked at the TV before the chart would load. I looked back at the screen, and I thought I had made a mistake as sometimes the web browser will “remember” ticker symbols on the drop-down quote menu and occasionally the wrong chart would load. It had to be a mistake, as I was looking at the 10-year Treasury yield chart that was just shown on the TV screen seconds earlier, with some futures trader making the comment that the U.S. Treasury market was “breaking out.” I looked closer, and I was stunned. There was no mistake. To that moment, I had not realized that Deutsche Bank’s stock was tracking the 10-year Treasury note yield almost tit for tat. If the Treasury market is breaking out, that would mean Deutsche Bank stock is breaking down, I thought.

It did not take long to figure out why the stock of a major global financial firm — DB, the largest bank in Germany — would follow the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield so closely. As I have explained on numerous occasions in this column, I think we face a global deflationary problem. There are numerous implications for this, but economic growth cycles driven by too much borrowing in the developed world and in many emerging markets — the largest of which is China — are causing that mountain of debt to catch up with faltering economies. Falling long-term U.S. interest rates at a time when the Federal Reserve has not officially given up on a hopelessly-misguided rate-hiking cycle are a symptom of this global deflation.

Banks tend to perform very poorly in a deflationary environment as weak nominal corporate revenues make servicing debts problematic and lending growth tends to suffer. In a deflationary environment, the real value of debts rises as they stay nominally constant; but the assets those debts are financing tend to fall in price, causing rising non-performing loan (NPL) ratios. Combine this with the unorthodox global QE monetary policies and negative short-term interest rates, and you have collapsing net interest margins for many global banks like Deutsche Bank as many yield curves globally, including the one in Germany, have vanished.

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One more technocrat government gone on Monday?

Electoral Surge Of Far Left Likely To Shake Up Spanish Politics (R.)

The parched olive groves and tranquil towns of Spain’s southern Cordoba province are an unlikely backdrop for a political upset that could reverberate across Europe. Yet some locals like 57-year-old Lorenzo Molina, an unemployed librarian, hope they can help deliver just that in a fresh nationwide election on June 26 following an inconclusive December ballot. Gains for an anti-austerity alliance led by the young Podemos party in tightly-contested provinces like this could tip the balance in its bid to lead the next government, and this could turn Spain into the European Union’s next headache after Britain’s June 23 referendum on EU membership. A surge into second place for Unidos Podemos (“Together We Can”) ahead of Spain’s Socialists would make the far-left front a serious contender to form a coalition government, cementing the decline of Spain’s once-mighty center-left in the process.

After radical leftist Syriza’s success in crushing the social democratic Pasok in Greece, a Podemos breakthrough could also buoy euro-skeptic anti-establishment movements in the likes of Italy or France as worsening inequality fuels discontent. For Molina, a dyed-in-the-wool backer of the ex-communists now part of the leftist alliance, it’s a momentous prospect after decades on the fringes of Spanish politics, hankering after this so-called “sorpasso” (eclipse) of the Socialists. “It’s time to air things out,” Molina said on a balmy evening in the city of Cordoba, as an eclectic mix of families and people waving hammer and sickle flags arrived at a rally in a local park. “The Socialists have been in charge of our institutions for many years,” he added, as cries of “Yes we can” rang out among the crowd of several hundred.

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The cost of not doing what you’re told. Take heed, Britain and everyone else. All your base are belong to us.

Regling: Varoufakis’ FinMin Tenure Cost Greece €100 Billion (Kath.)

The cost of Yanis Varoufakis’s tenure as Greece’s Finance Minister during the January-August 2015 period was estimated at around €100 billion, Klaus Regling, head of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and first managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, told Skai TV. In the interview that aired on Wednesday, Regling noted that during the Varoufakis era, relations between Greece and its lenders were not good, that reforms were halted and that the overall situation at the time did not serve the interests of the Greek economy.

Regling also urged the current Greek government to stick to agreed reforms and noted that the next two months would see negotiations between Greece and its creditors regarding changes in the country’s labor laws, among others, before a second review of the country’s bailout program in September. Regling also argued that some members of the coalition administration did not seem committed to the bailout program, particularly with regard to privatizations and the privatization fund. On the subject of debt relief for Greece, Regling noted that the institutions had agreed on principle, but disagreed over the time frame.

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“..Alan Greenspan, former chair of the Federal Reserve, echoed Trump’s comments almost verbatim back in 2011, when the U.S. came close to reaching the debt limit. “The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that..”

Hillary Clinton Adopts The Shorthand Of The Hyperinflation Fearmongers (Dayen)

Deficit hawks often raise the specter of hyperinflation to scare people who disagree with them. And that’s exactly what Hillary Clinton did on Tuesday. Speaking in Columbus, Clinton criticized Donald Trump for saying last month that the U.S. can never default on its debt obligations “because you print the money.” “We know what happened to countries that tried that in the past, like Germany in the ‘20s and Zimbabwe in the ‘90s,” Clinton said. “It drove inflation through the roof and crippled their economies.” But printing money — otherwise known as increasing the money supply – is a routine occurrence for governments that control their own currency.

The Federal Reserve has increased its balance sheet by over $3 trillion since the financial crisis, explicitly to support the economy. (The Fed does this by buying stocks and bonds with electronic cash that didn’t exist before.) In fact, an increasingly influential school of economics, known as Modern Monetary Theory, argues that deficit spending, including through money printing, is critical to promote full employment. Even Alan Greenspan, former chair of the Federal Reserve, echoed Trump’s comments almost verbatim back in 2011, when the U.S. came close to reaching the debt limit. “The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that,” Greenspan told “Meet the Press.”

“If you think about it, it is precisely this power that makes U.S. Treasuries [T-Bonds] so safe in the first place,” said Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former chief economist to Bernie Sanders on the Senate Budget Committee. Kelton is one of the leading proponents of Modern Monetary Theory. But deficit hawks – typically members of the economic elite who favor small government and correspondingly low taxes, and are terrified of the effect inflation would have on their investments and cash reserves — have repeatedly warned that these perfunctory monetary policy actions would lead to Weimar Germany-levels of chaos.

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A mess in the name of Mammon.

Rural Pennsylvanians Say Fracking ‘Just Ruined Everything’ (CPI)

Sixty years after his service in the Army, Jesse Eakin still completes his outfits with a pin that bears a lesson from the Korean War: Never Impossible. That maxim has been tested by a low-grade but persistent threat far different than the kind Eakin encountered in Korea: well water that’s too dangerous to drink. It gives off a strange odor and bears a yellow tint. It carries sand that clogs faucets in the home Eakin shares with his wife, Shirley, here in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Eakins told the state environmental agency about their bad water nearly seven years ago and hoped for a quick resolution. Like thousands of others who live in the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale, however, they learned their hopes were misplaced.

Today, the state is still testing their water. The results of those tests will dictate whether a gas exploration and production company is held responsible for providing them with a clean supply. Meanwhile, the Eakins drink donated bottled water and in late 2014 began paying for deliveries of city water to avoid showering in contaminants such as lead and manganese. Since 2007, at least 2,800 water-related complaints have been investigated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Oil and Gas Program. Officials found ties to the drilling industry in 279. Another 500 or so cases, including the Eakins’, are open. While regulators try to catch up to natural gas exploration, some residents of the state have gone months, even years, without access to clean water at their homes.

Responding to a public-records request by the Center for Public Integrity, the Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, provided data on 1,840 complaints lodged since 2010. More than half took longer than the agency’s target of 45 days to resolve. Almost one in 10 took more than a year. The state’s often-plodding response has left hundreds of rural Pennsylvanians in a sort of forced drought, scrambling to pay for water deliveries, seek remedies in court, take out second mortgages or even abandon their homes.

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Off the top of my head, over 150,000 landed in Italy so far this year. And Germany has a backlog of 450,000 asylum applications.

Italy Coastguard Rescues 7,100 In Mediterranean In Two Days (G.)

Ship crews have pulled more than 2,000 refugees from overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean, Italy’s coastguard has said, as people-smugglers stepped up operations during two consecutive days of good weather. More than 7,100 people have now been rescued from international waters since Thursday, many of them on the dangerous journey from Libya. Europe’s worst immigration crisis since the second world war is in its third year, and there has been little sign of any let-up in the flow of people coming from North African to Italy.

Ships belonging to Doctors without Borders, Migrant Offshore Aid Station, Italy’s navy, the EU’s border agency Frontex and the bloc’s anti-people-smuggling mission Sophia all helped take the migrants off nine boats on Friday. About 60,000 boat refugees have been brought to Italy so far this year, according to the interior ministry.

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Apr 242016
 
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NPC Shad fishing on the Potomac 1920

China’s Commodity Futures Bubble Insanity (ZH)
Where Have All Britain’s Shoppers Gone? (Observer)
Why America’s Impressive 5% Unemployment Rate Still Feels Like A Lie (Qz)
The Lemmings Of Wall Street (Stockman)
A Pro-EU ‘Study’ Straight From The Ministry Of Truth (Tel.)
ECB’s Nowotny Says Negative Rates Necessary To Avoid Deflation (Reuters)
Schaeuble Sees No Greece Debt Relief as Long as Debt Sustainable (BBG)
Why Juncker Should Worry About Panama Papers (Politico)
EU Finmins To Focus On Spending Cap To Cut Morass Of Budget Rules (R.)
UK Issues Travel Warning For Southern US States (CNBC)
US Government Is a Major Counterparty to Wall Street Derivatives (Martens)
Australian Politician Sets River On Fire (AFP)
In This Jungle, Mowgli Might Not Have Any Playmates Left (CNBC)
Visa-Free Travel A Stumbling Block For Turkey and EU (DW)
Merkel Accused Of Turning Blind Eye To Plight Of Syrian Refugees In Turkey (O.)
Tomorrow, We Have A Chance To Stop The Death Of Innocents (Observer)

It’s not just the next bubble in line: each bubble is crazier than the one before.

China’s Commodity Futures Bubble Insanity (ZH)

The credit-fueled speculative bubble in China’s commodity market, as we detailed previously, exploded this week as the mainstream slowly comes to realize that the gains in industrial metals are not a “sign of strength in China’s and the world’s economic recovery” but merely the next rotation of fast-money slooshing from Chinese equities to Chinese corporate bonds to Chinese real estate and now to Chinese commodity futures… Trading in futures on everything from steel reinforcement bars and hot-rolled coils to cotton and polyvinyl chloride has soared this week, prompting exchanges in Shanghai, Dalian and Zhengzhou to boost fees or issue warnings to investors. Deutsche Bank details the total crazinesss…

The onshore China commodity markets this week traded (conservatively) $350bn notional, a 17x increase on the $20bn notional that traded on Feb 1st 2016 i.e. a month ago (is it coincidence that the notional is about the same as at the peak of the equity frenzy?).

My calculations are pretty basic; I’ve trawled the screens and chosen 32 commodities in agri, metals and coke/coal and done a quick (contracts x value)/CNY for a dollar amount. I have not used the largest day’s volume either (e.g. Deformed Bar, RBTA has traded close to $100bn, but I used closer to $60bn). Cotton (VVA Comdty) has been trading $15bn, up from $500mm in Feb. In the US, the long established cotton contract (CT1 Comdty) trades $600mm. China listed Sugar (CBA Comdty) has traded $14bn versus the US listed sugar beet at $850mm.

This is what insanity looks like!!

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Deflation=slowing consumer spending=lower money velocity. Simple. But the only answer they can come up with is “We need some warm weather…”

Where Have All Britain’s Shoppers Gone? (Observer)

Shopping is the national pastime. High streets, malls and retail parks have long been places people went for a day out, rather than on a mission to buy a particular item, and their spending helped lift the country out of recession. But a big drop in footfall – the number of people visiting high street and retail centres – over the past year has exposed fresh cracks in the high street, leaving retail chiefs wondering where all their customers have gone. Analysts are reporting declines in the number of shopper visits to high streets and shopping centres around the country of as much as 10% in some cities over the past year. Worries about the economic outlook, coupled with the rise of internet shopping, jitters about the EU referendum and more spending on eating out and leisure leave little cash left over for splurging in the shops.

“There is a lot of nervousness around [among retailers],” says Tim Denison, retail analyst at Ipsos Retail Performance. “People have had more disposable income but retailers have not been as successful as they could have been in taking their share. Instead any spare money has gone on leisure and holidays rather than pure retail spend.” According to Ipsos’s retail traffic index, overall footfall was down 0.9% in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period a year ago. But that headline masks the fact that some towns and cities are faring much worse than the national picture would suggest. The Ipsos data singles out Newcastle upon Tyne as the worst performer, with shopper numbers down a hefty 9.95% over the past year, closely followed by Stoke-on-Trent, down 8.1%. Other pockets of particular weakness were Chelmsford, Lincoln and Cambridge.

By comparison Ashford in Kent, Crawley in West Sussex and Epsom in Surrey were among the best-performing retail centres – the result, according to Denison, of wealth radiating out from London. Even in those towns, however, growth is not exactly rampant. Five of the top seven best-performing shopping centres were up less than 1% year on year. A number of retail chains have already blamed poor performance on declining numbers of shoppers. Poundland has pointed directly to the fact there are fewer people on the high street as a key reason behind its slowing sales. Last week value fashion retailer Primark revealed its first drop in UK underlying sales for 12 years, although boss George Weston said it was not yet time to press the panic button, given that chilly spring weather had weighed on all sales for all fashion retailers. “We need some warm weather and then we will know if there is a real problem on the high street,” he said.

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“..the labor participation rate has fallen from a high of 67.3% in 2000 to 62.6% today. That 62.2% represents a 38-year low, which puts Bloomberg’s claim of a 42-year-low in joblessness in perspective.”

Why America’s Impressive 5% Unemployment Rate Still Feels Like A Lie (Qz)

On Apr. 14, Bloomberg News announced that jobless claims in the US have reached their lowest level since 1973. “All other labor market data are telling us that the economy is creating a lot of jobs,” economist Patrick Newport told the outlet. “This is further confirmation that the labor market is strong.” That same day, thousands of fast food workers, airport workers, home care workers, and adjunct professors took to the streets across the country to protest brutal labor conditions and demand a $15 minimum wage. Most of these workers make far below $15 per hour. Some make as low as $7.25 per hour, the current federal minimum wage. Most lack benefits. Some, like adjunct professors, have contingent, temporary jobs, sometimes consisting of only one poorly paid course per year.

Many low-wage employees work two or even three jobs in an attempt to cobble together enough income to cover basic needs. According to the US Bureau of Labor, all of these workers are considered “employed.” They are viewed as part of the American economy’s success story, a big part of which is our 5% unemployment rate. As president Barack Obama boasted in February: “The United States of America right now has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.” Obama’s claims of a strong economy ring hollow for the many thousands of workers who say they cannot make enough to survive. But Obama’s claims of a strong economy ring hollow for the many thousands of workers—in professions ranging from those which require a GED to those which require a PhD—who say they cannot make enough money to survive.

And these people, at least, are working. Those who cannot find work at all tell an even grimmer story.] There are three main reasons the vaunted economic recovery still feels false to so many. The first is the labor participation rate, which plunged at the start of the Great Recession and discounts the millions of Americans who have been out of work for six months or more. The second is “the 1099 economy,” a term The New Republic’s David Dayen coined to refer to the soaring number of temps, contractors, freelancers, and other often involuntarily self-employed workers. The third is a surge in low-wage service jobs, coupled with a corresponding decrease in middle-class jobs.

Employment statistics in particular have a habit of eclipsing the real story. As any worker will tell you, it is not the number of jobs that matters most, but what kind of jobs are available, what they pay, and how that pay measures against the cost of living. The 5% unemployment rate, other words, is hiding the devastating story of underemployment, wage loss, and precariousness that defines life for millions of Americans. Since 2008, the labor participation rate has fallen from a high of 67.3% in 2000 to 62.6% today. That 62.2% represents a 38-year low, which puts Bloomberg’s claim of a 42-year-low in joblessness in perspective. The jobless number is “low” only because more people are no longer considered to be participating in the workforce.

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“..the visage of an old age colony being hurtled toward the edge of a debt cliff by central bankers who have taken leave of their faculties does not bring the idea of economic recovery and growth immediately to mind.”

The Lemmings Of Wall Street (Stockman)

I mistakenly took Squawk Box off mute this morning. It was just in time to hear one of the regular anchors – the one who makes Joe Kernen sound slightly insightful by comparison – forecast a pick-up in global growth on the grounds that “China is recovering”. Yes, the credit intoxicated land of the Red Ponzi just tied one on for the record books. During Q1 it generated new debt at a madcap annual rate of $4 trillion or nearly 40% of GDP. And that incendiary deposit of more unpayable debt, which came on top of the $30 trillion already smothering history’s greatest construction site and open air gambling den, did indeed goose China’s real estate prices, state company CapEx, infrastructure building and steel production. Call it fiat growth because even pyramid building adds to stated GDP, at first.

Even then, the overwhelming share of this explosion of new credit went to pay interest on the existing mountain of IOUs. Charles Ponzi could never have imagined a scam so audacious. Nor are the red suzerains of Beijing unique in the headlong dash toward the financial cliff. Except for the nicety that Japan’s 30-year and 40-year bonds are trading at a microscopic fraction this side of zero (0.3%), Kuroda and his tiny band of mad men at the BOJ have driven the entirety of Japan’s monumental public debt – which is now actually measured in the quadrillions of yen – into the netherworld of negative yield. Needless to say, the visage of an old age colony being hurtled toward the edge of a debt cliff by central bankers who have taken leave of their faculties does not bring the idea of economic recovery and growth immediately to mind.

The same can be said for the ECB’s $90 billion per month bond buying bacchanalia. Having made German bunds so scarce as to have eviscerated any semblance of yield and turned Italy’s sovereign junk into super-bluechips, the ECB will soon be slurping up the corporate bonds of any global company that can fog a BBB credit breathalyzer and plant an SPV within the borders of the EU-19. What happens when Draghi is finally stopped and the Big Fat Bid of the ECB and its fast money front-runners disappears? The hopeful CNBC anchor-lady didn’t say. And about what happens if he isn’t stopped, she didn’t say, either.

The fact is, Simple Janet has already proven the end game. Money printing central bankers can’t stop. Were they to allow financial prices to normalize and trillions of bad credit to be liquidated, the whole financial house of cards they have built around the planet would blow sky high. The “soft landing” case is a null set.

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“The sole purpose of this “sober and serious” text, there can be no doubt, was to produce one conclusion – an alarming headline “finding” which, however dubious, can be repeated again and again in the weeks to come, until it lodges in the public consciousness.”

A Pro-EU ‘Study’ Straight From The Ministry Of Truth (Tel.)

Earlier this month, the government published a leaflet strongly urging us to vote “Remain” in the European Union – and sent it to all 27m UK households. Not only did the multi-million pound cost of producing and distributing this leaflet undermine the carefully-negotiated spending rules relating to the referendum on June 23, designed to stop the campaign becoming a money-driven free-for-all. The text itself was blatant propaganda – full of statistical sleights of hand disguised as reasoned arguments, a master-class in passive aggressive manipulation. It turns out, though, this tawdry leaflet was just the start when it comes to “Remain” using taxpayer cash and “the government machine” to bolster its cause.

For last week, Chancellor George Osborne launched a thumping 200-page “Treasury study” into the long-term implications of leaving the EU, which “forecast a £4,300 fall in GDP per household” if we leave. For many millions of voters, that’s a scary number – around a quarter of today’s average disposable income. Once again, this huge Treasury document represents a clear breach of long-standing rules that Whitehall remains detached from political campaigning, rules of particular relevance during a knife-edge referendum contest. And, reading through it, one is constantly stuck by the grotesque extent to which, for all the scientific pretence, the “analysis” is deliberately skewed.

The sole purpose of this “sober and serious” text, there can be no doubt, was to produce one conclusion – an alarming headline “finding” which, however dubious, can be repeated again and again in the weeks to come, until it lodges in the public consciousness. Rather than Her Majesty’s Treasury, this document could have been produced by Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Unusually for a newspaper pundit, perhaps, I’m a trained economist. And in all my many years of studying official economic documents – budgets, comprehensive spending reviews and the like – through all that sifting and weighing of fine-print, I’ve never come across methodology and assumptions so blatantly rigged.

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Ergo: the ECB doesn’t understand what deflation is.

ECB’s Nowotny Says Negative Rates Necessary To Avoid Deflation (Reuters)

The euro zone needs negative interest rates to avoid sliding into deflation, ECB Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said in an Austrian newspaper interview, defending the policy against widespread criticism in Germany. The ECB kept the cost of borrowing for banks at zero on Thursday and will continue to charge them 0.4% for parking money at the central bank. A slew of German politicians have complained in recent weeks that low interest rates are hurting savers. But Nowotny defended the policy. “You have to discuss negative rates in a broad context,” the head of the Austrian central bank was quoted as saying by the newspaper Der Standard on Saturday.

They are part of the central bank’s efforts to stabilize Europe’s economic situation after a severe crisis, he said. “Now it is all about preventing Europe from dropping into deflation.” He said that he would welcome it if interest rates could be raised again “the sooner the better”, but that the conditions must be right. “This will happen as soon as the economy is doing better, business activity picks up and inflation gets higher.” Countering the criticism of low interest rates, Draghi himself said on Thursday that some of it could be seen as endangering its independence, which could delay investment and hence prolong its current policies.

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Next step is demand for more austerity in Greece.

Schaeuble Sees No Greece Debt Relief as Long as Debt Sustainable (BBG)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Greece doesn’t need debt relief now and won’t require an easing of its debt burden as long as the troika of creditors determines that debt sustainability is ensured. The European Stability Mechanism, the euro region’s financial backstop, will seek to lock in the favorable refinancing costs it’s passing on to Greece for an extended period of time, Schaeuble said in Amsterdam. While not part of the Greek program, these operations – if in place – would help ease pressure on Greece, he said. “The debt sustainability analysis determines whether measures are needed” to help the cash-strapped country, Schaeuble told reporters after a two-day meeting of EU finance ministers. “It is my conviction that this is not necessary for the coming years.”

Greece’s government bonds rose for a third day on Friday after euro-area finance ministers and the IMF signaled that a deal on the nation’s next bailout installment is in sight. Schaeuble said “we have no desire” to repeat the confrontation between Greece and its creditors from last summer. The nation’s government submitted a bill to parliament on Friday evening, overhauling the Greek pension system and raising income tax for middle and high earners. The bill, which also raises taxation on gambling and dividends, is part of a €5.4 billion belt-tightening package required by creditors for the conclusion of the bailout review. The government still has to negotiate with representatives of creditor institutions a set of contingency measures equal to 2% of Greek GDP, which will only be triggered if it fails to meet its budget targets. An agreement on the bailout package and the target for Greece to reach a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP by 2018 “appear possible,” Schaeuble said.

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He has little to fear unless and until the documents are released Wikileaks style. Once that is done, Juncker is not the biggest fish.

Why Juncker Should Worry About Panama Papers (Politico)

[..] The European Council chose to forget or ignore that Juncker had long resisted attempts to improve banking transparency and improve cross-border taxation – which had given Luxembourg a particular competitive advantage over its neighbors. A lot now depends on the extent to which LuxLeaks and/or the Panama Papers erode Juncker’s defense that everything was legal and he was ignorant of any wrongdoing. If there was law-breaking, then the ex-prime minister is vulnerable to the charge that either he didn’t know what was going on and should have, or he knew what was going on and allowed it. He is vulnerable also to whispers that Luxembourg’s business and political community is so small and tightly knit that complete ignorance is implausible.

What is more difficult to guess – at this moment of shifting standards – is whether Juncker will be condemned for allowing practices in Luxembourg that though legal were morally questionable. (You do not have to be a tax lawyer to see that what Juncker calls “the logic of non-harmonization” was compounded by Luxembourg’s culture of secrecy/discretion, which meant that companies could keep secret their tax arrangements and individuals could hide their revenue.) It is entirely possible that the government leaders who put Juncker in place – and their successors – will stick to the view that bygones should be bygones and Juncker’s past policies should not affect his standing as Commission president.

But what I detect, in at least some parts of Europe, is a readiness to revisit the past and to apply the standards of the present — meaning that what was legally correct may yet be found morally unacceptable in the court of public opinion. Juncker may choose to argue that his Commission is at the vanguard of reform. But what if his past record embarrasses the likes of Margrethe Vestager, as she turns over tax rulings made by national authorities with multinational corporations? Or Jonathan Hill, as he advances his proposal for increasing the tax transparency rules applying to multinationals? Or Pierre Moscovici, arguing for measures against tax evasion and money-laundering? Is this a sinner who repents, an opportunist, or just a hypocrite?

Whether Juncker is credible will also be important in the context of the Commission’s attempt to enforce fiscal discipline in Greece (or anywhere else). How does the Commission argue for improving revenue collection while LuxLeaks and Panama Papers paint a picture of a Juncker-run Grand-Duchy promoting tax-avoidance?

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The blind moving goalposts as they ‘see’ fit.

EU Finmins To Focus On Spending Cap To Cut Morass Of Budget Rules (R.)

EU finance ministers agreed on Saturday to discuss whether they can regain some control over a morass of EU budget rules by focusing mainly on an annual spending cap as the best measure of compliance. Years of changes and additions to EU rules, called the Stability and Growth Pact, have made meeting targets extremely complex, prompting an attempt to simplify them, European Commissioner Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference after the meeting of EU finance ministers. “We did not discuss how to change the Pact, just how to choose the indicators to assess the compliance with the Pact,” Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said.

The Dutch, who currently preside over the EU, proposed that the ministers consider using a single indicator with which to judge budgetary compliance, called the expenditure rule. It already exists in EU law as one indicator to be used to judge the fiscal performance of an EU country, but has so far been more in the background. The focus until now was on the development of the structural budget balance, a measure that strips off changes to budget revenue and expenditure stemming from the phase of the business cycle as well as all one-offs. Because the structural deficit is a complex and volatile indicator, the Dutch instead proposed putting more emphasis on the expenditure rule, which says a government cannot increase annual spending more than its medium-term potential growth rate.

“It is directly in the hands of finance ministers. It gives us more guidance in the process of designing the budget. It says in advance what you have to do, and you have the control in your hands,” Dijsselbloem said. He said that while the structural deficit, which is the key indicator mentioned in EU economic legislation, was a valuable theoretical concept, it could not be directly controlled by finance ministers. “There was general agreement that we need an indicator that takes out all the cyclical elements and one-offs but preferably it should be more stable and not change all the time, and we could put more emphasis on indicators that we can actually directly influence as finance ministers,” he said.

Dijsselbloem said EU deputy finance ministers would further work on what measurement to use to better assess compliance and the ministers would return to the discussion in the third quarter of 2016. The aim of the EU budget rules, created in 1997, is to keep nominal budget deficits below 3% of gross domestic product and public debt below 60%. But as the rules were revised in 2005, 2011 and 2013 to take account of economic and political realities and to incorporate intergovernmental treaties, they became more and more complex. “The sheer number of indicators in the current framework poses a massive challenge for the national implementation of the fiscal framework,” the Dutch presidency said in a paper prepared for the ministers’ meeting. “It contains targets, upper limits and benchmarks for the nominal balance, structural balance, expenditure growth and debt development,” the paper said.

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While Obama was talking up the special relationship.

UK Issues Travel Warning For Southern US States (CNBC)

The U.K. government has updated foreign travel advice, warning British citizens about risks visiting America’s Southern states. Specifically the new advice draws attention to potential difficulties for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. “The U.S. is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards LGBT people differ hugely across the country,” the U.K. Foreign Office website says. “LGBT travelers may be affected by legislation passed recently in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi,” it said. North Carolina and Mississippi have introduced laws that negatively affect people in the LGBT community. The North Carolina “bathroom” law is a statewide policy banning individuals from using public bathrooms that don’t correspond to their sex as stated on their birth certificate.

Celebrities including Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr and Pearl Jam have canceled concerts there in protest. And tech giant PayPal has canceled a large-scale investment plan after the legislation was rubber stamped. In Mississippi a “religious liberties” law will take effect in July. That legislation again blocks cities from allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms for the sex they identify as. It also aims to protect dozens of forms of businesses and services from being prosecuted if they refuse to serve LGBT people. A similar transgender “bathroom bill” in the Tennessee state failed Monday after it was withdrawn by its sponsor.

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By design.

US Government Is a Major Counterparty to Wall Street Derivatives (Martens)

According to a study released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in March of last year, U.S. taxpayers have already injected $187.5 billion into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two companies that prior to the 2008 financial crash traded on the New York Stock Exchange, had shareholders and their own Board of Directors while also receiving an implicit taxpayer guarantee on their debt. The U.S. government put the pair into conservatorship on September 6, 2008. The public has been led to believe that the $187.5 billion bailout of the pair was the full extent of the taxpayers’ tab. But in an astonishing acknowledgement on February 25 of this year, the Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, issued an audit report of the U.S. government’s finances, revealing that the government’s “remaining contractual commitment to the GSEs, if needed, is $258.1 billion.”

This suggests that somehow, without the American public’s awareness, the U.S. government is on the hook to two failed companies for $445.6 billion dollars. And that may be just the tip of the iceberg of this story. The official narrative around the bailout of Fannie and Freddie is that they were loaded up with toxic subprime debt piled high by the Wall Street banks that sold them dodgy mortgages. While that is factually true, the other potentially more important part of this story is the counterparty exposure the Wall Street banks had to Fannie and Freddie’s derivatives if the firms had been allowed to fail.

The New York Fed’s staff report of March 2015 concedes the following: “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac held large positions in interest rate derivatives for hedging. A disorderly failure of these firms would have caused serious disruptions for their derivative counterparties.” Exactly how big was this derivatives exposure and which Wall Street banks were being protected by the government takeover of these public-private partnerships that had spiraled out of control into gambling casinos? According to Fannie and Freddie’s regulator of 2003, OFHEO, “The notional amount of the combined financial derivatives outstanding of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac increased from $72 billion at the end of 1993, the first year for which comparable data were reported, to $1.6 trillion at year-end 2001.”

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“Unbelievable. A river on fire. Don’t let it burn the boat..”

Australian Politician Sets River On Fire (AFP)

An Australian politician has set fire to a river to draw attention to methane gas he says is seeping into the water due to fracking, with the dramatic video attracting more than two millions views. Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham used a kitchen lighter to ignite bubbles of methane in the Condamine River in Queensland, about 220 kilometres (140 miles) west of Brisbane. The video shows him jumping back in surprise, using an expletive as flames shoot up around the dinghy. “Unbelievable. A river on fire. Don’t let it burn the boat,” Buckingham, from New South Wales, said in the footage posted on Facebook on Friday evening, which has been viewed more than two million times. “Unbelievable, the most incredible thing I’ve seen. A tragedy in the Murray-Darling Basin (river system),” he said, blaming it on nearby coal-seam gas mining, or fracking.

Australia is a major gas exporter, but the controversial fracking industry has faced a public backlash in some parts of the country over fears about the environmental impact. Farmers and other landowners are concerned that fracking, an extraction method under which high-pressure water and chemicals are used to split rockbeds, could contaminate groundwater sources. The Murray-Darling Basin is a river network sprawling for one million square kilometres (400,000 square miles) across five Australian states. But the industry has said the practice is safe and that coal seam gas mining is a vital part of the energy mix as the world looks for cleaner fuel sources.

Origin Energy, which operates wells in the region, said it was monitoring the bubbling. “We’re aware of concerns regarding bubbling of the Condamine River, in particular, recent videos demonstrating that this naturally occurring gas is flammable when ignited,” the company said in a statement to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We understand that this can be worrying, however, the seeps pose no risk to the environment, or to public safety, providing people show common sense and act responsibly around them.” The Australian energy firm said the methane seeps could be due to several factors, including natural geology and faults, drought and flood cycles, as well as human activity including water bores and coal seam gas operations.

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The planet’s future is its past: cockroaches and jellyfish. “We’re gradually destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life..” Eh, gradually?!

In This Jungle, Mowgli Might Not Have Any Playmates Left (CNBC)

In Disney’s live-action remake of “The Jungle Book,” young human Mowgli is still palling around with bears and panthers. In reality, however, the world has changed since Rudyard Kipling’s tales first hit shelves more than a century ago. Speaking figuratively, biodiversity’s bag of Skittles has not only gotten smaller, it now has fewer flavors. Just how different are things? One expert puts it this way: If Mowgli were around today, he would most likely be raised by cows, goats and chickens instead of wolves and panthers and orangutans. If he were really unfortunate, his compatriots could be even worse. “Maybe even rats and cockroaches, if things go badly,” said Charles Barber, former forest chief at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, in an interview with CNBC.

The problem, according to some scientific experts, is that humans have changed the world so dramatically that it has also altered the diversity of life on Earth. “Most of these changes represent a loss of biodiversity,” analysts wrote in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005, a report that chronicled the effects of human activity on nature produced by the United Nations and the World Resources Institute, where Barber now works. Among the Millennium Assessment’s findings were that humans have “changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period in human history,” due to food, fresh water and fuel needs. The spillover from those changes has contributed to big gains in humanity’s development, but “have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services,” researchers wrote at the time.

This means that “plants and animals are now sharing the planet with a whole lot of people,” Barber said, adding that “we’re dealing with a fantastically different world.” One measure of biodiversity loss is just how fast certain species are now disappearing. Organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity state that an “extinction crisis” is underway that is wiping out plants and animals at a breathtaking pace. The last few hundred years have borne witness to mass extinctions that occur much quicker than the so-called natural “background rate” of one to five species per year. The CBD estimates that “literally dozens” of species are dying every day, which could see 30-50% of endangered populations being wiped out by midcentury.

Today, scientists say nearly a quarter of all mammals and coniferous trees are threatened with extinction. [..] A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund found that between 1970 (the year Earth Day was born) and 2010, the number of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish fell by more than 50%. “We’re gradually destroying our planet’s ability to support our way of life,” said WWF CEO Carter Roberts, at the time the report was published.

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If Brussels tries to push this through, it’ll mean the end of the EU. If it doesn’t, it’ll mean the refugee flow will start all over again and at the very least Schengen dies. Can’t win.

Visa-Free Travel A Stumbling Block For Turkey and EU (DW)

The refugee deal between the European Union and Turkey is stalled on the complexities of visa liberalization. EU officials say they won’t sacrifice their principles, but will they follow through? Turkish and EU leaders appear optimistic: 78 million Turkish citizens will gain long-coveted visa-free travel to the Schengen zone by June. After all, they have to in order to prevent a controversial deal on deportations from crumbling. Ankara has threatened to withdraw from the EU-Turkey migrant deal if visa liberalization is not in place by the end of June, putting in jeopardy a plan on which the European Union has pinned all of its hopes for slowing the arrival of people fleeing conflict and poverty.

Under the deal, reached in March, Turkey agreed to take back irregular migrants and refugees who crossed the Aegean to Greece in exchange for the European Union’s taking in Syrian refugees directly, as well as financial aid, visa liberalization and the acceleration of Turkey’s EU membership talks. While several parts of the migration deal have come under criticism, Turkey’s long-running struggle to gain unfettered access to the European Union for its citizens raises its own questions and remains a major sticking point. The EU executive, the European Commission, will present its third visa-liberalization progress report on May 4, and, if Turkey fulfills all 72 criteria to bring the country into compliance with EU and international law, a legislative proposal will be put forward to transfer the country to the visa-free list.

Less than two weeks before May 4, the European Commission said this week that Turkey was making progress but had only met 35 of 72 criteria for visa-free travel. On Thursday, however, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters that he believed all benchmarks would be met. In a troubling sign, Turkey and the EU appear unable to even agree on what criteria have been met so far, with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu saying this week that his government had brought the number down to the “single digits.” He has vowed to push the remaining criteria through parliament. According to Angeliki Dimitriadi, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, a major issue is what the EU means by “implementing.”

“It’s unclear how we measure benchmarks,” Dimitriadi told DW. “Are we looking at the benchmark as laws being passed or looking for actual implementation of all 72 criteria? Questions remain whether they have fulfilled this on paper or in reality.” Noting that the technical aspects of meeting EU criteria -implementing biometric passports, for example – take time, Dimitriadi said it would be nearly impossible to meet the June deadline. “I would be extremely surprised if they succeeded, and it has nothing to do with Turkey,” she said. “Any country would have a problem.”

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“..only a third of the children go to school – partly because of a lack of capacity, and partly because they are put to work by their parents.”

Merkel Accused Of Turning Blind Eye To Plight Of Syrian Refugees In Turkey (O.)

Merkel and her European colleagues have been accused of pandering too much to Turkey, amid calls for stronger international criticism of its crackdown on the political opposition. On Saturday Can Dundar, one of two prominent Turkish journalists on trial for reporting that Turkey was supplying arms to Syrian rebels, said Merkel was betraying the principles of democracy and free speech. “When you arrive, we’ll be on trial – alongside several academics who signed a petition calling for peace,” Dundar wrote in Der Spiegel, the German weekly magazine. “Will you again leave, behaving as if none of this pressure exists? Or will you lend an ear to us, and those who stand with us, in support of free expression?”

There are also concerns that Merkel is undermining free speech in Germany, after she acceded to a request from Ankara to prosecute a German comedian who made fun of President Erdogan. By going ahead with the EU-Turkey deal, Merkel was also accused of turning a blind eye to the predicament of Syrians in Turkey; many are due to be deported back there on the basis that Turkey guarantees their rights. But, despite recent legislative changes, only a tiny minority of Syrians have the right to work in Turkey. The majority work in the black market and live in urban poverty, far from camps like the one Merkel visited – which house just 10% of Turkey’s 2.7 million Syrians. And some have been deported back to Syria, according to research by Amnesty International.

In the areas surrounding the camp, Syrians praised Merkel for her wider support for refugees in 2015 – but reminded her of the predicament of the majority who did not have homes provided for them by the Turkish state. “It’s true the camp in Nizip is very nice,” said Abu Shihab, Syrian manager of a sweatshop in Gaziantep that employs Syrian children. “But what about those who live outside the camps?” While Merkel’s visit to a child-protection centre highlighted her intention to help Syrian children, solving the humanitarian crisis requires a more concerted effort. In Gaziantep, surveys of refugees by the Syria Relief Network, a coalition of NGOs, suggest only a third of the children go to school – partly because of a lack of capacity, and partly because they are put to work by their parents.

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We’re dead set to do much worse tomorrow than we did yesterday. So much for progress.

Tomorrow, We Have A Chance To Stop The Death Of Innocents (Observer)

Rabbi Harry Jacobi was one of 10,000 Jewish children saved from Nazi-controlled territory on the eve of the Second World War by those who recognised their plight and the necessity to act. Born in Berlin, his family sent him to Amsterdam, as his uncle had agreed to sponsor him. It was assumed that he would be safe in the neutral Netherlands and he joined other children in the orphanage. In May 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and began their rapid march on the capital. On 15 May, a Dutch woman, Truus Wijsmuller, the head of the refugee committee, went straight to the orphanage, rounded up the children and had them bussed directly to the nearest port. There, on the docks, she nagged and cajoled and twisted arms until the captain of a cargo ship, De Bodegraven, finally agreed to take the children and set sail for Britain and safety.

No permission was sought or given; Wijsmuller and the ship’s captain simply ignored the red tape. The children were in danger and something had to be done. Ten minutes after they sailed, the radio announced that the Netherlands had capitulated. They survived the journey, although the boat was strafed by Nazi fighter planes, and at last arrived in Falmouth. There, they were held on the boat for three days while the authorities weighed up whether to let them in or not; three days of anxious uncertainty aboard a boat that the Nazis has reported sunk. Thankfully, permission was given to dock in Liverpool and Harry became one of the very lucky 10,000 children who avoided near-certain death, were welcomed to Britain and offered a secure future.

Ten thousand children. Hauntingly, just the same figure has surfaced recently in the discussions around tomorrow’s Commons debate on amendments to the immigration bill that calls on the UK to take a lead in protecting unaccompanied minors in Europe. Seventy-six years after Harry Jacobi’s rescue, the figure of 10,000 is the number of children that Europol has identified as having disappeared on our continent in the process of fleeing from danger and suffering elsewhere. Ten thousand children who will have disappeared into trafficking networks across Europe, forced into drug abuse, child labour, sexual exploitation. Independent medical assessments have found that nearly half of all unaccompanied minors carry a sexually transmitted disease, testament to the terrible dangers they face along the way to Europe.

Some will have died. In the past three months, two minors have died trying to reach their family members in the UK from Calais. These 10,000 are a small percentage of the 95,000 migrant children estimated to be alone in Europe. And the “Dubs amendment” to be debated tomorrow, named for Alf (Lord) Dubs, who has sponsored it and is himself a survivor of the Kindertransport, calls for the resettlement of only 3,000 in the UK. A tiny proportion of those at risk, but it’s a start in securing safe and legal routes out of danger. Anything is better than the appallingly unsafe and illegal routes currently creating such havoc.

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Feb 252016
 
 February 25, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle February 25 2016
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DPC “Ice fountain on Washington Boulevard, Detroit” 1906

China Does Not Have a Trade Surplus (Balding)
China Equities Plunge 6.4% as Volatility Reignites (BBG)
Rush of Corporate Bonds Inflames Worries About China’s Debt (WSJ)
PBOC Says China Can Handle Raising Budget Deficit to 4% (BBG)
Why China and the World Needs a New Plaza Accord (Barron’s)
Lew Says Don’t Expect ‘Crisis Response’ From G20 Meeting (BBG)
IMF Warns The Global Economy Is “Highly Vulnerable” (BBC)
Dear Janet, Mario, & Haruhiko – It’s Time For The ‘C’ Word (ZH)
Bundesbank Chief Warns Of Zero-Rate Impact On Banks (Reuters)
Oil Slump To Hit US Investment Banks’ Capital Market Revenue (BBG)
Biggest Wave Yet of U.S. Oil Defaults Looms as Bust Intensifies (BBG)
North Dakota’s Largest Oil Producer Suspends All Fracking (Reuters)
Big Banks and the White House Are Teaming Up to Fleece Poor People (FP)
Spanish Government Pact Dealt Fatal Blow Hours After Announcement (Reuters)
How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable (Matt Taibbi)
Hungary To Hold Referendum On EU Plan For Migrant Quotas (Reuters)
German Government Expects Arrival Of 3.6 Million Refugees By 2020 (Reuters)
Greek Authorities Scramble To Find Shelter For Refugees (Kath.)
Tsipras: “We Will Not Allow Greece To Turn Into A Warehouse Of Souls” (Afp)

It’s all fake. Great piece.

China Does Not Have a Trade Surplus (Balding)

[..] Misinvoicing contributes a not entirely insignificant share to unrecorded capital inflows and outflows. However, Chinese authorities have become much more aware and concerned about these issues and gone through various waves of cracking down over this issue. Furthermore, the aggregate sums here are not enough to move the RMB and cause the currency pressures we are currently seeing. In fact, misinvoicing is merely the beginning of the financial flow problems in trade with Chinese innovation taking it a step further. China, as a country with strict currency controls, maintains records on international financial transactions sorted by a variety of categories. For instance, there is data on payment or receipt of funds by current or capital account, goods or service trade, and direct or portfolio investment.

For our purposes, this allows us to compare in a relatively straightforward manner, how international payments are flowing compared to the customs reported flow of goods. The differences in key data surrounding trade data is illustrative. Chinese Customs data reports goods exports valued at $2.27 trillion, with SAFE reporting goods exports of $2.14 trillion but Chinese banks report receipts of $2.37 trillion. In other words, funds received for exports of goods and services or about $100 billion higher than reported. At 4-11% higher than the Customs and SAFE reported values this is slightly elevated, but given expected discrepancies in the mid-single digits, this number is slightly elevated but not extreme. The differences between import and international payment data, however, is astounding.

Whereas Chinese Customs reports $1.68 trillion and SAFE report $1.57 in goods imports into China, banks report paying $2.55 trillion for imports. In other words, funds paid for imported goods and services was $870-980 billion or 52-62% higher than official Customs and SAFE trade data. This level of discrepancy is extreme in both absolute and relative terms and cannot simply be called a rounding error but is nothing less than systemic fraud. If we adjust the official trade in goods and services balance to reflect cash flows rather than official headline trade data as reported by both Customs and SAFE, the differences are even worse.

According to official Customs and SAFE data, China ran a goods trade surplus of $593 or $576 billion but according to bank payment and receipt data, China ran a goods trade surplus of only $128 billion. If we include service trade, the picture worsens considerably. China via SAFE trade data reports a $207 billion trade deficit in services trade. Payment data reported via SAFE actually reports about $42 billion smaller deficit of $165 billion. In other words, the supposed trade surplus of $600 billion has become a trade in goods and services deficit of $36 billion. Expand to the current, through a significant primary income deficit, and the total current account deficit is now $124 billion.

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It’s all about the yuan by now, I’m afraid.

China Equities Plunge 6.4% as Volatility Reignites (BBG)

China’s stocks tumbled the most in a month as surging money-market rates signaled tighter liquidity and the offshore yuan declined for a fifth day. The Shanghai Composite Index sank 6.4% at the close, with about 70 stocks falling for each that rose. Industrial and technology companies led losses. The overnight money rate, a gauge of liquidity in the financial system, climbed the most since Feb. 6. The plunge in equities underscores the challenge for China’s policy makers as they seek to project an image of stability in the nation’s financial markets as the economy slows.

Finance chiefs and central bankers from the Group of 20 will meet in Shanghai on Friday, while the annual meeting of the legislature begins in Beijing next week. The return of volatility is also a test for China’s new top securities regulator, who took over on the weekend after his predecessor was removed amid criticism of mismanagement. “The market is in a quite fragile state when everyone scrambles for an exit,” said Central China Securities Shanghai based strategist Zhang Gang.“None of the news in the market is sufficient enough to trigger such a slump.” Today’s declines almost erased a 10% rebound in the benchmark equity index from a January low. The Shanghai Composite has fallen 23% this year, the world’s worst performer after Greece. Volumes on the gauge were 43% above the 30-day average.

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The numbers are stunning.

Rush of Corporate Bonds Inflames Worries About China’s Debt (WSJ)

A surge of corporate bonds is adding to China’s already-high debt levels, amplifying risks to the economy as Beijing persistently encourages borrowing to fuel growth. The new rounds of corporate funding deepen anxieties among investors and analysts that China’s debt, already expanding at twice the pace of its gross domestic product, is feeding a nascent credit crisis that could further set back the country’s efforts to shift the economy to a slower, consumption-led model. Corporate debt now amounts to 160% of China’s gross domestic product, compared with 98% in 2008, according to Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services. The level in the U.S. is 70%. Outstanding corporate bonds in China last year surged 25% to 14.6 trillion yuan ($2.2 trillion), according to the central bank.

Worries over China’s rapid accumulation of credit, up 12.4% last year, are compounded by signs that not much of it is creating new wealth. State policy is directing the boom in corporate bonds, which can be 15% cheaper for borrowers than benchmark loans, meaning issuers can use them to favorably reschedule loans. The government says the push is part of a plan to have companies bear more direct risk as banks struggle with rising bad loans, and there is room for more. “This is in accordance with China’s reform direction,” Wang Yiming, vice minister at the Development Research Center of the State Council, the national cabinet’s think tank, said last week. “In the past, we’ve primarily relied on bank loans. We want to gradually increase direct financing.”

China has long sought to deepen its capital markets by developing debt and equity financing. Banks have traditionally accounted for about 70% of all lending in China. As souring loans began to pile up two years ago, regulators looked to the stock and bond markets to spread credit risk in the system, lower funding costs and expand financing channels for companies. Hopes to use equity markets as a key fundraising tool fell apart as stock prices collapsed last summer, but regulators still view the bond market as a viable channel to restructure risk. “In 2016, we want to adequately fulfill the financing function of the corporate bond market to further promote reform, steady growth and a bigger role for risk management,” the National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, China’s central bank moved to make it easier for qualified foreign institutional investors to buy bonds on China’s interbank market, where issues from the Ministry of Finance and large government entities are traded. The move follows similar permission granted to some central banks and sovereign wealth funds last July and comes as China seeks to encourage use of the yuan to continue liberalizing its currency system. To accomplish its goal, analysts say, China needs to attract investment into its bonds, in particular by global institutional investors. [..] As the cost of debt servicing grows, capital is diverted from productive investment to interest payments. Research firm Gavekal Dragonomics estimates China now spends around 20% of its GDP just servicing its corporate and household debt.

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And why not…

PBOC Says China Can Handle Raising Budget Deficit to 4% (BBG)

China is able to increase its budget deficit to 4% of gross domestic product as the government seeks to cut corporate taxes, central bank officials wrote in an article on the Economic Daily’s website. Low levels of government debt, “relatively fast” economic growth and abundant state-owned assets give the country more capacity to sell more bonds, according to an article written by People’s Bank of China officials including Sheng Songcheng, head of the statistics department. China could maintain a debt-to-GDP ratio of up to 70% at end-2025 if the deficit were raised to 4%, the officials said.

China is looking to fiscal policy to help it grapple with the slowest growth since 1990. The deficit is likely to rise this year from 2.3% of GDP in 2015, the official Xinhua News Agency recently reported, citing a statement after a fiscal work conference. Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said last year the “red line” of 3% for the deficit-to-GDP ratio and 60% for the debt-to-GDP ratio should be revisited after lessons learned from the financial crisis. The article in the official Economic Daily publication comes ahead of a gathering of the nation’s top lawmakers early next month, when the year’s economic plans and targets will be agreed upon and announced.

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Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, though. Unless they’re all just faking the denials.

Why China and the World Needs a New Plaza Accord (Barron’s)

Perhaps it’s time for a new Plaza Accord that focuses on Chinese imbalances in ways that calm world markets. The most obvious expression of those vulnerabilities is an overvalued yuan. Barclays speaks for many when it says the No. 2 economy needs a radical devaluation. Perhaps not in the 25%% neighborhood analysts Ajay Rajadhyaksha and Jian Chang suggest, but sizable enough to stimulate growth and keep pace with Beijing’s depleting currency-reserve holdings. Yet doing so could devastate jittery world markets – and President Xi Jinping knows it. The last thing Xi wants is to trigger Lehman Brothers 2.0. The Group of Seven nations could serve up a face-saving solution: a globally authorized yuan drop organized in a cooperative, transparent and orderly manner.

The model is what transpired 30 years ago in the New York hotel owned by U.S. presidential wannabe Trump. On Sept. 22, 1985, the then G-5 nations – France, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. – plotted an unprecedented intervention in currency markets. One can argue Japan came out on the losing end of a deal to boost the yen, but traders marveled at the show the unity and relative competence of the moment. Arguably, it’s never been duplicated, even after the group expanded to include Canada and Italy to become the G-7. Of course, we live in more of a G-20 world nowadays – an admission that without Brazil, China, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey at the table, many problems are intractable. But too many G-20 members fear retribution and won’t speak truth to Chinese power. That’s why the G-7 should quietly hatch a devaluation plan with Beijing.

If this sounds like a non-starter, consider the alternative: on an unsuspecting evening in the not-so-distant future, Beijing announces a 10% downshift, knocking the Dax, Dow Jones, FTSE, Nikkei and Shanghai Composite indexes several hundred points lower each. The yen surges, putting the final nail in the Abenomics coffin. Deutsche Bank executives call TV stations to insist, anew, their balance sheet is sound. Rumors of hedge-fund blowups ricochet around global markets. Politicians in London, Tokyo and Washington wonder how, of how, did this happen?

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They got one chance, and then announce beforehand it’s a no-go?!

Lew Says Don’t Expect ‘Crisis Response’ From G20 Meeting (BBG)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew downplayed expectations for an emergency response to global market turbulence when Group of 20 finance chiefs and central bankers meet this week in China, calling on nations to do more to boost demand without pursuing unfair currency policies. “Don’t expect a crisis response in a non-crisis environment,” Lew said in an interview broadcast Wednesday with David Westin of Bloomberg Television. “This is a moment where you’ve got real economies doing better than markets think in some cases.” Policy makers from the world’s biggest economies are unlikely to make the kind of detailed national commitments to restore growth they did to at the height of the global financial crisis, Lew said.

Instead, the group, which meets in Shanghai Feb. 26-27, may put more “meat on the bones” of the principles it has advocated in recent years, such as by strengthening the pledge that nations will refrain from competitive currency devaluations, he said. While the world economy isn’t in a moment of crisis, Lew said that “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have the expectation that coming out of this will be a more stable understanding of what the future may look like.” Lew’s comments discount the prospect of a coordinated agreement to boost lackluster global growth and restore confidence after a selloff in world stocks to start the year. Some analysts and investors have called for a modern-day Plaza Accord, the 1985 deal among major economies to weaken the dollar and stabilize currency markets.

The world’s cloudy growth outlook and policy makers’ potential response will dominate the agenda in Shanghai, according to people familiar with the talks. It’s unlikely to produce the kind of action that came out of the G-20 meeting in London in April 2009, when countries collectively pledged more than $1.1 trillion in stimulus to rejuvenate a then-hobbled global economy.

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You don’t say.

IMF Warns The Global Economy Is “Highly Vulnerable” (BBC)

The IMF has said the global economy has weakened further and warned it was “highly vulnerable to adverse shocks”. It said the weakening had come “amid increasing financial turbulence and falling asset prices”. The IMF’s report comes before the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors in Shanghai later this week. It said China’s slowdown was adding to global economic growth concerns. China’s economy, the second-biggest in the world, is growing at the slowest rate in 25 years. “Growth in advanced economies is modest already under the baseline, as low demand in some countries and a broad-based weakening of potential growth continue to hold back the recovery,” the Washington-based IMF said.

“Adding to these headwinds are concerns about the global impact of China’s transition to more balanced growth, along with signs of distress in other large emerging markets, including from falling commodity prices.” The IMF also noted any future prospects for global growth “could be derailed by market turbulence, the oil price crash and geopolitical conflicts”. The agency has called on the G20 group to plan new mechanisms to protect the most vulnerable countries. Earlier this year, the IMF downgraded its forecast for global economic growth. It now expects economic activity to increase 3.4% this year followed by 3.6% in 2017.

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Them’s some graphs.

Dear Janet, Mario, & Haruhiko – It’s Time For The ‘C’ Word (ZH)

As policy errors pile up – just as they did in 2007/8 – around the world, we thought the following three charts might warrant the use of the most important word in modern central banking… "Contained"

 

Haruhiko, You Are Here…

 

Mario, You Are Here…

 

And Janet, You Are Here…

It does make one wonder, with all this carnage and so little action, whether "coordinated" inaction is the post-Davos decision – Don't just do something, stand there and jawbone!!

With the goal being a big enough catastrophe to warrant unleashing the war on cash, then NIRP, then the unlimited money drop… because as we stand, no matter what crazy policy has been imagined by the Keynesian "seers" – inflationary (well deflationary now) expectations have collapsed.

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Weidmann keeps taking the other side.

Bundesbank Chief Warns Of Zero-Rate Impact On Banks (Reuters)

Bank profits will shrink if rock-bottom interest rates stay in place for too long, the head of Germany’s central bank warned on Wednesday, signaling that he favors an eventual change in tack. The remarks from the Bundesbank’s influential president, Jens Weidmann, illustrate how seriously Germany is taking the fallout from years of low borrowing rates after a recent crash in bank stocks sucked in the country’s flagship Deutsche Bank. “The low interest-rate environment particularly weighs on banks’ earnings potential,” Weidmann told journalists, referring to the market slump. “The longer the low-interest-rate phase stays, the steeper interest rates fall, the … smaller banks’ profit,” said Weidmann, who also sits on the European Central Bank’s decision-taking Governing Council.

Early next month, ECB governors will meet to decide whether to loosen monetary policy further, for instance, by extending a €1.5 trillion money printing scheme to buy government bonds or by cutting interest rates further. A cut to the deposit rate, which translates into a charge on banks that park money with the ECB, would penalize banks. Weidmann referred to a survey of German banks that concluded they would see pre-tax profits shrivel by 25% by 2019 as a result. Should low interest rates remain in place until 2019, he said, profits could fall by up to half. Further cuts to borrowing rates during this time would make their results worse still.

The former adviser to German chancellor Angela Merkel, saying that he hoped interest rates would eventually rise again, played down any threat of deflation or falling prices and predicted that a modest economic recovery would continue. Falling price inflation is generally considered an economic alarm bell and is typically used as a trigger for ECB action. In talking down such a problem, Weidmann is also playing down the need for any action. He also voiced scepticism about the proposal to scrap the €500 note, saying that Germans still wanted to be free to pay in cash. “It would be fatal if the impression were to be created … that the discussion about the scrapping of the €500 note … was a step towards ending the use of cash generally.”

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I’m convinced the real numbers are much worse.

Oil Slump To Hit US Investment Banks’ Capital Market Revenue (BBG)

Revenue generated by U.S. investment banks through their capital markets businesses may “suffer” if oil and commodity prices stay low and the global economy slows further, Moody’s Investors Service has warned. While direct energy loan exposures for the largest U.S. banks look “manageable relative to earnings” and most of their exposures are to investment-grade borrowers, additional loss provisions will be necessary in some cases should oil remain subdued for an extended period, the credit assessor said in a report dated Feb. 24. Moody’s also warned that “lower-for-longer” oil prices presented a rising threat for lenders around the world.

JPMorgan Chase said this week its reserves for impaired energy loans would increase by about $500 million in the first quarter and it would have to add an additional $1.5 billion to the set-aside if oil prices held at $25 a barrel for about 18 months. Wells Fargo, the world’s largest bank by market value, said Wednesday in a filing soured energy loans climbed 49% in the last three months of 2015, while higher oil-and-gas provisions at Royal Bank of Canada crimped quarterly earnings. “Oil price volatility has contributed to increased market volatility, which could help boost trading activity and returns,” Moody’s said. “However, current weak sentiment in global equity and credit markets could work in the opposite direction, reducing trading volumes and banks’ related revenues.”

For U.S. global investment banks such as Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, funded exposures to the oil and gas industry range from 1.5% to 5% and average 2.3% of total loans, according to Moody’s. The ratings company also underscored risks for banks in energy-exporting regions from the Middle East and Russia to Africa and Latin America. “Banks’ direct and indirect exposures to the drop in oil prices pose the potential for deterioration in asset quality, particularly in net oil-exporting countries,” Moody’s said. “While direct exposures appear broadly manageable from both a solvency and earnings perspective, low oil prices could still test the credit profiles of banks across our global rated portfolio.”

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The debt figures are incredible. “Companies spent more on drilling than they earned selling oil and gas, plugging the difference with other peoples’ money.”

Biggest Wave Yet of U.S. Oil Defaults Looms as Bust Intensifies (BBG)

In less than a month, the U.S. oil bust could claim two of its biggest victims yet. Energy XXI and SandRidge Energy, oil and gas drillers with a combined $7.6 billion of debt, didn’t pay interest on their bonds last week. They have until the middle of next month to either pay the interest, work out a deal with their creditors or face a default that could tip them into bankruptcy. If the two companies fail in March, it would be the biggest cluster of oil and gas defaults in a month since energy prices plunged in early 2015. “We’re just beginning to see how bad 2016 is going to be,” said Becky Roof, managing director for turnaround and restructuring with consulting firm AlixPartners.

The U.S. shale boom was fueled by junk debt. Companies spent more on drilling than they earned selling oil and gas, plugging the difference with other peoples’ money. Drillers piled up a staggering $237 billion of borrowings at the end of September, according to data compiled on the 61 companies in the Bloomberg Intelligence index of North American independent oil and gas producers. U.S. crude production soared to its highest in more than three decades. Oil prices have now fallen more than 70% from a 2014 peak, and banks and bondholders are fighting for scraps. Bond prices reflect investors’ fears. U.S. high yield energy debt lost 24% last year, the biggest fall since 2008, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Indexes.

Both Energy XXI and SandRidge could still reach an agreement with creditors that will give them time to turn their businesses around. SandRidge said last week that it missed a $21.7 million interest payment. The company owes $4.2 billion, including a fully-drawn $500 million credit line. Energy XXI, which owes $3.4 billion, said in a filing last week that it missed an $8.8 million interest payment. David Kimmel, a spokesman for SandRidge, said it has the money to make interest payments due in February, March and April. He wouldn’t comment on SandRidge’s options if it doesn’t make the interest payments by the end of the grace period.

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And its shares soar…

North Dakota’s Largest Oil Producer Suspends All Fracking (Reuters)

North Dakota oil producer Whiting Petroleum Corp said on Wednesday it will suspend all fracking and spend 80% less this year, the biggest cutback to date by a major U.S. shale company reacting to the plunge in crude prices. Shares of Whiting jumped 7.7% to $4 per share in after-hours trading as investors cheered the decision to preserve capital. During the trading session, Whiting had slid 5.6% to $3.72. Whiting’s cut is one of the largest so far this year in an energy industry crippled by oil prices at 10-year lows. The cuts will have a big impact in North Dakota, where Whiting is the largest producer.

Denver-based Whiting said it will stop fracking and completing wells as of April 1. Most of its $500 million budget will be spent to mothball drilling and fracking operations in the first half of the year. After June, Whiting said it plans to spend only $160 million, mostly on maintenance. Rival producers Hess Corp and Continental Resources Inc have also slashed their budgets for the year, though neither has cut as much as Whiting. “We believe this conservative strategy should help us to maintain our liquidity position and leave us well positioned to capitalize on a rebound in oil prices,” Whiting CEO Jim Volker said in a statement. The cuts will drag down production and likely reverberate in the economy of North Dakota, the second-largest U.S. oil producing state after Texas, which currently pumps 1.1 million barrels per day.

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Excellent by Pedro da Costa.

Big Banks and the White House Are Teaming Up to Fleece Poor People (FP)

When Wall Street and its regulators talk about servicing the so-called “unbanked,” people who are generally disconnected from the banking sector, it often sounds like a mission to do God’s work — bank unto others as thou banketh for thyself. “Basic financial services are out of reach for one in four individuals on Earth,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, a former Citigroup banker, said at a December speech launching the White House’s latest initiative targeted at the unbanked, which involves a partnership with JPMorgan Chase and PayPal. A report co-sponsored by JPMorgan Chase in 2014 speaks of the problem in similarly biblical terms: “Roughly 75% of the world’s poor — 2.5 billion people — do not have a bank account or otherwise participate in the mainstream financial system.” The lack of access to “secure, affordable financial products and services severely limits the global poor’s financial security and opportunities.”

Yet when bankers and regulators debate the travails of the unbanked or underbanked — effectively euphemisms for poor and lower-middle-class Americans — they usually avoid two key questions: Why is this cross-section of society so marginally attached to the banking system in the first place? And who is behind the provision of “alternative” services — high-cost loan sharks, payday lenders, cash checking stores, pawnshops — the poor turn to instead of banks? In reality, it is the banks themselves that appear to have cut off and driven away the low-income consumer, not the other way around. Wall Street won’t make loans to the poor — at least not directly. But large banks, it turns out, are behind many of the predatory nonbank, high-cost lenders that notoriously prey on poor communities.

Most recently, the same JPMorgan Chase that’s working with the White House to reach the unbanked partnered with OnDeck Capital, an online lender that approves loans in a flash and charges eye-popping interest rates that averaged around 54% as of 2014. In other words, the big banks are already well-acquainted with the poor unbanked poor — and they’re fleecing them.In other words, the big banks are already well-acquainted with the poor unbanked poor — and they’re fleecing them. They’re simply doing it the clean, Wall Street way, through intermediaries and with little accountability. Some banks are willing to do the dirty work themselves.

This is how Wells Fargo advertises its Direct Deposit Advance Loan, which carries an annual percentage rate of 120%: “These short term loans … can assist you with getting through a short term financial crisis by providing you with options and flexibility…. [for example] a medical bill, car repair, or similar unplanned expense.” How sweet of them. Those who are already in the system don’t fare much better. Big banks push the poor into the more shadowy corners of consumer finance by charging those at the financial margins high and sometimes repeated and lofty overdraft fees, ATM charges, and checking account minimum balances. The poor often live in areas that lack bank branches, meaning that even after they open an account, they have to use a local ATM that charges them $3 on top of the $3 their own bank likely charges. So taking out a $20 bill could cost $6, a 30% surcharge.

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Ungovernable poster child for recovery.

Spanish Government Pact Dealt Fatal Blow Hours After Announcement (Reuters)

A government deal between Spain’s Socialists and liberal Ciudadanos was dealt a fatal blow hours after it was announced on Wednesday when both the Conservatives and anti-austerity Podemos refused to back it. Such is the fragmentation of Spain’s political landscape after an election last December that the Socialists and Ciudadanos, with only 130 seats in the 350-seat parliament between them, cannot govern alone. Podemos won 69 seats and the center-right People’s Party (PP) 123. Continued bickering between all sides means Spain could be without a government for several more months at a time when the economic recovery is still fragile and unemployment stubbornly high at over 20%. To be elected prime minister, socialist leader Pedro Sanchez needs an absolute majority on March 2 or a simple majority of seats in a second vote that would take place in parliament on March 5.

The pact with Ciudadanos could have gone through only if the PP or Podemos had backed it or at least abstained in the second vote, something they again ruled out. Podemos said it did not agree with the social and economic policies outlined in the deal, which includes tax reforms and measures to make government spending more efficient. The party also said it was suspending its own talks with the Socialists. “This is a deal that is incompatible with Podemos,” Inigo Errejon, a senior party member, told a news conference. Hours earlier, the leader of the PP, acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, had also reiterated his party would vote against the pact which he called “misleading” because it fell way short of any majority.

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Long article. Do read it though. Matt’s in a class of his own.

How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable (Matt Taibbi)

The first thing you notice at Donald Trump’s rallies is the confidence. Amateur psychologists have wishfully diagnosed him from afar as insecure, but in person the notion seems absurd. Donald Trump, insecure? We should all have such problems. At the Verizon Giganto-Center in Manchester the night before the New Hampshire primary, Trump bounds onstage to raucous applause and the booming riffs of the Lennon-McCartney anthem “Revolution.” The song is, hilariously, a cautionary tale about the perils of false prophets peddling mindless revolts, but Trump floats in on its grooves like it means the opposite. When you win as much as he does, who the hell cares what anything means? He steps to the lectern and does his Mussolini routine, which he’s perfected over the past months.

It’s a nodding wave, a grin, a half-sneer, and a little U.S. Open-style applause back in the direction of the audience, his face the whole time a mask of pure self-satisfaction. “This is unbelievable, unbelievable!” he says, staring out at a crowd of about 4,000 whooping New Englanders with snow hats, fleece and beer guts. There’s a snowstorm outside and cars are flying off the road, but it’s a packed house. He flashes a thumbs-up. “So everybody’s talking about the cover of Time magazine last week. They have a picture of me from behind, I was extremely careful with my hair … ” He strokes his famous flying fuzz-mane. It looks gorgeous, like it’s been recently fed. The crowd goes wild. Whoooo! Trump!

It’s pure camp, a variety show. He singles out a Trump impersonator in the crowd, tells him he hopes the guy is making a lot of money. “Melania, would you marry that guy?” he says. The future first lady is a Slovenian model who, apart from Trump, was most famous for a TV ad in which she engaged in a Frankenstein-style body transfer with the Aflac duck, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. She had one line in that ad. Tonight, it’s two lines: “Ve love you, New Hampshire,” she says, in a thick vampire accent. “Ve, together, ve vill make America great again!” As reactionary patriotic theater goes, this scene is bizarre – Melania Knauss didn’t even arrive in America until 1996, when she was all of 26 – but the crowd goes nuts anyway. Everything Trump does works these days. He steps to the mic. “She’s beautiful, but she’s more beautiful even on the inside,” he says, raising a finger to the heavens. “And, boy, is she smart!”

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Outcome is guaranteed.

Hungary To Hold Referendum On EU Plan For Migrant Quotas (Reuters)

Hungary will hold a referendum on European Union plans to create a system of mandatory quotas for migrants, an initiative that Hungary’s government has rejected, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Wednesday. Orban has used harsh anti-migrant rhetoric since the migrant crisis escalated last year and gained notoriety for erecting a steel fence along Hungary’s southern border to keep out migrants – a policy now adopted by other Balkan countries. He said the plebiscite, the first of its kind in Europe, would be a major test of European democracy. The EU declined official comment, saying it was were trying to clarify what Orban was proposing.

Orban, who did not say when the vote might be held, has said the quotas would redraw the ethnic, cultural and religious map of Hungary and Europe. Under the plan, most EU nations would be obliged to accept a certain number of immigrants. “Nobody has asked the European people so far whether they support, accept, or reject the mandatory migrant quotas,” he said at a news conference. “The government is responding to public sentiment now: we Hungarians think introducing resettlement quotas for migrants without the backing of the people equals an abuse of power.” Orban said he was aware of potential wider ramifications of such a referendum, especially if Hungarians say “No” to quotas. “We had to think about the potential impact on European politics of such a proposal, but that was a secondary consideration,” he said.

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Late last year expectations were for 3 million in Europe this year alone. Still, more realistic than ‘we have to stop them all’.

German Government Expects Arrival Of 3.6 Million Refugees By 2020 (Reuters)

The German government expects a total influx of 3.6 million refugees by 2020, with an average of half a million people arriving each year, German media reported on Thursday, in a country that took in a record 1.1 million migrants last year. The calculations are based on internal estimates by the Economy Ministry in coordination with other ministries, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung said. In order to project economic development, the Economy Ministry created “an internal, purely technical estimate on migration in coordination with other government departments”. There is no official government estimate on how many refugees Europe’s biggest economy expects over the next years, as numbers are highly volatile.

But the unprecedented arrival of 1.1 million asylum seekers last year, included in the 3.6 million forecast, stretched public resources thin and put strains on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. Merkel, whose open-door refugee policy has put her under much pressure, in recent months vowed to significantly reduce the number of people arriving this year. On Wednesday, German federal police said that they had only registered 103 migrants arriving on Tuesday, suggesting a sharp drop as a result of tighter controls along the Balkan route. At the start of the prior week, over 2,000 were arriving on a daily basis. Last autumn the daily arrivals sometimes totaled over 10,000.

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Things are intensifying fast here.

Greek Authorities Scramble To Find Shelter For Refugees (Kath.)

Government officials were on Wednesday night trying to find more places to host refugees and migrants as the number of people arriving continued to rise while limits on those leaving remained in place. Tens of thousands of migrants are thought to be in Greece at the moment, waiting to find a way out after border controls were stepped up north of the country. An official at the Migration Policy Ministry said that the government had made contingency plans for looking after 50,000 people. But these plans may prove inadequate as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is only allowing a few hundred migrants to cross from Greece each day. In contrast, an average of around 3,000 people have been arriving on Greek islands each day this week.

On Wednesday, more than 1,700 migrants arrived at Piraeus on passenger ferries from the islands. Greek authorities are trying to find ways, including stopping coaches on the national highway, to prevent all the arrivals traveling to Idomeni, next to the border with FYROM, where some 3,000 people have already gathered. The migrants who have been stopped on their journey north are being housed in motels and sports centers. The transit centers at Schisto, Elaionas and Elliniko in Athens, as well as Diavata in Thessaloniki have filled up over the last few days. The camps at Schisto and Diavata are hosting around 2,000 people each. There are concerns that the lack of spaces will mean that migrants will start camping out in city squares. Some 300 people set up camp in Victoria Square, central Athens, on Wednesday.

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The talks will not be very friendly for much longer.

Tsipras: “We Will Not Allow Greece To Turn Into A Warehouse Of Souls” (Afp)

EU interior ministers hold fresh talks on migration on Thursday, seeking to reduce the flow of people through the Balkans and plan for what the bloc has warned is a looming humanitarian crisis. Ministers from non-EU members Serbia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Turkey will also be in Brussels as the European Union reaches outside the borders of the 28-nation bloc in a desperate attempt to deal with the stream of people. Ahead of the talks, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras threatened not to cooperate with future EU agreements on the migrant crisis if the burden was not fairly shared among member states.

Athens is seething over a series of border restrictions along the migrant trail to northern and western Europe that has caused a bottleneck in Greece, the main entry point to Europe. “Greece will no longer agree to any deal if the burdens and responsibilities are not shared proportionally,” Tsipras told the Greek parliament Wednesday, adding: “We will not allow our country to turn into a warehouse of souls.”

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Feb 152016
 
 February 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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John M. Fox Garcia Grande newsstand, New York 1946

Japan’s Economy Shrinks 1.4% As Abenomics Is Blown Off Course (Guardian)
China Imports Plunge -18.8% YoY In January, Exports Fall -11.2% (FT)
Yuan Rises Most Since 2005 as PBOC Voices Support, Raises Fixing (BBG)
PBoC Governor Zhou Breaks Long Silence (BBG)
Chinese Start to Lose Confidence in Their Currency (NY Times)
China Markets Brace for Wild Swings in Year of the Monkey (WSJ)
Selloff Plus A Market Holiday Make China Stocks Look Even More Expensive (BBG)
Hong Kong Land Price Plunges Nearly 70% in Government Tender (BBG)
Pakistan Default Risk Surges as $50 Billion Debt Bill Coming Due (BBG)
ECB In Talks With Italy Over Buying Bundles Of Bad Loans (Reuters)
Italy’s Banking Crisis Spirals Elegantly out of Control (WS)
Nuclear Fuel Storage in South Australia Seen as Economic Boon (BBG)
Oil Resumes Drop as Iran Loads Europe Cargo (BBG)
Condensate Vs Crude Oil: What’s Actually in Those Storage Tanks? (Westexas)
Renewables: The Next Fracking? (JMG)

So Nikkei up 7%, more mad stimulus expected.

Japan’s Economy Shrinks 1.4% As Abenomics Is Blown Off Course (Guardian)

Japan’s economy shrank at an annualised rate of 1.4% in the last quarter of 2015, new figures showed on Monday, dealing a further blow to attempts by the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to lift the country out of stagnation. Last quarter’s contraction in the world’s third largest economy was bigger than the 1.2% decline that had been forecast, as slow exports to emerging markets failed to pick up the slack created by weak demand at home. The economy shrank 0.4% in October-December from the previous quarter, according to cabinet office figures. Slower exports and weak domestic demand were largely to blame for the contraction – a sign that Abe’s attempts to boost spending is failing to deliver.

Private consumption, the driving force behind 60% of GDP, slumped by 0.8% between October and December last year, a bigger fall than the median market forecast of 0.6%. Some analysts, though, expect domestic spending to pick up ahead of a planned rise on the consumption (sales) tax, from 8% to 10%, in April 2017. “However, this should be short-lived, as activity will almost certainly slump once the tax has been raised,” said Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics. “The upshot is that the Bank of Japan still has plenty of work to do to boost price pressures.” The Nikkei benchmark index opened sharply higher on Monday, gaining more than 3% off the back of gains on Wall Street and in Europe on Friday, as well as encouraging US retail sales figures.

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Not much in imports left after 15 months in a row. Do note difference between dollar- and yuan terms.

China Imports Plunge -18.8% YoY In January, Exports Fall -11.2% (FT)

China’s exports and imports suffered larger-than-expected drops in the first month of this year in both renminbi- and dollar-denominated terms. Exports fell 6.6% year-on-year in January to Rmb1.14tn, following a 2.3% gain in December. Economists expected a gain of 3.6%. It was the biggest fall in exports since an 8.9% drop in July last year. The drop was even more pronounced measured in US dollars, with exports crashing 11.2% year-on-year last month to $177.48bn. That was from a 1.4% drop in December, and versus expectations for a 1.8% slide. It was the biggest drop since a 15% fall in March last year. The import side of the equation fared worse in both renminbi- and dollar-terms. Shipments to China cratered by 14.4% year-on-year to Rmb737.5bn in January. That’s from a 4% drop in December, and versus expectations for a 1.8% rise.

In dollar terms, imports plunged 18.8% last month to $114.19, from a 7.6% drop in January and versus an expected drop of 3.6%. This was the biggest monthly drop in imports since last September and also means shipments have contracted year-on-year for the past 15 months straight. The general weakness in the renminbi, which fell 1.3% in January and had weakened by 2.2% in the final quarter of 2015, is likely playing a part, by making overseas goods more expensive. However, exports have yet to receive a boost from the currency’s depreciation. China’s trade surplus grew to Rmb496.2bn last month from Rmb382.1bn in December. Economists expected it to inch higher to Rmb389bn. In dollar terms, China’s trade surplus rose to $63.29bn from $60.09 in December and versus expectations of $60.6bn.

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Whatever it takes revisited.

Yuan Rises Most Since 2005 as PBOC Voices Support, Raises Fixing (BBG)

China’s yuan surged by the most in more than a decade, catching up with dollar declines during a week-long holiday, after the central bank chief voiced support for the exchange rate and set its fixing at a one-month high. The currency advanced 0.9%, the most since the nation scrapped a peg to the dollar in July 2005, to 6.5170 a dollar as of 10:50 a.m. in Shanghai. The offshore yuan fell 0.16% to 6.5186 to almost match the onshore rate, compared with a 1% premium last week when mainland Chinese markets were shut for the Lunar New Year holidays. The People’s Bank of China on Monday raised its daily fixing against the greenback, which restricts onshore moves to a maximum 2% on either side, by 0.3%, the most since November, to 6.5118. A gauge of dollar strength declined 0.8% last week, while the yen rose 3% and the euro advanced 0.9%.

China’s balance of payments position is good, capital outflows are normal and the exchange rate is basically stable against a basket of currencies, PBOC Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said in an interview published Saturday in Caixin magazine. The nation’s foreign-exchange reserves shrank by $99.5 billion in January, the second-biggest decline on record, as the central bank sold dollars to fight off yuan depreciation pressure. An estimated $1 trillion of capital left China last year. “In the near term, the stronger fixing and Zhou’s comments reflect the PBOC’s consistent view of stabilizing the yuan,” said Ken Cheung at Mizuho. “Containing yuan depreciation expectations and capital outflows remain top-priority tasks. Mild depreciation could be allowed, but that would be done only after stabilizing depreciation expectations.”

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What is this, some sort of reverse psychology? By now nobody trusts him anymore.

PBoC Governor Zhou Breaks Long Silence (BBG)

China’s central bank has stepped up efforts to restore stability to the nation’s currency and economy, with Governor Zhou Xiaochuan breaking his long silence to argue there’s no basis for continued yuan depreciation. The nation’s balance of payments is good, capital outflows are normal and the exchange rate is basically stable against a basket of currencies, Zhou said in an interview published Saturday in Caixin magazine. That’s an escalation in verbal support after such comments have been left in recent months to deputies and the central bank research department’s chief economist. Zhou dismissed speculation that China plans to tighten capital controls and said there’s no need to worry about a short-term decline in foreign-exchange reserves. The country has ample holdings for payments and to defend stability, he said.

“He’s desperately trying to make sure that all of his work in the past few years on capital liberalization does not go to waste,” said Victor Shih, a professor at the University of California at San Diego who studies China’s politics and finance. “He’s trying hard to instill investor confidence in the renminbi so that the Chinese government does not have to resort to the extreme measure of unwinding all of the progress on offshore renminbi in the past few years.” The comments come as Chinese financial markets prepare to reopen Monday after the week-long Lunar New Year holiday. The weakening exchange rate and declining Chinese share markets have fueled global turmoil and helped send world stocks to their lowest levels in more than two years. The PBoC set the daily fixing against the dollar, which restricts onshore moves to a maximum 2% on either side, 0.3% higher at 6.5118, the strongest since Jan. 4. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 2.3% as of 9:39 a.m. local time.

Lost amid the angst over China’s stocks, currency and sliding foreign exchange reserves is the flush liquidity situation at home. The People’s Bank of China has been putting its money where its mouth is, pumping cash into the financial system to offset record capital outflows amid fears the yuan could weaken further. Data that could come as soon as Monday is expected to show China’s broadest measure of new credit surged in January on a seasonal uptick in lending, and as companies borrowed to pay off foreign debt. Aggregate financing likely grew 2.2 trillion yuan ($335 billion), according to the median forecast of a Bloomberg survey of economists. [..] Even as foreign exchange reserves have declined since mid 2014 – to a four-year low of $3.23 trillion in January – M1 money supply has continued to rise.

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No-one has a clue where it’ll be in a week, a month.

Chinese Start to Lose Confidence in Their Currency (NY Times)

As the Chinese economy stumbles, wealthy families are increasingly trying to move large sums of money out of the country, worried that the value of the currency will fall and their savings will be worth less. To get around the country’s cash controls, individuals are asking friends or family members to carry or transfer out $50,000 apiece, the annual legal limit in China. A group of 100 people can move $5 million overseas. The practice is called Smurfing, named after the blue, mushroom-dwelling cartoon characters, and it is part of an exodus of capital that is casting doubt on China’s economic prospects and shaking global markets. Over the last year, companies and individuals have moved nearly $1 trillion from China.

Some methods are perfectly legal, like investing in real estate elsewhere, buying businesses overseas and paying off debts owed in dollars. Others, like Smurfing, are more dubious, and in certain cases, outright illegal. Chinese customs officials caught a woman last year trying to leave the mainland with $250,000 strapped to her chest and thighs and hidden inside her shoes. If the government cannot keep citizens from rushing to the financial exits, China’s outlook could darken. The swell of outflows is a destabilizing force in China’s slowing economy, threatening to undermine confidence and hurt a banking system that is struggling to deal with a decade-long lending binge. The capital flight is already putting significant pressure on the country’s currency, the renminbi.

The government is trying to prevent a free fall in the currency by stepping into the markets and tapping its huge cash hoard to shore up the renminbi. But a deep erosion of those reserves may set off further outflows and create turbulence in the markets. China is also trying to put the brakes on outflows, by tightening its grip on the country’s links to the global financial system. The government, for example, just started to clamp down on people’s use of bank cards to buy overseas life insurance policies. Such moves have trade-offs. The limits create concerns that the government is pulling back on reform efforts that China needs to keep growth humming in the decades to come. But the near-term pressure also requires serious attention, given the global shock waves.

“The currency has become a very near-term threat to financial stability,” said Charlene Chu, an economist at Autonomous Research. Navigating such problems is fairly new for China. For years, China soaked up much of the world’s investment money, as the economy grew at annual rates in the double digits. A largely closed financial system kept China’s own money corralled inside the country. Now, with growth slowing, money is gushing out of the country. And the government has a looser grip on the spigot, because China dismantled some currency restrictions to open up its economy in recent years. “Companies don’t want renminbi and individuals don’t want renminbi,” said Shaun Rein, the founder of the China Market Research Group. “The renminbi was a sure bet for a long time, but now that it’s not, a lot of people want to get out.”

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Huh? What is that?: “There will be an incredible amount of strong psychological pessimism in China this week..”

China Markets Brace for Wild Swings in Year of the Monkey (WSJ)

Investors in Chinese stocks are facing a tumultuous return to action Monday after a weeklong holiday in mainland markets for the Lunar New Year shielded them from the global market turmoil. Chinese shares are already among the world’s worst-performing this year, with the main benchmark Shanghai Composite Index down 21.9% at 2763.49. The market has almost halved in value since its peak last June, dropping some 47% since then. But analysts say both the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges could face further sharp losses at Monday’s open, as they catch up with the past week’s mostly gloomy global markets. Japanese stocks sank 11% last week and the yen shot up, defying a recent move by the Bank of Japan to introduce negative interest rates, partly designed to keep the local currency weaker and help Japanese exporters.

Markets in Europe and the U.S. whipsawed as investors lost faith in banking stocks, while Australian shares entered bear market territory, having fallen more than 20% since their most recent peak in late April. Meanwhile, Chinese stocks trading in Hong Kong lost 6.8% and the city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index fell 5% in the two days markets were open here at the end of last week. “There will be an incredible amount of strong psychological pessimism in China this week,” said Richard Kang at Emerging Global Advisors. “[Global assets] are going up and down together, it’s very macro-driven right now.” China was at the epicenter of market mayhem at the start of 2016, as shares fell sharply and the country’s currency, the yuan, dipped in value. Before last summer, Chinese market slumps had little impact beyond the country’s borders, mainly because stock-buying there remains largely driven by local retail investors.

Foreign investors still account for a small amount of stock ownership in China. But the Chinese selloff early this year was met with a confused response from Beijing policy makers, who flip-flopped on new measures to stem the market bleeding and were criticized for failing to communicate clearly a change in currency strategy. That contributed to a perception among global investors that Chinese leaders have lost their grip on the country’s economy. The nervousness in markets around the world has now taken on new dimensions. Central banks are struggling to boost growth, despite the Bank of Japan joining the European Central Bank in setting negative interest rates for the first time. Bank profits face a squeeze as the margin between what they pay out on deposits and what they make on lending narrows.

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Not a small detail.

Selloff Plus A Market Holiday Make China Stocks Look Even More Expensive (BBG)

For once, it wasn’t China’s fault. With the country’s markets closed for lunar new year holidays last week, global equity investors found plenty of other reasons to sell – everything from sliding oil prices to shrinking bank profits and crumbling faith in global monetary policy. The MSCI All-Country World Index plunged 2.6%, entering bear-market territory for the first time in more than four years. While the rout may help Communist Party officials counter perceptions that China is the biggest risk for global markets, investors in yuan-denominated A shares will find little to cheer about as trading resumes Monday. Valuations in the $5.3 trillion market, already inflated by a record-breaking bubble last year, now look even more expensive versus their beaten-down global peers.

The Shanghai Composite Index trades at a 34% premium to MSCI’s emerging-markets index – up from an average gap of 10% over the past five years – and equities in the tech-heavy Shenzhen market are almost four times more expensive than their developing-nation counterparts. Shares with dual listings, meanwhile, are valued at a 46% premium on the mainland relative to Hong Kong, near the widest gap since 2009. “There’s been a lot of embedded selling pressure in the A-share market,” said George Hoguet at State Street Global Advisors, which has $2.4 trillion under management. “I don’t think the market is fully cleared yet.” While the Shanghai Composite has dropped 22% in 2016, the gauge is still up 31% over the past two years, a period when the MSCI Emerging Markets Index sank 22%.

The Chinese stock measure is valued at 15 times reported earnings, versus 11 for the developing-nation gauge. Chinese markets will be volatile when they reopen as investors determine where they “sit in the global marketplace,” Garrett Roche, a global investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said by phone from New York. The firm oversees $2.5 trillion in client assets. “From the Chinese perspective, we are relatively nervous about it anyway, so it won’t change our view that the selloff hurts,” he said. Investors shouldn’t read too much into what happens in global markets when assessing the outlook for Chinese equities because the country still has a relatively closed financial system, said Eric Brock at Clough Capital Partners. The Shanghai Composite’s correlation with the MSCI All-Country index over the past 30 days was less than half that of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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Stick a fork in it?!

Hong Kong Land Price Plunges Nearly 70% in Government Tender (BBG)

In the latest sign that Hong Kong’s property correction is deepening, a piece of land sold by the government in the New Territories sold for nearly 70% less per square foot than a similar transaction in September. The 405,756 square foot (37,696 square meter) parcel of land in Tai Po sold for HK$2.13 billion ($274 million) or HK$1,904 per square foot, in a tender that closed on Feb. 12, according to the Hong Kong Lands Department website. The buyer was Asia Metro Investment, a subsidiary of China Overseas Land & Investment.

The plunge in the price of land comes amid weaker appetite from Hong Kong developers against the backdrop of a nearly 11% drop in housing prices since their September high, according to the Centaline Property Centa-City Leading Index. In January, sales of new and secondary homes reached their lowest monthly level since Centaline started tracking data in January 1991. Hong Kong home prices surged 370% from their 2003 trough through the September peak before the correction began, spurred by a rising supply of housing and a slowdown in China. Lower prices paid for land could eventually lead to cheaper home prices down the road, and are viewed as a leading indicator of the negative sentiment on the market.

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Asia’s troubles are sure to spread. Reporting on it is slow, that’s all.

Pakistan Default Risk Surges as $50 Billion Debt Bill Coming Due (BBG)

Bets are rising that Pakistan will default on its debt just as it starts to revive investor interest with a reduction in terrorist attacks. Credit default swaps protecting the nation’s debt against non-payment for five years surged 56 basis points over the past week amid the global market sell-off, the steepest jump after Greece, Venezuela and Portugal among more than 50 sovereigns tracked by Bloomberg. About 42% of Pakistan’s outstanding debt is due to mature in 2016 – roughly $50 billion, equivalent to the size of Slovenia’s economy. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has worked to make Pakistan more investor-friendly since winning a $6.6 billion IMF loan in 2013 to avert an external payments crisis. The economy is forecast to grow 4.5%, an eight-year high, as a crackdown on militant strongholds helps reduce deaths from terrorist attacks.

“Pakistan’s high level of public debt, with a large portion financed through short-term instruments, does make the sovereign’s ability to meet their financing needs more sensitive to market conditions,” Mervyn Tang, lead analyst for Pakistan at Fitch said by e-mail. Since Sharif took the loan, Pakistan’s debt due by end-2016 has jumped about 79%. He’s also facing resistance in meeting IMF demands to privatize state-owned companies, leading to a strike this month at national carrier Pakistan International Airlines. The bulk of this year’s debt, some $30 billion, is due between July and September, and repayments will get tougher if borrowing costs rise more. The spread between Pakistan’s 10-year sovereign bond and similar-maturity U.S. Treasuries touched a one-year high on Thursday.

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Making it up as they go along. Not a confidence booster.

ECB In Talks With Italy Over Buying Bundles Of Bad Loans (Reuters)

The ECB is in talks with the Italian government about buying bundles of bad loans as part of its asset-purchase program and accepting them as collateral from banks in return for cash, the Italian Treasury said. The move could give a big boost to a recently approved Italian scheme aimed at helping banks offload some of their €200 billion ($225 billion) of soured credit and free up resources for new loans. Nonetheless, it would likely fuel a debate in other countries about whether the ECB is taking on too much risk by buying asset-backed securities (ABS) based on loans that have not been repaid for roughly three months. Italian Treasury officials told reporters the ECB may buy these securities as part of its €1.5 trillion asset-purchase program or accept them as collateral from banks in return for cash, in so called repurchase agreements.

In November last year, an ECB source said that buying rebundled non-performing loans could be an extreme option if the euro zone’s economic situation became “really bad”. The bank has been struggling to revive inflation and is likely to cut its deposit rate again next month. Italy’s high stock of bad loans has been a drag on the euro zone’s third-largest economy and is a growing concern for investors, who have been selling shares in Italian banks heavily since the start of the year. The ECB has been buying an average of €1.19 billion of ABS every month since November 2014, Datastream data showed, and prefers securities backed by performing loans. Under existing rules, the ECB can buy ABS as long as they have a credit rating above a certain threshold, thereby ensuring it only buys high-quality securities.

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Nothing stops the ECB, least of all its own rules.

Italy’s Banking Crisis Spirals Elegantly out of Control (WS)

Italy, the Eurozone’s third largest economy, is in a full-blown banking crisis. Four small banks were rescued late last year. The big ones are teetering. Their stocks have crashed. They’re saddled with non-performing loans (defined as in default or approaching default). We’re not sure that the full extent of these NPLs is even known. The number officially tossed around is €201 billion. But even the ECB seems to doubt that number. Its new bank regulator, the Single Supervisory Mechanism, is now seeking additional information about NPLs to get a handle on them. Other numbers tossed around are over €300 billion, or 18% of total loans outstanding. The IMF shed an even harsher light on this fiasco. It reported last year that over 80% of the NPLs are corporate loans. Of them, 30% were non-performing, with large regional differences, ranging from 17% in some of the northern regions to over 50% in some of the southern regions. The report:

High corporate NPLs reflect both weak profitability in a severe recession as well the heavy indebtedness of many Italian firms, especially SMEs, which are among the highest in the Euro Area. This picture is consistent with corporate survey data which shows nearly 30% of corporate debt is owed by firms whose earnings (before interest and taxes) are insufficient to cover their interest payments.

The reason these NPLs piled up over the years is because banks have been slow to, or have refused to, write them off or sell them to third parties at market rates. Recognizing the losses would have eaten up the banks’ scarce capital. Reality would have been too ugly to behold. The study found that the average time for writing off bad loans has jumped to over six years by 2014. And this:

In 2013, on average less than 10% of bad debt, despite already being in a state of insolvency, was written off or sold. The bad debt write-off rate varies significantly across the major banks, with banks with the highest NPL ratios featuring the lowest write-off rates. The slow pace of write-offs is an important factor in the rapid buildup of NPLs.

Now, to keep the banks from toppling, the ECB has an ingenious plan: it’s going to buy these toxic assets or accept them as collateral in return for cash. That’s what the Italian Treasury told reporters, according to Reuters. Oh, but the ECB is not going to buy them directly. That would violate the rules; it can only buy assets that sport a relatively high credit rating. And this stuff is toxic. So these loans are going to get bundled into structured Asset Backed Securities (ABS) and sliced into different tranches. The top tranches will be the last ones to absorb losses. A high credit rating will then be stamped on these senior tranches to make them eligible for ECB purchases, though they’re still backed by the same toxic loans, most of which won’t ever be repaid.

The ECB then buys these senior tranches of the ABS as part of its €62.4-billion per-month QE program that already includes about €2.2 billion for ABS (though it has been buying less). Alternatively, the ECB can accept these highly rated, toxic-loan-backed securities as collateral for cash via so-called repurchase agreements. But buying even these senior tranches would violate the ECB’s own rules, which specify:

At the time of inclusion in the securitisation, a loan should not be in dispute, default, or unlikely to pay. The borrower associated with the loan should not be deemed credit-impaired (as defined in IAS 36).

Hilariously, the NPLs, by definition, are either already in “default” or “unlikely to pay,” most of them have been so for years, and the borrower is already “deemed credit impaired” if the entity even still exists. But hey, this is the ECB, and no one is going to stop it. Reuters: “The move could give a big boost to a recently approved Italian scheme aimed at helping banks offload some of their €200 billion of soured credit and free up resources for new loans.” But the scheme would limit ECB purchases to only the top tranches, and thus only a portion of the toxic loans. So there too is a way around this artificial limit.

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Might as well move out now. There is no safe storage for nuclear waste.

Nuclear Fuel Storage in South Australia Seen as Economic Boon (BBG)

The storage and disposal of nuclear waste in South Australia would probably deliver significant economic benefits to the state, generating more than A$5 billion ($3.6 billion) a year in revenue, according to the preliminary findings by a royal commission. Such a facility would be commercially viable, with storage commencing in the late 2020s, the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission said in its tentative findings released Monday. It doesn’t make economic sense to generate electricity from a nuclear power plant in the state in the “foreseeable future” due to costs and demand, the report found. “The storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel in South Australia would meet a global need and is likely to deliver substantial economic benefits to the community,” the commission said. “

Such a facility would be viable and highly profitable under a range of cost and revenue assumptions.” South Australia, where BHP Billiton operates the Olympic Dam mine, set up the commission last year to look at the role the state should play in the nuclear industry — from mining and enrichment to energy generation and waste storage. While Australia is home to the world’s largest uranium reserves, it has never had a nuclear power plant. Concerns over climate change have prompted debate about whether to reverse Australia’s nuclear policy. Longer term, “Australia’s electricity system will require low-carbon generation sources to meet future global emissions reduction targets,” the commission said in its report. “Nuclear power may be necessary, along with other low carbon generation technologies.”

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A ways to go.

Oil Resumes Drop as Iran Loads Europe Cargo (BBG)

Oil resumed its decline below $30 a barrel as Iran loaded its first cargo to Europe since international sanctions ended and Chinese crude imports dropped from a record. West Texas Intermediate futures fell 0.5% in New York after surging 12% on Friday, while Brent in London slid 0.2%. A tanker for France’s Total was being loaded Sunday at Kharg Island while vessels chartered for Chinese and Spanish companies were due to arrive later the same day, an Iranian oil ministry official said. Chinese imports in January decreased almost 20% from the previous month, according to government data. “Iran is going to add headwinds to the market,” David Lennox, an analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney, said. “We still have 500 million barrels of U.S. inventories and shale producers are still pumping. Until there are significant cuts to output, the rally is not sustainable.”

Oil in New York is down 21% this year amid the outlook for increased Iranian exports and BP Plc predicts the market will remain “tough and choppy” in the first half as it contends with a surplus of 1 million barrels a day. Speculators’ long positions in WTI through Feb. 9 rose to the highest since June, according to data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. WTI for March delivery slid as much as 49 cents to $28.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was at $29.28 at 2:50 p.m. Hong Kong time. The contract gained $3.23 to close at $29.44 on Friday after dropping 19% the previous six sessions. Total volume traded was about 12% above the 100-day average. WTI prices lost 4.7% last week. Brent for April settlement declined as much as 69 cents, or 2.1%, to $32.67 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange. The contract climbed $3.30 to close at $33.36 on Friday. The European benchmark crude was at a premium of $1.59 to WTI for April.

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Our old friend and oil expert Jeffrey Brown with an interesting take.

Condensate Vs Crude Oil: What’s Actually in Those Storage Tanks? (Westexas)

After examining available regional and global production data (using EIA, OPEC and BP data sources), in my opinion actual global crude oil production – generally defined as 45 API Gravity or lower crude oil – has probably been on an “Undulating Plateau” since 2005. At the same time, global natural gas production and associated liquids, condensate and natural gas liquids (NGL), have so far continued to increase. Schlumberger defines condensate as: “A low-density, high-API gravity liquid hydrocarbon phase that generally occurs in association with natural gas.” The most common dividing line between crude oil and condensate is 45 API Gravity, but note that the upper limit for WTI crude oil is 42 API Gravity. However, the critical point is that condensate is a byproduct of natural gas production.

Note that what the EIA calls “Crude oil” is actually Crude + Condensate (C+C). When we ask for the price of oil, we generally get the price of either WTI or Brent crude oil, which both have average API gravities in the high 30’s, and the maximum upper limit for WTI crude oil is 42 API Gravity. However, when we ask for the volume of oil, we get some combination of crude oil + partial substitutes, i.e., condensate, NGL and biofuels. From 2002 to 2005, as annual Brent crude oil prices approximately doubled from $25 in 2002 to $55 in 2005, global natural gas production, global NGL production and global C+C production all showed similar rates of increase. For example, from 2002 to 2005 global natural gas production increased at a rate of 3.2%/year, as global C+C production increased at a rate of 3.3%/year.

From 2005 to the 2011 to 2013 time frame, annual Brent crude oil prices doubled again, from $55 in 2005 to an average of $110 for 2011 to 2013 inclusive, remaining at $99 in 2014. From 2005 to 2014, global natural gas production increased at 2.4%/year, while global C+C production increased at only 0.6%/year. Given that condensate production is a byproduct of natural gas production, the only reasonable conclusion in my opinion is that increasing global condensate production accounted for all, or virtually all, of the post-2005 slow rate of increase in global C+C production [..]

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Haha! So glad Greer does it for us, so we don’t get the hate mail. But he’s right, obviously. Only thing is, he forgets a whole group of people. He says there are those who believe in renewables vs those who actually live with them. A third group are those who plan to make a killing off of renewables. And they drive the discussion.

Renewables: The Next Fracking? (JMG)

I’d meant this week’s Archdruid Report post to return to Retrotopia, my quirky narrative exploration of ways in which going backward might actually be a step forward, and next week’s post to turn a critical eye on a common but dysfunctional habit of thinking that explains an astonishing number of the avoidable disasters of contemporary life, from anthropogenic climate change all the way to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Still, those entertaining topics will have to wait, because something else requires a bit of immediate attention. In my new year’s predictions a little over a month ago, as my regular readers will recall, I suggested that photovoltaic solar energy would be the focus of the next big energy bubble. The first signs of that process have now begun to surface in a big way, and the sign I have in mind—the same marker that provided the first warning of previous energy bubbles—is a shift in the rhetoric surrounding renewable energy sources.

Broadly speaking, there are two groups of people who talk about renewable energy these days. The first group consists of those people who believe that of course sun and wind can replace fossil fuels and enable modern industrial society to keep on going into the far future. The second group consists of people who actually live with renewable energy on a daily basis. It’s been my repeated experience for years now that people belong to one of these groups or the other, but not to both. As a general rule, in fact, the less direct experience a given person has living with solar and wind power, the more likely that person is to buy into the sort of green cornucopianism that insists that sun, wind, and other renewable resources can provide everyone on the planet with a middle class American lifestyle.

Conversely, those people who have the most direct knowledge of the strengths and limitations of renewable energy—those, for example, who live in homes powered by sunlight and wind, without a fossil fuel-powered grid to cover up the intermittency problems—generally have no time for the claims of green cornucopianism, and are the first to point out that relying on renewable energy means giving up a great many extravagant habits that most people in today’s industrial societies consider normal. Debates between members of these two groups have enlivened quite a few comment pages here on The Archdruid Report. Of late, though—more specifically, since the COP-21 summit last December came out with yet another round of toothless posturing masquerading as a climate agreement—the language used by the first of the two groups has taken on a new and unsettling tone.

Climate activist Naomi Oreskes helped launch that new tone with a diatribe in the mass media insisting that questioning whether renewable energy sources can power industrial society amounts to “a new form of climate denialism.” The same sort of rhetoric has begun to percolate all through the greenward end of things: an increasingly angry insistence that renewable energy sources are by definition the planet’s only hope, that of course the necessary buildout can be accomplished fast enough and on a large enough scale to matter, and that no one ought to be allowed to question these articles of faith.

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Oct 202015
 
 October 20, 2015  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Hans Behm Windy City tourists at Monroe Street near State 1908

Another Quarter Of Remarkably Precise China GDP Growth Data (Reuters)
China’s Better-Than-Expected GDP Prompts Skepticism From Economists (WSJ)
Chinese Economists Have No Faith In 7% Growth ‘Target’ (Zero Hedge)
China’s Capital Outflows Top $500 Billion (FT)
China Heads For Record Crude Buying Year (Reuters)
Britain’s Love Affair With China Comes At A Price (AEP)
The Perfect Storm That Brought Britain’s Steel Industry To Its Knees (Telegraph)
Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse Set to Scale Back Global Ambitions (Bloomberg)
Wal-Mart Puts The Squeeze On Suppliers To Share Its Pain (Reuters)
Brazil’s Corruption Crackdown Can’t Be Stopped (Bloomberg)
US Supreme Court May Weigh In on a Student Debt Battle (Bloomberg)
New Canada PM Justin Trudeau: Out of Father’s Shadow and Into Power (Bloomberg)
Farewell Fossil Fools – Harper And Abbott Both Dispatched (CS)
Death by Fracking (Chris Hedges)
Is There A War Crime In What The Dutch Safety Board Is Broadcasting? (Helmer)
Stranded in Cold Rain, a Logjam of Refugees in the Balkans (NY Times)
Without Safe Access To Asylum, Refugees Will Keep Risking Their Lives (Crawley)
Merkel In Turkey: Trade-Offs And Refugees (Boukalas)
Greek Coast Guard Rescues 2,561 Migrants Over The Weekend (AP)

Maybe Beijing is just very good at predicting.

Another Quarter Of Remarkably Precise China GDP Growth Data (Reuters)

China GDP releases are starting to look like near-perfect landings each and every time, in all kinds of weather conditions and visibility. Yet another quarter has just gone by – literally less than three weeks ago – and already statisticians have reported that growth slowed a tiny sliver from Beijing’s 2015 target of 7% recorded for the first half of the year. Now it’s 6.9%, slightly above the Reuters consensus forecast from 50 economists of 6.8%. It is difficult to understate just how precise such figures are in the grand scheme of economic data reporting. It is also difficult to ignore just how remarkable this stability is considering the Chinese authorities are trying to rebalance the entire economy away from reliance on exporting manufacturing goods toward domestic consumer spending.

And that worry about a Chinese growth slowdown was one of the main reasons cited by the U.S. Federal Reserve for holding off last month on its first rate rise in nearly a decade. That’s also not to mention that China growth concerns dominated the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s latest meetings in Lima, Peru. In the past three years, Chinese GDP data as reported have only missed the Reuters Polls consensus three times, and on each occasion it was because the reported growth figure beat by just 0.1 percentage point. For the periods of Q4 2013 through to Q1 of this year, the reported figure was exactly on forecast.

Other large and important global economies are nowhere near as accurate. U.S. growth data have taken even the most pessimistic forecaster completely off guard on several occasions since the financial crisis, most recently in the first quarter of last year. The initial report for Q1 GDP this year also matched the lowest forecast. Initial U.S. growth data have only actually been reported exactly in line with expectations three times in the last half decade. It seems implausible that economists, who are often widely panned as a group for failing to predict economic turning points, are uncannily able to nail Chinese GDP within a few tiny slivers of a percentage point each and every time.

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Not much use trying to analyze something so obvious.

China’s Better-Than-Expected GDP Prompts Skepticism From Economists (WSJ)

Within minutes of China’s publishing its rosier-than-expected numbers, a wave of skepticism emanated from economists over the accuracy of the official 6.9% third-quarter growth figure. Economists’ doubts centered in part on the apparent disconnect between the headline figure and the underlying data. Both exports and imports declined during the third quarter, and industrial production was weaker than expected. Factories have seen 43 consecutive months of falling prices and—despite a flood of government infrastructure spending—fixed-asset investment decelerated in September. While retail sales and services have held up, and new lending data in September point to a pickup in demand, these factors haven’t been enough to offset the parade of negative data, economists said.

“When you look at the numbers, it’s not entirely easy to see how GDP growth held up so well,” said Société Générale CIB economist Klaus Baader. The weak reports leading up to Monday’s GDP release had strengthened the impression that China is increasingly under siege to reach its 2015 growth target of about 7%, which already would be its slowest pace in a quarter century. Economists say the world’s second-largest economy is far from collapsing, though a number of them say they believe actual growth is one or two percentage points below the official figure. China’s official growth statistics have long been viewed with skepticism. Although the methodology has improved exponentially since the days of the 1958-61 Great Leap Forward, when cadres were encouraged to inflate production statistics to please Chairman Mao, many say there is still a focus on reaching a predetermined number, even when underlying conditions change.

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Much better index, and Pettis explaining how China is both much worse and not all that bad (I disagree).

Chinese Economists Have No Faith In 7% Growth ‘Target’ (Zero Hedge)

Earlier today in “The Truth Behind China’s GDP Mirage: Economic Growth Slows To 1999 Levels”, we pointed out that Beijing may be habitually understating inflation for domestic output, which has the effect of making “real” GDP less “real” than nominal GDP. This is what we’ve called the “deficient deflator math” problem and it raises questions about whether China is netting out import prices when they calculate the deflator. If they’re not, then the NBS is likely overstating GDP during periods of rapidly declining commodities prices. If Beijing is indeed understating the deflator it’s not entirely clear that it’s their fault, as robust statistical systems take time to implement, especially across an economy the size of China’s.

That said, there are plenty of commentators who believe that the practice of overstating GDP is policy and exists with or without an understated deflator. Put simply: quite a few people think China is simply lying about its economic output. To be sure, there’s ample evidence to suggest that Beijing’s critics are right. After all, the Li Keqiang index doesn’t appear to be consistent with the numbers coming out of the NBS and the degree to which the data tracks the Communist party’s “target” is rather suspicious (and that’s putting it nicely).

In effect, everyone is perpetually in an awkward scenario when it comes to Chinese GDP data. Economists are forced to “predict” a number that they know is gamed and while that’s pretty much always the case across economies (just see “double adjusted” US GDP data for evidence), with China it’s arguably more blatant than it is anywhere else, and one could run up a pretty impressive track record simply by betting with Beijing’s “target.” It’s with all of this in mind that we bring you the following clip from University of Peking economist Michael Pettis, whose outlook is apparently far more dour than his compatriots:

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I can’t see how or why this would stop.

China’s Capital Outflows Top $500 Billion (FT)

Capital outflows from China topped $500bn in the first eight months of this year, according to new calculations by the US Treasury that highlight the shifting fortunes in the global economy. The outflows, which peaked at about $200bn during the market turmoil in August according to the estimates released on Monday, have also contributed to a shift by Washington in its assessment of the valuation of China’s currency, the renminbi. In its latest semi-annual report to Congress on the global economy, the US Treasury dropped its previous assessment that the renminbi was “significantly undervalued”. Instead, the Treasury said the Chinese currency was “below its appropriate medium-term valuation”. “Given economic uncertainties, volatile capital flows and prospects for slower growth in China, the near-term trajectory of the RMB is difficult to assess,” Treasury economists wrote.

“However, our judgment is that the RMB remains below its appropriate medium-term valuation.” The new language reflects the cautious welcome that the Obama administration has given to Beijing’s efforts in recent months to prop up the renminbi since China announced on August 11 that it would allow a greater role for the market in setting the currency’s exchange rate. It is also a sign of the recognition in Washington that even as it believes China’s currency should strengthen in the longer term, in the short term the renminbi is facing downward pressures because of several factors including what amount to historic outflows from China and other emerging economies. “Market factors are exerting downward pressure on the RMB at present, but these are likely to be transitory,” the Treasury said. Among those factors, Treasury economists wrote, was the unwinding of carry trades betting on the appreciation of the renminbi.

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Q: what will happen to prices when Chinese storage has filled up its teapots?

China Heads For Record Crude Buying Year (Reuters)

As China closes in on the US as the world’s biggest crude oil importer, demand from private refiners and stockpiling of cheap oil is expected to keep imports at record levels after a wobble in the third quarter. Despite slower growth in recent months – crude imports rose just 1.3% in September on a year earlier – buying for October-November delivery has picked up strongly, traders and analysts say. The purchases will ease concerns of a sharp slowdown in Chinese buying and support prices in coming months, analysts said. The increased buying has shown up in tanker movements and freight rates, said Energy Aspects analyst Virendra Chauhan, and analysts are upgrading earlier forecasts for second half growth. “Despite a slowing Chinese economy, crude imports remain robust on the back of accelerated stockpiling activities into operating and commercial storage,” said Wendy Yong, analyst at oil consultancy FGE.

Since July, China has also granted nearly 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude import quotas to small refiners, known as “teapots”, or roughly 10% of China’s current total imports, as part of efforts to boost competition and attract private investment, creating a new source of demand. “The teapots are super-active,” said one oil trader, with many racing to fill their new quotas. And state-owned refiners are restocking after a third-quarter lull. Unipec, the trading arm of Asia’s top refiner Sinopec, bought 6 million barrels of North Sea Forties crude and 2.9 million barrels of Russian ESPO for loading this month, and it has also stepped up Angolan crude purchases for November. To accommodate the oil, new storage tanks on southern Hainan island have either been put to use or are due to be filled with crude from end-2015.

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Something to do with licking certain body parts.

Britain’s Love Affair With China Comes At A Price (AEP)

It is a sobering experience to travel through eastern China with a British passport. Again and again you run into historic sites that were burned, shelled or sacked by British forces in the 19th century. The incidents are described in unflattering detail on Mandarin placards for millions of Chinese national pilgrims, spiced with emotional accounts of the Opium Wars. The crown jewel of this destructive march was the Summer Palace of the Chinese emperors outside Beijing, looted of its Qing Dynasty treasures by Lord Elgin in 1860, and burned to ground. It was a reprisal for the murder of 18 envoys by the Chinese court, but the exact “casus belli” hardly matters anymore. The defilement lives on in the collective Chinese mind as a high crime against the nation, the ultimate symbol of humiliation by the West.

The Communist Party has carefully nurtured the grievance under its “patriotic education” drive. David Marsh, from the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, says Britain’s leaders are implicitly atoning for a colonial past by rolling out the red carpet this week for Chinese President Xi Jinping, and biting their tongue on human rights. They are acknowledging that British officialdom is in no fit position to lecture anybody in Beijing. The exact line between good manners and kowtowing is hard to define, but George Osborne came close to crossing it on his trade mission to China last month, earning plaudits from the state media for his “pragmatism” and deference. But as the Chancellor retorted, you have to take risks in foreign policy. Moral infantilism is for the backbenches. “China is what it is,” he said.

The proper question for David Cameron and Mr Osborne is whether they have accurately judged the diplomatic and commercial trade-off in breaking ranks with other Western allies and throwing open the most sensitive areas of the British economy to Chinese expansion, and whether they will reap much in return. The US Treasury was deeply irritated when the Chancellor defied Washington and signed up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), China’s attempt to create an Asian rival to the Bretton Woods institutions controlled by the West. Mr Osborne was correct on the substance. Congress acted foolishly in trying to smother the AIIB in its infancy and stem the rise of China as a financial superpower. It was tantamount to treating the country as an enemy, an approach that soon becomes self-fulfilling.

The AIIB is exactly what is needed to recycle China’s trade surpluses back into the world economy, just as the US Marshall Plan recycled American surpluses in the 1950s. The problem is that Britain carelessly undercut a close ally, putting immediate mercantilist interests ahead of a core strategic relationship. Anglo-American ties are now at their lowest ebb for years, a risky state of affairs at a time when the UK faces a showdown with the European Union.

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Overinvestment.

The Perfect Storm That Brought Britain’s Steel Industry To Its Knees (Telegraph)

Britain’s steel industry is caught in a “perfect storm”, ravaged by global economics and politics, reducing an industry that once led the world to a mere bit player on the global stage. Just 12m tonnes of the metal that is a basic raw material for the modern world were produced in the UK in 2013, according to the World Steel Association, out of a global total of 1.65bn. In 1983 this figure was 15m tonnes out of a total 663bn. However, the number of people employed making the metal in Britain has dropped from 38,000 in 1994 to less than 18,000 today. While productivity improvements account for some of the decline, with worldwide demand more doubling than in a generation, there are other factors that are inflicting a much heavier toll on the industry. Globalisation is the main one, according to Chris Houlden at commodities analyst CRU.

“The issue facing UK steel has been developing since the financial crisis,” he says. “Demand for steel in Britain and the EU has fallen and not recovered and there’s persistent global overcapacity.” While things weren’t all sunshine and roses ahead of the crash – the sector faced the universal pressures to find efficiencies and savings – Britain’s steel industry could function successfully with the growing global economy gobbling up available output, led by China’s burgeoning growth. Today things are different. Beijing is pencilling in annual growth of about 7pc, half the rate seen in heady pre-crisis times as its economy industrialised, placing huge demand on the country’s steel mills to turn out the beams and sheets needed for machines and construction.

Thanks to heavy investment in its steel industry, China is now responsible for half of the world’s steel output – up from 10pc a decade ago – and is reluctant to let it go to waste. As a result, China’s mills are dumping excess output abroad, and the country’s overcapacity is estimated to be 250m tonnes a year. “China’s production is not abating,” says Peter Brennan, European editor at steel industry data provider Platts. “You might have thought they would cut capacity but in a country where industry is effectively government controlled, it’s not happened. In what’s arguably a more unstable society, the government has no intention of cutting masses of jobs.”

The sentiment is echoed by the International Steel Statistics Bureau. “It would take a major reversal of the slowdown in the Chinese economy to prevent them pushing steel abroad,” says ISSB commercial manager Steve Andrews. “That’s why they are looking externally. There’s not the political will to remove capacity. They have taken some of the old and highly polluting plants out as they look at improving air quality but a lot of their stuff is big and modern.” The result is cheap steel coming on to the market, pushing prices down. But it’s not just China that is dumping output. “China is not unique,” says Houlden. “There’s low to no growth in a lot of other major steel producers such as Brazil and Russia, so they are doing it, too. Japan, the world’s second largest producer, is also looking to export more steel.”

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All banks are in deep shit.

Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse Set to Scale Back Global Ambitions (Bloomberg)

Europe’s last global banks are caving in to pressure from regulators and preparing to tell investors just how much their aspirations will shrink. “The European banks were too long holding onto the past and not realizing that this change is for good – it’s permanent,” said Oswald Gruebel, a former chief executive officer of both UBS and Credit Suisse. “The main reason for reducing global investment banking is that with the capital requirements which the regulators put on these banks, you cannot make any decent return.” Deutsche Bank announced sweeping management changes on Sunday, less than two weeks before co-CEO John Cryan will present his plans to scale back the trading empire built by his predecessor.

On Wednesday, Tidjane Thiam will probably reveal a strategy to prune Credit Suisse’s investment bank in favor of wealth management. Barclays, BNP Paribas and Standard Chartered are also trimming operations. Europe’s global lenders are struggling to adapt to rising capital requirements, record-low interest rates and shrinking opportunities for growth. Their retrenchment risks further squeezing lending to economies in the region and handing more business to U.S. competitors, which were quicker to raise capital levels and are benefiting from growth at home. “Everything that’s being done should have been done years ago,” said Barrington Pitt Miller at Janus Capital in Denver. “The European muddle-through scenario has been proven not to be a terribly good one.”

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Very predictable, and very blind too: “..Wal-Mart believes it can grow sales by 3 to 4% a year over the next three years..”

Wal-Mart Puts The Squeeze On Suppliers To Share Its Pain (Reuters)

Suppliers of everything from groceries to sports equipment are already being squeezed for price cuts and cost sharing by Wal-Mart. Now they are bracing for the pressure to ratchet up even more after a shock earnings warning from the retailer last week. The discount store behemoth has always had a reputation for demanding lower prices from vendors but Reuters has learned from interviews with suppliers and consultants, as well as reviewing some contracts, that even by its standards Wal-Mart has been turning up the heat on them this year. “The ground is shaking here,” said Cameron Smith, head of Cameron Smith & Associates, a major recruiting firm for suppliers located close to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. “Suppliers are going to have to help Wal-Mart get back on track.”

For the vendors, dealing with Wal-Mart has always been tough because of its size – despite recent troubles it still generates more than $340 billion of annual sales in the U.S. That accounts for more than 10% of the American retail market, excluding auto and restaurant sales, and the company increasingly sells a lot overseas too. To risk having brands kicked off Wal-Mart’s shelves because of a dispute over pricing can badly hurt a supplier. On Wednesday, Wal-Mart stunned Wall Street by forecasting that its earnings would decline by as much as 12% in its next fiscal year to January 2017 as it struggles to offset rising costs from increases in the wages of its hourly-paid staff, improvements in its stores, and investments to grow online sales.

This at a time when it faces relentless price competition from Amazon.com, dollar stores and regional supermarket chains. Keeping the prices it pays suppliers as low as it can is essential if it is to start to claw back some of this cost hit to its margins. Helped by investments to spruce up stores and boost worker pay, Wal-Mart believes it can grow sales by 3 to 4% a year over the next three years, or by as much as $60 billion, offering suppliers new opportunities to boost their own revenues.

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Here’s hoping.

Brazil’s Corruption Crackdown Can’t Be Stopped (Bloomberg)

In a continent of peacocks, Brazilian federal judge Sergio Moro makes an unlikely celebrity. Laconic and poker-faced, he has little time for the spotlight, and yet his name is emblazoned on t-shirts and protest banners, and splashed across social media. Why the fuss? Check out the 13th federal district court, where Moro has presided over the largest corruption investigation in the country’s history, sent muckety-mucks to jail and helped restore civic pride in a land where too often justice has been honored in the breach. So after the Brazilian Supreme Court ruled last month to take a high-profile defendant named by witnesses in the landmark Petrobras case away from the 13th district, worried citizens hit the streets. Is the so-called Operation Carwash investigation into looting at the state oil company in danger of getting derailed, as some claim?

Brazil’s white-collar crooks should be so lucky. True, the scope of the scam at Latin America’s biggest corporation might never have come to light had it not been for the 43-year-old judge, who specializes in money-laundering cases, and a dedicated cadre of prosecutors. From their base in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil, investigators exposed what Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot called a “complex criminal organization” bent on skimming money from padded supply contracts with Petrobras into political coffers. But getting to Curitiba took the collaboration of the best minds in public service, from the federal police to the Finance Ministry’s financial intelligence unit. That web of sleuths and wonks is the best assurance that the effort to shut down Brazil’s most brazen political crime ring will carry on, no matter who holds the gavel.

The probe began when federal police watching a gas station and one-time car wash (hence the name) in the nation’s capital uncovered a money-changing scheme to spirit gains overseas. The public prosecutor’s office took up the chase and, tapping into finance ministry data, followed the money trail to Petrobras. Janot took the investigation across the Atlantic, where Swiss prosecutors found evidence pointing to the head of Brazil’s lower house, as well as to corporate leaders. Some of Brazil’s biggest oil and construction executives are behind bars, and dozens of politicians are under investigation, including the head of the senate. And despite recently ruling to spin off parts of the investigation, the Supreme Court has consistently buttressed Moro’s authority in the past.

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“One in four borrowers is either delinquent or in default on his or her student loans.”

US Supreme Court May Weigh In on a Student Debt Battle (Bloomberg)

Mark Tetzlaff is a 57-year-old recovering alcoholic who has been convicted of victim intimidation and domestic abuse. He may also be the person with the best shot at upending the way U.S. courts treat student debt for bankrupt borrowers. Tetzlaff has spent three years battling lawyers for the Department of Education over the right to have his student loans canceled in bankruptcy. On Thursday, he appealed his case to the Supreme Court. If the nation’s highest court takes the case on, it will be one of the rare occasions when it has addressed the $1.3 trillion pile of student debt held by 41 million Americans. Tezlaff also got a new attorney after representing himself for most of his case. The lawyer, Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, successfully argued part of the landmark June case that made same-sex marriage a legal right in all 50 states.

Hallward-Driemeier and his team have asked the court to clarify 1970s-era rules that prevent borrowers from getting rid of education debt in bankruptcy, except in cases in which repaying it would constitute an “undue hardship.” Lawmakers never fully defined “undue hardship,” leaving it to the courts to define these special, and rare, circumstances in individual cases. Tetzlaff has said that the standard being applied to his case is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court may be tempted to consider the case partly because it would be able to resolve a split between federal courts in their interpretation of the law, according to court documents. Courts disagree mainly on which of two tests should be used to determine whether someone can erase his or her debt in bankruptcy.

The so-called Brunner test is used in most federal courts and was applied in Tetzlaff’s case. It is the strictest version of the standard because it requires debtors to prove that they have diligently tried to repay their loans, that making any payments would deprive them of a “minimal” standard of living, and that the hardship affecting them today will persist long into the future. Over the past two decades, lawyers arguing on behalf of the government have further pushed courts to take the most stringent view of each one of those components. Tezlaff’s legal team has said the Supreme Court should instead apply a less harsh alternative to the Brunner test, known as the “totality of the circumstances” test, which has been gaining ground in courts across the country.

[..] It would be hard to overstate the significance of this case for people struggling with student debt. Student loans are the largest source of consumer debt aside from mortgages. The total amount of outstanding student debt is expected to double to $2.5 trillion in the next decade. One in four borrowers is either delinquent or in default on his or her student loans.

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Surprisingly nice write-up of Trudeau for Bloomberg. I wish Justin well, but Canada’s in for very hard times.

New Canada PM Justin Trudeau: Out of Father’s Shadow and Into Power (Bloomberg)

As a young man, Justin Trudeau continually sought respite from his father’s long shadow. He debated in university as Jason Tremblay, boxed as Justin St. Clair and eventually settled on Canada’s west coast – as far in Canada as he could get from being Pierre Trudeau’s eldest and still be close to great skiing. Now 43, he has come full circle, reviving a moribund Liberal Party to a solid majority amid a new wave of the Trudeaumania that swept his father to power in 1968. In ousting Stephen Harper Monday, he becomes the country’s first inter-generational prime minister and gets to move back into his childhood home. Trudeau campaigned on a brand of optimism, transparency and youthful energy – while promising government activism to stimulate a weak economy and address middle class anxiety over income inequality and retirement security.

In contrast to the departing Harper, he will run deficits willingly, reduce Canada’s combat role against the Islamic State and get behind the Iran nuclear deal. He’ll also rule out the purchase of F-35 fighters in favor of more spending on the navy and join President Barrack Obama in Paris in pushing for aggressive action on climate change. He is, in many ways, the happy faced anti-Harper. Trudeau’s political role model is not so much his beloved “papa,” whose public persona over 15 years as prime minister mixed charisma and aloofness, but his maternal grandfather, Jimmy Sinclair, a consummate glad-handing, baby-kissing Scottish immigrant to Canada and Rhodes scholar.

It was no accident that Trudeau held his final campaign event Sunday night in the Vancouver constituency his grandfather represented from 1940 to 1958. “I’m not sure if love of campaigning has any kind of genetic component, but if it does, I can trace my passion for it straight back to grandpa,” he told an enthusiastic crowd on what was the birthday of both his father and his eldest son, eight-year-old Xavier James, named for Sinclair. “He loved knocking on doors, getting out, meeting with people, taking the time to really listen to what they had to say. It’s his style that I’ve adopted as my own.”

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“Both of them had a penchant for using precisely the same words to describe the country’s future as an “Energy Superpower”.

Farewell Fossil Fools – Harper And Abbott Both Dispatched (CS)

The prospects for the forthcoming global climate conference to be held in Paris later this year have received a significant diplomatic boost. The two developed world leaders most intent on undermining the conference – Australia’s Tony Abbott and Canada’s Stephen Harper – have been dispatched to the political wilderness. Based on early Canadian election vote counting Monday night, Harper’s Conservative Party look set to lose office, with the centrist Liberals having been declared the winner of 173 seats at the time of writing and projected to win 184 of the 338 lower house seats (according to Canada’s Globe and Mail), giving them the ability to rule in their own right. The Conservatives have suffered big losses, with latest counting giving them 92 seats with a projection of 102 seats.

Back in June 2014 when Abbott visited Harper in Canada, the two put on an act of professing concern for climate change while describing a policy that would actually limit carbon emissions as something that would “clobber the economy” in Abbott’s words while being “job killing” in Harper’s words. As Climate Spectator noted in Harper and Abbott: Two fossils fooling no one, what was plainly obvious was that both Harper and Abbott had confused the interests of the coal mining industry (in Abbott’s case) and tar sands (Harper) with the interests of their respective country as a whole.

A year on it appears the two of them had far too narrowly focussed and deeply flawed economic strategies. [..] Harper and Tony Abbott have followed eerily similar strategies. Both of them had a penchant for using precisely the same words to describe the country’s future as an “Energy Superpower”. Unfortunately for them the plummeting price of a barrel of oil and a tonne of coal left them both floundering without a coherent economic narrative for how to drive their respective nations’ future prosperity. They then both resorted in desperation to the bottom of the barrel trying to using fears of terrorism in an attempt to restore their popularity.

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“Resistance will be local. It will be militant. It will defy the rules imposed by the corporate state. It will turn its back on state and NGO environmental organizations. And it will not stop until corporate power is destroyed or we are destroyed.”

Death by Fracking (Chris Hedges)

The maniacal drive by the human species to extinguish itself includes a variety of lethal pursuits. One of the most efficient is fracking. One day, courtesy of corporations such as Halliburton, BP and ExxonMobil, a gallon of water will cost more than a gallon of gasoline. Fracking, which involves putting chemicals into potable water and then injecting millions of gallons of the solution into the earth at high pressure to extract oil and gas, has become one of the primary engines, along with the animal agriculture industry, for accelerating global warming and climate change. The Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers who are profiting from this cycle of destruction will—once clean water is scarce and crop yields decline, once temperatures soar and cities disappear under the sea, once droughts and famines ripple across the globe, once mass migrations begin—surely profit from the next round of destruction.

Collective suicide is a good business, at least until it is complete. It is a pity most of us will not be around to see the power elite go down. [..] The activists are waging a war against a corporate state that is deaf and blind to the rights of its citizens and the imperative to protect the ecosystem. The corporate state, largely to pacify citizens being frog-marched to their own execution, passes environmental laws and regulations that, at best, slow the ongoing environmental destruction. Corporations, which routinely ignore even these tepid restrictions, largely write the laws and legislation designed to regulate their activity. They rewrite them or overturn them as the focus of their exploitation changes. They turn public hearings on local environmental issues into choreographed charades or shut them down if activists succeed in muscling their way into the room to demand a voice.

They dominate the national message through a pliable and bankrupt corporate media and slick public relations. Elected officials are little more than corporate employees, dependent on industry money to stay in office and, when they retire from “public service,” salivating for jobs in the industry. Environmental reform has become a joke on the public. And the Big Green environmental groups are complicit because they rely on donors, at times from the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries; they are silent about the reality of corporate power, largely ineffectual, and part of the fiction of the democratic process. Resistance will be local. It will be militant. It will defy the rules imposed by the corporate state. It will turn its back on state and NGO environmental organizations. And it will not stop until corporate power is destroyed or we are destroyed.

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John Helmer has written a deep-digging and extensive series on the Dutch MH17 report (h/t Yves Smith). I’ve left the topic alone, because Holland was never in a position to write a neutral analysis. From the get-go it was made clear that Russia and the rebels were responsible, proof be damned, because that fitted the overall anti-Russia mood whipped up by US and EU. What’s perhaps most galling is that the question of intent has been taken off the table altogether: whoever shot down the plane, did they do it on purpose? In ignoring that question, the answer is implied, and analysis makes way for propaganda. Victims’ families be damned.

Is There A War Crime In What The Dutch Safety Board Is Broadcasting? (Helmer)

Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, wants it to be very clear that Russia is criminally responsible for the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, 2014; that a Russian-supplied ground-to-air missile, fired on Russian orders from territory under Russian control, exploded lethally to break up the MH17 aircraft in the air, killing everyone on board; and that Russian objections to these conclusions are no more than cover-up and dissimulation for the guilty. Joustra also wants to make sure that no direct evidence for what he says can be tested, not in the report which his agency issued last week; nor in the three Dutch government organs which prepared and analysed the evidence of the victims’ bodies, the aircraft remains, and the missile parts on contract to the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) – the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR), the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI).

So Joustra began broadcasting his version of what he says happened before the release of the DSB report. He then continued in an anteroom of the Gilze-Rijen airbase, where the DSB report was presented to the press; in a Dutch television studio; and on the pages of the Dutch newspapers. But when he and his spokesman were asked today for the evidence for what Joustra has been broadcasting, they insisted that if the evidence isn’t to be found in the DSB report, Joustra’s evidence cannot be released. So, if the evidence for Joustra’s claims cannot be found in the NLR, TMO and NFI reports either, what exactly is Joustra doing – is he telling the truth? Is he broadcasting propaganda? Is he lying? Is he covering up for a crime?

In the absence of the evidence required to substantiate what the DSB chairman is broadcasting, is the likelihood that Joustra is concealing who perpetrated the crime equal to the probability that he is telling the truth? And if there is such a chance that Joustra is concealing or covering up, is this evidence that Joustra may be committing a crime himself? In English law, that may be the crime of perverting the course of justice. In US law, it might be the crime of obstruction of justice. In German law, it might be the crime of Vortäuschung einer Straftat. By the standard of World War II, Joustra’s crime might be propagandizing for the losing side, that’s to say the enemy of the winning side.

When William Joyce, an Anglo-American broadcaster on German radio during the war and known as Lord Haw-Haw, was prosecuted in London in 1945, he was convicted of treason and hanged. The treason indictment said he “did aid and assist the enemies of the King by broadcasting to the King’s subjects propaganda on behalf of the King’s enemies.” The legality of this indictment and the conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.

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They’re going to die like flies.

Stranded in Cold Rain, a Logjam of Refugees in the Balkans (NY Times)

After weeks of warnings about the dangers involved in Europe’s migrant influx, and fears about winter’s arrival, the worries of public officials and humanitarian groups were realized on Monday when thousands of asylum seekers, many of them families with small children, began to back up at crossings and were stranded in a chilly rain. The backups came just two days after Hungary closed its border with Croatia, and occurred as countries on the north end of the Balkan route tightened border controls while states to its south quarreled over how to manage the unabated human flow into Europe.

The logjam followed a month of relative stability across the Balkans and Central Europe, as countries unofficially worked together to create a safe and relatively quick route north and west by transporting asylum seekers by bus or train from one border to the next, where they could exit on their way toward Germany, Sweden and other desired destinations. The arrangement filled the void left by the European Union, which has talked, bickered and failed to come up with a common solution to the problem of accommodating hundreds of thousands of new arrivals, many fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, or repression in places like Eritrea in northern Africa.

A recent effort to stem the flow of migrants by keeping them in Turkey, and preventing them from entering the European Union through Greece, faltered over the weekend, when little progress was reported in talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Turkish leaders. No other plans appear to be on the table, and the safety of the migrants has depended upon the cooperation of the countries along the route, many of them dubious about the migration from the start and resentful that Germany has encouraged it by agreeing to accommodate asylum seekers. That policy by the government of Ms. Merkel has created tensions in Germany, as well, where the weekend stabbing of the politician in charge of refugee affairs in Cologne heightened the polemics surrounding the influx.

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“I could get there and back for just €30. That’s because I’m British. I am not Syrian, Afghan, Palestinian, Iraqi, Somali or Eritrean.”

Without Safe Access To Asylum, Refugees Will Keep Risking Their Lives (Crawley)

I stood in the corner of a dusty cemetery on the Greek island of Lesvos and watched a mother bury her child. As the tiny body of a baby boy wrapped in a white sheet was lifted from the boot of a car, she fell to her knees and howled with pain. The child had slipped from her arms into the cold waters of the Aegean as she made the journey from Turkey to join her husband, who had already travelled to Germany to seek protection from the war that is ravaging their home country, Syria. Her baby should not have died. The journey from Turkey to Lesvos is short and safe. If I wanted to take a ferry trip from the port of Mytiline to Ayvalik on the Turkish coast, the trip would take around an hour. I could get there and back for just €30. That’s because I’m British. I am not Syrian, Afghan, Palestinian, Iraqi, Somali or Eritrean.

I am not required to put my life at risk by paying a smuggler hundreds or even thousands of euros to sit in the bottom of a motorised dingy with 30 or 40 other people to take the exact same journey. I do not need to close my eyes and pray that my children and I will make it to the other side without drowning. After a long summer of protracted negotiations about how to respond to the crisis in the Mediterranean region, this is what European asylum policy still looks like in practice. Although (most) EU member states have reluctantly agreed to redistribute 160,000 of those who have already arrived, there is still no legal route for refugees to enter Europe. And with no hope of a better life at home, thousands of people continue to make the illegal, expensive and potentially dangerous journey across the sea. They know the risks, but the water seems like a better option than the alternatives.

Although Turkey offers temporary protection to Syrian refugees, it is not a signatory to the 1967 Protocol which extends the protection available under the 1951 Refugee Convention to those coming from outside Europe. That means no guaranteed access to employment, education or even basic health care. Conditions for Syrian refugees in Turkey are well documented and known to be deteriorating. There is no prospect that things will improve, no hope for a better future. Those who are not from Syria get nothing. And so they come to Europe. Since the beginning of 2015, more than a quarter of a million people have arrived on Lesvos by sea, and still more are coming. More than 70,000 people arrived in September alone and, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the numbers are set to be even higher for October.

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Cattle trade.

Merkel In Turkey: Trade-Offs And Refugees (Boukalas)

The gilded thrones may have been the perfect expression of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sultanic ambitions but they appeared to make his guest, Angela Merkel, somewhat uncomfortable judging by the customary photographs. Maybe the German chancellor was thinking that such a lavish setting was not appropriate for discussing the fate of thousands of people whose only surviving assets are their bodies, their children and whatever dollars or euros they have managed to save up to pay their traffickers. Maybe Merkel, as she sat in the kind of showy opulence that usually reveals something deeper, was thinking that she was being used by the Turkish president as a propaganda tool, that her presence in Istanbul just a few days before elections in Turkey was giving Erdogan a powerful boost.

Particularly at a time when the Turkish government is facing so many accusations: of waging war against the Kurds and brushing off every proposal for a peace settlement in a bid to appeal to those who want authoritarian rule; of racism and intolerance; of persecuting its political rivals; and of quashing free speech by cracking down on “unorthodox” journalists who don’t propagate the Erdogan narrative. Merkel cannot be unaware of all this, and even if her own advisers failed to brief her 100 Turkish university professors did in an open letter. Let us accept that on a mission during which she was not just representing Germany but the EU as a whole, Merkel decided to strike a concessionary tone for the sake of the issue at hand: the protection of the refugees, or, rather, the stemming of the flow of refugees.

The idea is that the refugee influx will abate not as a result of peace in Syria but by convincing Turkey to be more vigilant of its borders, to accept the creation of camps on its territory where refugees can be identified and documented and to grant passage to Europe to those who are deemed eligible for refugee status. It is a technical solution to a political problem; ergo, no solution at all. Turkey, naturally, did not just demand financial remuneration for its cooperation. It asked that its own people be given easier to access to Europe. And it got it. It asked that its European accession be speeded up even though it has fulfilled only a handful of the 40 criteria. And it was promised this would happen by the most powerful voice in Europe: the German one.

And what about the refugees? If only they had been the main topic of discussion at that meeting. Instead, they will keep drowning. And if the complex war in Syria continues unabated, even the winter will not prevent them from trying to get across.

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Most shocking: nobody’s shocked by dead babies anymore.

Greek Coast Guard Rescues 2,561 Migrants Over The Weekend (AP)

Greece’s coast guard says it has rescued 2,561 people in dozens of incidents in the eastern Aegean over the weekend as Europe’s refugee crisis continues unabated. The coast guard said Monday the rescues occurred in 69 operations from Friday morning until Monday morning near eight Aegean islands. The number doesn’t include those who make it ashore themselves from the nearby Turkish coast, often in overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels. On Sunday, the bodies of two women, a baby and a teenager were recovered near the remote island of KastelLorizo after their vessel overturned, while 12 others were rescued by a passing sailing boat. The deaths came a day after a 7-year-old boy died after falling into the water from a boat carrying 80 people who reached the island of Farmakonisi.

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Aug 192015
 
 August 19, 2015  Posted by at 8:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Lewis Wickes Hine Newsies in St. Louis 1910

Asian Shares Plunge To Two-Year Lows As China Stocks Continue To Fall (Guardian)
Do Markets Determine The Value Of The Renminbi? (Michael Pettis)
China’s Devaluation May Be Bad News For FX Industry (Reuters)
China Shadow Banks Appeal For Government Bailout (FT)
China’s Richest Traders Are Fleeing Stocks as the Masses Pile In (Bloomberg)
US Lacks Ammo for Next Economic Crisis (WSJ)
Abe Aide Says Japan Needs $28 Billion Economic Package (Bloomberg)
Europe, Listen to the IMF and Restructure the Greek Debt (NY Times Ed.)
The Hot Thing for Wall Street Banks: Capital-Relief Trades (WSJ)
Oil Goes Down, Bankruptcies Go Up – The 5 Frackers Next To Fall (Forbes)
Brace For More Dividend Cuts As Canada’s Oil Patch Runs Out Of Cash (Bloomberg)
Brazil’s Political Crisis Puts the Entire Economy on Hold (Bloomberg)
Immigration – Issue of the Century (Patrick J. Buchanan)
Hungary Deploys ‘Border Hunters’ to Keep Illegal Immigrants Out (WSJ)
Europe Struggles To Respond As Migrants Numbers Rise Threefold (Reuters)
Germany May Receive Up To 750,000 Asylum Seekers This Year (Reuters)

Note: Shanghai plunge protection came in in late trading. It ended up 1.23%.

Asian Shares Plunge To Two-Year Lows As China Stocks Continue To Fall (Guardian)

Asian shares on Wednesday struggled at two-year lows after Chinese stocks extended their fall, stoking fears about the stability of China’s economy. The Shanghai Composite Index retreated 3.9% a day after worries that the central bank could be in no hurry to ease policy further pushed it down 6.1%. The plunge dented hopes of Chinese share markets stabilising after Beijing effectively pulled out all the stops to stem the rout. Japan’s Nikkei fell 0.5% and South Korea’s Kospi lost 1.3%. “Investors care about these two things: China’s economy and the timing of a US rate hike. These two concerns dominate their minds now,” said Masaru Hamasaki, head of market and investment information department at Amundi Japan.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slid to a two-year low and was last down 0.1%. Australian stocks bucked the trend and climbed 1.2%. Shares of importers and firms with high US dollar-denominated debt have been under pressure following last week’s yuan devaluation. The spectre of a slowdown in China’s economic growth and a US interest rate hike has hit asset markets in emerging economies hardest. MSCI’s emerging market index fell to its lowest level since October 2011. It has dropped more than 20% from the year’s peak it hit in April. Wall Street shares also retreated overnight, with the S&P 500 sliding 0.26%, pressured by weak earnings from retail giant Wal-Mart.

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Must read from Pettis.

Do Markets Determine The Value Of The Renminbi? (Michael Pettis)

One of the main questions being batted around is whether, under the new system, the value of the RMB is finally going to be determined by the market. If it is, it almost certainly means that the value of the RMB will decline. Why? Because the balance of payments, which is the sum of the current account surplus and the capital account deficit, is in deficit if we exclude PBoC interventions. At current prices there is more RMB selling than there is buying, and the PBoC has to sell reserves and buy RMB in order to keep the currency from depreciating. This, many people argue, proves that the RMB is overvalued. The “market”, they claim, has spoken, and it has told us that the RMB is overvalued. They are wrong. The “market” is not telling us that the RMB is overvalued.

It is telling us only that there is more supply of RMB than there is demand for RMB at the current exchange rate. Because “overvaluation” and “undervaluation” usually refer to the fundamental value of a currency, this excess of supply over demand would only imply an overvaluation of the RMB if supply and demand were driven primarily by economic fundamentals. Excluding central bank intervention, which is mainly a residual contributed automatically by the PBoC to balance supply and demand for foreign currency, all purchases or sales of foreign currency in China can be divided into current account activity, which mostly consists of the trade account, along with other transactions including tourism, royalty payments, interest payments, etc., and capital account activity, which consists of direct investment, portfolio investment, and official flows.

Imbalances in both the current account and the capital account can be driven by economic fundamentals, in which case it might make sense to say that the RMB’s “correct” exchange rate is broadly equal to the clearing price at which supply is equal to demand. In this case if the central bank were to purchase RMB, reserves would decline and it would be reasonable to assume that PBoC intervention would cause the RMB to become overvalued, while PBoC sales of RMB would cause reserves to increase and the RMB to become undervalued. But neither the current account nor the capital account is necessarily driven only by economic fundamentals. As an aside, most people, including unfortunately most economists, typically assume that the current account is independent and the capital account, if they think of it at all, simply adjusts to maintain the balance, but this is an extremely confused way to think about the balance of payments.

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“Her credit markets are fragile and they are unwinding what has been the world’s biggest ever credit boom, and capital outflows are meaningful..”

China’s Devaluation May Be Bad News For FX Industry (Reuters)

China’s currency devaluation should give a shot in the arm to global foreign exchange volumes as traders take advantage of and protect themselves against the surprise surge in volatility, but its longer-term impact on market activity may not be so benign. Investors with longer-term horizons than a day’s trading profit, from pension funds seeking stable returns to companies considering expanding overseas, will be alarmed by the prospect of wild swings in exchange rates triggered by another round of “currency wars”. Former Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega coined the term “currency wars” in 2010. It refers to countries trying to make their exports more competitive – and ultimately boost their growth – at the expense of rivals, by weakening their exchange rates.

Policymakers fear Beijing’s move could accelerate this race to the bottom, particularly as most countries, including those in the developed and industrialized world, have few growth-boosting policy tools left open to them. It’s a worry for a troubled foreign exchange industry. After years of rapid growth, which made it the world’s largest financial market and a money-spinner for big banks, trading volumes are slowly shrinking and jobs are being lost. Tighter regulation, increased automation, greater competition, and a global market-rigging scandal all suggest its glory days are over. The depressive impact on investment of a lengthy currency war would do little to restore its fortunes. “Any prolonged uncertainty in the market resulting from this, and real-money players such as pension and mutual funds will be less inclined to invest,” said Neil Mellor at Bank of New York Mellon.

As analysts at Morgan Stanley point out, China accounts for 21% of the trade-weighted dollar index used by the Federal Reserve. It is the biggest single component of the equivalent euro trade-weighted index at around 23%. So what happens to the yuan has a growing influence on dollar and euro flows. Analysts at Cross Border Capital say China’s credit markets have grown 12-fold since 2000 and are now worth around $25 trillion – roughly the same size as U.S. credit markets. “Her credit markets are fragile and they are unwinding what has been the world’s biggest ever credit boom, and capital outflows are meaningful,” they wrote in a report last month. “China remains the key risk and reward for global investors.” In that, the foreign exchange industry is no exception.

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The 800 pound blind spot in Beijing’s financial Ponzi politics comes back to haunt it.

China Shadow Banks Appeal For Government Bailout (FT)

The collapse of a state-owned credit guarantee company in China’s rust belt has shone a new spotlight on risk from bad debt and moral hazard in the country’s shadow banking system. As China’s economy slows, concerns are mounting over rising defaults, especially on loans from non-bank lenders, which provide credit to risky borrowers at high interest rates. Eleven shadow banks have written an open letter to the top Communist party official in northern China’s Hebei province asking for a bailout that would enable the bankrupt credit guarantee company to continue to backstop loans to borrowers. If the guarantor cannot pay, it could spark defaults on at least 24 high-yielding wealth management products (WMPs).

Analysts worry that a series of bailouts in recent years has encouraged irresponsible lending by fuelling the perception the government will not tolerate default. The latest appeal for a bailout will again force officials to choose between ensuring short-term financial stability or imposing market discipline on investors, which should improve lending practices in the long term. Hebei Financing Investment has guaranteed Rmb50bn ($7.8bn) in loans from nearly 50 financial institutions, according to Caixin, a respected financial magazine. More than half of this total is from non-bank lenders, mainly trust companies, who lent to property developers and factories in overcapacity industries. The letter appeals directly to the government’s concern about social stability and the fear of retail investors protesting the loss of “blood and sweat money”.

The 11 companies sold 24 separate WMPs worth Rmb5.5bn. “The domino effect from the successive and intersecting defaults of these trust products involves a multitude of financial institutions, an immense amount of money, and wide-ranging public interests,” 10 trust companies and a fund manager wrote to Zhao Kezhi, Hebei party secretary. “In order to prevent this incident from inciting panic among common people and creating an unnecessary social influence, we represent more than a thousand investors, more than a thousand families, in asking for a resolution.” Most trust products are distributed through state-owned banks, leaving unsophisticated investors with the impression that the bank and ultimately the government stands behind them, even when the fine print says otherwise.

There has been a series of technical defaults on bonds and high-yield trust products in recent years, but bailouts have shielded retail investors from losses in most if not all cases, often following public protests by angry investors at bank branches. Trust lending has exploded since 2010 amid a pullback by traditional banks. Trusts sell WMPs to investors, marketing the products as a higher-yielding alternative to traditional savings deposits. They use the proceeds for loans to property developers, coal miners and manufacturers in overcapacity sectors to which banks are reluctant to lend. Trust loans outstanding rose from Rmb1.7tn in 2011 to Rmb6.9tn at the end of June. Hebei Financing stopped paying out on all loan guarantees in January, when its chairman was replaced and another state-owned group was appointed as custodian.

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Much of it is fleeing abroad.

China’s Richest Traders Are Fleeing Stocks as the Masses Pile In (Bloomberg)

The wealthiest investors in China’s equity market are heading for the exits. The number of traders with more than 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) of shares in their accounts shrank by 28% in July, even as those with less than 100,000 yuan rose by 8%, according to the nation’s clearing agency. While some of the drop is explained by falling market values, CLSA Ltd. says China’s rich have taken advantage of state buying to cash out after the nation’s record-long bull market peaked in June. Investors with the most at stake are finding fewer reasons to own Chinese shares amid weak corporate earnings and some of the world’s highest valuations.

With this month’s devaluation of the yuan adding to outflow pressures, bulls have started to question whether there’s enough buying power to prop up prices once the government pares back its unprecedented rescue effort – a concern that contributed to the Shanghai Composite Index’s 6% plunge on Tuesday. “The high net worth clients are the ones who moved the market,” Francis Cheung, the head of China and Hong Kong strategy at CLSA, wrote in an e-mail. “They tend to be more savvy.” The median stock on mainland bourses traded at 72 times reported earnings on Monday, more expensive than any of the world’s 10 largest markets. The ratio was 68 at the peak of China’s equity bubble in 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

More than 62% of companies in the Shanghai Composite trailed analysts’ 2014 earnings estimates as the economy expanded at its weakest pace since 1990. Profits at Chinese industrial firms declined by 0.3% in June, versus a 0.6% gain in the previous month. “There is not a lot of fundamental support for the A-share market,” Cheung said. “Earnings are weak.” “This lack of a clear trend in the market causes overreactions by investors” The ranks of investors with at least 10 million yuan in stocks dropped to about 55,000 in July from 76,000 in June. Those with between 1 million yuan and 10 million yuan declined by 22%, according to data compiled by China Securities Depository and Clearing Corp. “Wealthy investors, who have been through bear markets, are better at exiting,” said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

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From Fed mounthpiece Hilsenrath.

US Lacks Ammo for Next Economic Crisis (WSJ)

The U.S. over the past quarter century regularly turned to the Fed to provide stimulus when the economy stumbled. In the most recent recession, short-term interest rates were pushed to near zero, then the central bank embarked on massive—and controversial—bond-buying programs to drive down long-term interest rates. The Fed also promised to keep short-term interest rates low for an extended period. The tactics were meant to make it easier for households to pay off debts, encourage new borrowing and promote risk-taking; officials hoped that would push investment and consumer spending higher.

The next downturn could further expand Fed bondholdings, but with the central bank’s balance sheet already exceeding $4 trillion, there are limits to how much more the Fed can buy. Mr. Bernanke said he was struck by how central banks in Europe recently pushed short-term interest rates into negative territory, essentially charging banks for depositing cash rather than lending it to businesses and households. The Swiss National Bank, for example, charges commercial banks 0.75% interest for money they park, an incentive to lend it elsewhere. Economic theory suggests negative rates prompt businesses and households to hoard cash—essentially, stuff it in a mattress. “It does look like rates can go more negative than conventional wisdom has held,” Mr. Bernanke said.

Others, including Sen. Bob Corker (R.,Tenn.), see only the Fed’s limits. “They have, like, zero juice left,” he said. Many economists believe relief from the next downturn will have to come from fiscal policy makers not the Fed, a daunting prospect given the philosophical divide between the two parties. Republicans doubt federal spending expands the economy, and they seek to shrink rather than grow government. Democrats, meanwhile, say government austerity hobbles the economy, especially in a downturn. At issue is how much the U.S. can afford to borrow and spend to goose the economy out of the next recession. The experience of the past recession has set off sharp disagreement among economists.

Federal debt has grown to 74% of national output, from 39% in 2008. To restrain short-term budget deficits, Congress and the White House agreed earlier this decade on a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. In all, total state, local and federal government spending, adjusted for inflation, shrank 3.3% since the recovery began in 2009, compared with an average increase of 23.5% over comparable periods in past postwar expansions.

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Sure, throw some more oil on the fire.

Abe Aide Says Japan Needs $28 Billion Economic Package (Bloomberg)

Japan needs an economic injection of as much as 3.5 trillion yen ($28 billion) to shore up consumption and stave off a further economic contraction, said Etsuro Honda, an economic adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Households feel their income has been reduced,” Honda, 60, said in an interview Tuesday at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo. “The negative legacy of the previous tax hike is waning, but increases in wages are lower than expected and prices of food and daily commodities are rising.” The world’s third-biggest economy shrank an annualized 1.6% in the three months through June as households and businesses cut spending and exports tumbled.

While the tailwind from the weaker yen and the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented monetary stimulus have helped propel stocks to an eight-year high, consumer confidence has slumped. Honda said a package of 3-3.5 trillion yen is needed to help lower-income households and pensioners. He suggested it should be delivered as subsidies such as child-care support or coupons, rather than spending on public works. Additional spending can be funded from higher-than-expected tax revenues, rather than issuing new government bonds, he said. Economy Minister Akira Amari said Monday he doesn’t expect to add fiscal stimulus, and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda is counting on growth returning this quarter as he pursues a distant 2% inflation target with unprecedented monetary stimulus.

Honda said fiscal stimulus would be more effective than further central bank easing right now because it kicks in quicker. He said additional central bank easing wasn’t needed now, but didn’t rule it out later should inflationary expectations fall. “We should be on alert. There should be some possibility, of course, for the BOJ to pursue its next round” of easing, he said. Honda, a former Ministry of Finance official, has known Abe since they met at a wedding reception around 30 years ago. They played golf together at the weekend.

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Everyone knows what should happen, but that doesn’t mean it will.

Europe, Listen to the IMF and Restructure the Greek Debt (NY Times Ed.)

The IMF is doing the right thing by not participating in a deeply flawed loan agreement that European leaders have negotiated with Greece. Years of misguided economic policies sought by Germany and other creditors have helped to push Greece into a depression, left more than a quarter of its workers unemployed and saddled it with a debt it cannot repay. The latest European attempt to bail out Greece will make the situation even worse by requiring the country’s government to cut spending and raise taxes while increasing the country’s debt to 200% of its GDP, from about 170% now. The IMF, which joined European countries in their first two loan programs for Greece, says it cannot lend more money because Greece’s debt has become unsustainable.

In a statement on Friday, the fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, said Greece’s creditors had to provide “significant debt relief” to the country. Last month, the fund said creditors needed to either reduce the amount of money Greece owes or extend the maturity of that debt by up to 30 years. This is a much tougher position than the IMF has taken before. In 2010, it did not insist that Greek debt be restructured. That was a big mistake because it left Greece with more debt than it had before the crisis and reduced the government’s ability to stimulate the economy. What Ms. Lagarde, a former French finance minister, says matters because European leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany want the fund to be a part of the loan program since it has extensive expertise in dealing with financial crises.

European officials have said only vaguely that they might be willing to consider debt relief. Many lawmakers and voters in other European nations oppose providing more help because they think the Greek government has failed to carry out the economic and fiscal reforms that would make the country more productive. There is no question that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece needs to do more to raise economic growth. But even if he does everything European leaders are asking him to do — a list that includes cutting pensions, simplifying regulations, privatizing state-owned businesses — the country will still not be able to pay back the €300 billion it owes. Rather than go through a messy default in a few years, it is in Europe’s interest to heed the IMF’s advice and restructure Greece’s debt now.

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There are still plenty instruments available to hide risks and losses.

The Hot Thing for Wall Street Banks: Capital-Relief Trades (WSJ)

Faced with new global regulations requiring them to strengthen their capital, big lenders in the U.S. and Europe have turned to a trading tactic that flatters their positions without actually raising extra funds. Banks that have done such “capital-relief trades” include some of the largest in the world: Citigroup, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank and Standard Chartered. But the Office of Financial Research, a U.S. Treasury office created to identify financial-market risks, is suggesting the trades run the risk of “obscuring” whether a bank has adequate capital and pose other “financial stability concerns.” The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve also have also voiced concerns about the trades.

Capital-relief trades are opaque, little-disclosed transactions that make a bank look stronger by reducing its ” risk-weighted” assets. That boosts key ratios that measure the bank’s capital as a%age of those assets, even as capital itself stays at the same level. In a capital-relief trade, a bank can keep a risky asset on the balance sheet, using credit derivatives or securitizations to transfer some of the risk to a hedge fund or other investor. The investor potentially gets extra yield and the credit risk of smaller borrowers in a way it would be hard for them to get otherwise, while the bank gets to remove part of the asset’s value from its closely watched “risk-weighted asset” count. Banks say the trades help them manage their risk, even if they don’t go as far as a bona fide asset sale, and are just one tool among many they are using to meet new capital requirements.

Some say the Office of Financial Research is mischaracterizing the transactions, or that the trades didn’t significantly affect their capital ratios. Bank of America, for example, disclosed $11.6 billion in purchased capital protection in 2014 regulatory filings, but said the impact of the trades on its capital ratios was less than 0.01 %age point. Critics fear the trades can spread risk to unregulated parts of the financial system–just as similar trades did before the financial crisis. “It just seems like another repackaging of risk to mask who’s holding the bag,” said Arthur Wilmarth, a George Washington University law professor and banking expert.

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Pretty funny: “KKR and its partners might at least feel cold comfort that some of their cash is going to a good cause.”

Oil Goes Down, Bankruptcies Go Up – The 5 Frackers Next To Fall (Forbes)

With West Texas Intermediate crude now below $42 a barrel, the edifice of America’s oil and gas boom is finally crumbling. The number of companies in bankruptcy or restructuring has increased, and the clouds will only grow darker in the months ahead. Declining revenues, evaporating earnings and shrinking values of oil and gas reserves will put the crunch on oil companies’ ability to refinance loans, let alone borrow new cash or sell shares. Last week two companies showed that having a heroic name is no defense. Hercules Offshore, a Gulf of Mexico drilling contractor, announced it had reached a prepackaged bankruptcy with creditors to convert $1.2 billion in debt into equity and raise $450 million in new capital.

While Samson Resources on Friday said it is negotiating a restructuring that will see second lien holders inject another $450 million into the company in return for all the equity in the reorganized company. Samson is the biggest bankruptcy of the oil bust so far, and a huge black eye to private equity giant KKR, which in 2011 led a $7.2 billion leveraged buyout of the company. The deal was a classic LBO: about $3 billion in equity backed by more than $4 billion in debt. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Samson, founded in the 1970s by Charles Schusterman, had grown to be one of the biggest privately owned oil companies in the nation. It held vast swaths of acreage in North Dakota, Texas and Louisiana seemingly ripe for redevelopment.

The sophisticated KKR team assumed it could squeeze a lot of value out of Samson, which since Schusterman’s death in 2001 had been run by his daughter Stacy. Charles would be proud of her for inking the deal of a lifetime, selling the family jewels at what turned out to be the top of the market for shale-y acreage. It didn’t take long for KKR and its equity partners to realize they had overpaid tremendously. The pain has been spread around. Japan’s Itochu Corp. put up $1 billion in the LBO for a 25% equity stake. Two months ago it sold back its shares to Samson for $1. KKR and its partners might at least feel cold comfort that some of their cash is going to a good cause. The Schusterman family, led by matriarch Lynn, contributed $2.3 billion of their windfall to the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Foundation, which is devoted to Jewish charities and education projects in Tulsa.

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Dying breaths?!

Brace For More Dividend Cuts As Canada’s Oil Patch Runs Out Of Cash (Bloomberg)

Dividend cuts among Canadian energy producers are poised to accelerate as cost reductions fail to boost shrinking cash flow. Companies from Canadian Oil Sands to Baytex Energy are in line for deeper payout decreases, according to analysts, after Crescent Point Energy Corp. slashed its dividend for the first time last week as crude sank to a six-year low. Just 38% of the 63 energy companies in Canada’s Standard & Poor’s/TSX Energy index had positive free cash flow, defined as operating cash flow minus capital expenditures, as of Aug. 17. That’s down from 43% in 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The dwindling cash flow comes even after Canadian companies joined some US$180 billion in global cutbacks this year, the most since the oil crash of 1986, according to Rystad Energy.

“There’s so much cash being spent on dividends,” said Greg Taylor at Aurion Capital Management in Toronto. “You can get increased cash flow by cutting costs but that’s not a sustainable model. The idea dividends are a sacred cow, that’s being put on the backburner.” Companies most likely to cut their dividends include Canadian Oil Sands, Baytex and Pengrowth Energy, said Sam La Bell at Veritas Investment in a telephone interview in Toronto. All three have already cut their dividends, though Baytex and Pengrowth will become more vulnerable if oil prices remain low as their hedges begin to roll off as soon as the second half of this year, La Bell said.

Canadian Oil Sands, which chopped its payout by 86% in January, may be better off canceling the dividend altogether as it struggles to generate cash, he said. “We know the dividend is important to our investors, but even more so is protecting the long-term value of their investment,” said Siren Fisekci, a spokeswoman at Canadian Oil Sands, in an e-mailed response. “We will continue to consider dividends in the context of crude oil prices and Syncrude operating performance.”

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Wile E.

Brazil’s Political Crisis Puts the Entire Economy on Hold (Bloomberg)

In Brazil, General Motors has been halting factories and laying off thousands. Latam Airlines, the region’s biggest, is cutting flights. And the world’s third-largest planemaker, Embraer, is delaying its biggest new aircraft. In the midst of its deepest economic and political crisis in a generation, Brazil is contending with a business climate so punishing that major projects across numerous sectors are being frozen or shrunk, while small businesses slash prices and shift focus. “Political instability is enormous, and it’s paralyzing Brazil,” said Eduardo Fischer, co-CEO at homebuilder MRV Engenharia, in an Aug. 5 interview. In Brasilia, the nation’s capital, “decisions and actions that need to be taken are being delayed, questioned or defeated, and nothing happens.” Even luncheonettes are hurting.

Carambola’s, a juice and sandwich shop in Sao Paulo’s financial district, saw a 30% drop during lunch starting a couple of months ago. The corner store fired two employees, and closes earlier as customers stop coming in after-hours. “People are bringing lunch from home,” Rafael Bruno da Silva, the afternoon manager, said on a recent day as a lone customer sipped coffee. “We’ve lowered the prices of juice, but it doesn’t seem to be making much of a difference.” Opposition lawmakers and many in the public are calling for the resignation of President Dilma Rousseff, whose popularity has sunk to a record low. The senate and lower house presidents are being investigated in an alleged kickback scheme that funneled money from state-run Petrobras, the world’s most indebted oil company, to political parties in the biggest corruption scandal in history.

On top of that, inflation is above the central bank’s target and unemployment is at a five-year high. Moody’s Investors Service said in a report Monday the economy will contract about 2% in 2015. Brazil’s real is the worst-performing major currency in the world this year. The crisis is reminiscent of the 1990s, when clerks were hired to re-sticker prices at grocery stores throughout the day because of hyperinflation. For others, it is a new and frightening experience. “Younger generations haven’t lived through any volatility,” said Fernando Perlatto, a professor of sociology at the federal university of Juiz de Fora. “That contributes to uncertainty. People are cutting costs, not getting married, and such. At the university, we’re not booking any conferences, trips or academic events.”

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A view from the right.

Immigration – Issue of the Century (Patrick J. Buchanan)

“Trump’s immigration proposals are as dangerous as they are stunning,” railed amnesty activist Frank Sharry. “Trump … promises to rescind protections for Dreamers and deport them. He wants to redefine the constitutional definition of U.S. citizenship as codified by the 14th Amendment. He plans to impose a moratorium on legal immigration.” While Sharry is a bit hysterical, he is not entirely wrong. For the six-page policy paper, to secure America’s border and send back aliens here illegally, released by Trump last weekend, is the toughest, most comprehensive, stunning immigration proposal of the election cycle. The Trump folks were aided by people around Sen. Jeff Sessions who says Trump’s plan “reestablishes the principle that America’s immigration laws should serve the interests of its own citizens.”

The issue is joined, the battle lines are drawn, and the GOP will debate and may decide which way America shall go. And the basic issues — how to secure our borders, whether to repatriate the millions here illegally, whether to declare a moratorium on immigration into the USA — are part of a greater question. Will the West endure, or disappear by the century’s end as another lost civilization? Mass immigration, if it continues, will be more decisive in deciding the fate of the West than Islamist terrorism. For the world is invading the West. A wild exaggeration? Consider. Monday’s Washington Post had a front-page story on an “escalating rash of violent attacks against refugees,” in Germany, including arson attacks on refugee centers and physical assaults.

Burled in the story was an astonishing statistic. Germany, which took in 174,000 asylum seekers last year, is on schedule to take in 500,000 this year. Yet Germany is smaller than Montana. How long can a geographically limited and crowded German nation, already experiencing ugly racial conflict, take in half a million Third World people every year without tearing itself apart, and changing the character of the nation forever? Do we think the riots and racial wars will stop if more come? And these refugees, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are not going to stop coming to Europe. For they are being driven across the Med by wars in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, by the horrific conditions in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, by the Islamist terrorism of the Mideast and the abject poverty of the sub-Sahara.

According to the U.N., Africa had 1.1 billion people by 2013, will double that to 2.4 billion by 2050, and double that to 4.2 billion by 2100. How many of these billions dream of coming to Europe? When and why will they stop coming? How many can Europe absorb without going bankrupt and changing the continent forever? Does Europe have the toughness to seal its borders and send back the intruders? Or is Europe so morally paralyzed it has become what Jean Raspail mocked in “The Camp of the Saints”? The blazing issue in Britain and France is the thousands of Arab and African asylum seekers clustered about Calais to traverse the Eurotunnel to Dover. The Brits are on fire. Millions want out of the EU. They want to remain who they are.

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The ugly side of the response.

Hungary Deploys ‘Border Hunters’ to Keep Illegal Immigrants Out (WSJ)

Hungary’s government said Tuesday it will deploy police units of “border hunters” at its frontier with Serbia to keep illegal immigrants out of the country amid a flood of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. The head of the prime minister’s office said several thousand police will be placed along Hungary’s 175-kilometer border with non-European Union member Serbia, where most of the migrants enter the country. Hungary “is under siege from human traffickers,” Janos Lazar told a press briefing, adding that the police “will defend this stretch of our borders with force.” The government will also tighten punishments for illegal border crossing and human trafficking, steps aimed at “defending the country,” he said.

“[Migrants’] demands to be let in to then take advantage of the EU’s asylum system are on the rise, aggressiveness is increasing. Police have seen that on several occasions,” Mr. Lazar added. The majority of the migrants, whom the government labels as illegal immigrants, are refugees from war-torn Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, according to human-rights groups. Hungary has registered some 120,000 asylum requests so far this year, an increase of almost 200% from last year. This year’s total could reach 300,000, the country said last week. “Hungary is joining Italy and Greece as the member states most exposed, on the front line” of migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner in charge of migration, said Friday.

Last week, Hungary requested €8 million from the European Commission in emergency assistance to expand its capacities to house migrants. Brussels will treat the request without delay, Mr. Avramopoulos said. With an estimated 4,500 migrants housed in its overflowing immigration camps, Hungary is a transit country for the vast majority of the migrants. Once in Hungary—and thus within the EU’s Schengen zone where internal borders aren’t guarded—the migrants typically travel on to countries such as Germany and Sweden. Hungary is now building a double fence on its border with Serbia to reduce the number of migrants crossing the border through woods and meadows.

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Europe is in desperate need of leadership on the issue, but there ain’t none.

Europe Struggles To Respond As Migrants Numbers Rise Threefold (Reuters)

More than three times as many migrants were tracked entering the European Union by irregular means last month than a year ago, official data showed on Tuesday, many of them landing on Greek islands after fleeing conflict in Syria. While the increase recorded by the European Union’s border control agency Frontex may be partly due to better monitoring, it highlighted the scale of a crisis that has led to more than 2,000 deaths this year as desperate migrants take to rickety boats. Italian police said they had arrested eight suspected human traffickers that they said had reportedly forced migrants to stay in the hold of a fishing boat in the Mediterranean as 49 of them suffocated on engine fumes.

Some of those traffickers were accused of kicking the heads of the migrants when they tried to climb out of the hold as the air became unbreathable, prosecutor Michelangelo Patane told a news conference in Catania, Sicily. The dead migrants were discovered last weekend, packed into a fishing boat also carrying 312 others trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy from North Africa. It was the third mass fatality in the Mediterranean this month: last week, up to 50 migrants were unaccounted for when their rubber dinghy sank, a few days after some 200 were presumed dead when their boat capsized off Libya.

Greece appealed to its European Union partners to come up with a comprehensive strategy to deal with what new data showed were 21,000 refugees landed on Greek shores last week alone. A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in Geneva said the European Union should help Greece but that Athens, which is struggling with a debt crisis, also needed to show ‘much more leadership’ on the issue. Greek officials said they needed better coordination within the European Union. “This problem cannot be solved by imposing stringent legal processes in Greece, and, certainly, not by overturning the boats,” said government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili. Nor could it be addressed by building fences, she said.

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Merkel’s inaction now leads to her being completely overwhelmed. That’s her fault, her failure.

Germany May Receive Up To 750,000 Asylum Seekers This Year (Reuters)

Germany expects up to 750,000 people to seek asylum this year, a business daily cited government sources as saying, up from a previous estimate of 450,000, as some cities say they already cannot cope and hostility towards migrants surges in some areas. The influx has driven the issue of asylum seekers high up Germany’s political agenda. Chancellor Angela Merkel has tried to address fears among some voters that migrants will eat up taxpayers’ money and take their jobs. The number of attacks on refugee shelters has soared this year. The interior ministry declined to comment on the figures reported in the Handelsblatt but is set to issue its latest predictions this week. Its previous estimate for asylum applications in 2015 was already double those recorded in 2014.

Germany is the biggest recipient of asylum seekers in the European Union, which has been overwhelmed by refugees fleeing war and poverty in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. There is also a flood of asylum seekers from Balkan countries. Almost half of the refugees who came to Germany in the first half of the year came from southeast Europe. Along with a shortage of refugee lodgings in cities including Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, Germany also struggles to process applications, which can take over a year. Merkel has long said this must be accelerated.

On Tuesday, the finance ministry seconded 50 customs officials to the National Office for Migration and Refugees for six months to get through the backlog. After Germany, Sweden is the next most generous recipient of asylum seekers in Europe. In 2014, it recorded 81,200 application and anti-immigration sentiment is on the rise.

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 April 23, 2015  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Camp Meade, Maryland 1917

Half of US Fracking Companies Will Be Dead or Sold This Year (Bloomberg)
The ‘Grexit’ Issue And The Problem Of Free Trade (Stratfor)
If Greece Can Survive 2015, It’s Home Free (MarketWatch)
Greek Banks Win More Emergency Cash as Talks Loom (Bloomberg)
Greece: Of Parents And Children, Economists And Politicians (Wren-Lewis)
Greek Contagion Risks May Be Higher Than You Think (CNBC)
We’re Just Learning the True Cost of China’s Debt (Bloomberg)
‘Goldman Advising On The Economy Like Dracula On Running A Blood Bank’ (RT)
Russell Brand Eyes Cryptocurrency As Integral Part Of Global Revolution (RT)
More Than A Million Brits Have Used Food Banks In The Past Year (Guardian)
Petrobras, World’s Most Indebted Company, Gets Audited (CNBC)
Petrobras To Book Nearly $17 Billion In Charges (MarketWatch)
Most Migrants Crossing Mediterranean Will Be Sent Back (Guardian)
EU Borders Chief Says Saving Migrants’ Lives ‘No Priority’ (Guardian)
‘Maidan Snipers Trained In Poland’: Polish MP (RT)
US Accuses Russia Of ‘Ramping Up’ Ukraine Presence (BBC)
If A Clinton Were To Marry A Bush, The US Could Cancel Elections (RT)
Fed Refuses to Comply With Lawmakers’ Request For Names in Probe (WSJ)
Wolves Shot From Choppers Shows Oil Harm Beyond Pollution (Bloomberg)
What California Can Learn About Drought From ‘Chinatown’ (MarketWatch)

“It’s not good for equipment to park anything, whether it’s an airplane, a frack pump or a car.”

Half of US Fracking Companies Will Be Dead or Sold This Year (Bloomberg)

Half of the 41 fracking companies operating in the U.S. will be dead or sold by year-end because of slashed spending by oil companies, an executive with Weatherford said. There could be about 20 companies left that provide hydraulic fracturing services, Rob Fulks, pressure pumping marketing director at Weatherford, said in an interview Wednesday at the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston. Demand for fracking, a production method that along with horizontal drilling spurred a boom in U.S. oil and natural gas output, has declined as customers leave wells uncompleted because of low prices.

There were 61 fracking service providers in the U.S., the world’s largest market, at the start of last year. Consolidation among bigger players began with Halliburton announcing plans to buy Baker Hughes in November for $34.6 billion and C&J Energy buying the pressure-pumping business of Nabors Industries Ltd. Weatherford, which operates the fifth-largest fracking operation in the U.S., has been forced to cut costs “dramatically” in response to customer demand, Fulks said. The company has been able to negotiate price cuts from the mines that supply sand, which is used to prop open cracks in the rocks that allow hydrocarbons to flow.

Oil companies are cutting more than $100 billion in spending globally after prices fell. Frack pricing is expected to fall as much as 35% this year, according to PacWest, a unit of IHS. While many large private-equity firms are looking at fracking companies to buy, the spread between buyer and seller pricing is still too wide for now, Alex Robart, a principal at PacWest, said in an interview at CERAWeek. Fulks declined to say whether Weatherford is seeking to acquire other fracking companies or their unused equipment. “We go by and we see yards are locked up and the doors are closed,” he said. “It’s not good for equipment to park anything, whether it’s an airplane, a frack pump or a car.”

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Not a big Stratfor fan, but smart analysis by Friedman: “The main assumption behind European integration was that a free trade zone would benefit all economies. If that assumption is not true, then the entire foundation of the EU is cast into doubt..”

The ‘Grexit’ Issue And The Problem Of Free Trade (Stratfor)

The Greek crisis is moving toward a climax. The issue is actually quite simple. The Greek government owes a great deal of money to European institutions and the International Monetary Fund. It has accumulated this debt over time, but it has become increasingly difficult for Greece to meet its payments. If Greece doesn’t meet these payments, the IMF and European institutions have said they will not extend any more loans to Greece. Greece must make a calculation. If it pays the loans on time and receives additional funding, will it be better off than not paying the loans and being cut off from more? Obviously, the question is more complex. It is not clear that if the Greeks refuse to pay, they will be cut off from further loans.

First, the other side might be bluffing, as it has in the past. Second, if they do pay the next round, and they do get the next tranche of funding, is this simply kicking the can down the road? Does it solve Greece’s underlying problem, which is that its debt structure is unsustainable? In a world that contains Argentina and American Airlines, we have learned that bankruptcy and lack of access to credit markets do not necessarily go hand in hand. To understand what might happen, we need to look at Hungary. Hungary did not join the euro, and its currency, the forint, had declined in value. Mortgages taken out by Hungarians denominated in euros, Swiss francs and yen spiraled in terms of forints, and large numbers of Hungarians faced foreclosure from European banks.

In a complex move, the Hungarian government declared that these debts would be repaid in forints. The banks by and large accepted Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s terms, and the European Union grumbled but went along. Hungary was not the only country to experience this problem, but its response was the most assertive. A strategy inspired by Budapest would have the Greeks print drachmas and announce (not offer) that the debt would be repaid in that currency. The euro could still circulate in Greece and be legal tender, but the government would pay its debts in drachmas. In considering this and other scenarios, the pervading question is whether Greece leaves or stays in the eurozone. But before that, there are still two fundamental questions.

First, in or out of the euro, how does Greece pay its debts currently without engendering social chaos? The second and far more important question is how does Greece revive its economy? Lurching from debt payment to debt payment, from German and IMF threats to German and IMF threats is amusing from a distance. It does not, however, address the real issue: Greece, and other countries, cannot exist as normal, coherent states under these circumstances, and in European history, long-term economic dysfunction tends to lead to political extremism and instability. The euro question may be interesting, but the deeper economic question is of profound importance to both the debtor and creditors.

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Won’t the Troika even give it that one year?

If Greece Can Survive 2015, It’s Home Free (MarketWatch)

For the third time in five years, Greece’s parlous financial state is shaking up global markets. In 2010 and 2012, the country was saved from default by two massive rescue packages organized by the EU, the ECB and the IMF. This time, the question is whether Greece, which owes about €320 billion to its creditors, really wants to save itself. Its government, run by radical left-wing group Syriza, says it doesn’t want to default, but it also won’t make the economic reforms creditors demand. In fact, Syriza has vowed to protect pensioners and public employees’ salaries even as debt payments come due. With nearly 20 billion euros owed to creditors over the next six months, the two sides are far apart, and the risks of a default or “Grexit” — Greece’s exit from the euro — are rising.

Still, all may not be lost. If Greece can get through 2015, it won’t have to pay creditors very much until the next decade. “People are saying this is the crunch year,” said Franklin Allen, an expert on financial crises who is executive director of the Brevan Howard Centre and professor at Imperial College London. In fact, we’re in the crunch months. Athens owes around €2.5 billion to the IMF by mid-June. It made a payment to the IMF in early April. Greece and its creditors meet again on Friday in Riga, Latvia, although few expect a deal. Both Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis have said Greece will meet its obligations, but on Monday Tsipras ordered local governments to transfer funds to the Greek central bank.

That amounts to confiscating €2 billion in reserves local governments hold in commercial banks. The money could be used to pay salaries and part of the debt to the IMF. The yield on Greece’s two-year bonds soared to near 30% on Tuesday. Yikes! The Greek government wants €7.2 billion in emergency bailout funds to get it over the hump. So far, creditors aren’t budging. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde last week warned against any payment delays and told Varoufakis to accelerate reforms, such as privatizations and labor-market changes. It’s a recipe for a stalemate. That’s why Allen, who also has taught finance at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, thinks “there’s about a 40% chance they’ll default on something.”

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What’s a few billion among friends?

Greek Banks Win More Emergency Cash as Talks Loom (Bloomberg)

The ECB almost doubled an increase in emergency funding to Greek banks from last week before political talks shift to Brussels and Latvia over the country’s bailout review. The European Central Bank’s Governing Council raised the cap on Emergency Liquidity Assistance by about €1.5 billion to €75.5 billion on Wednesday, people familiar with the decision said. ELA is funding provided by national central banks at their own risk and is extended against lower-quality collateral than the ECB accepts. “The ceiling increase shows that deposit outflows from Greek lenders continue,” said Andreas Koutras at In Touch Capital Markets Ltd. in London. “The question now is when will the collateral against ELA be exhausted — in other words how much time is left?”

Euro-area finance ministers will meet in Riga, Latvia, on Friday in their latest attempt to persuade Greece to commit to economic reforms so that aid payments can be released before the country runs out of money. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are due to meet on the sidelines of a European Union immigration summit in Brussels on Thursday, according to a Greek government official. Greek stocks and bonds rose Wednesday after Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis saw a “convergence” of views and ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said progress was being made.

“In recent days, there has been tangible progress in the quality of the discussions,” Coeure said in an interview with the Athens-based newspaper Kathimerini. “Significant differences on substance remain.” There are signs Greece’s creditors are curbing demands for far-reaching reforms as part of current talks, focusing on a number of key actions instead, Medley Global Advisors said in a client report on Wednesday. The softening stance comes on condition Greece stays co-operative on fiscal targets, according to Medley.

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“..from the perspective of the Eurozone and IMF, this is all extremely small beer. You would think the key players on that side had more important things to do with their time.”

Greece: Of Parents And Children, Economists And Politicians (Wren-Lewis)

Chris Giles has a recent FT article where he describes how non-Greek policymakers (lets still call them the Troika) see themselves like parents trying to deal with the “antics” of the problem child, Syriza in Greece. He splits these parents into different types: those that want to act as if the child is grown up (though they believe they are not), those who want to be disciplinarians etc. As a description of how the Troika view themselves, and present themselves to the public, the analogy rings true. It certainly accords with the constant stream of articles in the press predicting an impending crisis because the Greeks ‘refuse to be reasonable’.

[..] We know that if Greece was not part of the Euro, but just another of a long line of countries that have borrowed too much and had to partially default, its remaining creditors would be in a weak position now that Greece has achieved primary surpluses (taxes>government spending). The reason why the Troika is not so weak is that they have additional threats that come from being the issuer of the Greek currency.

It is important to understand what the current negotiations are about. Running a primary surplus means that Greece no longer needs additional borrowing – it just needs to be able to roll over its existing debts. Part of the argument is about how large a primary surplus Greece should run. Common sense would say that further austerity should be avoided so that the economy can fully recover, when it will have much greater resources to be able to pay back loans. Instead the creditors want more austerity to achieve large primary surpluses. Of course the former course of action is better for Greece: which would be better for the creditors is unclear! The negotiations are also about imposing additional structural reforms. Greece has already undertaken many, and is prepared to go further, but the Troika wants yet more.

As Andrew Watt points out, from the perspective of the Eurozone and IMF, this is all extremely small beer. You would think the key players on that side had more important things to do with their time. The material advantages to be gained by the Troika playing tough are minimal from their perspective, but the threats hanging over the Greek economy are damaging – not just to investment, but also to the very primary surpluses that the Troika needs. So why do the Troika insist on continuing with brinkmanship? Can it be that this is really about ensuring that an elected government that challenges the dominant Eurozone political and economic ideology must be forced to fail?

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This has always been obvious no matter what Draghi or Schäuble say. They have no way of knowing, they can just wish.

Greek Contagion Risks May Be Higher Than You Think (CNBC)

A perception in financial markets that Greece exiting the euro zone would have limited knock-on effects is misguided, some analysts say. Euro zone officials meet in Latvia this week to discuss a rescue deal between Greece and its creditors amid growing talk that time is running out for Athens to avoid defaulting on its debt and being ejected from the 19-member euro zone. “UBS does not believe, as its base case that Greece, will leave the euro,” Paul Donovan, UBS global economist, said in a video published by the bank’s research team. “However, there seems to be a belief in financial markets that if Greece were to be forced from the euro area it should be regarded as an isolated incident,” he said. “This belief, seems to us, to be dangerous.”

Donovan said that the view that Greek problems were distinct from the rest of the euro zone was reflected in recent online search patterns: Searches on Google for the term “Grexit” had soared, while those for “euro crisis” or “euro collapse” had not, even though they did during the 2012 euro zone debt crisis. In the latest crisis, government bond yields in peripheral euro zone countries—in the past viewed as most vulnerable to any Greek contagion—have not followed Greek bond yields higher. Greek bond yields have risen sharply this week, reflecting the greater risk attached to holding them. Greece’s benchmark 10-year bond yielded over 13% on Tuesday, well above Spain’s 10-year yield at 1.48% and Portuguese yields at 2.12%.

Although this can partly be explained by the ECB’s massive monetary stimulus program, which is putting downward pressure on yields, it also reflects diminished contagion fears. “I don’t get the sense that there is a widespread view that if a deal is not made and Greece exits the euro zone, you would have this massive contagion effect,” Ben White, Politico’s chief economic correspondent, told CNBC on Monday. UBS’ Donovan said any contagion from a Grexit would come from the banking system. He said that if Greece did leave the euro area, any money in Greek banks would be redenominated into a new currency, which would probably plunge in value, distressing depositors.

Depositors in other countries may think their holdings are safe, since their country is not going to leave the euro zone–or they may decide to avoid any risk and withdraw their savings, Donovan said. “Why take the risk that your country probably won’t leave the euro, if it’s a relatively simple operation to withdraw your savings and hold them in cash?” Donovan asked. “A euro held as cash today is a euro tomorrow,” he said. “A euro held in a bank account today may be an entirely different currency tomorrow, if the irrevocable monetary union has been revoked. Investors are thus likely to choose cash over deposits.”

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We haven’t a clue yet.

We’re Just Learning the True Cost of China’s Debt (Bloomberg)

The true cost of the debt that China’s real estate developers peddled to eager international investors during a five-year property boom is now becoming clear. Having found themselves shut out of local bond and loan markets seven years ago, a band of developers began looking elsewhere for funds. First an initial public offering, and then a dollar bond sale. It became a well-trodden path. By 2010, a core group of four – Kaisa, Fantasia, Renhe, Glorious Property – raised a total of $5.6 billion. On Monday, Kaisa buckled under $10.5 billion of debt and defaulted. China’s home builders became the single biggest source of dollar junk debt in Asia amid government measures to prevent a property bubble.

Developers already funneled $78.8 billion from international equity and bond markets into an industry that’s grown to account for one third of the world’s second-biggest economy. Most of the first rush of dollar offerings, in 2010, falls due in the next two years. “It was an unintended consequence of the Chinese government that property developers are selling equity and debt to offshore investors,” said Ben Sy, a Hong Kong-based managing director in JPMorgan’s private banking division. “There happened to be huge demand from international investors in the past few years driven by the intense search for yield.” Kaisa was the first to debut in the dollar note market in 2010, selling $650 million of five-year bonds that April.

The securities paid a 13.5% coupon, more than twice the 6.3% average yield for Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s U.S. Real Estate index at the time. The Shenzhen-based developer was among nine real estate companies that raised $4 billion selling offshore bonds that year, a record at the time and fourfold the previous high. Six of the nine had listed their shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange in the previous 24 months. Chinese developers’ move into the international capital markets started in earnest in 2007. From January to December, as the rest of the world slid deeper into recession, homebuilders raised $7.2 billion. Since 2008, another $11.5 billion has been raised via IPOs in Hong Kong.

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The Dracula Squid.

‘Goldman Advising On The Economy Like Dracula On Running A Blood Bank’ (RT)

Goldman Sachs’ claim that a Labour victory in the general election would impact negatively on Britain’s economy has been dismissed by leading British economists, who say the Wall Street giant’s outlook is laughable and colored by self-interest. In a research document sent to clients earlier this week, Goldman claimed a Labour-led government could spark an exodus of investors from the City of London to more business-friendly pastures. The bank’s warning adds to a growing chorus of concern emanating from the City that Ed Miliband’s party would formulate fiscal and economic policy in the interest of people rather than profit. Speaking to RT on Wednesday, British economist James Meadway insisted Goldman Sachs is not a credible voice on economic policy.

“Listening to Goldman Sachs for advice on how to run the economy is like listening to Dracula on how to run a blood bank,” he said. UK economist and anti-austerity campaigner Michael Burke added Goldman Sachs’ general election analysis amounts to “laughably bad economics.” Burke told RT Goldman’s assessment of Labour’s prospective role in government appears to “confuse the economy with the well-being of its own bankers.” He added the Wall Street banking giant’s prognosis is “blatantly political” and born of self-interest. Goldman Sachs is a powerful player in the City of London and across the European Union.

However, the investment bank has been the focus of a firestorm of criticism in recent years over allegations of insider trading, corruption, aggressive investment vehicles with profound social impacts, and its role in compounding Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. Despite the bank’s less-than-gleaming reputation, its condemnation of Labour will likely be welcomed by City financiers and Conservatives. Speaking to its clients earlier this week, the investment bank said a victory for Labour would be understood as “more problematic by the business community” than victory for the Tories. Goldman billed a coalition between Labour and the Scottish National Party (SNP) as the most toxic combination of parties that could enter government next month.

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I’m not sure I find the celebrity contest that seems to go along with this thing all that appealing. Nothing against Russell, or Max.

Russell Brand Eyes Cryptocurrency As Integral Part Of Global Revolution (RT)

In his quest for a global revolution, political activist Russell Brand is eyeing crypto currency and crowd funding as a way of negating and avoiding the capitalist system. Such combination can set the stage for a new era, believes RT’s Max Keiser. Russel Brand has long been promoting organized civil disobedience to bring about a political revolution and fair distribution of wealth unfeasible under capitalism. With his calls sometimes bordering on anarchy, Brand has emerged as a leftist political figure seeking social justice and decentralization of state control over the individual.

“I think what is important is to organize and to disobey. To be really, really disobedient. Revolution is required. It is not a revolution of radical ideas, but simply the implementation of the ideas that they say we already have,” Brand was telling his supporters as he campaigned for resistance. Now Brand has taken one of these revolutionary ideas, the cryptocurrency, and teamed up with StartJoin crowdfunding platform to help people break away from conventional monetary and financial systems. “Essentially what we need is alternative systems and models, and alternative currency is an integral part of that,” Brand told Max Kaiser, the co-guru behind the financial side of the StartCOIN project and the host of RT’s Kaiser Report.

“I’m very interested in setting up social enterprises, such as our cafe that we’ve started, replicating that model more and more,” Brand explained. “Small businesses, practical, functional things where people can come together in an entrepreneurial spirit, creatively, and work together – hopefully ultimately using an alternative currency and completely negating and avoiding the system.” “The more I deal with bureaucracy, the more I deal with consumerism, the more I think that there is really very little it can offer us,” he added. Brand’s latest project is aimed at promoting digital literacy, to further boost online activism. By raising £150,000 for at least 1,000 laptops he is planning to give away for free, Brand wants to make the voices of even the most marginalized individuals in the community heard.

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Land of shame.

More Than A Million Brits Have Used Food Banks In The Past Year (Guardian)

More than 1 million people, including rising numbers of low-paid workers, were forced to use food banks in the last 12 months, challenging claims that the dividends of Britain’s economic recovery are being equally shared. The latest figures from the Trussell Trust, which coordinates a network of food banks in the UK, show a 19% year-on-year increase in food bank users, demonstrating that hunger, debt and poverty are continuing to affect large numbers of low-income families and individuals. Nearly 1.1 million people received at least three days of emergency food from the trust’s 445 food banks in 2014-15 – up from 913,000 the previous year. Back in 2009-10, before the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition took power, the then little-known charity fed 41,000 people from its 56 food banks.

Chris Mould, the Trussell Trust chairman, said the figures showed many people were experiencing “catastrophic” problems as a result of low incomes, despite signs of a wider economic recovery. He said: “These needs have not diminished in the last 12 months.” Experts warned that the figures were the “tip of the iceberg” of food poverty in the UK, while doctors said the inability of families to buy enough food had become a public health issue. The Trussell Trust figures show the biggest proportion, 44%, of food bank referrals last year – marginally lower than the previous year – were triggered by people pitched into crisis because their benefit payments had been delayed, or stopped altogether as a result of the strict jobcentre sanctions regime. More than a fifth, 22%, of food bank users were referred because of low income – meaning they were unable to afford food due to a relatively small financial crisis such as a boiler breaking down or having to buy a school uniform.

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This should have been one of the richest entities in the world. And look at it! What came out, see below, is they say they lose $2 billion to ‘graft’. $2 billion? Try $200 billion. These guys spend $2 billion on champagne alone.

Petrobras, World’s Most Indebted Company, Gets Audited (CNBC)

Petrobras, the Brazilian oil giant, is hoping to finally release audited financial results for the fourth quarter after U.S. markets close on Wednesday, including an estimate of how much has been stripped out of the company by years of alleged fraud. The state-controlled oil company is engulfed in what’s probably the largest financial scandal in Brazil’s history—a high bar, given the country’s record of corruption. And Wednesday’s earnings report has big implications for investors and maybe even the future course of the world’s seventh-biggest economy. Markets are closely examining the results for the level of write-offs and impairments on Petrobras assets, whose values may have been inflated by the fraud. Estimates on how big those numbers may be are staggering: anywhere from $6 billion to $30 billion.

Andre Gordon of AMEC, a Brazilian shareholders’ rights group, said he’s “waiting to see the balance sheet” and expects impairments and writeoffs of between $10 billion to $15 billion. AMEC is active in lobbying for better corporate governance at Petrobras and within Brazil in general. Gordon said he hopes for a turning point for the company that will lead to less government entanglement with Petrobras, “but I am skeptical.” “Not even the opposition party talks about privatization of Petrobras—only small insignificant parties with small market share,” he said. The scandal started with the arrest early last year of a company director, who subsequently struck a deal with prosecutors in September. Since then, details have emerged almost daily of a decade-long, alleged bribery scheme involving company officials.

The executive alleged to investigators that for nearly 10 years, Petrobras contracts were routinely padded by 3%, with the extra money used for bribes and kickbacks. Much of that money was supposedly funneled to the country’s ruling political parties. Other executives have since come forward, and nearly 50 people have been arrested or charged, ranging from more than a dozen CEOs to politicians to party officials, including the treasurer of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers Party.

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Rousseff must step down and open the prosecutorial floodgates here, or there’ll be severe damage for decades.

Petrobras To Book Nearly $17 Billion In Charges (MarketWatch)

Brazilian state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA on Wednesday finally put a price tag on the impact of a corruption scandal that has battered the company’s shares, writing off 6.2 billion reais ($2.1 billion) of alleged bribe payments
In addition, the company booked an impairment charge of 44.6 billion reais ($14.8 billion) for 2014 after determining that assets were overvalued on its balance sheet. As a result, the company reported a net loss of 26.6 billion reais for the fourth quarter on revenue of 85.04 billion reais. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization stood at 20.06 billion reais, up from 15.55 billion reais a year earlier.

The disclosures were part of the first audited financial statements released by Petrobras in more than eight months. Brazilian federal prosecutors since last year have been investigating allegations that the company’s suppliers conspired to overcharge Petrobras for major projects, funneling some of the illicit profit to former Petrobras executives and politicians in the form of bribes and illegal political donations. Petrobras has portrayed itself as a victim of the graft and says it has cooperated with authorities. Still, the company struggled to calculate the scheme’s impact on its balance sheet, leading auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers to refuse to sign off on its statements since the third quarter of 2014.

“With the publication of audited 2014 results, Petrobras has cleared a significant obstacle, after a collective effort, that shows our ability to overcome challenges in an adverse environment,” Chief Executive Aldemir Bendine said in a statement. The financials come just days before an April 30 deadline in Petrobras’s bond covenants that could have allowed the holders of billions of dollars of Petrobras debt to demand early repayment.

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“Only 5,000 resettlement places across Europe are to be offered to refugees..”

Most Migrants Crossing Mediterranean Will Be Sent Back (Guardian)

Only 5,000 resettlement places across Europe are to be offered to refugees who survive the dangerous Mediterranean sea crossing under the emergency summit crisis package to be agreed by EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday. A confidential draft summit statement seen by the Guardian indicates that the vast majority of those who survive the journey and make it to Italy – 150,000 did so last year – will be sent back as irregular migrants under a new rapid-return programme co-ordinated by the EU’s border agency, Frontex. More than 36,000 boat survivors have reached Italy, Malta and Greece so far this year. The draft summit conclusions also reveal that hopes of a major expansion of search-and-rescue operations across the Mediterranean in response to the humanitarian crisis are likely to be dashed, despite widespread and growing pressure.

The summit statement merely confirms the decision by EU foreign and interior ministers on Monday to double funding in 2015 and 2016 and “reinforce the assets” of the existing Operation Triton and Operation Poseidon border-surveillance operations, which only patrol within 30 miles of the Italian coast. The European council’s conclusions said this move “should increase the search-and-rescue possibilities within the mandate of Frontex”. The head of Frontex said on Wednesday that Triton could not be a search-and-rescue operation. Instead, the EU leaders are likely to agree that immediate preparations should begin to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”. The joint EU military operation is to be undertaken within international law.

The statement describes the crisis as a tragedy and says the EU will mobilise all efforts at its disposal to prevent further loss of life at sea and to tackle the root causes of the human emergency, including co-operating with the countries of origin and transit. “Our immediate priority is to prevent more people dying at sea. We have therefore decided to strengthen our presence at sea, to fight the traffickers, to prevent illegal migration flows and to reinforce internal solidarity,” it says, before adding that the EU leaders intend to support all efforts to re-establish government authority in Libya and address key “push” factors such as the situation in Syria. But the detail of the communique makes it clear that the measures to be agreed fall far short of this ambition.

In particular in terms of sharing responsibility across the EU for those who survive the journey, the draft statement suggests only “setting up a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement, offering at least 5,000 places to persons qualifying for protection”, it says. The EU leaders also make a commitment to “increasing emergency aid to frontline member states” – taken to mean Italy, Malta and Greece – “and consider options for organising emergency relocation between member states”.

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“Leggeri ruled out putting his ships anywhere near the Libyan coast, saying stepping up search-and-rescue operations would only encourage desperate migrants to risk the passage.”

EU Borders Chief Says Saving Migrants’ Lives ‘No Priority’ (Guardian)

The head of the EU border agency has said that saving migrants’ lives in the Mediterranean should not be the priority for the maritime patrols he is in charge of, despite the clamour for a more humane response from Europe following the deaths of an estimated 800 people at sea at the weekend. On the eve of an emergency EU summit on the immigration crisis, Fabrice Leggeri, the head of Frontex, flatly dismissed turning the Triton border patrol mission off the coast of Italy into a search and rescue operation. He also voiced strong doubts about new EU pledges to tackle human traffickers and their vessels in Libya.

“Triton cannot be a search-and-rescue operation. I mean, in our operational plan, we cannot have provisions for proactive search-and-rescue action. This is not in Frontex’s mandate, and this is in my understanding not in the mandate of the European Union,” Leggeri told the Guardian. The capsizing of a trawler off Libya late on Saturday sparked a public outcry. EU foreign and interior ministers held an emergency meeting on Monday and a special summit on the issue has been called for Thursday in Brussels. The ministers and the European commission agreed to bolster the current Triton mission, to increase its funding and assets, and to expand its area of operation while also calling for new military measures to “systematically capture and destroy” traffickers’ vessels.

Thursday’s summit is to finalise the EU response. Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, who called and will chair the emergency summit, said the leaders had to agree on quick and effective action. “Our overriding priority is to prevent more people from dying at sea … to agree on very practical measures, in particular by strengthening search and rescue possibilities,” he said. But Leggeri ruled out putting his ships anywhere near the Libyan coast, saying stepping up search-and-rescue operations would only encourage desperate migrants to risk the passage. He signalled that Frontex was not asking for more boats, and voiced scepticism about the new talk of military action.

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More great stuff from ‘our’ side.

‘Maidan Snipers Trained In Poland’: Polish MP (RT)

Snipers who are thought to have operated in Kiev’s Independence Square amidst events that led to a coup in February 2014 were trained in Poland and sent to Ukraine to “do a favor” for the US, a Polish Euro-MP claimed in an interview. On February 20, 2014, riot police trying to restrain anti-government demonstrators on Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev suddenly retreated up the street from whence they had come. As the protesters rushed forward, gunfire suddenly broke out, with many witnesses saying it was a sniper attack. In some two hours, 46 people were killed.

A year after the tragedy that provoked a huge backlash from the Ukrainians, ultimately leading to the rapid toppling of then-President Viktor Yanukovich, the events on the square are still pending investigation. Several Berkut riot police officers have been detained, but not much progress has been made, while murky details and speculation have been emerging in the press. In a new development, Polish former presidential candidate Janusz Korwin-Mikke told Wiadomosci media outlet that the snipers had actually been trained in Poland. Korwin-Mikke, 72, a European lawmaker and leader of Poland’s conservative KORWiN party, claimed this was a CIA operation. This came as a “Yes” reply to the question whether he believed the CIA was involved.

“Yes – but it was also our operation. The snipers were trained in Poland,” Korwin-Mikke said adding this was done “to provoke riots.” Poland trained those “terrorists” to please the US, which invested heavily into Ukrainian coup, the politician alleged. “Let me say this again: we are doing a favor to Washington,” Korwin-Mikke said. Challenged about his sources, the politician said he overheard this in the European Parliament as Estonia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Urmas Paet “admitted” to the then-EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton that it was “our people who opened fire on Maidan, not those of Yanukovich or Putin.” It is not clear when the conversation took place, but in March previous year a tape with a telephone conversation between the two politicians was leaked which went among the same lines.

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And we don’t need to provide no steenking proof.

US Accuses Russia Of ‘Ramping Up’ Ukraine Presence (BBC)

The US has accused Russia of deploying more air defence systems in eastern Ukraine in breach of a ceasefire deal. The state department also said Russia was involved in training separatist forces in the area and building up its forces along the border. The Kremlin has not yet responded to the claims. A truce between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine was brokered by the West in Minsk in February. State department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement that “combined Russian-separatist forces” were violating the terms of the Minsk deal, keeping artillery and multiple rocket launchers in prohibited areas.

“The Russian military has deployed additional air defence systems into eastern Ukraine and moved several of these nearer the front lines,” she said. ‘Complex training’ “This is the highest amount of Russian air defence equipment in eastern Ukraine since August.” Ms Harf said the “increasingly complex nature” of training of pro-Russian forces in east Ukraine “leaves no doubt that Russia is involved”. “Russia is also building up its forces along its border with Ukraine,” she said. “After maintaining a relatively steady presence along the border, Russia is sending additional units there. These forces will give Russia its largest presence on the border since October 2014.” Earlier this month, about 300 US paratroopers arrived in western Ukraine to train with Ukrainian national guard units. At the time, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned the move “could seriously destabilise” the situation in Ukraine.

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It’s should be mandatory. Get us royal family of lying chimps.

If A Clinton Were To Marry A Bush, The US Could Cancel Elections (RT)

With apologies to their respective spouses, if Jeb Bush’s son, George P. Bush, had married Chelsea Clinton, Americans could have spared themselves the spectacle of Election 2016 and saved billions of dollars. All that the USA needs now is for a young Clinton to pair up with a junior Bush. Should the union produce an heir, a single line of monarchy would be established. This is the reality of the USA’s broken politics in 2015. A country pretty much established in opposition to hereditary elites now has the most closed political system in the Western world. In the past, America’s strange obsession with the British Royal Family was usually explained by fact that the US has no monarchy of its own. The bad news for Queen Elizabeth’s bunch is that this is increasingly the case in name only.

Right now, Hillary Clinton is close to an even money favorite to become the next American President. The only other short-odds candidate appears to be Jeb Bush. After the former Florida governor there’s a clutch of outsiders like Rand Paul, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio filling out the field. It’s depressing on so many levels. Should Hillary, as expected, secure the White House and serve two terms it’ll mean that America will have been ruled by either a Bush or Clinton for 28 out of 36 years. The only break coming during the 8-year Obama Presidency. Of course, the former first lady served as Secretary of State for half of Obama’s reign. Despite a common misconception that the Roosevelts, Teddy and Franklin D, were close relatives, (they weren’t) keeping things in the family has not been the American way.

In fact, George Bush Senior was the first President since FDR to have been born into the politically-connected WASP elite. Instead, post-war American Presidents have tended to be outsiders, coming from left field. Think Reagan, Nixon and Carter, for instance. Even the ultimate ‘silver-spoon’ Commander-in-Chief, John F. Kennedy, was far from an insider by dint of his Catholic religion. Indeed, despite their great wealth and celebrity, the Kennedy clan never came close to establishing the kind of dynasty that the Bush family has managed. However, the Boston brood remains powerful in the world of baby kissers and it’s commonly accepted that the late Edward was pivotal in securing Obama’s nomination for the 2008 contest.

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Audit it.

Fed Refuses to Comply With Lawmakers’ Request For Names in Probe (WSJ)

The Federal Reserve has not replied to a lawmakers’ request that it identify the individuals who had contact with a private consulting firm that published a report on the central bank’s market-sensitive internal policy deliberations. In October 2012, the day before the Fed released its minutes of its September 2012 policy meeting, Medley Global Advisors, sent a report to its clients with several sensitive details that subsequently appeared in the minutes. A central bank probe found a “few” Fed staffers had contact with Medley before the report, but did not identify them. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas), Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen on April 15 asking the Fed to name them by 5 p.m. EDT April 22.

The deadline passed without any response by the Fed, a committee spokesman said Wednesday. The Fed declined to comment. Medley did not respond to a request for comment. The central bank’s policy-making Federal Open Market Committee makes decisions on interest rates that can cause huge swings in global financial markets. Confidential information about its internal deliberations or advance information about the minutes of its meetings or possible future actions can be worth huge sums of money to traders around the world.

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We won’t rest till all wildlife is gone.

Wolves Shot From Choppers Shows Oil Harm Beyond Pollution (Bloomberg)

Here’s one aspect of Canada’s energy boom that isn’t being thwarted by the oil market crash: the wolf cull. The expansion of oil-sands mines and drilling pads has brought the caribou pictured on Canada’s 25-cent coin to the brink of extinction in Alberta and British Columbia. To arrest the population decline, the two provinces are intensifying a hunt of the caribou’s main predator, the gray wolf. Conservation groups accuse the provinces of making wolves into scapegoats for man-made damage to caribou habitats. The cull carried out in winter when the dark fur of the wolves is easier to spot against the snow has claimed more than 1,000 animals since 2005. Hunters shoot them with high-powered rifles from nimble two-seat helicopters that can hover close to a pack or lone wolf.

In Alberta, some are poisoned with big chunks of bait laced with strychnine, leading to slow and painful deaths that may be preceded by seizures and hypothermia. “It’s an unhappy necessity,” Stan Boutin, a University of Alberta biologist, said of the government-sponsored hunt. “We’ve let the development proceed so far already that now, trying to get industry out of an area, is just not going to happen.” The energy industry has delivered a death blow to caribou by turning prime habitat into production sites and by introducing linear features on the landscape that give wolves easy paths to hunt caribou, such as roads, pipelines and lines of downed trees created by oil and gas exploration.

A drop in drilling after oil prices plunged can’t reverse the damage. More than C$350 billion ($285 billion) spent by Alberta’s oil-sands producers to build an industrial complex that’s visible from space have made the province’s boreal herds of woodland caribou the most endangered in the country. Their population is falling by about half every eight years, according to a 2013 study in the Canadian Journal of Zoology. Since 2005, Alberta has auctioned the rights to develop more than 25,000 square kilometers (9,652 square miles) of land in caribou ranges to energy companies, according to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, an Ottawa-based charity. That’s equivalent to about three times New York’s metropolitan area.

“When the oil industry goes in there and cuts those lines and drills and puts in pipelines, it helps the wolves,” said Chad Lenz, a hunting guide with two decades of experience based in Red Deer, Alberta. Lenz has watched caribou herds shrink as the number of wolves soar. “There’s not a place in Alberta that hasn’t been affected by industry, especially the oil industry.” Home to the world’s third-largest proven crude reserves, Alberta depends on levies from the energy industry to build new roads, schools and hospitals.

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It’s no use staying. Your kids deserve better. California is yesterday.

What California Can Learn About Drought From ‘Chinatown’ (MarketWatch)

In the 1974 film “Chinatown,” a fictional Los Angeles politician issues a warning as he lays out his case for creating an aqueduct to bring water to the city from the inland valley more than 200 miles north: “Beneath every street there is a desert, and without water the dust will rise up and cover us as if this place never existed.” For California, these words still resonate as a severe drought drags into its fourth year, prompting the first-ever mandatory restrictions on water usage and stirring questions about how the drought will be handled as the climate becomes warmer and drier. With the mood of the present-day state becoming more unsettled, “Chinatown” is perhaps more timely than ever, offering a cautionary tale and a possible roadmap for our thinking about water.

“I can’t tell you how many times people have said, ‘Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown,’” said Jon Christensen at UCLA, speaking of the iconic movie’s staying power. Although the film itself is a fictional work, “like all great art,” Christensen said, “it captures a great truth about water in California and in the American West.” The film, starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston, dramatizes the California water wars of the early 1900s, accenting corruption, deception and secret dealings within Los Angeles, a city whose character would be shaped by its growing thirst for water. The film is set in the 1930s but is loosely based on the events of 1913, when Los Angeles began siphoning off water from the Owens Valley, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, through an aqueduct.

As the L.A. region flourished, businessmen involved in the deal to bring water to the city profited wildly, while farmers in the Owens Valley were left to watch their land go dry and their regional economy suffer. The tension between agricultural and residential interests has been a defining conflict in California’s history, according to many experts. In March, the Golden State’s cities and towns were ordered to reduce their water usage by 25%. Farmers were exempted from these restrictions, even though agriculture amounts to 80% of water use in the state. Gov. Jerry Brown defended agriculture’s water consumption but has said water rights may need to be re-examined.

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Mar 052015
 
 March 5, 2015  Posted by at 10:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Washington, DC, Storm damage..” Between 1913 and 1918

Liquidity Evaporates In China As ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Nears (AEP)
China Lowers Growth Target to About 7% as Headwinds Intensify (Bloomberg)
IMF Director Batista: Greek Bailout Was ‘To Save German & French Banks’ (KTG)
Why ECB Risks Running Out Of Ammunition (SocGen’s Olivier Garnier at FT)
Greece Struggles to Make Debt Math Work Amid Bailout Standoff (Bloomberg)
IMF Abdication On Greece (Peter Doyle)
Greek Officials Have Ruffled Feathers In Brussels Over Diplomatic Manners (AFP)
Denmark Can’t Print Money Fast Enough (Bloomberg)
US Running Out Of Room To Store Oil; Price Collapse Next? (AP)
London Property Boom Built On Dirty Money (Independent)
Warren: Wall Street Received $6 Trillion Backdoor Bailout from Fed (Martens)
David Zervos: Here’s Who’s Buying All That Debt at Negative Yields (Bloomberg)
Brazil Raises Rate to Highest Since 2009 After Prices Surge (Bloomberg)
Why This Tech Bubble is Worse Than the Tech Bubble of 2000 (Mark Cuban)
Russia Accuses US of Plot to Oust Putin Via Opposition Aid (Bloomberg)
Victoria Nuland: Russia’s Actions In Ukraine Conflict An ‘Invasion’ (Guardian)
Oklahoma Scientists Downplay Link Between Earthquakes And Fracking (Grist)
Italy Rescues 1000 Refugees From Mediterranean Over Two Days (AP)

“China is no longer buying US Treasuries and global bonds. It has become a net seller, stepping in to offset accelerating outflows of capital.” [..] “The PBOC’s reserve body, SAFE, was still buying $30bn a month of global bonds a year ago. It is now selling an estimated $10bn a month.”

Liquidity Evaporates In China As ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Nears (AEP)

Nobody can fault China’s leaders for lack of bravery. The Politburo has kept its nerve as the world’s most giddy experiment in credit-driven growth faces assault on three major fronts at once. Real interest rates have rocketed. The trade-weighted rise in the yuan over the past two years has been spectacular. Fiscal policy is about to tighten drastically as the authorities clamp down on big-spending local governments. Put together, China is pursuing the most contractionary mix of economic policies in the G20, relative to the status quo ante. Collateral damage is already visible in the sliding global prices of iron ore, copper, nickel, lead and zinc over recent months, as well as thermal coal, oil, corn and even sugar. Zhiwei Zhang, from Deutsche Bank, says China faces a “fiscal cliff” this year as Beijing attempts to rein in spending. “This year, China will likely face the worst fiscal challenge since 1981. This is not well recognised in the market,” he said.

The IMF says China’s budget deficit topped 10pc of GDP in 2014 if measured properly, including borrowing by the regions through “financing vehicles” as well as land sales – a patently unsustainable form of funding that makes up 35pc of local government revenue. This is the highest deficit of any major country in the world, and far above safe levels. A budget squeeze is already emerging as the property slump drags on. Zhiwei Zhang says land revenues fell 21pc in the fourth quarter of last year. “The decline of fiscal revenue is the top risk in China and will lead to a sharp slowdown,” he said. China’s Development Research Centre (DRC) – the brain trust of premier Li Keqiang – has issued a new report on the bankruptcy of California’s Orange County in 1994. “It is a warning to China that the country needs to improve its tax system,” said the paper.

Interestingly, the DRC has also published a report recently on the decline in China’s electrical, mechanical and car industries, a finding that might surprise some in the West. The Chinese tax system is highly leveraged to the property cycle, like Ireland’s before the boom broke in 2007. The scale is epic. A study by the US Federal Reserve found that property investment in China has risen from 4pc to 15pc of GDP since 2008. This is even higher than in Japan in the blow-off years of the late 1980s. The denouement is well under way. Home prices fell 3.1pc in January from a year earlier. Average sales have dropped 7pc from a year ago in the large Tier 1 cities, 22pc for Tier 2 and 15pc for the Tier 3 towns. The inventory overhang has risen to 18 months, three times US levels. New floor space has dropped 30pc on a three-month moving average.

China is not the only country in Asia facing a hangover. Nomura’s Rob Subbaraman says housing booms in India, Hong Kong and Taiwan all match or exceed the US bubble in 2008, with Malaysia not far behind. “Asia is setting itself up for a major credit crunch,” [..] There is another twist to this. The PBOC’s reserve body, SAFE, was still buying $30bn a month of global bonds a year ago. It is now selling an estimated $10bn a month. This is a $40bn a month shift in central bank intervention in the asset markets, a lot more than the extra $15bn a month that the Bank of Japan has been buying since October. Or put another way, Asia is “tapering” at a pace of $25bn a month. You could argue that this neutralises half the quantitative easing soon to come from the ECB.

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Hey, everyone can set targets… I got some great ones, and a bridge in Brooklyn too.

China Lowers Growth Target to About 7% as Headwinds Intensify (Bloomberg)

China set the lowest economic growth target in more than 15 years as leaders tackle the side effects of a generation-long expansion that has spurred corruption, fueled debt risks and polluted skies and rivers. The goal of about 7% – down from last year’s aspiration of about 7.5% – was given in a work report that Premier Li Keqiang will deliver to the annual meeting of the legislature today in Beijing. The inflation target was set at about 3%. Headwinds that include a property slump, excess capacity in industry and disinflation prompted the second interest-rate cut in three months at the weekend. The government has vowed to move away from expansion at all costs as it tries to clean up the nation’s environment and control a debt surge.

“The government will lower its growth target for 2015 to focus more on the quality than the quantity of growth,” said Nomura Holdings Inc. economists led by Zhao Yang in a note on Feb. 27. “While reiterating that economic development is its primary task, we expect the NPC to also take a hard line on anti-corruption, committing to its clean governance efforts.” Li’s work report, which opens the meeting of the National People’s Congress, is his second since the 59-year-old was named premier toward the end of 2013’s legislative gathering. Along with President Xi Jinping, the pair are seeking to increase efficiencies and strengthen market forces. Policymakers are trying to balance the need to cushion the economy’s slowdown with monetary and fiscal stimulus against longer-term goals.

They’re seeking to increase the role of private business, promote innovation and reshape the fiscal framework as they shift the economy from reliance on debt-fueled investment toward greater consumption and services. Li has said a slower expansion is tolerable as long as enough jobs are created. Even after growth slowed to 7.4% last year, the weakest pace since 1990, the nation created 13.2 million new urban jobs, exceeding a target of 10 million and the previous year’s 13.1 million. The goal of about 7% compares to the IMF’s forecast of a 6.8% expansion this year and the World Bank’s 7.1% estimate.

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That has been clear for ages..

IMF Director Batista: Greek Bailout Was ‘To Save German & French Banks’ (KTG)

This was never said officially before! “They gave money to save German and French banks, not Greece,” Paolo Batista, one of the Executive Directors of the IMF told Greek private Alpha TV on Tuesday. Batista strongly criticized not only the euro zone and the ECB but also the IMF and the Fund’s managing Director Christine Lagarde for defending Europe much too much.. He urged Greece to directly negotiate with the IMF and favored the restructuring of the Greek debt that is been hold by the European partners.

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“.. the ECB is now close to running out of ammunition. The true constraints on further ECB intervention lie in the 25% issue limit and 33% issuer limit on its sovereign bond purchases.”

Why ECB Risks Running Out Of Ammunition (SocGen’s Olivier Garnier at FT)

The European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme announced in January has been well received by financial markets. Its size (€60bn a month) and open-endedness have positively surprised. The fact that 80% of the bond purchases will not be subject to loss sharing between national central banks has rightly been seen as the price worth paying to get a bigger programme and a wider consensus within the ECB governing council. Indeed, this so-called risk-sharing issue has been overemphasised since all the monetary claims created by the programme will remain a joint and several liability of the eurosystem, whatever the loss-sharing arrangement on asset holdings. Having said that, the ECB is now close to running out of ammunition. The true constraints on further ECB intervention lie in the 25% issue limit and 33% issuer limit on its sovereign bond purchases.

These limits are not arbitrary and could not be easily raised or removed: they are the byproducts of the conditions set in January by the European Court of Justice Advocate General in its opinion on the legality of outright monetary transactions (OMTs), the sovereign bond-buying backstop revealed by Mario Draghi, ECB president, in 2012 after he promised to do “whatever it takes” to bring order to sovereign debt markets. Except for Greek debt, the 25% and 33% caps should not prove binding in a scenario where the ECB keeps its monthly asset purchase pace of €60bn. However, the limits could be reached in worst-case scenarios where the ECB would have to boost the size of its QE programme or implement OMTs targeted on specific sovereigns.

The first type of worst-case scenario would be a new global deflationary shock. It might be triggered by faltering US growth or a sharper than expected slowdown in China. The consequence would be fiercer currency wars with balance sheet expansion races among central banks. In this competition, the ECB would be handicapped: it would not have much room to significantly increase the size of its bond purchase programme. For instance, if monthly purchases had to be raised to €100bn, the 25% issue limit would be reached after only eight months in the case of German government debt. Given the narrow size of the eurozone corporate bond market, any substantial further expansion of the asset purchase programme would then have to include equities. But this could prove controversial within the ECB governing council.

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“We go into the negotiations with optimism, with especially good preparation, and I believe there won’t be a development..”

Greece Struggles to Make Debt Math Work Amid Bailout Standoff (Bloomberg)

As talks over the disbursement of bailout funds for Greece drag on into their seventh consecutive month, the deadlock threatens to pull the country back into a recession this quarter, or even a possible default within weeks. Greece needs to refinance or repay about €6.5 billion euros in debt and interest in the next three weeks, including Treasury bill redemptions, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. To top that, its budget forecasts a €2.1 billion cash deficit in March. A shortfall in tax revenue already opened a cash hole of €217 million in January, derailing budget targets. Having lost market access, Greece’s only lifeline is emergency loans extended by euro-area member states and the IMF.

Failure to secure an agreement on the disbursement of funds by them has triggered a liquidity squeeze, raising doubts about the country’s solvency, as well as the sustainability of its nascent economic recovery. “There’s no chance the quarrel won’t affect the economy” said Haris Theoharis, a lawmaker for Greece’s River party and a former secretary of public revenue. “Every investment has been put on hold, pending the result of the talks,” he said by phone on Wednesday. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said that the country has an alternative plan to plug its financing shortfall in March, without specifying what it was. “We go into the negotiations with optimism, with especially good preparation, and I believe there won’t be a development,” Varoufakis said in Athens, on Wednesday. The answer to the question of whether “there is an alternative is that there is one,” he said.

Greece’s month-old anti-austerity government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has yet to agree with its creditors on the terms for the disbursement of an outstanding aid tranche totaling about €7 billion. Negotiations that started in Paris in early September between the previous government and the troika of the European Commission, the IMF and the ECB didn’t yield any results. A snap election in January put an abrupt end to the talks. Two officials directly involved in Greece’s €240 billion bailout said the country could potentially use its available reserves to make it past the end of this month. A third official said Greek financing needs, including debt repayments to the IMF, are only safely covered for another two weeks. The officials asked not to be named while negotiations continue. A spokesman for Greece’s finance ministry declined to comment on when the country may run out of cash.

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“With so much in play, why did the IMF not clearly put that marker on the record?”

IMF Abdication On Greece (Peter Doyle)

In an otherwise sound critique of Mr. Varoufakis’ list of proposals for Greek government policies last week, Mme. Lagarde’s letter to Mr. Dijsselbloem contains an additional, unremarked, but revealing element. After saying that, in the IMF’s view, the Greek list was sufficiently comprehensive to be a valid starting point for a successful conclusion of the review, she added:

… but a determination in this regard should of course rest primarily on an assessment by Member States themselves and by the relevant European institutions.

One might casually read that phrase as throwaway diplomacy or simply as recognizing the facts of life. But either way, the IMF thereby washed its hands about what might follow if the Europeans determined that the letter was insufficient as a starting point. The message would have been very different had her phrase been:

… and I would [strongly?] encourage you and your European colleagues to reach a similar determination promptly.

With so much in play, why did the IMF not clearly put that marker on the record? The explanation is unlikely to be that it understood via midnight phone calls that the Europeans had pre-approved the letter. At the least, European officials on the other end of such calls had no assurance of how their various parliaments would respond to the IMF’s own substantive and strongly expressed concerns with Greek plans. Instead, the explanation is likely that, in the IMF view, Grexit was unlikely to follow a negative determination or/and that if it did, it would not be systemic even if, as Mme. Lagarde had just publicly stated, it would be disastrous for Greece itself.

The former judgement might have assumed that in the event of a negative determination by Euro parliaments, Mr. Varoufakis would quickly rewrite his letter. But to presume that and that nothing else would occur—despite the heated GreekEuro negotiations, the ongoing bank run, the prospect of ELA suspension, and broader peripheral political contagion—would have been to presume a great deal. The alternative explanation—the judgement that Grexit, if it occurred, would not be systemic—would contradict the IMF’s own detailed analysis of the Eurozone financial system.

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WHy should they act like the others, when the others is exactly who they don’t want to be?

Greek Officials Have Ruffled Feathers In Brussels Over Diplomatic Manners (AFP)

Strapped for cash and under pressure to deliver on reforms, Greece’s new radical government has ruffled feathers in Brussels by not respecting the diplomatic niceties of the negotiating table. From 40-year-old Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras downwards, Greek officials have gone into EU meetings in fighting mood, their hard talk taking many by surprise and leaving some aghast. Tsipras startled fellow European leaders on Saturday when he spoke of a “trap by aggressive conservative forces” led by an “axis” of Spain and Portugal to undermine the month-old Greek government by cutting off EU funds. Tsipras’ outburst was termed “unusual foul play” by Berlin, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble this week told the broadcaster ARD: “Greece has made its position worse with a rhetoric that is difficult for someone on the outside to understand.”

Maverick Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and bullish Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias have also been involved in clashes as they insisted on Greece’s right to be treated as an equal partner despite its debts to the other members of the eurozone. “Some people thought that Greece should continue to be slapped around, as it had been for the past five years. We will no longer be slapped around,” Kotzias told Greek radio Alpha last week. A former communist, Kotzias in January forced EU foreign ministers to adopt a more conciliatory statement on Russian sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. “We have the right to strengthen our relations with whichever state we think would benefit our country. We will not raise our hand for permission, like a pupil in class,” the minister said.

At a series of eurozone finance ministers meetings last month to hammer out a four-month loan extension for Athens, the Greeks again exasperated their peers by leaking draft documents and shedding light on secret negotiations. “It’s terrible – the Greeks seem to live on another planet,” a frustrated European official said after the first of three Eurogroup meetings ended in acrimony. The writing had been on the wall from when new finance minister Varoufakis had his first meeting in Athens with austere Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem on January 30. At the end of a frosty press conference – during which Varoufakis said Greece would no longer cooperate with EU-IMF auditors – Dijsselbloem stormed off to the joy of Greek social media, which had a field day with the spat. “Baldie, bring your crew to the square in Brussels in one hour,” the bespectacled Dutchman tells shaven-headed Varoufakis in a popular mock photo of the scene that did the rounds. “Four-eyes, I’ll break you in two like a twig,” Varoufakis responds.

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Going down in the race to the bottom.

Denmark Can’t Print Money Fast Enough (Bloomberg)

Denmark is unleashing huge amounts of ammunition in its battle to prevent the krone from appreciating. The cost of the campaign, though, suggests that any renewed assault by speculators could require an even more aggressive response — capital controls. The nation revealed yesterday that its foreign currency reserves soared by 173 billion kroner ($26 billion) in February – the biggest increase ever. The central bank has been cranking up the printing presses, minting domestic currency for sale on the foreign exchange market to stop the krone from straying too far from its target rate of about 7.46 per euro. As it offloads kroner, the central bank buys foreign currencies, which go into a reserve account that held a record 737 billion kroner last week.

Those sales, combined with four rate cuts this year – driving the benchmark deposit rate to minus 0.75% – are deterring traders from betting they can make money pushing the currency higher: The initial pressure on Denmark’s currency came after Switzerland abandoned its currency peg in January, and as the European Central Bank’s plan to unveil a government bond-buying program discouraged investors from wanting to own the euro. The Danish government says it’s determined not to let its exports take a hit from currency appreciation. But prices in the derivatives market suggest the war isn’t over. Traders who buy and sell contracts to speculate on where the krone will be in a year’s time are still anticipating it will strengthen. The current bet is for a 0.8% variation from the target rate, which is still within the official 2.25% range the central bank says it will tolerate, but outside the 0.5% band it has typically maintained.

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Yup.

US Running Out Of Room To Store Oil; Price Collapse Next? (AP)

The U.S. has so much crude that it is running out of places to put it, and that could drive oil and gasoline prices even lower in the coming months. For the past seven weeks, the United States has been producing and importing an average of 1 million more barrels of oil every day than it is consuming. That extra crude is flowing into storage tanks, especially at the country’s main trading hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, pushing U.S. supplies to their highest point in at least 80 years, the Energy Department reported last week. If this keeps up, storage tanks could approach their operational limits, known in the industry as “tank tops,” by mid-April and send the price of crude — and probably gasoline, too — plummeting.

“The fact of the matter is we are running out of storage capacity in the U.S.,” Ed Morse at Citibank said at a recent symposium at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Morse has suggested oil could fall all the way to $20 a barrel from the current $50. At that rock-bottom price, oil companies, faced with mounting losses, would stop pumping oil until the glut eased. Gasoline prices would fall along with crude, though lower refinery production, because of seasonal factors and unexpected outages, could prevent a sharp decline.

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I see squatters in your future.

London Property Boom Built On Dirty Money (Independent)

Billions of pounds of corruptly gained money has been laundered by criminals and foreign officials buying upmarket London properties through anonymous offshore front companies – making the city arguably the world capital of money laundering. Some 36,342 properties in London have been bought through hidden companies in offshore havens and while a majority of those will have been kept secret for legitimate privacy purposes, vast numbers are thought to have been bought anonymously to hide stolen money. The flow of corrupt cash has driven up average prices with a “widespread ripple effect down the property price chain and beyond London”, according to property experts cited in the most comprehensive study into the long-suspected money laundering route through central London real estate, by anti-corruption organisation Transparency International.

Some sources claim it has skewed developers towards building high-priced flats and houses rather than ones ordinary people can afford. While corruption and tax evasion are likely to be the biggest sources of the illicit money, drug dealing, people trafficking and sanctions busting are also common, police say. TI’s research, which includes previously unreleased internal figures from the Metropolitan Police Proceeds of Corruption Unit, found that 75% of properties owned by people under criminal investigation for corruption are held through secret offshore companies. London has become a global magnet for corrupt funds, TI said, due to the high prices of property – enabling millions of pounds to be laundered at a time – and Britain’s notoriously lax rules on the disclosure of property ownership.

Any anonymous company in a secret location, such as the British Virgin Islands, can buy and sell houses in the UK with no disclosure of who the actual purchaser is. Meanwhile, TI said, estate agents only have to carry out anti-money-laundering checks on the person selling the property, leaving the buyers bringing their money into the country facing little, if any scrutiny. Anti-corruption activists including Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition figure murdered in Moscow last Friday, have repeatedly expressed frustration that the UK does so little to stem the flow of money stolen from their countries. Robert Barrington, executive director of TI, said: “This has a devastating effect on the countries from which the money has been stolen and it’s hard to see how welcoming the world’s corrupt elite is beneficial to communities in the UK.”

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Why are we still discussing this? Is anyone denying it?

Warren: Wall Street Received $6 Trillion Backdoor Bailout from Fed (Martens)

Yesterday, the Senate Banking Committee held the first of its hearings on widespread demands to reform the Federal Reserve to make it more transparent and accountable. Senator Elizabeth Warren put her finger on the pulse of the growing public outrage over how the Federal Reserve conducts much of its operations in secret and appears to frequently succumb to the desires of Wall Street to the detriment of the public interest. Warren addressed the secret loans that the Fed made to Wall Street during the financial crisis as follows:

“During the financial crisis, Congress bailed out the big banks with hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money; and that’s a lot of money. But the biggest money for the biggest banks was never voted on by Congress. Instead, between 2007 and 2009, the Fed provided over $13 trillion in emergency lending to just a handful of large financial institutions. That’s nearly 20 times the amount authorized in the TARP bailout.

“Now, let’s be clear, those Fed loans were a bailout too. Nearly all the money went to too-big-to-fail institutions. For example, in one emergency lending program, the Fed put out $9 trillion and over two-thirds of the money went to just three institutions: Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. “Those loans were made available at rock bottom interest rates – in many cases under 1%. And the loans could be continuously rolled over so they were effectively available for an average of about two years.”

One of the key reasons that the Fed wanted to keep this information buried from the public is that Citigroup was insolvent during the period it was receiving loans from the Fed. There is also growing distrust of how some Fed personnel appear to cozy up to Wall Street. During Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s appearance before the Senate Banking Committee a week earlier, Senator Warren severely criticized the actions of Scott Alvarez, the General Counsel of the Federal Reserve. Warren said Alvarez had delivered a speech before the American Bar Association challenging Dodd-Frank’s so-called push-out rule that would bar insured depository banks from holding dangerous derivatives and swaps on their books. Not long thereafter, Citigroup slipped a repeal of the provision into the must-pass spending bill that would keep the government running through this September.

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“Zervos says of those who are late to change: ” They will be fleeced! They will be the sheep of Wall Street!”

David Zervos: Here’s Who’s Buying All That Debt at Negative Yields (Bloomberg)

David Zervos at Jefferies takes a look at negative yielding European sovereign debt in a note sent to clients today. In the note he asks what seems like an obvious question: “Who in their right mind would ever buy this many negative yielding bonds? Or, put another way, how can an investor look themselves in the mirror after a day of hard work buying bonds with a ‘guaranteed’ loss?” His answer to the question, and what that answer means, should be of great interest to investors in the euro zone. He blames the index-driven world in which many investors live. Managers follow benchmarks, set under ” longstanding rules which never anticipated negative nominal yields.” The answer for these managers is to change the rules or mandates of their funds to allow them to ignore the rules that are currently forcing them to guarantee a loss on the funds they manage.

Zervos then argues that this change will turbocharge the portfolio effect in the euro zone. When the highest-rated sovereign debt carries a negative yield, it is no longer a risk-free asset; it is a guaranteed loser. Investors will therefore move into risk assets (e.g. quities).
According to Zervos, this move will happen over the coming quarters rather than over a period of years, as happened in the US. Zervos’s comments come as investors look to the European Central Bank to start sovereign bond purchases after its meeting tomorrow. With already negative yields across much of northern Europe and Mario Draghi saying that the ECB would be happy to buy at negative yields, investors will be rushing to change their investment mandates. Zervos says of those who are late to change: ” They will be fleeced! They will be the sheep of Wall Street!”

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Going going gone.

Brazil Raises Rate to Highest Since 2009 After Prices Surge (Bloomberg)

Brazil raised borrowing costs for a fourth straight meeting to the highest level in almost six years after monthly inflation jumped the most since 2003. The board, led by President Alexandre Tombini, maintained the pace of monetary policy tightening with a half-point increase to 12.75%, as expected by 59 of 63 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Four analysts forecast a quarter-point increase. The vote was unanimous and took into consideration “the macroeconomic scenario and the inflation outlook,” according to the central bank statement. Pledging fiscal consolidation after a record budget deficit last year, President Dilma Rousseff’s new economic team, spearheaded by Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, is unwinding tax breaks and allowing government regulated prices to rise.

While the bank expected the fiscal adjustments to spur a brief pick-up in prices, the threat of faster inflation posed by the real’s plunge to a 10-year low gives the bank no flexibility to address Brazil’s looming recession, said Jankiel Santos, chief economist at BESI Brasil. “With the real at current levels, there’s nothing else the central bank could do, and there’s no good news on other fronts regarding inflation,” said Santos by telephone from Sao Paulo before the decision. Annual inflation accelerated to 7.36% in mid-February as prices surged 1.33% in the month. Policy makers in January raised their 2015 forecast for increases in regulated prices, such as energy, to 9.3% from 6%. They also saw gasoline prices soared 8% because of higher taxes.

Economists surveyed weekly by the central bank have increased their year-end inflation forecast to 7.47%, above the central bank’s target of 4.5%, plus or minus two%age points. Brazil last missed its target in 2003 when prices rose 9.3%. Policy makers’ concern over the pass-through effects of the real’s depreciation was probably key to the bank’s decision, Carlos Kawall, chief economist at Banco Safra, said by telephone. Since the bank’s January meeting, the real has declined 12.7% to extend its six-month slide against the dollar to 25%, the worst performance among the world’s 16-most traded currencies. The currency fell 1.6% Wednesday to 2.9798 per dollar from 2.9316 on Tuesday, its weakest level since 2004.

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“..unlike back then when the dream of riches was from a public company, now its from a private company. And there in lies the rub.”

Why This Tech Bubble is Worse Than the Tech Bubble of 2000 (Mark Cuban)

Ah the good old days. Stocks up $25, $50, $100 more in a single day. Day trading was all the rage. Anyone and everyone you talked to had a story about how they had made a ton of money on such and such a stock. In an hour. Stock trading millionaires were being minted by the week, if not sooner. You couldn’t go anywhere without people talking about the stock market. Everyone was in or new someone who was in. There were hundreds of companies that were coming public and could easily be bought and sold. You just pick a stock and buy it. Then you pray it goes up. Which most days it did. Then it ended. Slowly by surely the air came out of the bubble and the stock markets declined and declined till the air was completely gone.

The good news was that some people were able to see it coming and get out. The bad is that others were able to get out, but at significant losses. If we thought it was stupid to invest in public internet websites that had no chance of succeeding back then, it’s worse today. In a bubble there is always someone with a “great” idea pitching an investor the dream of a billion dollar payout with a comparison to an existing success story. In the tech bubble it was Broadcast.com, AOL, Netscape, etc. Today its, Uber, Twitter, Facebook, etc. To the investor, its the hope of a huge payout. But there is one critical difference. Back then the companies the general public was investing in were public companies.

They may have been horrible companies, but being public meant that investors had liquidity to sell their stocks. The bubble today comes from private investors who are investing in apps and small tech companies. Just like back then there were always people telling you their idea for a new website or about the public website they invested in, today people always have what essentially boils down to an app that they want you to invest in. But unlike back then when the dream of riches was from a public company, now its from a private company. And there in lies the rub. People we used to call individual or small investors, are now called Angels. Angels. Why do they call them Angels? Maybe because they grant wishes?

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“It’s clear that the White House has been counting on a sharp deterioration in Russians’ standard of living, mass protests..”

Russia Accuses US of Plot to Oust Putin Via Opposition Aid (Bloomberg)

Russia’s Security Council accused the U.S. of plotting to oust President Vladimir Putin by financing the opposition and encouraging mass demonstrations, less than a week after a protest leader was murdered near the Kremlin. The U.S. is funding Russian political groups under the guise of promoting civil society, just as in the “color revolutions” in the former Soviet Union and the Arab world, council chief Nikolai Patrushev said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday. At the same time, the U.S. is using the sanctions imposed over the conflict in Ukraine as a “pretext” to inflict economic pain and stoke discontent, he said. U.S. officials have dismissed the suggestion of a plot. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that Putin “misinterprets a great deal of what the United States has been doing and has tried to do.”

Will Stevens, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said by e-mail that sanctions on Russia are aimed at seeking a change in the country’s policies, not its government. More than 50,000 people turned out in central Moscow on Sunday to mourn the death of Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy premier-turned Putin opponent who was gunned down in one of the most heavily guarded areas of the capital late Friday. That was the biggest rally Russia has seen since 2011-2012, when Putin was preparing to return to the presidency for a third term. “It’s clear that the White House has been counting on a sharp deterioration in Russians’ standard of living, mass protests,” Patrushev said. Russia can withstand the pressure, though, thanks to its resilience and “decades of experience in combating color revolutions,” he said. [..]

Patrushev, like Putin an ex-KGB officer and former head of the Federal Security Service, said the U.S. is also working to undermine governments in the Middle East, including by promoting extremism and supporting militant groups. While the U.S. is leading an international coalition to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it appears to be slowing its efforts to destroy the terrorist group to avoid bolstering Russia’s biggest ally in the region, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Patrushev said. “Our trans-Atlantic partners have a clear goal to divide the Muslim world and to weaken Russia and China at the same time,” Patrushev said.

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Why is this person still around?

Victoria Nuland: Russia’s Actions In Ukraine Conflict An ‘Invasion’ (Guardian)

Assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland has admitted the US considers Russia’s actions in Ukraine “an invasion”, in what may be the first time a senior American official has used the term to describe a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people. Speaking before the House committee on foreign affairs, Nuland was asked by representative Brian Higgins about Russia’s support of rebels in eastern Ukraine, through weapons, heavy armor, money and soldiers: “In practical terms does that constitute an invasion?” Nuland at first replied that “we have made clear that Russia is responsible for fielding this war,” until pressed by Higgins to answer “yes or no” whether it constitutes an invasion. “We have used that word in the past, yes,” Nuland said, apparently marking the first time a senior official has allowed the term in reference to Russia’s interference in eastern Ukraine, and not simply its continued occupation of the Crimean peninsula.

Obama administration officials across departments have strenuously avoided calling the conflict an invasion for months, instead performing verbal contortions to describe an “incursion”, “violation of territorial sovereignty” and an “escalation of aggression”. In November Vice-President Joe Biden, who has acted as one of Obama’s primary liaisons with the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, rapidly corrected himself after breaking from the White House’s careful language on CNN, saying “When the Russians invaded – crossed the border – into Ukraine, it was, ‘My god. It’s over.’” Barack Obama has so far declined to use the term, as have US ambassadors, the secretary of state, John Kerry, and EU leaders such as the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

The leaders have probably avoided the word to prevent it from complicating already difficult diplomatic efforts, since it would probably exacerbate antagonistic rhetoric between the parties and diminish the Kremlin’s will to compromise. Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN warned in August that continued Russian intervention would “viewed as an invasion”, but has not used the term since. Major James Brindle, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to characterize Russia’s actions as an invasion, using terms like “serious military escalation” and “blatant violation of international law”. “To be clear we care much less about what you call it, we’ve been focused on how to respond to it,” he said.

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America lost its spine.

Oklahoma Scientists Downplay Link Between Earthquakes And Fracking (Grist)

Oklahoma has been experiencing an earthquake boom in recent years. In 2014, the state had 585 quakes of at least magnitude 3. Up through 2008, it averaged only three quakes of that strength each year. Something odd is happening. But scientists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey have downplayed a possible connection between increasing fracking in the state and the increasing number of tremors. Even as other states (Ohio, for example) quickly put two and two together and shut down some drilling operations that were to blame, OGS scientists said that more research was needed before their state took similar steps.

Now, though, emails obtained by EnergyWire reporter Mike Soraghan reveal that the University of Oklahoma and its oil industry funders were putting pressure on OGS scientists to downplay the connection between earthquakes and the injection of fracking wastewater underground. In 2013, a preliminary OGS report noted possible correlation between the two, and OGS signed on to a statement by the U.S. Geological Survey that also noted such linkages. Soon after, OGS’s seismologist, Austin Holland, was summoned to meetings with the president of the university, where OGS is housed, and with executives of oil company Continental. Continental CEO Harold Hamm was a major university funder, while the university president David Boren serves on Continental’s board, for which he earned $272,700 in cash and stock in 2013. From EnergyWire:

“I have been asked to have ‘coffee’ with President Boren and Harold Hamm Wednesday,” [Holland] wrote in an Nov. 18, 2013, email to a co-worker. The significance was not lost on his colleague, OGS Public Information Coordinator Connie Smith. “Gosh,” Smith responded. “I guess that’s better than having Kool-Aid with them. I guess.” A meeting with such powerful figures in the state would be intimidating for a state employee such as Holland, said state Rep. Jason Murphey of Guthrie. “Wow. That’s a lot of pressure,” said Murphey, a Republican whose district has been rattled by numerous quakes. “That just sends chills up your spine if you’re from Oklahoma.”

Oklahoma geologist Bob Jackman, who has tried to get the word out about the connection between fracking and the quakes, recalls Holland saying last year that he couldn’t do the same. According to Jackman, Holland, when pressed, blurted out, “You don’t understand — Harold Hamm and others will not allow me to say certain things.”

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The original headline said 10,000, but that’s a bit much in 2 days. Still, what a disgrace.

Italy Rescues 1000 Refugees From Mediterranean Over Two Days (AP)

More than 1000 refugees have been saved in the Mediterranean north of Libya in the past two days but 10 people died at sea, Italian officials have said. A flotilla of rescue vessels, including from Italy’s coastguard and navy, and three cargo ships saved 941 people in seven separate operations on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the coastguard and two cargo ships rescued 94 migrants whose motorised dinghy was in distress 40 miles (65 km) north of Libya. Survivors were ferried to southern Italian ports. The migrants rescued on Tuesday had been aboard five motorised dinghies and two larger vessels. One of the larger boats capsized and 10 people were later found dead. For months now, hundreds – sometimes thousands – of migrants fleeing conflicts or poverty have been reaching Italy every week on smugglers’ boats from Libya.

Italy’s interior ministry said 7,882 migrants arrived in the first two months of this year, compared to 5,506 over the same time in 2014. A total of 170,000 migrants and asylum seekers were rescued at sea by Italy’s coast guard, navy and other vessels? including cargo ships last year. It is believed the tally will be higher this year. The coastguard said the migrants saved in the latest rescues claimed to be Syrians, Palestinians, Libyans, Tunisians and people from sub-Saharan Africa. More than 30 children were among those rescued. One of the 50 pregnant women aboard was urgently evacuated for medical treatment. A tug deployed at offshore oil platforms raised one of the first alarms before joining in the rescue operations about 50 miles north of Libya, the coast guard said.

For years, Italy has been appealing to the EU to help with ships, aircraft or funding. It points out that most of those rescued intend to reach relatives or jobs in other European countries. This year, an EU patrol mission known as Triton replaced Italy’s Mare Nostrum air and sea mission that had saved tens of thousands of lives. Triton patrols only EU national waters, while the Italians had carried out rescues off Libya’s coast, where many of the unseaworthy and overcrowded vessels founder. Italy says it won’t turn its back on those in danger. “Often the SOS call [arrives] when the migrant boats are outside the Italian rescue zone, 50 or 60 miles from the Libyan coast,” the coastguard commander Filippo Marini told the AP. International law obliges Italy to alert the coastal country with jurisdiction, he said, but calling on Libyan authorities would yield little help due to the country’s chaotic security situation.

“If there is no reaction or intervention for this country, we must rescue these people,” Marini said. The EU’s smaller-scale mission is fodder for rightwing Italian politicians, including Matteo Salvini, the leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe Northern League party. “Ten more dead and 900 clandestine migrants ready to disembark,” Salvini said on Wednesday. “In Rome and in Brussels, there are full pockets and hands stained with blood.” The migrants’ traffickers are reportedly getting even more ruthless. An Italian child protection advocate, Carlotta Bellini of Save the Children, said migrants have recently reported that armed traffickers demanded they jump into the boat and depart even if weather is bad.

Italian lawmakers also demanded the EU do more. Khalid Chaouki, from premier Matteo Renzi’s Democratic party, lamented “this unexplainable European indifference”. In Brussels, the migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, told reporters: “Now more than ever we need a comprehensive and long-term strategy.” He spoke after a commission orientation debate on the EU’s new migration policy. Italian officials have expressed concern that militants could mingle among migrants from Libya, where a group affiliating itself with Islamic State (Isis) has gained a foothold.

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