Jul 242017
 
 July 24, 2017  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Jackson Pollock The She Wolf 1943

 

We Are Now In The Frightening Endgame (Egon von Greyerz)
China’s Dollar Debt Specter Haunts Fed’s Policy Meetings (R.)
Federal Reserve Faces Prospect Of Global Monetary Policy Tightening (R.)
Bank of Japan Dot Plot Paints a Pessimistic Picture of Inflation (BBG)
European Banks Struggle To Solve Toxic Shipping Debt Problem (R.)
Saudi Economic Pain Will Test Resolve of Prince’s Reform Push (BBG)
While Hammond Looks For A Magic Money Tree, Labour Has Found One (G.)
Strip Mining the World (Robert Gore)
Alexis Tsipras: ‘The Worst Is Clearly Behind Us’ (G.)
European and African Ministers Discuss Plan To Tackle Flow Of Refugees (G.)
The Strange Similarity of Neuron and Galaxy Networks (Vazza & Feletti)

 

 

Sorry for you lovely summer day, but it’s time to get serious. Excellent read. “The gullibility of people today is exacerbated by the power of the internet and social media.”

We Are Now In The Frightening Endgame (Egon von Greyerz)

“Stock investors are rejoicing about stock markets making new highs in many countries, totally oblivious of the risks or the reasons. It seems that this is an unstoppable rally in a “new normal” market paradigm. No major increase is expected in the inflation rate or the historically low interest rates. The present rally has lasted 8 years since the 2009 low. There is virtually no fear in the stock market so investors see no reason why this favorable climate would not continue for another 8 years at least. Yes, of course it could. All that is needed is that governments worldwide print another $20-50 trillion at least and that global debt goes up by another $200-500 trillion. “The gullibility of people today is exacerbated by the power of the internet and social media. Anything we read is accepted as fact or the truth, while a major part of it is just fake news.

[..] The power of the internet and other media has facilitated spreading news and propaganda to billions of people and very few can distinguish if they hear or read “real” news or “fake” news. Anyone in government is incapable of telling the truth. Automatically when someone assumes an elected position their Pinocchio nose grows extremely long since their entire purpose is then to be all things to all people in order to be re-elected. This is why virtually no elected official has a backbone nor any morals or principles. Because if they had, telling the truth would make them unelectable.

[..] The system we now have is based on Fake News, Fake Money with no morals, no principles and no moral or ethical values. In spite of, or more correctly because of, all the lawyers, government legislation, compliance and regulations, the financial system is today functioning much worse than ever with more fraud, more government intervention and more manipulation of markets. Also, clients today are secondary. Instead, it is all about lining the pockets of the bankers with their multi-billion dollar deals and multi-million dollar bonuses and options. As we experienced in 2006-9, profits are for the bankers and losses for governments and customers. During that time of the Great Financial Crisis, many Investment Bankers received the same bonuses during the crisis years as before, in spite of the fact that most of them would have gone under without the government support they benefitted from to the extent of $25 trillion.

Read more …

Yellen is lost in China. How can they keep the dollar low in the face of this? And how long for? Trump likes it, China needs it. But the numbers say no.

China’s Dollar Debt Specter Haunts Fed’s Policy Meetings (R.)

In September 2015, the U.S. Federal Reserve cited risks from China as a key reason for delaying its first interest rate hike in a decade. A wall of Chinese debt maturing in the next few years could jolt the country back into the U.S. central bank’s policy deliberations. Two years ago, it was a collapse in Chinese stocks, a surprise yuan devaluation and shrinking foreign exchange reserves that roiled financial markets that delayed the Fed, but it did raise rates three months later and has tightened further since. Now, some see risks emerging in China’s dollar-denominated bonds that could give the Fed greater pause for thought as it raises rates, even as other central banks signal a shift from ultra-easy policy. To be sure, Fed officials have not publicly flagged China’s debt as a major risk in their policy discussions.

However, debt analysts point to the possibility of another September 2015 moment in which the Fed takes its cues from concerns about China. “Back then, I said that U.S. monetary policy is not made in Washington, it’s made in Beijing,” said Joachim Fels, global economic advisor at bond giant PIMCO. “China does have a major impact on monetary policies elsewhere … This year has been smooth sailing for global central banks because there were no shockwaves from China but I expect that to change if we think beyond the next few months.” The outstanding amount of dollar bonds issued by Chinese entities has grown almost 20 times since the 2008-09 global financial crisis to just over half a trillion dollars, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements.

Since September 2015, it has grown almost 50%. China’s dollar bonds are now almost a third of the emerging market total dollar issuance, up from a quarter in September 2015 and less than 5% before the Fed first began printing money in December 2008. A fifth of China’s dollar bonds mature within a year, according to BIS data. More than half are due in the next five, Thomson Reuters data show. If U.S. borrowing costs start rising as a result of the Fed’s exit from its unconventional monetary policy, that debt would have to be rolled over at higher costs, chipping away at the real economy in China. Alternatively, Chinese companies might decide to refinance their debt in local currency, creating weakening pressure on the yuan.

Either development would reverberate globally and create a major external challenge for Fed policy. For its part, the Fed doesn’t see any immediate dangers with China’s dollar debt. “You’ll find if you look at China they certainly have dollar-denominated debt but … you’ll see that they are not as reliant on external debt as people might have thought,” Dallas Fed chief Robert Kaplan said in Mexico City on Friday. Also, a significant portion of Chinese dollar borrowing makes economic sense – such as companies funding overseas investment projects. And if those dollars are converted into yuan, they could help ease any weakening pressure on the Chinese currency.

Read more …

They’re stuck. Nobody wants to admit it, but they are. One way out: a huge crisis, so they can put the blame there.

Federal Reserve Faces Prospect Of Global Monetary Policy Tightening (R.)

Prospects for tighter monetary policy in Europe and other countries could pose a fresh problem for the Federal Reserve when it meets next week to ponder its plan to reduce its $4.2 trillion bond portfolio purchased after the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed bought U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) for about six years in a program known as “quantitative easing” which kept interest rates at record lows to spur borrowing and economic recovery. But at its June meeting this year, as well as raising interest rates for the third time in six months, the Fed also announced a plan to begin by letting $6 billion a month in Treasuries mature without reinvestment and to increase that amount at three month intervals up to $30 billion. Similarly, the Fed said it would run down its agency debt and mortgage backed securities by $4 billion a month until it reaches $20 billion.

Now, the ECB also appears likely to decide later this year on when to scale back its monthly bond purchases. When ECB President Mario Draghi first hinted at the prospect last month, world bond yields rose sharply for a while. Moreover, Canada’s central bank raised interest rates for the first time in seven years this month, and the Bank of England is expected to raise rates next year to combat rising inflation. The Fed led the way in tightening monetary policy as the global economy recovered from the 2008 recession but must now determine how plans by other central banks’ plans may affect their own policy. While a stronger European economy has been welcomed by the Fed, lessening risks to the global economy, a move by major central banks to all tighten monetary policy simultaneously has not been seen for a decade.

“The effects of ECB tapering are not limited” to euro zone countries, Cornerstone analyst Roberto Perli wrote recently. Draghi’s comments in June drove up 10-year Treasury yields US10YT=RR by the most since the U.S. election last November, and a move by the ECB to stop printing money could prompt the Fed to slow its plans for fear that financial conditions would tighten too fast. When Fed policymakers meet on July 25-26 they will need to decide a start date for reducing their bond holdings or leave more time to evaluate what Fed Governor Lael Brainard recently cited as a possible “turning point” in global monetary policy that may affect economic growth.

Read more …

The failure of Abenomics is taking on comical forms.

Bank of Japan Dot Plot Paints a Pessimistic Picture of Inflation (BBG)

Even a quick glance at the Bank of Japan’s latest inflation forecasts makes for disappointing reading. The BOJ pushed back its timetable for hitting 2% price gains for a sixth time since Governor Haruhiko Kuroda took over. And it cut its estimates for core CPI for this fiscal year and the next two. A close look at the individual projections of the board’s nine members released after its July 19-20 policy meeting is cause for even more pessimism. Eight of them see risks “tilted to downside” for their price forecast for fiscal 2019 – the year when the BOJ currently hopes to reach its inflation goal. Put another way, the chances of prices dropping below forecast are way higher than beating it. Downward pointing triangles in the dot plot below represent estimates from board members who see downside risks to their projection while circles indicate risks are evenly balanced.

There are no upward pointing triangles giving reason for optimism. When the BOJ released its previous dot plot in April, there were only six downward triangles for 2019. Kuroda said it’s “regrettable” that the BOJ has had to repeatedly push back the timing of when it will reach the inflation goal, while repeating that he still sees momentum to get there eventually. “The BOJ seems to be losing a lot of confidence in its inflation outlook,” Chotaro Morita, chief rates strategist at SMBC Nikko Securities, wrote in a report Friday. So what does this mean for policy? According to former BOJ executive director Hideo Hayakawa, the delay to fiscal 2019 is an acknowledgment that the central bank will continue stimulus even beyond 2020, as it’s very unlikely the BOJ would start cutting stimulus at the same time as the government makes a planned increase to the sales tax.

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Grossly overbuilt. No easy way out: “an estimated capital shortfall of $30 billion this year.”

European Banks Struggle To Solve Toxic Shipping Debt Problem (R.)

Dutch shipowner Vroon is finding talks with banks tough going as it tries to navigate a way out of a long slump in the shipping industry. But it is not an easy time for the lenders either. Vroon, a 127-year-old family-owned group which operates about 200 vessels and transports livestock, oil and other commodities, wants to extend its credit lines and adjust repayment schedules. But European banks that lent heavily to the sector when it boomed more than a decade ago have a heavy toxic debt burden following the 2008-09 global financial crisis and a shipping markets crash in 2010. Shipping firms and banks are caught in a vicious circle of debt, causing a credit crunch that is hindering the industry’s recovery. Overcapacity – a glut of available ships for hire – is a big concern, and another is a lack of profitability caused by problems such as slower demand and global economic turmoil.

One of the major companies, South Korean container line Hanjin, has gone under. “We have difficulty in meeting all repayment obligations that we have and that is what we are in discussion with our banks about. Those discussions are constructive but are not easy — not for us, or the banks,” Herman Marks, the chief financial officer at Vroon, told Reuters. “It is the lack of profitability for the industry that is causing the lack of availability of finance.” Shipping finance sources say the shipping industry, which transports 90% of the world’s goods including oil, food and industrial products such as coal and iron ore, has an estimated capital shortfall of $30 billion this year. Some banks are being driven out of shipping and those that remain are now more conservative in their financing, Marks said. “It is an industry that requires consolidation,” he added.

Read more …

One day we will know how poorly Saudi is doing. But not now.

Saudi Economic Pain Will Test Resolve of Prince’s Reform Push (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s drive to reduce the economy’s reliance on oil has hit a snag: its reliance on oil. More than a year after the kingdom’s dominant leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, unveiled a blueprint for the post-oil era, the drop in crude prices is making economists more skeptical about whether some of the plan’s medium-term targets can be met. The reason: lower oil revenue deprives the government of money needed to balance its books by 2020 while trying to stimulate growth to ease the transition’s burden on the population. IMF data released Friday underscored the challenge. The fund lowered its forecasts for Saudi economic growth this year to “close to zero.” Analysts at Citigroup, EFG-Hermes and Standard Chartered see a bleaker picture, expecting the economy to shrink for the first time since the global financial crisis in 2009.

Deeper economic pain will test the authorities’ resolve to pursue tough reform measures as they seek to go against the run of history, which suggests that successful diversification efforts depended largely on policies put in place before a price shock. “Unless you start seeing some economic growth drivers kicking in, which would really have to come from the government and would require higher oil prices, the pace of fiscal reforms would likely remain slower than in 2016,” when authorities cut spending and lowered costly subsidies, Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said in an interview. “We see the possibility of having a very low growth or stagnant economic environment with the deficit still remaining high,” she said. “This is a key risk.”

Brent crude prices have declined 15% this year to $48 a barrel, well below the level that the kingdom needs to balance its budget, as producers grapple with how to eliminate a global supply glut. Under an accord between OPEC and other major producers, Saudi Arabia has cut its output. The IMF revised its forecast for Saudi growth this year to 0.1% from 0.4%. And while it now expects non-oil GDP to grow 1.7% after stalling last year, the new figures compare with an earlier estimate of about 2%.

Read more …

Transaction tax. It will come.

While Hammond Looks For A Magic Money Tree, Labour Has Found One (G.)

If Hammond is to find money for higher public spending without increasing borrowing, he will either have to ditch government plans to reduce personal and corporate taxes or find new sources of revenue. One option would be for the government to embrace the idea of a financial transaction tax, AKA the Robin Hood tax. This idea, fleshed out in detail last week by Prof Avinash Persaud at an event in London, ticks all the right boxes. Persaud’s starting point is that Britain already has a financial transaction tax, and has had one for more than 300 years. It is called stamp duty, which is levied on the purchase of shares issued by British companies, and raises just over £3bn a year, half of it from citizens of other countries. Some trading activities are exempt from stamp duty and Persaud believes these exemptions should be restricted.

He also proposes that the tax should be broadened to cover transactions in corporate bonds and cash flows arising from equity and derivative transactions. He estimates that this would raise £4.7bn a year. One argument against a financial transaction tax is that it would lead to fewer transactions and so would not raise any money. Persaud said he accepted that the tax would change behaviour (indeed, that is part of the reason for having one), but that he had already made allowances for the reduction in activity in his calculations. If there was no change in behaviour, the tax would raise £13bn a year. Nor does he accept that a tougher stamp duty regime would lead to a relocation of business. Liability for the tax would depend on where the financial instruments were issued and who owned them.

A US investor, for example, would pay the tax on shares issued in the UK, but not on securities traded in the UK but not issued there. Likewise, a British investor would pay the tax on securities wherever they were issued and traded. Persaud, himself a former banker, thinks big finance is a bit of a racket. If a company wants to raise money in the City, the charges amount to 2% of the trade – a rate unchanged in more than 100 years. Put another way, all the efficiency gains since the late 19th century have been captured by those who run the industry rather than shared with the customers. It is hard to think of any other sector where this is true.

The Treasury has always been opposed to a financial transaction tax, in large part due to its institutional capture by the City. Official attitudes would change, though, with a Labour government. Why? Because Persaud’s presentation was organised by the Labour party and he was introduced by the shadow chancellor. While Spreadsheet Phil is looking for a magic money tree, John McDonnell has already found one.

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Can’t beat a good rant.

Strip Mining the World (Robert Gore)

The government is a strip mining operation, plundering the dwindling residual value of a once wealthy America. Forget ostensible justifications, policy is crafted to allow those who control the government to maximize their take and put the costs on their victims, leaving devastation in their wake. Wars are no longer about defending the country or even making the world safe for democracy. They are about appropriations, not to be won, but profitably prolonged. The Middle East and Northern Africa have been a mother lode. You would think their sixteen-year war in backward and impoverished Afghanistan would be a shameful disgrace for the military and the intelligence agencies. It’s not. They’ve milked that conflict for all its worth, and now brazenly talk about a “generational war”: many more years of more of the same.

We can also look forward to generational wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The strip miners are agitating for an Iranian foray. That’s got Into The 22nd Century written all over it, a rich, multi-generational vein, perhaps America’s first 100-year war. The only rival for richest mother lode is medicine. Health care is around 28% of the federal budget, defense 21%. Medical spending no longer cures the sick; it’s the take for insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital rackets. The US spends more per capita on health care than any other nation (36% more than second-place Switzerland) but quality of care ranks well down the list. In education there is the same gap between per capita spending (the US ranks at or near the top) and value received, in this instance as measured by student performance.

What’s paid is out of all proportion to what’s received, especially at a time when computer and communications technology should be driving down the costs of education across the board. Indoctrination factories formerly known as schools, colleges, and universities dispense approved propaganda. For students, higher education is now on the government-sponsored installment plan. There’s a litany of excuses why Johnny, Joan, Juan, Juanita, Jamal and Jasmine can’t read, compute, or think, but lack of funding and student loans don’t wash. Education dollars fund teachers’ unions, their pensions, administrators, and edifice complexes; learning is an afterthought. This vein will play out as the pensions funds, and the governments that have swapped promises to fund them for educators’ votes, go bankrupt. Probably around the same time as the student loan bubble pops.

Read more …

Tsipras is trying to put the blame on Varoufakis. He won’t find that an easy road, even if many Greeks agree. And no, the worst is not behind either him or Greece.

Alexis Tsipras: ‘The Worst Is Clearly Behind Us’ (G.)

Today, Tsipras wants to dwell neither on Varoufakis – blamed widely by Greeks for the bungled “game of chicken” that led to the EU and IMF enforcing the harshest austerity measures yet – nor his nemesis, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. “Yanis is trying to write history in a different way,” he allows himself to say. “Perhaps the moment will come when certain truths are told … when we got to the point of reading what he presented as his plan B it was so vague, it wasn’t worth the trouble of even talking about. It was simply weak and ineffective.” Far from being a hate figure, Varoufakis held Schäuble in high esteem, Tsipras says. “I think he was his alter ego. He loved him. He respected him a great deal and he still respects him.”

Attempting to set the record straight, Tsipras says that while the Syriza government’s original strategy was one of collision politics – “in line with our mandate” – quitting the single currency, and by extension the EU, was never in question, even in the white heat of crisis when Athens was days away from default. “Leave Europe and go where … to another galaxy?” he quips. “Greece is an integral part of Europe. Without it, what would Europe look like? It would lose an important part of its history and its heritage.” Besides, Grexit would have amounted to acceptance of the “punishment plan” concocted by Schäuble that foresaw Athens taking “time out” of the bloc.

Compromise was the only option, says Tsipras, likening the measures that came with it to a ghastly medicine endured when life is at stake. “You hold your nose, you take it … You know that there is no other way … because you have tried everything else to survive, to stay alive.” Despite the firestorm of criticism he now endures, non-Greek observers say, the once firebrand leader has also shown courage in implementing policies he evidently loathes. Tsipras has managed to persuade many of those opposed to austerity to swallow the bitter pill that has kept Greece in the family of nations it has long identified with. The scenario of a “left parenthesis”, peddled by political enemies at the start of his tenure, has been put to rest.

[..] Ultimately, the great clash between Athens and the lenders keeping Greece afloat will be what is left imprinted on the collective memory, but Tsipras’s legacy, he says, will rest on something else. “It will be that I managed to take the country out of the bog in which it had been led by those who bankrupted it … and move ahead with a programme of deep reform.” That, at least, is the hope. For Greece has become an unpredictable place and, as with history itself, there are no straight lines. “No one,” he says, “can ever be sure that the crisis won’t come back.”

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They found a new term: regularize. As in: regularized refugees. This can only go horribly wrong.

European and African Ministers Discuss Plan To Tackle Flow Of Refugees (G.)

European and African ministers are to meet in Tunis on Monday to discuss a plan to try to regularise the flow of refugees from Africa to Europe to about 20,000, coupled with a much tougher strategy to deport illegal migrants from Italy and break up smuggling rings. The plan to regularise the migrant flow is being pushed by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, which warns that EU efforts to train the Libyan coastguard along with Italy’s intention to impose a new code of conduct on NGO rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean do not match the scale of the problem, or recognise the extent to which the flow of refugees and migrants is likely to become permanent. The aim is to set up screening systems for EU-bound migrants in countries en route to Libya, such as Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Chad and Sudan.

The EU at a meeting in July set aside enough cash for 40,000 regularised refugees, with as many as half coming from claimants in Syria, and the remainder from Africa. Although the European commission has struggled to persuade all countries to take migrants after a similar scheme set up in following the 2015 migration crisis from Syria, the new scheme would represent a form of solidarity, and provide Italy with some relief. Italy is gripped by deep political and civil divisions on the issue, with more than 90,000 migrants reaching Italy from Libya this year. A reduction to 20,000 from Africa would represent a transformation.

Explaining the thinking, Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s new special envoy to the central Mediterranean, said: “We need to regularise the system and stop these dangerous journeys into Libya. Any remedy that focuses on trying to stop the flow of migrants at sea, such as a code of conduct for a NGOs, cannot be the solution. The issue has to be addressed earlier in the countries of origin and transit. “Italy also needs to be able to process claimants so the economic migrants are returned much more quickly, or else there will be no deterrent to travel to Italy. Only a third of the migrants reaching Italy are found to be in need of international protection.” He added that by the time migrants reached Libya it was often too late.

It is thought there are 300,000 Africans from outside Libya trying to get across to Europe or to get some work in Libya. They are living in Libyan detention centres or in warehouses or so-called “connection houses” in the hands of traffickers. The refugees need to be taken out of Libya and these detention centres so they can be processed elsewhere.

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Self-similarity. The ultimate fractals.

The Strange Similarity of Neuron and Galaxy Networks (Vazza & Feletti)

The total number of neurons in the human brain falls in the same ballpark of the number of galaxies in the observable universe.

Christof Koch, a leading researcher on consciousness and the human brain, has famously called the brain “the most complex object in the known universe.” It’s not hard to see why this might be true. With a hundred billion neurons and a hundred trillion connections, the brain is a dizzyingly complex object. But there are plenty of other complicated objects in the universe. For example, galaxies can group into enormous structures (called clusters, superclusters, and filaments) that stretch for hundreds of millions of light-years. The boundary between these structures and neighboring stretches of empty space called cosmic voids can be extremely complex. Gravity accelerates matter at these boundaries to speeds of thousands of kilometers per second, creating shock waves and turbulence in intergalactic gases.

We have predicted that the void-filament boundary is one of the most complex volumes of the universe, as measured by the number of bits of information it takes to describe it. This got us to thinking: Is it more complex than the brain? So we—an astrophysicist and a neuroscientist—joined forces to quantitatively compare the complexity of galaxy networks and neuronal networks. The first results from our comparison are truly surprising: Not only are the complexities of the brain and cosmic web actually similar, but so are their structures. The universe may be self-similar across scales that differ in size by a factor of a billion billion billion.

The task of comparing brains and clusters of galaxies is a difficult one. For one thing it requires dealing with data obtained in drastically different ways: telescopes and numerical simulations on the one hand, electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, and functional magnetic resonance on the other. It also requires us to consider enormously different scales: The entirety of the cosmic web—the large-scale structure traced out by all of the universe’s galaxies—extends over at least a few tens of billions of light-years. This is 27 orde
rs of magnitude larger than the human brain. Plus, one of these galaxies is home to billions of actual brains. If the cosmic web is at least as complex as any of its constituent parts, we might naively conclude that it must be at least as complex as the brain.

Read more …

Jun 112017
 
 June 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Mondriaan Amaryllis 1910

 

US Weeks Away From A Recession According To Latest Loan Data (ZH)
This Super Bubble Is About to Pop (IM)
Another Spanish Bank about to Bite the Dust (DQ)
“Macron Is Shaping Up As Hyper-Presidency” (BBG)
George Osborne Says Theresa May Is A ‘Dead Woman Walking’ (G.)
Theresa May’s Premiership In Peril As Loose Alliance Agreed With DUP (G.)
UK’s May Isolated Ahead Of Brexit Talks As Key Aides Quit (R.)
The Inconvenient Truth of Consumer Debt (DDMB)
Tesla’s Market Value Zooms Past Another Car Maker (MW)
The Actual Lizard People (Connelly)
Refugee Rescue Ships Not ‘Colluding With People Smugglers’ (Ind.)
Fractal Planting Patterns Yield Optimal Harvests, No Central Control (PhysOrg)

 

 

A huge difference from the overarching narrative.

US Weeks Away From A Recession According To Latest Loan Data (ZH)

While many “conventional” indicators of US economic vibrancy and strength have lost their informational and predictive value over the past decade (GDP fluctuates erratically especially in Q1, employment is the lowest this century yet real wage growth is non-existent, inflation remains under the Fed’s target despite its $4.5 trillion balance sheet and so on), one indicator has remained a stubbornly fail-safe marker of economic contraction: since the 1960, every time Commercial & Industrial loan balances have declined (or simply stopped growing), whether due to tighter loan supply or declining demand, a recession was already either in progress or would start soon. This can be seen on both the linked chart, and the one zoomed in below, which shows the uncanny correlation between loan growth and economic recession.

And while we have repeatedly documented the sharp decline in US Commercial and Industrial loan growth over the past few months (most recently in “We Now Know “Who Hit The Brakes” As Loan Creation Crashes To Six Year Low“) as US loans have failed to post any material increase in over 30 consecutive weeks, suddenly the US finds itself on the verge of an ominous inflection point. After growing at a 7% Y/Y pace at the start of the year, which declined to 3% at the end of March and 2.6% at the end of April, the latest bank loan update from the Fed showed that the annual rate of increase in C&A loans is now down to just 1.6%, – the lowest since 2011 – after slowing to 2.3% and 1.8% in the previous two weeks.

Should the current rate of loan growth deceleration persist – and there is nothing to suggest otherwise – the US will post its first negative loan growth, or rather loan contraction since the financial crisis, in roughly 4 to 6 weeks. An interesting point on loan dynamics here from Wolf Richter, who recently wrote that a while after the 1990/1991 recession was over, the NBER determined that the recession began in July 1990, eight month after C&I loans began to stall. “As such, the current seven-month stall is a big red flag. These stalling C&I loans don’t fit at all into the rosy credit scenario. Something is seriously wrong.”

However, it wasn’t until loan growth actually contracted, that the 1990 recession was validated.  Well, the US economy is almost there again. And this time it’s not just C&I loan growth, or lack thereof, there is troubling. As the chart below shows, after peaking in late 2016, real-estate loan growth has also decelerated by nearly half, to 4.6%.

More troubling still, after flatlining at nearly double digit growth for much of 2016, starting last September there has been a sharp slowdown in commercial auto loans, whose growth is now down to just a third, or 3%, of what it was a year ago.

While it remains to be seen if C&I loans have preserved their uncanny “recession predictiveness” for yet another turn of the business cycle, the charts above confirm that the US economy is rapidly slowing, and validating the poor Q1 GDP print. Furthermore, one thing is clear: absent a substantial rebound in loan growth, whether for commercial, residential or auto loans, there is no reason to expect an imminent uptick in the US economy. We only note this, because next week the Fed plans to hike rates again. If it does so just as US loan growth contracts, it may be doing so smack in the middle of a recession.

Read more …

It’s more of a series of bubbles. But yes, Germany’s needs and demands are set to prevail over everyone else’s yet again. The EU’s inherent flaws will do it in.

This Super Bubble Is About to Pop (IM)

Right now, Italy is Europe’s weakest link. Italy has one of the most indebted governments in the world. It’s borrowed over $2.4 trillion. Its debt-to-GDP ratio is north of 130%. (For comparison, the US debt-to-GDP ratio is 104%.) But the situation is actually much worse. GDP measures a country’s economic output. However, it’s highly misleading. Mainstream economists count government spending as a positive when calculating GDP. A more honest approach would count it as a big negative. In Italy, government spending accounts for a whopping 50%-plus of GDP. Remove that from the calculation, and I suspect we’d see how hopelessly insolvent the Italian government truly is. In other words, Italy is flat broke. I don’t see how the Italian government could possibly extract enough in taxes from the productive part of the economy to ever pay back what it’s borrowed.

Meanwhile, Italian government bonds are in a super bubble. They’re currently trading near record-low yields. (When bond prices go up, bond yields do down.) Over $1 trillion worth of Italian bonds actually have negative yields. It’s a bizarre and perverse situation. Lending money to the bankrupt Italian government carries huge risks. So the yields on Italian government bonds should be near record highs, not record lows. Negative yields could not exist in a free market. They’re only possible in the current “Alice in Wonderland” economy created by central bankers. You see, the ECBhas been printing money to buy Italian government bonds hand over fist. Since 2008, the ECB and Italian banks have bought over 88% of Italian government debt, according to a recent study. This is stunning.

It means that Italy’s financial system depends completely on ECB money printing. Italian government bonds are, without a doubt, in super-bubble territory. It won’t be long before a pin pricks this bubble and… pop. That could happen soon. Earlier this month, the credit rating agency Fitch downgraded Italy’s credit rating from BBB+ to BBB. And Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB, recently announced that after five years of manic money printing, he’s finally achieved his wrongheaded goal of 2% inflation. [..] Now that the ECB has reached its 2% inflation target, Germany and other EU countries are pushing the central bank to stop printing so much money. This is the last thing the Italian government wants. Remember, the ECB buys a lot of Italian government bonds with those freshly printed euros.

If the ECB stops buying Italian government bonds, who will step up? The answer is nobody. Italian banks are already completely saturated with government bonds. Germany wants the money printing to stop. Italy wants it to continue. But, since the ECB has reached its stated inflation target and Germany has crucial elections later this year, I think Germany will get its way. This is very bad news for Italy’s government and banking system. Once the ECB—the only large buyer—steps away, Italian government bonds will crash and rates will soar. Soon it will be impossible for the Italian government to finance itself. Italian banks—which are already insolvent—will be decimated. They hold an estimated €235 billion worth of Italian government bonds. So the coming bond crash will pummel their balance sheets.

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Multiple banks. Zombies and dominoes.

Another Spanish Bank about to Bite the Dust (DQ)

After its most tumultuous week since the bailout days of 2012, Spain’s banking system is gripped by a climate of fear, uncertainty and distrust. Rather than allaying investor nerves, the shotgun bail-in and sale of Banco Popular to Santander on Tuesday has merely intensified them. For the first time since the Global Financial Crisis, shareholders and subordinate bondholders of a failing Spanish bank were not bailed out by taxpayers; they took risks in order to make a buck, and they bore the consequences. That’s how it should be. But bank investors don’t like not getting bailed out. Now they’re worrying it could happen again. As Popular’s final days showed, once confidence and trust in a bank vanishes, it’s almost impossible to restore them.

The fear has now spread to Spain’s eighth largest lender, Liberbank, a mini-Bankia that was spawned in 2011 from the forced marriage of three failed cajas (savings banks), Cajastur, Caja de Extremadura and Caja Cantabria. This creature’s shares were sold to the public in May 2013 at an IPO price of €0.40. By April 2014, they were trading above €2, a massive 400% gain. But by April 2015, shares started sinking. By May 2017, they were trading at around €1.20. But since the bail-in of Popular, Liberbank’s shares have seriously crashed as panicked investors fled. Scenting fresh blood, short sellers were piling in. On Friday alone, shares plunged another 17%. At one point, they were down 38% before bouncing at the close of trading, much of it driven by the bank’s own share buybacks:

In the last three weeks a whole year’s worth of steadily rising gains on the stock market have been completely wiped out. The main causes of concern are the bank’s high risk profile and low coverage rate. By the close of the first quarter of 2017, Liberbank’s default rate had reached 13%, over three%age points higher than the national average (9.8%), while its unproductive asset coverage rate was just 42.1%, compared to 47% for Banco Sabadell, 48% for Bankia, 50% for CaixaBank and 55% for Unicaja. Worse still, the vast bulk of the bank’s unproductive assets are real estate investments. After Popular, it is the Spanish entity with most exposure to toxic real estate assets, according to the financial daily El Confidencial — a remarkable feat given the bank already had the lion’s share of its impaired real estate assets transferred onto the balance sheets of Spain’s “bad bank,” Sareb.

[..] Banco Popular’s demise is a stark reminder that Europe’s banking woes are far from resolved, despite the trillions of euros thrown at them. “The message the market is sending is that you have to buy solvent banks and stay away from those that pose high risks,” said Rafael Alonso, an analyst at Bankinter, one of Spain’s more solvent banks. Another Spanish bank that could be considered to pose high risks is Unicaja, the product of another merger of failed cajas that is (or at least was) scheduled to launch its IPO some time in June or July. As things currently stand, the timing could not be worse. The greater the uncertainty over Liberbank’s future, the lower the projected valuation of Unicaja’s IPO falls. Before Popular’s forced bail-in and acquisition, the Unicaja was valued at around €2.3 billion; now, just days later, it’s valued at less than €1.9 billion. If the trend continues, the IPO will almost certainly be shelved.

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From literally zero to a comfortable majority in just weeks. Maybe someday we’ll learn how it was done. We may not like it. Follow the money.

“Macron Is Shaping Up As Hyper-Presidency” (BBG)

Polling stations opened across France on Sunday as voters begin electing a parliament that will determine how much power recently elected President Emmanuel Macron will actually have. If polls are to be believed, it will be a lot. The latest surveys suggest Macron’s Republic on the Move movement, or REM, will win a comfortable majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, allowing him to push through his plans to loosen French labor laws and simplify its tax system. The 39-year-old Macron was elected in May after creating a centrist political movement that took millions of votes away from the two parties that have dominated French politics for decades. During one month in office, he’s further weakened the Socialist Party and the center-right Republicans by poaching some of their leading members for cabinet positions.

“Macron is shaping up as hyper-presidency, with a very strong central authority,” said Dominique Reynie, a politics professor at Sciences Po institute in Paris. “He’s got a party that he founded and fully controls. He’s got opposition parties that risk fragmenting.” Sunday’s ballot is for 539 seats in France. Voting has already closed in 27 constituencies for France’s overseas territories and another 11 to represent French expats. Voting started at 8 a.m. Paris time and most polling booths will close at 6 p.m., though local prefects can allow voting to continue until 8 p.m. The interior ministry will release turnout figures at noon and at again at 5 p.m. In 2012, about 59% of registered voters went to the polls. Little will be settled Sunday night. Under France’s two-round system for the parliamentary elections, any candidate with more than 12.5% of the registered voters goes through to runoffs on June 18, so long as no one gets 50% on Sunday. In the previous election five years ago, only 36, or about 6%, of the constituencies were settled in the first round.

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And he’s right. I wrote that even before the election. But Osborne and Cameron have been as disastrous for the UK as May now is.

A new poll shows that elections today would see Labour at 45% and Tories at 39%.

When will people fully appreciate that Jeremy Corbyn is the one person around who does not smear and gossip and play personal petty politics?

George Osborne Says Theresa May Is A ‘Dead Woman Walking’ (G.)

George Osborne has called Theresa May “a dead woman walking” and suggested the prime minister would be forced to resign imminently. The former chancellor said the campaign had undone the work of himself and former prime minister David Cameron in winning socially liberal seats such as a Bath, Brighton Kemptown and Oxford East, now lost to Labour and the Lib Dems. “She is a dead woman walking and the only question is how long she remains on death row,” the editor of the Evening Standard said, defending his paper’s attacks on May as speaking from a “socially liberal, pro-business, economically liberal position” that he said had been consistent as editor and chancellor. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Osborne said he and Cameron had spent “years getting back to office, winning in seats like Bath and Brighton and Oxford and I am angry when we go backwards and I am not afraid to say that”.

Political strategist Lynton Crosby, blamed by May’s advisers for an overly negative, presidential-style campaign with robotic slogans, had been undermined by the prime minister’s own flaws, Osborne said. “They are professionals,” he said, blaming May’s “failure to communicate and a disastrous manifesto”. Osborne said blame should be on the shoulders of May, though her advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill resigned on Saturday. “You can’t just blame the advisers. The only person who decides to have an election is the prime minister, the person who decides what’s in the manifesto is the prime minister.” He said the party had been furious with May on her return to Downing Street when she gave a speech that failed to acknowledge party colleagues who had lost their seats, including ministers. “The Tory party was absolutely furious that Theresa May failed to acknowledge the loss and suffering of many MPs,” he said.

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The DUP is a fatally flawed option. May has signed her own political death warrant. Bloomberg: “Theresa May could reportedly face a leadership challenge as soon as Tuesday”

Theresa May’s Premiership In Peril As Loose Alliance Agreed With DUP (G.)

Theresa May’s plan for a loose alliance with the Democratic Unionists to prop up her government was thrown into confusion last night after the Northern Ireland party contradicted a No 10 announcement that a deal had been reached. A Downing Street statement on Saturday said a “confidence and supply” agreement had been reached with the DUP and would be put to the cabinet on Monday. But the DUP last night put the brakes on that announcement, saying talks were continuing, not finalised. The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, said “discussions will continue next week to work on the details and to reach agreement on arrangements for the new parliament”. Following talks between May and the DUP last night, a second statement from No 10 clarified that no final deal had been reached.

[..] The Observer has learned that the DUP was planning to dodge a row when negotiations began by avoiding the inclusion of any controversial social policies, such as opposition to gay marriage or abortion, in its so-called “shopping list” of demands to the Tories. Party sources said it would be seeking commitments from May that there would be no Irish unity referendum and no hard border imposed on the island of Ireland. However, some Tories remained concerned that a pact would damage a brand they have spent years trying to detoxify. “More and more colleagues are becoming distinctly uneasy about the idea of a formal pact with the DUP,” said one senior Conservative. “It is up to the DUP if they want to support a Conservative government and vote for various measures that we put through, but there is a feeling that we are damaged if we are seen to be entering into a formal agreement with a party whose views on a number of things we just don’t share.

“Why should we damage what we painstakingly built up through David Cameron’s work on personal issues, and indeed what the prime minister’s own instincts are, with any form of formal linkage with people who plainly have some views that the vast majority of Conservative MPs would not share?” Nicky Morgan, an education secretary under David Cameron, said: “As a former minister for women and equalities, any notion that the price for a deal with the DUP is to water down our equalities policies is a non-starter.” An online petition calling for May to resign rather than form a coalition with the DUP had attracted more than 500,000 signatures Saturday night. The DUP is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage. It has also appointed climate change sceptics to senior posts within the party.

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The Tories need internal cleansing even more than Labour.

UK’s May Isolated Ahead Of Brexit Talks As Key Aides Quit (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May secured a deal on Saturday to prop up her minority government but looked increasingly isolated after a botched election gamble plunged Britain into crisis days before the start of talks on leaving the EU. Her Conservatives struck an outline deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for support on key legislation. It was a humiliating outcome after an election that May had intended to strengthen her ahead of the Brexit push. Instead, voters stripped the Conservatives of their parliamentary majority. As May struggled to contain the fallout, her two closest aides resigned. Newspapers said foreign minister Boris Johnson and other leading party members were weighing leadership challenges. But Johnson said he backed May.

May called the early election in April, when opinion polls suggested she was set for a sweeping win. May’s aides, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill quit on Saturday following sustained criticism within the party of the campaign. Gavin Barwell was named new chief of staff. The Conservative lawmaker who lost his seat on Thursday and has experience working as a party enforcer in parliament. The change was unlikely to significantly quell unrest within the party. Most of May’s cabinet members have kept quiet on the issue of her future, adding to speculation that her days as prime minister are numbered. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times newspaper found 48% of people felt May should quit while 38% thought she should stay. [..] Britain’s largely pro-Conservative press questioned whether May could remain in power.

The Sun newspaper said senior members of the party had vowed to get rid of May, but would wait at least six months because they feared a leadership contest could propel the Labour party into power under Jeremy Corbyn, who supports renationalization of key industries and higher taxes for business and top earners. Survation, the opinion polling firm that came closest to predicting correctly the election’s outcome, said a new poll it conducted for the Mail on Sunday newspaper showed support for Labour now 6%age points ahead of the Conservatives. “She’s staying, for now,” one Conservative Party source told Reuters. Former Conservative cabinet minister Owen Paterson, asked about her future, said: “Let’s see how it pans out.”

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“Sometime between now and Armageddon, interest rates will go up..”

The Inconvenient Truth of Consumer Debt (DDMB)

Oh, but for the days the hawks had a hero in Sydney. Against the backdrop of a de facto currency war, the Reserve Bank of Australia stood as a steady pillar of strength. The RBA held the line on interest rates, maintaining a floor of 2.5%, even as its global central bank peers drove rates to the zero bound and beyond into negative territory. The abrupt end to the commodities supercycle drove the RBA to join the global currency war. The mining-dependent nation’s economy was so debilitated that policy makers felt they had no choice but to ease financial conditions. In February 2015, after an 18-month honeymoon, the RBA reduced its official rate to 2.25%, marking the start of a cycle that ended last August with the fourth cut to a record low of 1.5%. The Bank of Canada has taken a similar journey in recent years.

It embarked upon a mild tightening campaign in 2010 that raised the overnight loan rate from a record low of 0.25% to 1% in September 2010. The bank maintained that level until early 2015. Two weeks before the RBA’s first cut, the Bank of Canada lowered rates to 0.75%. The January move, which shocked the markets, was followed in July 2015 with an additional ease to 0.5%, where it remains today. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz, who replaced Mark Carney after he departed to head the Bank of England, explained the moves as necessary to counter the downside risks to inflation emanating from the oil price shock to the country’s economy. Two resource-rich economies reacting similarly to body blows is intuitive enough. They eased the pressure on their given economies. How they’ve landed in their current predicaments is less easy to explain.

Propelled by soaring home prices from Sydney to Toronto to Melbourne to Vancouver, Australia’s household debt-to-income has hit a record 190%, the highest among developed nations; it is trailed closely by Canada, which has a 167% ratio. To put this in perspective, at the peak of the housing bubble, debt-to-income in the U.S. peaked at 130%. Then, economists took perverse pleasure in squelching the alarm these frightening figures elicited. “It’s not the level of debt that matters, it’s the cost to service that debt.” Is it a surprise that economists today are equally dismissive of households’ heavy debt burdens? Mortgages take a lifetime to expunge; incomes flow in every year. That myopic mindset best captures the shackles that bind today’s global economy. Of course it’s acceptable to build infinitely high levels of debt – as long as rates never rise.

But then there’s the inconvenient truth that when the price of the collateral backing those millions of subprime mortgages cratered, those irrelevant debt loads became relevant overnight. The same can be said of today’s delicate dynamic. Australia and Canada will be just fine so long as they don’t suffer a shock in any form to their respective economies. Some policy makers have begun to push back against the conventional stupidity. “Sometime between now and Armageddon, interest rates will go up,” warned Australia’s Treasury Secretary John Fraser on May 30. “That’s something people need to be mindful of.” Bear in mind that household debt has been growing at multiples of income, a disconnect that can only exist in a wonderland of permanently low interest rates.

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Tesla sold less than 84,000 cars in 2016. VW sold 10 million. Guess which is worth more? Time to get free money out of the way, because it only serves to distort valuation, economies and societies.

Tesla’s Market Value Zooms Past Another Car Maker (MW)

Tesla on Friday became the world’s No. 3 car maker by market capitalization, surpassing Germany’s BMW and getting further ahead of U.S. competitors General Motors and Ford. Tesla’s market value now stands at $59.7 billion. The two car makers it has yet to surpass are Toyota, which is still a ways off at $172 billion, and Daimler at $78 billion. Tesla stock has hit a string of records in the past two months, and was slated to hit another closing all-time high on Friday. It reached a closing record of $370 on Thursday, and traded as high as $376.87 on Friday.

The meteoric stock rise pushed Tesla’s market cap to surpass Ford’s and GM’s in April. Tesla sold nearly 84,000 cars in 2016, up 64% from the previous year. The company has set a goal to be able to make cars at an annual rate of 500,000 a year by the end of 2018. The top auto makers by vehicles produced are Volkswagen and Toyota, each of which make about 10 million of the 90 million vehicles produced world-wide, according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicles Manufacturers. Tesla shares are up more than 73% so far this year. That compares with gains of approximately 9% for the S&P 500. The stock has gained more than 62% over the past 12 months, more than four times the gains for the benchmark.

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This is a history lesson that’s part of a longer piece on neo-liberalism and the Shock Doctrine.

The Actual Lizard People (Connelly)

The Mont Pelerin Society was created on 10 April 1947 at a conference organised by the economist Friedrich von Hayek and Swiss businessman Albert Hunold. (By the end of the conference, Hunold would be appointed secretary. He also became editor-in-chief of The Mont Pelerin Quarterly magazine). The Society was basically a union for the rich and powerful, which boasted Prime Ministers and Presidents, journalists, European and American aristocracy, economists, business people, authors and academics. It was backed and funded by The (New York) Foundation for Economic Education, and the William Volker Fund based in Kansas City which provided subsidies. Credit Suisse, then known as The Schweizerische Kreditanstalt, paid for almost all the conference costs.

As the cigar-smoke, whiskey and heady self-righteousness swilled around the ballroom lights, Hayek joined with Milton Friedman and their luminaries, including Austrian-American economist, Ludvig von Mises and noted Austrian-British philosopher, Karl Popper to form a small, exclusive club of free-marketeers, devoted to remaking the world in its image. That night began the systematic deconstruction of Roosevelt’s New Deal which, ironically, was responsible for the greatest expansion of the American middle class up until that point, according to historian Jason A Schwarz which in turn helped bolster middle-class wealth in allied nations. The wealth created during the New Deal endowed three generations with financial and social mobility, the riches that were still being spent and created in the 60s, 70s and 80s, at the cost of a fraction of the wealth of the world’s millionaires and billionaires.

The infrastructure built during the New Deal, cracking and creaking, is in use to this day. The Mont Pelerin group would draft a ten-point statement of aims which claimed “independent freedom can be preserved only in a society in which an effective competitive market is the main agency for the direction of economic activity.” The 10 point statement of aims concludes with: “Complete intellectual freedom is so essential to the fulfillment of our aims that no consideration of social expediency must ever be allowed to impair it”. The decisions made in that Swiss Hotel in 1947 was the formalisation of a long running class war that is still being fought today. Initially their progress was slow. They were in such a defensive mode, they achieved little that was tangible during the 50s and 60s, beyond an attack on the then dominant Neo-Keynesian economic management.

Their first opportunity to take back real power, and shift the world towards the capitalism of the 1920s and earlier decades, came with the US-inspired overthrow of the Allende Government in Chile on September 11th, 1973 which saw hundreds killed, 200,000 people exiled, and many more tortured, kidnapped and disappeared. It is often referred to as the first 9/11. It is estimated more than 10,000 people were killed under Pinochet’s regime. Mass Chilean unemployment persisted for years after Pinochet cut government spending by 27%, with education and health hit hardest, while adopting a “pro-business package” and a move towards “complete free trade” which removed “as many obstacles as possible that now hinder the private market”.

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Another crazy narrative that must be halted. The blame lies in Brussels, not with people trying to prevent other people from drowning.

Refugee Rescue Ships Not ‘Colluding With People Smugglers’ (Ind.)

Humanitarian ships rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean Sea are not acting as a “pull factor” driving increasing refugee boat crossings or “colluding” with smugglers, research has found. A report by the Forensic Oceanography department at Goldsmiths, University of London, rejected a “toxic narrative” seeking to blame NGOs for the worsening crisis. Experts dismantled allegations made by agencies such as Frontex and leading European politicians, who claimed charities were encouraging smugglers to use more dangerous tactics on the treacherous passage between Libya and Italy. The Blaming the Rescuers report’s author, Lorenzo Pezzani, said: “The evidence simply does not support the idea that rescues by NGOs are to blame for an increase in migrants crossing.

“The argument against NGOs deliberately ignores the worsening economic and political crisis across several regions in Africa that has driven up the numbers of crossings in 2016. “The violence against migrants in Libya is so extreme that they attempt the sea crossing with or without search and rescue being available.” The United Nations has documented “slave auctions” where African migrants are openly bought and sold in the war-torn country, as well as endemic rates of rape, abuse, torture and forced labour. Despite the dire situation, the EU has been giving funding, training and equipment to the Libyan coastguard in efforts to turn back migrant boats and prevent the crossings. Humanitarian groups, which have documented the coastguard abusing migrants and attacking their ships, say forcing refugees from international waters back into Libya is a violation of international law.

[..] The Goldsmiths report also placed partial blame on the EU’s Operation Sophia mission, which had a “major impact on smugglers’ tactics” by intercepting and destroying larger and safer wooden boats. “The Libyan coastguard’s use of violence when intercepting vessels also affected smugglers’ tactics and at times led to boats capsizing, endangering everyone on board,” it added. It concluded that those blaming NGOs are choosing to ignore the role other actors, including EU agencies and national governments, have played in making migrant crossings more dangerous. “We believe that the toxic narrative falsely claiming that NGO search and rescue is to blame for the migrant crossing situation is part of a worrying tendency to criminalise solidarity initiatives towards migrants,” Mr Pezzani said.

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Wonderful. I think, however, that saying it contradicts the Tragedy of the Commons is a bridge too far. Because these people do choose what’s best for themselves.

Fractal Planting Patterns Yield Optimal Harvests, No Central Control (PhysOrg)

Bali’s famous rice terraces, when seen from above, look like colorful mosaics because some farmers plant synchronously, while others plant at different times. The resulting fractal patterns are rare for man-made systems and lead to optimal harvests without global planning. To understand how Balinese rice farmers make their decisions for planting, a team of scientists led by Stephen Lansing (Nanyang Technological University) and Stefan Thurner (Medical University of Vienna, Complexity Science Hub Vienna, IIASA, SFI), both external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute, modeled two variables: water availability and pest damage. Farmers that live upstream have the advantage of always having water; while those downstream have to adapt their planning on the schedules of the upstream farmers.

Here, pests enter the scene. When farmers are planting at different times, pests can move from one field to another, but when farmers plant in synchrony, pests drown and the pest load is reduced. So upstream farmers have an incentive to share water so that synchronous planting can happen. However, water resources are limited and there is not enough water for everybody to plant at the same time. As a result of this constraint, fractal planting patterns emerge, which yield close to maximal harvests. “The remarkable finding is that this optimal situation arises without central planners or coordination. Farmers interact locally and take local individual free decisions, which they believe will optimize their own harvest. And yet the global system works optimally,” says Lansing.

“What is exciting scientifically is that this is in contrast to the tragedy of the commons, where the global optimum is not reached because everyone is maximizing his individual profit. This is what we are experiencing typically when egoistic people are using a limited resource on the planet, everyone optimizes the individual payoff and never reach an optimum for all,” he says. The scientists find that under these assumptions, the planting patterns become fractal, which is indeed the case as they confirm with satellite imagery. “Fractal patterns are abundant in natural systems but are relatively rare in man-made systems,” explains Thurner. These fractal patterns make the system more resilient than it would otherwise be. “The system becomes remarkably stable, again without any planning—stability is the outcome of a remarkably simple but efficient self-organized process. And it happens extremely fast. In reality, it does not even take ten years for the system to reach this state,” Thurner says.

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