Dec 062017
 
 December 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Balthus Therèse dreaming 1938

 

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)
Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)
Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)
Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)
‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)
Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)
Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)
Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)
What Now? (Jim Kunstler)
The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)
Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)
Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)
Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)
US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)
Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

 

 

From a larger article by Lance, This is Nuts. A 40% crash is starting to sound like a lowball.

Just How Big Could The Next Correction Be? (Roberts)

Just how big could the next correction be? As stated above, just a correction back to the initial “critical support” set at the 2016 lows would equate to a 29.1% decline. However, the risk, as noted above, is that a correction of that magnitude would begin to trigger margin calls, junk bond defaults, blow up the “VIX” short-carry and trigger a wave of automated selling as the algorithms begin to sell in tandem. Such a combination of events could conceivably push markets to either strong support at the previous two bull market peaks or to support at the 2011 peak which coincides with the topping formations of 2000 and 2007. Such a correction would entail either a 41.1% to 49.2% decline.

I won’t even mention the remote, but real, possibility of a nearly 75% retracement to the previous lows of the last two “bear markets.” That can’t happen you say? It wouldn’t even match the decline following the 1929 crash of 85%. Furthermore, as technical analyst J. Brett Freeze, CFA, recently noted: “The Wave Principle suggests that the S&P 500 Index is completing a 60-year, five-wave motive structure. If this analysis is correct, it also suggests that a multi-year, three-wave corrective structure is immediately ahead. We do not make explicit price forecasts, but the Wave Principle proposes to us that, at a minimum, the lows of 2009 will be surpassed as the corrective structure completes.” Anything is possible.

Read more …

Behing every bubble there is fraud.

Second Canadian Mortgage Lender Crashes After Admitting Mortgage Fraud (ZH)

Back in April/May, Canada’s biggest mortgage lender, Home Capital Group, crashed its way into the headlines, coming clean over its balance sheet-full of liar loans, suffered a bank run, and was forced to take emergency liquidty from taxpaying pensioners, and was eventually bailed out by good old Warren Buffett. “Probably nothing…”

Well just when everyone though that crisis was over, a second cockroach in the Canadian mortgage bubble fiasco just emerged… Laurentian Bank of Canada fell the most in almost nine years after reporting it found customer misrepresentations on some mortgage loans it sold to another firm.

Echoing problems that almost sunk Home Capital Group, Bloomberg reports that: An audit “identified documentation issues and client misrepresentations” with some mortgages from its B2B Bank unit that were sold to a third-party firm, the lender said Tuesday in its annual report. Laurentian said it will repurchase about C$89 million ($70 million) of those mortgages in the first quarter, or 4.9% of such loans sold to the firm. It will buy back an additional C$91 million of mortgages “inadvertently” sold to the firm, also in the first quarter. Just as we saw with Home Capital, the CEO initially shrugged it off as immaterial: “This is largely a documentation and securitization-eligibility issue,” Chief Executive Officer Francois Desjardins said in a call with analysts. “It is not material for the bank, its operations, its funding nor its capital. We have worked to change processes to ensure that this issue is resolved.”

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Pop.

Toronto Housing Prices Fall Amid Growing Pool of Homes for Sale (BBG)

Canada’s largest housing market continues to see prices fall amid a widening pool of homes for sale, though there are signs the correction is beginning to lure in some new buyers. The Toronto Real Estate Board’s benchmark home price index fell for the sixth consecutive month, down another 0.4% from October. The index has fallen 8.8% since May – the largest six-month decline in the history of data back to 2000. For the first time since 2009, the average price of a home sold in Toronto – at C$761,757 ($600,991) in November – failed to surpass levels from a year earlier.

Toronto’s housing market, dubbed one of the riskiest housing bubble cities by UBS, has slumped over the past few months amid government rules and harsher mortgage guidelines aimed at curbing demand. That’s coincided with a sharp increase in supply with new listings up 37% from a year earlier. [..] Toronto realtors sold 7,374 units in November. While that’s down 13% from a year earlier, the number is one of the highest readings for the month over the past decade. The correction in Toronto’s housing market has been primarily in Toronto’s detached market, where average prices surpassed C$1.2 million earlier this year. The price index for single family detached homes is down 12% since May. The condominium price index is little changed from record levels earlier this year.

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“..the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government..”

Plunder Capitalism (Paul Craig Roberts)

I deplore the tax cut that has passed Congress. It is not an economic policy tax cut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with supply-side economics. The entire purpose is to raise equity prices by providing equity owners with more capital gains and dividends. In other words, it is legislation that makes equity owners richer, thus further polarizing society into a vast arena of poverty and near-poverty and the One%, or more precisely a fraction of the One% wallowing in billions of dollars. Unless our rulers can continue to control the explanations, the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government. The current tax legislation drops the corporate tax rate to 20%. This means that global corporations registered in the US will be taxed at a lower income tax rate than a licensed practical nurse making $50,000 per year.

The nurse, if single, faces in 2017 a 25% marginal tax rate on all income over $37,950. A single person is taxed at a rate of 33% on all income above $191,651. 33% was the top tax rate extracted from medieval serfs, and approaches the tax rate on US 19th century slaves. Such an upper middle class income as $191,651 sounds extraordinary to most Americans, but it is so far from the multi-million dollar annual incomes of the rich as to be invisible. In America, it is the shrinking middle and upper middle class incomes that bear the burden of income taxation. The rich with their capital gains from their equity holdings are taxed at 15%. Even single individuals who earn between $1 and $9,325 are taxed at 10% on their pittance.

The neoliberal economists who are the shills for the rich, Wall Street, and the Banks-Too-Big-Too-Fail claim, erroneously, that by cutting the corporate income tax rate to 20% all sorts of offshored profits will be brought back to the US and lead to a booming economy and higher wages. This is absolute total nonsense. The money won’t come back, because it is invested abroad where labor costs are lower, if invested at all instead of buying back the corporation’s stock or buying other existing companies. After 20 years of offshoring US manufacturing and professional tradable skills and the incomes associated with the jobs, who is going to invest in America? The American population has no income with which to purchase the goods and services from new investment, and the American population’s credit cards are maxed out.

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“We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg..”

‘We Can’t Go On Like This’: Resignation In EU As Brexit Talks Stutter (G.)

Theresa May has less than a week to salvage a Brexit deal that would open the way to trade talks before the end of the year, amid increasing signs of impatience within the EU over her handling of the process. EU negotiators expect the prime minister to return to Brussels very soon, but have said time is running out to strike a deal at a European summit next week. “The show is now in London,” said the chief spokesman of the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. “We stand ready here in the commission to resume talks with the United Kingdom at any moment in time when we get the sign that London is ready.” While the next “final” deadline for stage one has not been defined publicly, several EU sources said the deal would have to be struck by the end of the week, with either Friday or Sunday as the last resort.

One EU ambassador told the Guardian the failure to reach a deal on Northern Ireland was a microcosm of a wider problem. “At root the problem is that [May] seems incapable of making a decision and is afraid of her own shadow,” the source said. “We cannot go on like this, with no idea what the UK wants. She just has to have the conversation with her own cabinet, and if that upsets someone, or someone resigns, so be it. She has to say what kind of trading relationship she is seeking. We cannot do it for her, and she cannot defer forever.” For weeks, European officials have walked a tightrope between sticking to the EU’s tough negotiating stance and seeking to avoid action or words that could destabilise the fragile May government. “We have to treat the UK political system like a rotten egg,” said one EU source in the run-up to Monday’s talks, suggesting that if “the realities of the world” dawned too soon, the British government could become more fragile.

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Cats in a sack.

Theresa May Faces New Brexit Revolt From Boris Johnson (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a revolt from inside her Cabinet over her plan to keep U.K. regulations aligned with the European Union after Brexit, a split that threatens to undermine her hopes of breaking the deadlock in negotiations. Efforts to rescue Brexit talks from an embarrassing breakdown on Monday prompted fresh divisions in the U.K. Cabinet on Tuesday, as leading Brexit-backers challenged the prime minister just days before a key deadline in talks. Brexit Secretary David Davis told Parliament he wanted the whole country to remain close to EU economic regulations after the split, a move that could have helped unblock talks that broke down over the issue of the Irish border.

Keeping the whole U.K. close to EU regulation would make it easier to avoid a border on the island of Ireland without putting up a new barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. The prospect of a border within the U.K. is a red line for the Northern Irish party that keeps Theresa May in power in London. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who together led the Brexit campaign in last year’s referendum, raised concerns about the plan, according to people familiar with the matter. The ministers believe the proposals threaten to dilute Brexit and Johnson raised his fears during a meeting of May’s Cabinet on Tuesday. Part of the Brexit narrative in the last 18 months has been that the split will allow the U.K. to break free from EU rules and chart its own course with free-trade deals around the world.

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“What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure.”

Most Brits Still Want Brexit But Expect It All to End Badly (BBG)

British voters increasingly think Brexit is being mishandled. But that doesn’t mean they’re turning their backs on the idea of abandoning the EU – just on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government. A report by the National Centre For Social Research published Wednesday found that 52% of people believe the country will get a bad deal, compared to 37% in February, a month before May began divorce proceedings. Even before this week’s embarrassing breakdown, only one in five Brits said the government was handling the talks well. Among those supporting Brexit, 61% thought May was conducting talks badly. The survey of 2,200 people was completed in October, before reports that May was increasing the amount of money she was willing to pay to leave and also before the recent dramatic turn of events that has May at the mercy of a Northern Irish ally.

The findings speak to the sense of disconnect between how the population feels about a process they triggered with the 2016 referendum – and the political realities of a fragile government riven with divisions and bogged down in increasingly technical negotiations. The survey found little change in people’s attitude to Brexit itself. [..] this suggests that rather than regretting their vote, Leave supporters are coming to see it as a good idea badly implemented, something that could help Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party. While Britons wonder what is going on – and perhaps even why leaving needs to be so complicated – the EU gave May until the end of the week to deliver a solution to an intractable problem – how to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Northern Ireland leaves the bloc along with the rest of the U.K.

Britain needs to provide an answer that satisfies all sides to move on to trade. What’s clear, is that May will be blamed for any failure. She set the clock for Britain’s exit in March 2019 and was relying on a summit next week to get EU leaders to allow discussions to begin on commerce, as well as a grace period to give businesses time to adapt.

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Merkel blinking will have far reaching repercussions. But Europeans don’t want more centralization.

Juncker Seeks Greater Commission Control over Eurozone (Spiegel)

Jean-Claude Juncker never lets others outshine him if he spots an opportunity to give the European project a boost. And that goes for friends and enemies alike. Indeed, the European Commission president has now come up with a project that not only transgressions the mandate given him by the leaders of the European Union member states, but also pits him against all the Eurozone finance ministers as well. Juncker was supposed to reach an agreement with finance ministers from the common currency area on proposals for deepening European integration he will present at the forthcoming EU summit later this month. Plans for greater EU integration are currently in vogue, a trend started by French President Emmanuel Macron, who presented his ideas for a better Europe two days after the German election in late September.

But instead of getting the finance ministers on board, Juncker has embarked on an ego trip. On Wednesday, the Commission is to present its plan without any input from the finance ministers whatsoever. The Eurogroup of 19 Eurozone finance ministers met in Brussels on Monday and on Tuesday it was the turn of Ecofin, which represents the EU finance ministers, but officially neither group was consulted on the Commission’s plans. “The entire approach is a disaster,” one participant complained. And because the national experts had no input, it’s unlikely that EU heads of state and government will do more than simply take note of Juncker’s proposals. The timing is an expression of rivalry between the Commission and the EU member states when it comes to questions relating to theeconomic and currency union. And the finance ministers aren’t likely to be impressed with the content, either. After all, the Commission’s proposals are designed to increase its own influence at the expense of the member states.

But there is more at stake than just a few bruised Brussels egos. The clash over competencies between European institutions risks torpedoing the French president’s drive for reform. For the first time in years, the French have seized the opportunity to once again set the tone in the EU. Yet, their call to arms is being met with hardly any response. Germany is preoccupied with forming a new government – and nothing much happens in Brussels without Chancellor Angela Merkel. Juncker, though, does not want to stand accused of wasting the chance to implement reforms. His central idea is to turn the EU bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, into an EU institution.

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How much longer for Mueller now the WSJ has called for his head?

What Now? (Jim Kunstler)

“Contact with Russians.” Grown men and women, doubling and re-doubling down on a political fantasy, repeat this prayer hour after hour on the cable channels and Web waves as if trying to exorcise a nation possessed by the unholy hosts of Hell. But such vicars of the news as Wolf Blitzer, Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd, and Dean Baquet (of The New York Times) only shove the country closer to a cliff of constitutional crisis. To a certain class of people — a class that includes a lot of Intellectuals-Yet-Idiots, as Nassim Taleb has dubbed them — President Donald Trump is a figure of supernatural malignity who must be ousted at all costs. I did not vote for Donald Trump and I do not admire him; but I rather resent the dishonesty that is being marshaled against him, especially the mis-use of judicial procedure and the mendacious propagandizing of the nation in service to that end.

This is what it comes down to: General Mike Flynn, designated National Security Advisor, conferred with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the 2016 election about two pressing matters: a vote in the UN orchestrated against Israel, and sanctions imposed against Russia by outgoing President Obama on December 28, two weeks before the inauguration. Both these matters could be viewed as bits of mischief designed deliberately to create foreign policy problems for the incoming administration. Flynn’s discussions with Ambassador Kislyak amounted to what are called “back channel talks.” These informal, probing communications occur all the time and everywhere in American foreign policy, especially the transitional months every four or eight years when a new president comes in. They are necessarily secret because they concern issues of high sensitivity.

Every incoming presidential staff in my lifetime (going back to Dwight Eisenhower) has conducted back-channel talks with foreign diplomats in order to directly assess where things stand, minus public posturing and bloviating. And so that is what Mike Flynn did, as incoming National Security Advisor, after an eight-year run of worsening relations with Russia under Obama that Trump publicly pledged to improve. And now he’s been charged with lying to the FBI about it. Which raises some enormous and troubling questions well beyond the simple charge, questions that suggest a US government at war against itself.

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What’s America without grizzlies?

The Premature Delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear (CP)

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bears, removing them from the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). And state wildlife agencies in Wyoming and Montana are anxious to start sport hunting the bears. If you follow environmental politics, it is very clear why industries like the oil and gas industry, livestock industry and timber industry and the politicians they elect to represent their interests are anxious to see the bear delisted. Without ESA listing, environmentally destructive practices will have fewer restrictions, hence greater profits at the expense of the bear and its habitat. Delisting is opposed by a number of environmental groups [..] Conspicuously absent from the list of organizations opposing delisting is the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Proponents of delisting, including the FWS, argue that with as many as 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, thus ensuring the bears are now safe from extinction. Seven hundred bears may sound like a big number. But this figure lacks context. Consider that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is nearly 28 million acres in total area. That is nearly the same acreage as the state of New York. Now ask yourself if 700 bears spread over an area the size of New York sounds like a lot of bears? Many population ecologists believe 700 bears is far too small a number of animals to ensure long-term population viability. Rather than hundreds, we need several thousand bears.

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But politicians talk of growth.

Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts (K.)

The next batch of pension cuts, voted through in the last couple of years and set to come into force within the next two years, will take total losses for pensioners since the start of the bailout period in 2010 up to 70%. A recent European Commission report on the course of Greece’s bailout program revealed that the reforms passed since 2015 will slash up to 7% of the country’s GDP up to 2030. The United Pensioners network has made its own calculations and estimates that the impending cuts will exacerbate pensioners’ already difficult position, with 1.5 million of them threatened with poverty. The network argues that when the cuts expected in 2018 and 2019 are added to those implemented since 2010, the reduction in pensions will reach 70%.

Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos notes that “owing to the additional measures up until 2019, the flexibility in employment and the reduction of state funding from 18 billion to 12 billion euros, by 2021, one in every two pensioners will get a net pension of 550 euros [per month]. If one also takes into account the reduction of the tax-free threshold, the net amount will come to 480 euros.” Pensioners who retired before 2016 stand to lose up to 18% of their main and auxiliary pensions, while the new pensions to be issued based on the law introduced in May 2016 by then minister Giorgos Katrougalos will be up to 30% lower.

More than 140,000 retirees on low pensions will see their EKAS supplement decrease in 2018, as another 238 million euros per year is to be slashed from the budget for benefits for low income pensioners. The number of recipients will drop from 210,000 to 70,000 in just one year. There will also be a reduction in new auxiliary pensions (with applications dating from January 2015), a 6% cut to the retirement lump sum, and a freeze on existing pensions for another four years, as retirees will not get the nominal raise they would normally receive based on the growth rate and inflation.

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A few hundred have been moved, but thousands more must be.

Aid Groups Warn Of Looming Emergency At Greek Asylum Centres (G.)

Humanitarian groups have warned of a looming emergency on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, the day after residents converged on Athens in protest at policies that have seen thousands of migrants and refugees marooned in reception centres. A surge in arrivals from neighbouring Turkey has seen numbers soar with officials speaking of a four-fold increase in men, women and children seeking asylum on Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesbos and Samos. Conditions are deteriorating in the vastly overcrowded camps in a situation that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Wednesday warned was “beyond desperate”. “In Lesbos, entire families who recently arrived from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are packed into small summer tents, under the rain and in low temperatures struggling to keep dry and warm,” said Aria Danika, MSF’s project coordinator on the island.

“In our mental health clinic we have received an average of 10 patients with acute mental distress every day, including many who tried to kill themselves or self-harm. The situation on the island was already terrible. Now it’s beyond desperate.” Demonstrators – led by delegations of officials from Chios, Lesbos and Samos – gathered in the Athens sunshine on Tuesday to demand that the government move people out of camps. “Action has to be taken now, before it is too late,” said Panos Pitsios, president of the town council of Mytilene, Lesbos’s capital. “We are heading towards an eruption, a situation that is on the verge of getting out of control.”

The strategy of stranding migrants and refugees in remote camps where tensions have also mounted between rival ethnicities has also been condemned by human rights groups. Organisations increasingly fear that unless asylum seekers are transferred to the mainland where facilities are less crowded and better equipped, thousands could be left out in the cold as winter approaches.

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Biblical proportions.

Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Millions Still to Come (Kern)

The African Union-European Union (AU-EU) summit, held in in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on November 29-30, 2017, has ended in abject failure after the 55 African and 28 European leaders attending the event were unable to agree on even basic measures to prevent potentially tens of millions of African migrants from flooding Europe. Despite high expectations and grand statements, the only concrete decision to come out of Abidjan was the promise to evacuate 3,800 African migrants stranded in Libya. More than six million migrants are waiting in countries around the Mediterranean to cross into Europe, according to a classified German government report leaked to Bild. The report said that one million people are waiting in Libya; another one million are waiting in Egypt, 720,000 in Jordan, 430,000 in Algeria, 160,000 in Tunisia, and 50,000 in Morocco.

More than three million others who are waiting in Turkey are currently prevented from crossing into Europe by the EU’s migrant deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The former head of the British embassy in Benghazi, Joe Walker-Cousins, warned that as many as a million migrants from countries across Africa are already on the way to Libya and Europe. The EU’s efforts to train a Libyan coast guard was “too little and too late,” he said. “My informants in the area tell me there are potentially one million migrants, if not more, already coming up through the pipeline from central Africa and the Horn of Africa.” The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said that Europe is “underestimating” the scale and severity of the migration crisis and that “millions of Africans” will flood the continent in the next few years unless urgent action is taken.

In an interview with Il Messagero, Tajani said there would be an exodus “of biblical proportions that would be impossible to stop” if Europe failed to confront the problem now: “Population growth, climate change, desertification, wars, famine in Somalia and Sudan. These are the factors that are forcing people to leave. “When people lose hope, they risk crossing the Sahara and the Mediterranean because it is worse to stay at home, where they run enormous risks. If we don’t confront this soon, we will find ourselves with millions of people on our doorstep within five years. “Today we are trying to solve a problem of a few thousand people, but we need to have a strategy for millions of people.”

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Recovery.

US Homeless Population Rises For The First Time Since The Great Recession (G.)

America’s homeless population has risen this year for the first time since the Great Recession, propelled by the housing crisis afflicting the west coast, according to a new federal study. The study has found that 553,742 people were homeless on a single night this year, a 0.7% increase over last year. It suggests that despite a fizzy stock market and a burgeoning gross domestic product, the poorest Americans are still struggling to meet their most basic needs. “The improved economy is a good thing, but it does put pressure on the rental market, which does put pressure on the poorest Angelenos,” said Peter Lynn, head of the Los Angeles homelessness agency. The most dramatic spike in the nation was in his region, where a record 55,000 people were counted. “Clearly we have an outsize effect on the national homelessness picture.”

Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which produced the report, said in a statement: “This is not a federal problem – it’s everybody’s problem.” Advocates who have witnessed the homelessness crisis unfold since it emerged in the early 1980s are grimly astonished by its persistence. “I never in a million years thought that it would drag on for three decades with no end in sight,” said Bob Erlenbusch, who began working in Los Angeles in 1984. The government mandates that cities and regions perform a homeless street count every two years, when volunteers fan out everywhere from frozen parks in Anchorage to palm-lined streets in Beverly Hills and enumerate people by hand. Those numbers are combined with the total staying in shelters and temporary housing. The tally is considered a crucial indicator of broad trends, but owing to the difficulties involved it is also widely regarded as an undercount.

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There is neither a valid reason nor a justification for this. It’s simply a lack of basic values.

Nearly 130,000 British Children To Wake Up Homeless This Christmas (Ind.)

Nearly 130,000 children in Britain will wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation this Christmas as child homelessness reaches a 10-year high, new research shows. The number of youngsters who will be spending the festive period in temporary accommodation such as B&Bs and hostels – often with a single room for the whole family and no kitchen – is up 7% on last year, amounting to an additional 8,000 children, according to a report by charity Shelter. Interviews carried out by the charity reveal a quarter of families in temporary accommodation have no access to a kitchen, with many having to eat meals on the bed or floor of their room. The vast majority live in a single room, with more than a third of parents saying they have to share a bed with their children.

An analysis of government figures by Shelter shows that one in every 111 children is currently homeless in the UK, with at least 140 families becoming homeless every day. In England, where the highest number of families are placed into B&Bs, 45% stay beyond the six-week legal limit. The report also lays bare the psychological turmoil experienced by families living in these cramped conditions for often long periods of time, with three-quarters of parents saying their children’s mental health had been badly affected by living in such settings.

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Dec 052017
 
 December 5, 2017  Posted by at 10:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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The Kennedies

 

China’s Property Binge Fuels Mortgage Fraud Frenzy (R.)
This Time IS Different, It Just Ends The Same (Roberts)
What Sowed The Seeds Of The Bitcoin Mania? (TM)
Bitcoin Is A ‘Dangerous Speculative Bubble’ – Stephen Roach (CNBC)
The Two-Tiered European Community (Bilbo)
This Could Mean The End Of May – And The Beginning Of Corbyn (Ind.)
Theresa May Humiliated As DUP Scuppers Border Deal (Ind.)
Confused May In Alignment Only With Herself Over Irish Issue (G.)
White House Weighing Plans For Private Spies To Counter “Deep State” (IC)
Apple Agrees To Pay Over $15 Billion To Ireland In Back Taxes (ArsT)
China, the Digital Giant (PS)
Pilots Across Germany Are Blocking The Deportation Of Asylum Seekers (IBT)
Push To Move Refugees From Greek Islands To Mainland (K.)
The World’s Oceans Are Under The Greatest Threat In History – Attenborough (G.)

 

 

It’s all fraud, and none of it is persecuted: “When everyone is doing it, you can’t put everyone in jail..”

“Operating out of small, cramped offices, often in residential blocks, loan agents “re-package” – or falsify documents for mortgage applications. “Around 60% of property buyers in Shanghai are involved in some kind of re-packaging..”

China’s Property Binge Fuels Mortgage Fraud Frenzy (R.)

[..] across China, unqualified borrowers use fake documents to secure mortgages, while loans deceptively obtained for other purposes are funnelled into property. These frauds are often committed with the consent and encouragement of other parties to the transactions, including lending brokers, property agents, valuation companies and the banks themselves. And these alleged crimes are rarely punished. Hu Weigang, a senior partner at Guangdong Shen Dadi Law Firm, would like to see the law enforced on the mainland as it is in Hong Kong, where creating a bogus document can lead to jail. But, he acknowledges, the scale of this cheating makes it virtually impossible. “When everyone is doing it, you can’t put everyone in jail,” says Hu, who specializes in real estate litigation.

While property prices in China continue to rise, mortgage fraud remains largely a hidden danger, much as subprime loans in the United States remained mostly out of sight ahead of the 2008 global financial crisis. The fear is that in a property correction, fraudulent mortgages would unravel, accelerating a collapse of housing prices in the world’s second biggest economy. This, in turn, would imperil China’s debt-laden financial system. The danger from gravity-defying home prices is clear to the ruling Communist Party. In his marathon speech at the 19th Party Congress in October, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned about the overheated property market. “Houses are built to be lived in, not for speculation,” he said. Top bank officials are also worried. Xu Zhong, head of the research bureau at the central bank, the People’s Bank of China, sees pitfalls ahead.

“We must be very aware that rapidly rising housing prices could not only hamper our economic development, but could easily result in systemic risks and negatively impact the macroeconomy..” The motive for widespread mortgage fraud is simple: fear of missing out. Millions of homeowners are enjoying the sensation of ever-expanding wealth. The average value of residential housing in China more than tripled between 2000 and 2015 as a huge property market emerged from the early decades of economic reforms. So far, China’s new home-owning class has yet to experience a sustained downturn in housing values. Official data showed prices grew 12.4% in 2016, the fastest rate since 2011. A report tracking home price trends by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a state think tank, showed prices in 33 major cities soared 42% in 2016. Private estimates and anecdotal evidence suggest prices in most big Chinese cities actually doubled or tripled since late 2015.

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Look at them bubbles…

This Time IS Different, It Just Ends The Same (Roberts)

“Market bubbles have NOTHING to do with valuations or fundamentals.” [..] Stock market bubbles are driven by speculation, greed, and emotional biases – therefore valuations and fundamentals are simply a reflection of those emotions. In other words, bubbles can exist even at times when valuations and fundamentals might argue otherwise. Let me show you a very basic example of what I mean. The chart below is the long-term valuation of the S&P 500 going back to 1871.

The pattern of bubbles is interesting because it changes the argument from a fundamental view to a technical view. Prices reflect the psychology of the market which can create a feedback loop between the markets and fundamentals. This pattern of bubbles can be clearly seen at every bull market peak in history. The chart below utilizes Dr. Robert Shiller’s stock market data going back to 1900 on an inflation-adjusted basis with an overlay of the asymmetrical bubble shape.

There is currently a strong belief that the financial markets are not in a bubble. The arguments supporting those beliefs are all based on comparisons to past market bubbles. The inherent problem with much of the mainstream analysis is that it assumes everything remains status quo. However, the question becomes what can go wrong for the market? In a word, “much.” Economic growth remains very elusive, corporate profits appear to have peaked, and there is an overwhelming complacency with regards to risk. Those ingredients combined with an extraction of liquidity by the Federal Reserve leaves the markets more vulnerable to an exogenous event than currently believed.

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I can hear the protests from here…

What Sowed The Seeds Of The Bitcoin Mania? (TM)

2017 was an unusual year where financial conditions actually eased despite the Federal Reserve raising rates. The financial tightness in 2015 and 2016 was catalyzed by weakness in the energy market. With the help of central banks, as we have previously stated, the economy narrowly avoided a recession. It’s still remarkable to see how much financial conditions have eased since. According to the Taylor Rule, financial conditions are the easiest since 1970. The Chicago Fed’s net financial conditions index has financial conditions the easiest since 1993.


Chicago Fed- Financial Conditions Index

This explains why GDP growth was above 3% in Q2 and Q3 2017 for the first time since 2004-2005. It also explains why stock volatility has been very low; the S&P 500 has been up for 13 straight months which is the longest streak since at least 1928 (the index was created in 1923). With low interest rates and easy financial conditions, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen intense speculation in bitcoin. The cryptocurrency space has had other years with great performance, but the break out in 2017 is partially a result of the easy monetary environment. As you can see, the financial conditions in the 1990s and in the past year have both been very loose. The economic expansions were both elongated which further increases speculation as traders forget what a recession is. The chart below compares bitcoin’s rally since 2016 with other bubbles.

As you can see, Qualcomm’s performance in the 1990s is like bitcoin’s rally. This is a great analogy because Qualcomm saw its stock collapse in the dot com bust, but it has had a viable business model recently, making the Snapdragon chips in smartphones. The tech bubble was based on optimism which ended up being realized with the expansion of the mobile internet. However, the tech bubble witnessed exaggerated valuations, much like cryptocurrencies are experiencing today. Most of the blockchain startups today will fail like Pets.com did in the 1990s. However, blockchain technology in the future will likely become as synonymous with daily life as the internet is today.

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And more protests. Lots of older economists speak out against bitcoin.

Bitcoin Is A ‘Dangerous Speculative Bubble’ – Stephen Roach (CNBC)

With the price of bitcoin moving toward $12,000, a top economist on Tuesday sent a stark warning to investors: The cryptocurrency is in a “dangerous speculative bubble.” “This is a toxic concept for investors,” said Stephen Roach, Yale University senior fellow and the former Asia chairman and chief economist at investment bank Morgan Stanley. Roach, described by Yale as one of Wall Street’s most influential economists, spent the bulk of his 30-year career at Morgan Stanley heading up a highly regarded team of economists around the world. He had a critical take on the explosion of buying the world’s most popular cryptocurrency. “This is a dangerous speculative bubble by any shadow or stretch of the imagination,” he told CNBC’s “The Rundown.” “I’ve never seen a chart of a security where the price really has a vertical pattern to it. And bitcoin is the most vertical of any pattern I’ve ever seen in my career,” he added.

Bitcoin has surged more than 1,000% this year, accelerated by rising interest from retail and institutional investors who view the digital currency as a possible future means of exchange and store of value. Major exchanges like the CME and CBOE have also legitimized the currency’s investment credentials by saying they plan to introduce futures contracts to their respective exchanges, likely further supporting the price. Roach suggested that exchange legitimization makes bitcoin “somewhat dangerous” for investors, given what he described as a “lack of intrinsic underlying economic value to the concept.” Many investors admit to not understanding the technicalities of the instrument or the blockchain technology that underpins its existence, hoping instead to profit on the expectation that bitcoin as an investment will simply continue to rise. “Like all bubbles, they burst,” Roach said. “They go down, and the one who’s made the last investment gets hurt the most, there’s no question about it.”

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But the Troika demands 3.5% surpluses! “My estimate is that Greece should be running deficits close to 8 to 10% of GDP to move the economy in the right direction.”

The Two-Tiered European Community (Bilbo)

This is the final part of my four-part discussion of a so-called progressive proposal advanced by German academic Fritz Sharpf to reform the Eurozone into two tiers: a ‘Northern’ hard currency tier and a ‘Southern’ non-euro tier with the latter nations tying their currencies to the euro. We have seen that rather than providing a framework for convergence between the current Eurozone Member States, Sharpfs’ proposal would not liberate the weaker nations from the yoke of the euro, In fact, the proposal would just tie the exiting nations to the euro in a slightly different way – one that will not provide sufficient flexibility to make much difference.

In questioning the current orthodoxy, Sharpf also notes that if the ECB strictly behaved within the Maastricht rules then the need for even more aggressive internal devaluation would be required as the “sanctions would be inflicted by anonymous market forces”. That is, the Member States currently in trouble would soon go broke as they would have trouble raising funds from the bond markets at acceptable yields, given they do not issue their own currencies. In this context, Sharpf concludes that: “It is hard to see why Southern governments, after all the sacrifices that they have already been forced to make under the present regime, should opt for an alternative that would not loosen economic constraints but remove the present protections against state insolvency.” The same might be said of his Proposal 2.

Why would the Southern states, who would be forced to exit under his plan, not then fully exploit their new found currency capacities to improve domestic demand conditions immediately, which would then, after a while push their external balances into deficit, and once there was sufficient volumes of their own currency in the system, place downward pressure on their exchange rates? Greece only has a current account close to balance because the enduring Depression has killed import growth. Turn the growth back on and they will soon be back in deficit. As I noted in Part 1, the real exchange rate data shows that despite the painful internal devaluation that has been imposed on many Eurozone nations, only Ireland has improved its international competitiveness against Germany.

I also cannot see the ECB agreeing to unconditionally provide euro and other foreign currency reserves to the exiting nations who are running their fiscal policy outside the parameters of the Northern states. Can you imagine Germany, which proudly runs fiscal surpluses while its major transport network is falling apart (bridges etc) tolerating Greece running the fiscal deficits it needs to restore some sense of prosperity? While Germany sits on current account surpluses of around 7-8% and thus creating massive imbalances within the Eurozone, they lecture everyone else about fiscal rectitude. My estimate is that Greece should be running deficits close to 8 to 10% of GDP to move the economy in the right direction.

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More entertainment.

This Could Mean The End Of May – And The Beginning Of Corbyn (Ind.)

Is this it? The moment when the May premiership is over? Could Corbyn end up taking power in a matter of weeks? It’s at least possible, though I concede it sounds far-fetched at first. In history, some British Prime Ministers have had their premierships wrecked by the “Irish Question”. Others, in more recent times, have been destroyed by Europe. Theresa May is unique in managing to combine both famously intractable and insoluble issues into one lethal cocktail. And so, it seems she is about to swallow the poison. Her premiership may be even shorter than many anticipated, and a Jeremy Corbyn-led government could be a fact of British life by the time the snows melt next year. Here’s how.

From what we can discern, the Government is perfectly happy to concede “special status” for Northern Ireland / Ireland in the Brexit talks – anathema to the Ulster Unionists. This is because the Government desperately needs to get onto the second phase of the process – the trade talks for the whole UK – and MPs, without being too crude about it, are happy to sign whatever the EU sticks under their nose and worry about the consequences later. In the end, they will risk their support from the DUP to get moving on Brexit. Jobs (Tory MPs’ included) are at stake. After all, ministers such as David Davis always say that “nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed”, so having now ratted on the Democratic Unionists, they can, in due course, re-rat on the Irish and the EU, after a trade deal is sorted out.

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This looks very amateurish. And everybody knows.

Theresa May Humiliated As DUP Scuppers Border Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy is in disarray after the Irish Prime Minister dramatically accused her of reneging on an agreement that would have ended the deadlock in the talks. On a day of drama, the Prime Minister pulled the plug on a deal on the Irish border after it was rejected by the Democratic Unionist Party which props her up in power – triggering claims she is being “held to ransom”. The embarrassment left Ms May scrambling to arrange crisis talks with the DUP before she heads back to Brussels later this week, with the clock ticking on the negotiations. EU leaders have demanded she guarantee there will no hard land border in Ireland before a summit next week, if the talks are to move on to discussing future trade and a transitional deal.

The unravelling of the deal also left many Conservatives questioning Ms May’s handling of the talks, amid disbelief that the DUP had not been squared off in advance. The talks broke down after Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, ruled out any move “which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom”. “We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom,” she said, speaking at Stormont. The party – despite being the Tories’ partner in government – appeared to be blindsided by the UK’s apparent concession of “regulatory alignment” on both sides of the border, to avoid checks. Within 20 minutes, Ms May interrupted her talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission President, to telephone Ms Foster. When she went back to the lunch, the deal was off.

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“By the time Cornwall had got in on the act by insisting its dogs be allowed to surf wherever they wanted..”

Confused May In Alignment Only With Herself Over Irish Issue (G.)

“Are you sure we can’t fudge the Northern Ireland border issue just a little bit?” she had asked Juncker on arrival in Brussels. Juncker had sniggered. Absolutely not. What bit of “regulatory alignment” did she not get? Theresa had another go. How about we say that pigs, cheese and a few cows are allowed to wander across the border without a passport? So you’re basically giving in and accepting that Northern Ireland must stay inside the single market and the customs union, Juncker had observed. Mmm, yes and no, Theresa whispered, checking over her shoulder to make sure no one was listening. It was like this. Regulatory divergence and regulatory alignment could almost mean exactly the same thing. It just depended which side you were looking at it from. The secret was to persuade the divergers that you weren’t aligning and the aligners you weren’t diverging by drafting something that was equally open to misinterpretation by both.

“Whatever,” Juncker had yawned. Having persuaded herself she had got a deal she could sell – to herself if no one else – Theresa set about drafting an agreement with the Irish government. As the news seeped out that an agreement had been reached, all hell broke loose. If the Northern Irish could have a special nod and a wink for pigs, the Scots must have the same exemptions for scotch. And heather. Then London started making demands. Just because it could. It had never fancied leaving the EU anyway. By the time Cornwall had got in on the act by insisting its dogs be allowed to surf wherever they wanted, it dawned on the prime minister that maybe she ought to run the agreement past the DUP. Arlene Foster’s response had been unequivocal. Theresa could keep her £1bn. Any deal that didn’t make Northern Ireland exactly the same as the rest of the UK was unacceptable. No special status, no nothing. And if push came to shove, she’d bring down the UK government.

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Erik Prince and Oliver North. Yeah, those are the guys I would trust.

White House Weighing Plans For Private Spies To Counter “Deep State” (IC)

The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency. The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.

“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.” Oliver North, who appears frequently on Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, was enlisted to help sell the effort to the administration. He was the “ideological leader” brought in to lend credibility, said the former senior intelligence official.

Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed. The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran. “I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [White House] at all,” wrote Michael N. Anton, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, in an email. “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.”

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“The deal had allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1% on its European profits in 2003, down to as low as 0.005% in certain years..”

Apple Agrees To Pay Over $15 Billion To Ireland In Back Taxes (ArsT)

According to a top Irish official, Apple has agreed to to pay Ireland around $15.4 billion in back taxes. “We have now reached agreement with Apple in relation to the principles and operation of the escrow fund,” Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told reporters before a meeting with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “We expect the money will begin to be transmitted into the account from Apple across the first quarter of next year.” Ireland was formally referred to the European Court of Justice after it failed to implement a 2016 order that required the island nation to collect the same amount in unpaid taxes. Over a year ago, as Ars reported, the EU’s competition chief Vestager said that a two-year investigation into so-called sweetheart tax deals in 1991 and 2007 had found Apple guilty of receiving illegal state aid from the Emerald Isle.

The deal had allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1% on its European profits in 2003, down to as low as 0.005% in certain years, according to Vestager. Apple has denied any wrongdoing and has also said that it received no “special deal.” “We have a dedicated team working diligently and expeditiously with Ireland on the process the European Commission has mandated,” Apple said in a Monday statement according to UPI. “We remain confident the General Court of the EU will overturn the Commission’s decision once it has reviewed all the evidence.” Both Apple and Ireland have challenged the EU’s court order.

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Why not check this for fraud too?

China, the Digital Giant (PS)

China has firmly established itself as a global leader in consumer-oriented digital technologies. It is the world’s largest e-commerce market, accounting for more than 40% of global transactions, and ranks among the top three countries for venture capital investment in autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, robotics, drones, and artificial intelligence (AI). One in three of the world’s unicorns (start-ups valued at more than $1 billion) is Chinese, and the country’s cloud providers hold the world record for computing efficiency. While China runs a trade deficit in services overall, it has lately been running a trade surplus in digital services of up to $15 billion per year. Powering China’s impressive progress in the digital economy are Internet giants like Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent, which are commercializing their services on a massive scale, and bringing new business models to the world.

Together, these three companies have 500-900 million active monthly users in their respective sectors. Their rise has been facilitated by light – or, perhaps more accurate, late – regulation. For example, regulators put a cap on the value of online money transfers a full 11 years after Alipay introduced the service. Now, these Internet firms are using their positions to invest in China’s digital ecosystem – and in the emerging cadre of tenacious entrepreneurs that increasingly define it. Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent together fund 30% of China’s top start-ups, such as Didi Chuxing ($50 billion), Meituan-Dianping ($30 billion), and JD.com ($56 billion). With the world’s largest domestic market and plentiful venture capital, China’s old “copy-cat” entrepreneurs have transformed themselves into innovation powerhouses.

They fought like gladiators in the world’s most competitive market, learned to develop sophisticated business models (such as Taobao’s freemium model), and built impregnable moats to protect their businesses (for example, Meituan-Dianping created an end-to-end food app, including delivery). As a result, the valuation of Chinese innovators is many times higher than that of their Western counterparts. Moreover, China leads the world in some sectors, from livestreaming (one example is Musical.ly, a lip-syncing and video-sharing app) to bicycle sharing (Mobike and Ofo exceed 50 million rides per day in China, and are now expanding abroad).

Most important, China is at the frontier of mobile payments, with more than 600 million Chinese mobile users able to conduct peer-to-peer transactions with nearly no fees. China’s mobile-payment infrastructure – which already handles far more transactions than the third-party mobile-payment market in the United States – will become a platform for many more innovations.

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Merkel is losing ground fast. First inviting refugees and then paying them to leave, what is that?

Pilots Across Germany Are Blocking The Deportation Of Asylum Seekers (IBT)

Pilots across Germany are refusing to carry out deportations of asylum seekers and have prevented at least 222 planned flights so far, the government said on Monday (4 December) Germany’s main airline Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings halted at least 85 flights in the first eight months of this year, according to a freedom of information request obtained by the Left party. The majority of the cancellations took place at Frankfurt airport, Germany’s largest and most important transport hub. A large number of the flights were scheduled to repatriate refugees to Afghanistan, a move which has been widely condemned by human rights organisations. Earlier this year, Amnesty International called on European governments to “implement a moratorium on returns to Afghanistan until they can take place in safety and dignity”.

Anna Shea, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Refugee and Migrant Rights, said that government was being “wilfully blind” to the fact that violence was at a record high in Afghanistan. Despite an increase in deportations, Germany remains the top destination for refugees in the European Union. This year, Germany has taken in more asylum seekers than all other 27 EU countries combined. In the first six months of 2017 the country processed 388,201 asylum cases, Die Welt reported, quoting statistics agency Eurostat. To try and curb the numbers, the German government is offering rejected asylum seekers up to €1000 in benefits if they voluntarily return home. Families who agree to leave are entitled to receive up to €3000. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Sunday (3 December): “If you decide by the end of February for a voluntary return, you will get in addition to first aid, a housing aid for the first 12 months in your country of origin.”

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Tsipras has to ask Brussels (re: Merkel) for permission.

Push To Move Refugees From Greek Islands To Mainland (K.)

Municipal officials from the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos, which are bearing the brunt of an increased influx of migrants from neighboring Turkey, are due in Athens on Tuesday to press the government for action to ease the pressure on their local communities. The officials decided to coordinate their protests and seek a meeting with Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas to speed up the transfer of migrants from the islands to mainland Greece. There are currently more than 15,000 migrants living in state-run camps on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. More than 15,000 have been transferred to the mainland over the past year. Of those more than 3,500 were transferred in the last month alone. But islanders say more action is needed due to growing tensions in the reception centers and among the local communities as arrivals from Turkey have increased.

Hopes that a European Union refugee relocation program could ease some of the pressure have been largely frustrated as the process is a slow one. European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has said the so-called Dublin Regulation, which dictates that refugees apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter, must be reformed for pressure on countries such as Greece and Italy to ease. In a related development on Monday, a court on Lesvos indicted 16 North African migrants who participated in the occupation of a central square in Mytilene, the main port of Lesvos. Authorities on the island detained a total of 25 protesters late on Sunday but the other nine were released as they are minors. The migrants had staged the protest in a bid to press authorities to accelerate their asylum applications and their transfer to mainland Greece.

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No question there.

The World’s Oceans Are Under The Greatest Threat In History – Attenborough (G.)

The world’s oceans are under the greatest threat in history, according to Sir David Attenborough. The seas are a vital part of the global ecosystem, leaving the future of all life on Earth dependent on humanity’s actions, he says. Attenborough will issue the warning in the final episode of the Blue Planet 2 series, which details the damage being wreaked in seas around the globe by climate change, plastic pollution, overfishing and even noise. Previous BBC nature series presented by Attenborough have sometimes been criticised for treading too lightly around humanity’s damage to the planet. But the final episode of the latest series is entirely dedicated to the issue. “For years we thought the oceans were so vast and the inhabitants so infinitely numerous that nothing we could do could have an effect upon them. But now we know that was wrong,” says Attenborough.

“It is now clear our actions are having a significant impact on the world’s oceans. [They] are under threat now as never before in human history. Many people believe the oceans have reached a crisis point.” Attenborough says: “Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.” BBC executives were reportedly concerned about the series appearing to become politicised and ordered a fact-check, which it passed. The series producer, Mark Brownlow, said it was impossible to overlook the harm being caused in the oceans: “We just couldn’t ignore it – it wouldn’t be a truthful portrayal of the world’s oceans. We are not out there to campaign. We are just showing it as it is and it is quite shocking.”


Strict management of the herring fishery in Norway has saved it from collapse. Herring now draw in humpback whales and orca. Photograph: Audun Rikardsen

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Aug 252017
 
 August 25, 2017  Posted by at 8:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Sergio Larraín Valparaiso Passage Bavestrello 1952

 

78% of Americans Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)
Systemic Banking Fraud Means Next Crisis Will Be Worse (Feierstein)
Did the Economy Just Stumble Off a Cliff? (CHS)
Central Bank Balance Sheets Are Headed for a Great Divergence (BBG)
Low World Inflation Dogs Central Bankers, Even As Economies Grow (R.)
Amazon’s Plans to Cut Food Prices Will Be a Headache for the Fed (BBG)
Has The Fed Completely Lost Control (Roberts)
No Alternative To Austerity? That Lie Has Now Been Nailed (G.)
Germany Slammed For Domestic Under-Spending (Ind.)
EU States Begin Returning Refugees To Greece As German Reunions Slow (G.)
Yemen: The War No One Is Allowed To Know About (NS)
3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed The History of Maths (SA)
Hurricane Harvey Has All the Ingredients to Become a Monster (AP)

 

 

Forget about Jackson Hole. This is America.

78% of Americans Live Paycheck To Paycheck (CNBC)

No matter how much you earn, getting by is still a struggle for most people these days. 78% of full-time workers said they live paycheck to paycheck, up from 75% last year, according to a recent report from CareerBuilder. Overall, 71% of all U.S. workers said they’re now in debt, up from 68% a year ago, CareerBuilder said. While 46% said their debt is manageable, 56% said they were in over their heads. About 56% also save $100 or less each month, according to CareerBuilder. The job-hunting site polled over 2,000 hiring and human resource managers and more than 3,000 full-time employees between May and June.

Most financial experts recommend stashing at least a six-month cushion in an emergency fund to cover anything from a dental bill to a car repair — and more if you are the sole breadwinner in your family or in business for yourself. While household income has grown over the past decade, it has failed to keep up with the increased cost-of-living over the same period. Even those making over six figures said they struggle to make ends meet, the report said. Nearly 1 in 10 of those making $100,000 or more said they usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, and 59% of those in that salary range said they were in the red.

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“Someone once alerted me to the Bohica syndrome. Bohica? I asked.

He sneered: “Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.”

Systemic Banking Fraud Means Next Crisis Will Be Worse (Feierstein)

Henry Paulson. Hank. Remember him? Of the crisis in 2008, he said: “Where I come from, if someone takes a risk and they’re going to make the profit from that risk, they shouldn’t have the taxpayer pay for the losses.” Quite the wisdom one expects from the 74th US Secretary of the Treasury. Yet, as Paulson played pass the parcel with the rest of us, it was he who unwrapped the final layer when the music stopped, and discovered that the prize within was a grenade. Understandable, therefore, that he offered a second opinion somewhat in contrast to his first: “It’s better to have the taxpayer pay for the losses than have the United States of America become an economic wasteland. If the financial system collapses, it’s really, really hard to put it back together again.”

Well, it did, and it was. Two years after the fall of Lehman Brothers, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan was still reflecting on the solution. “There are two fundamental reforms we need — to get adequate capital and… far higher levels of enforcements of… fraud statutes.” So what progress has been made in the efforts to reduce the risks of another crisis? Not enough. In a letter this year to Bank of England’s Governor, Mark Carney, (in his capacity as chairman of the Financial Stability Board), the Senior Supervisors Group reported that “firms’ progress toward consistent, timely, and accurate reporting of top counterparty exposures fails to meet supervisory expectations”. It said there is still too little reform, and too little essential knowledge of counterparty risk.

But what of Greenspan’s assertions of criminal behaviour in financial markets? Again, no change. Market manipulation is not a conspiracy theory. The Bank of Japan has manoeuvred its bond market to a point where bond futures no longer trade. Its interventions have distorted free-market pricing mechanisms to the point that risk is virtually impossible to quantify. But the most pressing concern is the behaviour of central banks, which had previously appeared a solid safe haven.

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Guess where the trillions went?!

Did the Economy Just Stumble Off a Cliff? (CHS)

The signs are everywhere for those willing to look: something has changed beneath the surface of complacent faith in permanent growth. This is more intuitive than quantitative, but my gut feeling is that the economy just stumbled off a cliff. Neither the cliff edge nor the fatal misstep are visible yet; both remain in the shadows of the intangible foundation of the economy: trust, animal spirits, faith in authorities’ management, etc. Since credit expansion is the lifeblood of the global economy, let’s look at credit expansion. Courtesy of Market Daily Briefing, here is a chart of total credit in the U.S. and a chart of the%age increase of credit. Notice the difference between credit expansion in 1990 – 2008 and the expansion of 2009 – 2017. Credit expanded by a monumental $40+ trillion in 1990 – 2008 without any monetary easing (QE) or zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP). The expansion of 2009 – 2017 required 8 long years of massive monetary/fiscal stimulus and ZIRP.

This chart of credit change (%) reveal just how lackluster the current expansion of credit has been, despite unprecedented trillions of stimulus pumped into the financial sector.

Back in the real world, have you noticed a slowing of animal spirits borrowing and spending? Have you tightened up your household budget recently, or witnessed cutbacks in the spending habits of friends and family? Have you noticed retail parking lots aren’t very full nowadays, and once-full cafes now have empty tables? According to the conventional economic statistics, everything’s going great: there are millions of job openings, unemployment is near historic lows, GDP is expanding nicely and of course, everyone’s favorite signifier of wonderfulness, the stock market, is hovering near all-time highs.

The possibility that the real economy just stumbled off a cliff creates instant cognitive dissonance, as the official narrative is the economy is expanding slowly but surely and everything is nominal: there’s plenty of everything, from oil/gas to consumer credit to jobs to student loans. Nonetheless, I feel a disturbance in the Force: once credit expansion slows or ceases, the economy will roll over into recession, as wages have been stagnant for the past 17 years, and the bottom 95% of households can only spend more if they borrow more.

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The Fed is going to raise rates as Japan and Europe continue to buy everything not bolted down? Boy, I’d like to see that happen…

Central Bank Balance Sheets Are Headed for a Great Divergence (BBG)

A brief convergence this year in the dollar value of the balance sheets of the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan has passed and the trio are now set to take very different paths. After all three touched $4.5 trillion in April, they’ve split, mostly due to a rally in the euro and strength in the yen. With expectations that Janet Yellen may begin whittling away at the Fed’s balance sheet in the next few months, and the BOJ set to carry on with its unprecedented asset purchases, the Japanese central bank may find itself carrying something approaching double the load of its American counterpart two years from now. The ECB’s picture is much more difficult to discern, and investors will be listening intently on Friday when Mario Draghi speaks at the annual Jackson Hole summit of central bankers in Wyoming. With Europe’s recovery gathering pace, officials may start talks this fall about a strategy for 2018 that could include gradually reducing net purchases to zero.

When it comes to the size of the balance sheets relative to the economies of the U.S., Europe and Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda’s BOJ is already the uncontested heavyweight, and will keep extending its lead. The BOJ doesn’t expect to hit its 2% inflation target until sometime around the fiscal year starting in April 2019, dictating the need for hefty asset purchases for years to come. This divergence has big implications for the central banks the next time crisis threatens the global economy. The Fed and the ECB are likely to have more room to dive back into asset purchases or cut interest rates, while the BOJ may find itself pinned down unless it can find a way out of its current predicament before the next problem comes along.

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Are central bankers really this dumb?

Low World Inflation Dogs Central Bankers, Even As Economies Grow (R.)

The world’s top central bankers gather in Jackson Hole, their confidence bolstered by a sustained return to economic growth that may eventually allow the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan to follow the Federal Reserve in winding down their crisis-era policies. Yet in one key area, none of the world’s central banks has found the answer. Inflation remains well below their 2% targets, stoking a debate about whether they are missing signals of a less than healthy economy and the need for a slower path of “rate normalization”, or that they simply don’t understand how inflation works in a globalized world. In Japan, officials have researched behavioral causes, wondering whether businesses and families are just slower to react to economic signals than thought. European officials have blamed slow-moving union wage contracts and online shopping, while U.S. policymakers have cited a lengthy sequence of “one-offs” in pricing from oil to cellphones to prescription drugs.

In each case the response of policymakers has been the same: wait it out and talk confidently about inflation’s return, as the Fed has put it since 2013, over “the medium term”. “Yes, our models aren’t perfect… Certainly the fact that we have had some low inflation readings is something that we take very seriously,” said Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester. Yet Mester is convinced the problem is not a weakening economy, but changes in how businesses set prices – a supply side issue she says leaves her comfortable pressing ahead with slow but steady interest rate increases. Not everyone is convinced by Mester’s approach. Concerns over the significance of a recent slide in inflation have renewed questions about whether a global tightening of monetary policy can proceed, with U.S. investors betting the Fed will have to hold off on more rate changes until later next year.

[..] The use of inflation targeting has been an important innovation in central banking, rooted in theories of how public expectations, central bank communication and other factors shape economic behavior. It was a recognition that how policymakers talked about inflation, and what households believed, would in part determine the outcome. But the developed world’s alignment around a 2% target has become a headache as much as a policy guide, with central banks trying to estimate and regulate something they acknowledge they don’t fully understand. Bank of Japan consultants have puzzled over whether people shop and save as if they fully see the future, or whether they look at the past and only slowly adapt to change. If the latter, then what central banks say is less important. [..] “Look, inflation is hard to forecast,” Mester said in an interview with Reuters, noting that the most elaborate models don’t do much better than simply saying inflation will be 2% and leaving it at that.

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Finance humor.

Amazon’s Plans to Cut Food Prices Will Be a Headache for the Fed (BBG)

Amazon’s plans to cut prices at Whole Foods is great news for shoppers, but not so much for Federal Reserve officials wondering whether they’ll ever hit their 2% inflation target. A low unemployment rate is supposed to boost inflation, or so the economic theory goes. One possible reason it’s not happening, according to the minutes of the central bank’s latest meeting in July: “Restraints on pricing power from global developments and from innovations to business models spurred by advances in technology.” Chicago Fed President Charles Evans earlier this month mused that “people are utilizing newer technologies, competition is emerging from unexpected places – not necessarily your nearest competitor but somebody else – and that could lead to reduced margins and downward price pressure for some period of time.”

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Many years ago.

Has The Fed Completely Lost Control (Roberts)

An interesting thing happened on the way to World Domination, uhh, I mean “Stability” – the data quit cooperating with the Federal Reserve’s carefully devised plan. Just recently the Federal Reserve quit updating their carefully constructed “Labor Market Conditions Index” which failed to support their ongoing claims of improving employment conditions. The chart below is the last iteration before it was discontinued which showed a clear deterioration in underlying strength.

The problem for the Fed in making the decision to discontinue their own Labor Market Conditions Index, which is likely providing a more accurate picture of the real conditions, is being forced to remain tied to an outdated U-3 employment index. As noted recently by Morningside Hill:

“There is sufficient evidence to suggest the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculation method has been systemically overstating the number of jobs created, especially in the current economic cycle. Furthermore, the BLS has failed to account for the rise in part-time and contractual work arrangements, while all evidence points to a significant and rapid increase in the so-called contingent workforce as full-time jobs are being replaced by part-time positions, resulting in double and triple counting of jobs via the Establishment Survey. Lastly, a full 93% of the new jobs reported since 2008 and 40% of the jobs in 2016 alone were added through the business birth and death model – a highly controversial model which is not supported by the data. On the contrary, all data on establishment births and deaths point to an ongoing decrease in entrepreneurship.”

This last point was something I have addressed many times previously, the chart below shows the actual employment roles in the U.S. when stripping out the Birth/Death Adjustment model. With such a large overstatement of actual employment, the flawed model does support the idea of a tight labor market.

Unfortunately, despite arguments to the contrary, there is little support for why the bulk of Americans that should be working, simply aren’t.

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Not everyone is completely nuts.

No Alternative To Austerity? That Lie Has Now Been Nailed (G.)

Ever since the banks plunged the western world into economic chaos, we have been told that only cuts offer economic salvation. When the Conservatives and the Lib Dems formed their austerity coalition in 2010, they told the electorate – in apocalyptic tones – that without George Osborne’s scalpel, Britain would go the way of Greece. The economically illiterate metaphor of a household budget was relentlessly deployed – you shouldn’t spend more if you’re personally in debt, so why should the nation? – to popularise an ideologically driven fallacy. But now, thanks to Portugal, we know how flawed the austerity experiment enforced across Europe was. Portugal was one of the European nations hardest hit by the economic crisis. After a bailout by a troika including the IMF, creditors demanded stringent austerity measures that were enthusiastically implemented by Lisbon’s then conservative government.

Utilities were privatised, VAT raised, a surtax imposed on incomes, public sector pay and pensions slashed and benefits cut, and the working day was extended. In a two-year period, education spending suffered a devastating 23% cut. Health services and social security suffered too. The human consequences were dire. Unemployment peaked at 17.5% in 2013; in 2012, there was a 41% jump in company bankruptcies; and poverty increased. All this was necessary to cure the overspending disease, went the logic. At the end of 2015, this experiment came to an end. A new socialist government – with the support of more radical leftwing parties – assumed office. The prime minister, António Costa, pledged to “turn the page on austerity”: it had sent the country back three decades, he said. The government’s opponents predicted disaster – “voodoo economics”, they called it.

Perhaps another bailout would be triggered, leading to recession and even steeper cuts. There was a precedent, after all: Syriza had been elected in Greece just months earlier, and eurozone authorities were in no mood to allow this experiment to succeed. How could Portugal possibly avoid its own Greek tragedy? The economic rationale of the new Portuguese government was clear. Cuts suppressed demand: for a genuine recovery, demand had to be boosted. The government pledged to increase the minimum wage, reverse regressive tax increases, return public sector wages and pensions to their pre-crisis levels – the salaries of many had plummeted by 30% – and reintroduce four cancelled public holidays. Social security for poorer families was increased, while a luxury charge was imposed on homes worth over €600,000 (£550,000).

The promised disaster did not materialise. By the autumn of 2016 – a year after taking power – the government could boast of sustained economic growth, and a 13% jump in corporate investment. And this year, figures showed the deficit had more than halved, to 2.1% – lower than at any time since the return of democracy four decades ago. Indeed, this is the first time Portugal has ever met eurozone fiscal rules.

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But it’s about political power, not economics: “Germany has a bigger surplus even than China, they should spend it in the European economy.” By bleeding Europe dry, Germany expands its dominance.

Germany Slammed For Domestic Under-Spending (Ind.)

A Nobel economics laureate, Sir Christopher Pissarides, has hit out at Germany’s refusal to increase its domestic state spending in order to help entrench the eurozone’s recovery. Speaking at the Lindau meetings in Germany on Wednesday, Sir Christopher said that despite the bounce back in the single currency zone in recent months after years of crisis, the Continent’s largest economy was still exerting a damaging and unnecessary drag. “German fiscal policy is not at all what some countries still need,” he said, arguing that demand across the single currency zone was still too low. “Why is there no demand? Because of German fiscal policies! There is austerity, there is low infrastructure spending and therefore companies are hesitating [on] investment.” “Where is expansion going to come from? It’s going to come from the surplus countries spending more. Germany has a bigger surplus even than China, they should spend it in the European economy.”

The German government is running a fiscal budget surplus and its current account surplus (the difference between its total national spending and total national income) of $294bn in 2016 has drawn criticism from a host of economic bodies, including the IMF, for similar reasons as those advanced by Sir Christopher. Sir Christopher, who was awarded the Nobel in 2010 for his theoretical breakthroughs on labour market analysis, said that countries such as Spain had pushed through major and necessary job market reforms in 2010 and 2011 in the teeth of its sovereign debt crisis. The official headline Spanish unemployment rate currently stands at 17.3%, down from a 2013 peak of 27%. But Sir Christopher said it should be falling faster and that higher German state spending would help. “It’s certainly the case that if the European economy as a whole expanded faster we would see faster positive results from these [labour market] reforms,” he said.

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Completely nuts.

EU States Begin Returning Refugees To Greece As German Reunions Slow (G.)

European countries are poised to begin the process of returning refugees to Greece, as migrants seeking reunification with their family members – mostly in Germany – step up protests in Athens. In a move decried by human rights groups, EU states will send back asylum seekers who first sought refuge in Greece, despite the nation being enmeshed in its worst economic crisis in modern times. Germany has made nearly 400 resettlement requests, according to officials in Berlin and sources in Athens’ leftist-led government. The UK, France, the Netherlands and Norway have also asked that asylum seekers be returned to Greece. Greece’s migration minister told the Guardian the first returns were expected imminently.

“The paperwork has begun and we expect returns to begin over the next month,” said Yannis Mouzalas. “It will start with a symbolic number as an act of friendship [towards other EU nations]. Greece has already accepted so many [refugees], it has come under such pressure, that to accept more would be absurd, a joke if it weren’t such a tragedy.” Mouzalas said he had no idea where the returnees would be placed or whether they would ever leave Greece. “I don’t know where they will go. It could be Athens, it could be Thebes … they are accommodated in an apartment scheme,” he said. “Whatever [happens], conditions will be good, they have improved greatly and will meet EU criteria.”

[..] On Monday a reported 330 migrant arrivals were registered on Greece’s eastern Aegean isles, piling the pressure on overcrowded and vastly overstretched reception centres in Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Leros and Samos. An estimated 14,335 people are currently in limbo in accommodation centres on the Greek islands, according to figures released by the country’s interior ministry on Thursday. Conditions in the centres are described as deplorable, and protests and riots are commonplace. Human Rights Watch recently said self-harm and suicide attempts along with aggression, anxiety and depression were all on the rise. Local services complain about being unable to cope.

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Our friends and allies.

Yemen: The War No One Is Allowed To Know About (NS)

Ten thousand people have died. The world’s largest cholera epidemic is raging, with more than 530,000 suspected cases and 2,000 related deaths. Millions more people are starving. Yet the lack of press attention on Yemen’s conflict has led it to be described as the “forgotten war”. The scant media coverage is not without reason, or wholly because the general public is too cold-hearted to care. It is very hard to get into Yemen. The risks for the few foreign journalists who gain access are significant. And the Saudi-led coalition waging war in the country is doing its best to make it difficult, if not impossible, to report from the area. Working in Sana’a as a fixer for journalists since the start of the uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011 has sometimes felt like the most difficult job in the world.

When a Saudi-led coalition started bombing Yemen in support of its president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, in March 2015, it became even harder. With control of the airspace, last summer they closed Sana’a airport. The capital had been the main route into Yemen. Whether deliberately or coincidentally, in doing so, the coalition prevented press access. The media blackout came to the fore last month, when the Saudi-led coalition turned away an extraordinary, non-commercial UN flight with three BBC journalists on board. The team – including experienced correspondent Orla Guerin – had all the necessary paperwork. Aviation sources told Reuters that the journalists’ presence was the reason the flight was not allowed to land. The refusal to allow the press to enter Yemen by air forced them to find an alternative route into the country – a 13-hour sea crossing.

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Sorry, Greece… (btw, it took a century to figure this out)

3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed The History of Maths (SA)

A Babylonian clay tablet dating back 3,700 years has been identified as the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, suggesting the Babylonians beat the ancient Greeks to the invention of trigonometry by over 1,000 years. The tablet, known as Plimpton 322, was discovered in the early 1900s in what is now southern Iraq, but researchers have always been baffled about what its purpose was. Thanks to a team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, the mystery may have been solved. More than that, the Babylonian method of calculating trigonometric values could have something to teach mathematicians today. “Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles,” says one of the researchers, Daniel Mansfield.

“It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius.” Experts established early on that Plimpton 322 showed a list of Pythagorean triples, sets of numbers that fit trigonometry models for calculating the sides of a right-angled triangle. The big debate has been about what those triples were actually for. Are they just a series of exercises for teaching, for example? Or are they something more profound? Babylonian mathematics used a base 60 or sexagesimal system (like the minute markers on a clock face), rather than the base 10 or decimal system we use today. By applying Babylonian mathematical models, the researchers were able to show that the tablet would originally have had 6 columns and 38 rows. They also show how the mathematicians of the time could’ve used the Babylonian system to come up with the numbers on the tablet.

The researchers suggest that the tablet may well have been used by ancient scribes to make calculations for building palaces, temples, and canals. But if the new study is right, then the Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who lived about 120 BC, is not the father of trigonometry that he’s long been regarded as. Scholars date the tablet to around 1822-1762 BC. What’s more, because of the way the Babylonians did their maths and geometry, it’s the most accurate trigonometric table as well as the oldest. The reason is that a sexagesimal system has more exact fractions than a decimal system, which means less rounding up. Whereas only two numbers can divide 10 with nothing left over – 2 and 5 – a base 60 system has far more. Cleaner fractions means fewer approximations and more accurate maths, and the researchers suggest we can learn from it today.

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Don’t want to cry wolf, but.. Be safe!

Hurricane Harvey Has All the Ingredients to Become a Monster (AP)

Hurricane Harvey is following the perfect recipe to be a monster storm, meteorologists say. Warm water. Check. Calm air at 40,000 feet high. Check. Slow speed to dump maximum rain. Check. University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said Harvey combines the worst attributes of nasty recent Texas storms: The devastating storm surge of Hurricane Ike in 2008; the winds of Category 4 Hurricane Brett in 1999 and days upon days of heavy rain of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Rainfall is forecast to be as high as 35 inches through next Wednesday in some areas. Deadly storm surge — the push inwards of abnormally high ocean water above regular tides — could reach 12 feet, the National Hurricane Center warned, calling Harvey life-threatening. Harvey’s forecast path is the type that keeps it stronger longer with devastating rain and storm-force wind lasting for several days, not hours.

“It’s a very dangerous storm,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini told AP. “It does have all the ingredients it needs to intensify. And we’re seeing that intensification occur quite rapidly.” Warm water is the fuel for hurricanes. It’s where storms get their energy. Water needs to be about 79 degrees (26 Celsius) or higher to sustain a hurricane, McNoldy said. Harvey is over part of the Gulf of Mexico where the water is about 87 degrees or 2 degrees above normal for this time of year, said Jeff Masters, a former hurricane hunter meteorologist and meteorology director of Weather Underground. A crucial factor is something called ocean heat content. It’s not just how warm the surface water is but how deep it goes. And Harvey is over an area where warm enough water goes about 330 feet (100 meters) deep, which is a very large amount of heat content, McNoldy said.

“It can sit there and spin and have plenty of warm water to work with,” McNoldy said. If winds at 40,000 feet high are strong in the wrong direction it can decapitate a hurricane. Strong winds high up remove the heat and moisture that hurricanes need near their center and also distort the shape. But the wind up there is weak so Harvey “is free to go nuts basically,” McNoldy said.

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Dec 262016
 
 December 26, 2016  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Paul Gauguin Christmas Night (The Blessing of the Oxen) , 1902-1903

One Industry Will Keep Holding North America Together (CNBC)
China Bank Calls Documents ‘Fake’ After Bond Default Linked To Alibaba (R.)
The Trump Rally Is Young (CNBC)
What Is Productivity And Why Is The UK’s So Poor? (G.)
What’s Behind Obama’s Attacks On Putin (Carley)
British Councils Admit Massive Use Of Spying Powers On Public (G.)
Humankind Has Created 30 Trillion Tons Of Stuff (F.)
Being Busy Is Not Cool (Awl)
The Man Who Saved 200 Syrian Refugees (TL)

 

 

Brilliant headline.

One Industry Will Keep Holding North America Together (CNBC)

Texas-refined gasoline fuels Mexican cars. Natural gas from Canada helps heat the Midwest and cool California. Electricity flows over the northern and southern U.S. borders in both directions. The interconnections in the North American energy industry are huge and growing — and could grow even closer during the Trump administration unless it decides to alter the flow of a key U.S. export (and import) — at the border. The U.S., Canada and Mexico have intentionally worked to combine the advantages of their energy resources. President-elect Donald Trump has said he would renegotiate NAFTA between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. While the new administration seems to be very friendly to the energy sector, there are still questions about whether there could be changes that affect the intricate web of energy connections between the three countries.

“It’s not so simple to say we’re going to renegotiate the trade deals. We set up the system to create those inter-linkages. You just can’t overnight legislate or executive order that away. If you try to do that, it’s going to have negative economic impacts, not just for the economies on the border but for these specific industries, like energy,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West. Trump’s selection of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as energy secretary, is seen as a positive for the oil and gas industry. Perry has spoken favorably about North America as an energy power house, including Mexico and Canada. Perhaps one of the most surprising recent developments is the boom in U.S. natural gas that’s flowing across the southern border, and the ambitious plans by the Mexican government to build more pipelines to take U.S. natural gas throughout Mexico and as far as Mexico City.

[..] The energy picture changed dramatically for North America in the last decade. The push by the U.S. energy industry into hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling unleashed an energy boom, making the U.S. the world’s biggest producer of natural gas and placing it firmly among the top three oil producers. That has changed the situation for all of North America, at a time when Mexico’s oil and gas output was in decline and Canada found some of its potential oil output landlocked. The ties between the three countries go way back. In the early 1900s, the U.S. began sharing electricity with its neighbors, and Canada is now a significant net exporter of electricity to the U.S.

One catalyst has been Mexico’s program of energy reform, intended to break the hold of state-owned Pemex on its industry and bring new private investment to Mexico’s energy industry. The decline in big part was due to a lack of investment by the government in Petroleos Mexicanos, and its increasing reliance on Pemex revenue stream for its own budget. “Before shale, the U.S. was importing a lot more gas from Canada,” said Anthony Yuen, global energy analyst at Citigroup. The U.S. was also worried not that long ago that it would need to import LNG, liquefied natural gas. But the shale boom changed everything.

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Fraud and shadow banking. Makes you wonder how pervasive this is. I have an idea.

China Bank Calls Documents ‘Fake’ After Bond Default Linked To Alibaba (R.)

The fate of a defaulted $45 million Chinese corporate bond sold through an Alibaba-backed online wealth management platform was thrown into doubt on Monday, after a bank said letters of guarantee for the bonds were counterfeit. China Guangfa Bank said guarantee documents, official seals and personal seals presented by the insurer of the bonds “are all fake” and that it has reported the matter to the police. The dispute highlights challenges in China’s loosely regulated online finance industry, where retail investors often buy high-yielding bonds and other assets, expecting them to be “risk-free” due to guarantees provided by various parties. At the center of the latest dispute are 312 million yuan ($45 million) worth of high-yielding bonds issued by southern Chinese phone maker Cosun Group that defaulted this month.

The bonds were sold through Zhao Cai Bao, an online platform run by Ant Financial Services Group, the payment affiliate of e-commerce firm Alibaba. Ant Financial has asked Zheshang Property and Casualty Insurance, which wrote insurance on the bonds, to repay investors. On Sunday, Zheshang Insurance published two documents on its website that it said were from CGB carrying the bank’s official seals, and that guaranteed Zheshang Insurance policies for the Consun bonds. The letters were issued at CGB’s Huizhou branch in December 2014, when the Cosun bonds were sold, Zheshang Insurance said.On Monday, CGB said the documents were fake and that it had reported the incident to police as “suspected financial fraud.” The dispute follows instances of financial fraud this year including forged bond agreements that led to brokerage Sealand Securities sharing potential losses of up to $2.4 billion. In May, the government advised banks to be vigilant after several cases of bill fraud.

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Well, yeah, that too.

The Trump Rally Is Young (CNBC)

A trade war with China – a country with a $473 billion of bilateral trade with America in the first ten months of this year – is an implausible assumption. But a serious conversation about the fact that Chinese exports to America represent three-quarters of that business is long overdue and entirely appropriate. The President-elect Donald Trump is seeking a better deal for America. That should be easy to understand and support for any fair- and free-trader. And, rest assured, Washington’s intent to correct its huge trade imbalance with China is not coming as a surprise to Beijing. The Zhongnanhai mandarins know that their trade surpluses with the U.S. – $366 billion in 2015 and $289 billion in the first ten months of this year – are difficult issues that must be addressed. That is the substance of the problem.The rest is rhetoric.

Mr. Trump’s opening salvo used legitimate trade remedies,such as import tariffs, anti-dumping investigations, and possibly other measures if China was recognized as an exchange-rate manipulator. China has announced that it would respond with unspecified retaliatory measures, but President Xi Jinping talked about the need for Sino-American cooperation in his congratulatory phone call to Mr. Trump. The Chinese also liked the appointment of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as an envoy to Beijing. They called him a “friend of China” and noted that he has known Mr.Xi since 1985. Difficult trade negotiating rounds are quite common. In this particular case, Washington also has the option of using non-confrontational measures to reduce the existing trade imbalance.

A change in the corporate taxation is one of them. That could bring back American manufacturing producing Chinese exports to the U.S. Some leaders of the U.S. Business Roundtable – a forum of 192 companies that account for most of investment activity in the United States – doubt that a large amount of that business can be quickly repatriated. They feel confident, however, that appropriate corporate tax cuts would keep firms producing and reinvesting their profits in the U.S. The corporate tax reform is at the top of Mr. Trump’s agenda, and that is perhaps one of the most effective trade signals he can send to China. Indeed, reducing the incentive for the exodus of American manufacturing, and bringing some of it back, would also stop large technology transfers that are part of mandatory Sino-American joint ventures for American firms doing business in China.

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Lazy?

What Is Productivity And Why Is The UK’s So Poor? (G.)

Productivity is a guide to how good a country is at delivering the goods and services that are bought and sold. Technically, it is the rate of output per unit of input, measured per worker or by the number of hours worked. In layman’s terms, it is a measure of what goes in and what comes out. In some sectors, productivity is easy to measure. A factory that makes 1,000 cars a day with 50 workers is twice as productive as a factory that requires 100 workers to do the same job. In other parts of the economy, assessing whether productivity has improved is harder and less objective. At face value a fast-food joint that employed the same number of chefs to cook the same number of hamburgers as they did a year earlier would not be showing any increase in productivity.

But if the quality of the hamburgers improved, that would be a productivity gain and statisticians would try to capture the improvement in the official figures. There are a number of ways in which a firm can make itself more productive. It can invest in new machinery that makes the production process more efficient. It can employ more highly skilled staff. It can train workers so that they can fully exploit the equipment they are using. It is through productivity improvements that living standards rise. For many years, the annual increase in productivity in the UK averaged around 2%, although there were periods when it was lower and periods when it was higher. Each year since the early 1990s, the Office for National Statistics has published an international comparison of productivity.

This showed that UK productivity was 9% lower than the average of the other six members of the G7 (the US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada) but this gap narrowed to 4% by the time of the 2007 financial crisis. Since then, however, productivity in the UK has barely grown and the gap with the rest of the G7 has widened to 18%. The gap with Germany is 35% and with the US 30%. There have been a number of explanations for the dramatic deterioration in productivity: the availability of unskilled cheap labour has deterred firms from investment; the poor quality of UK roads, railways and broadband network; the shrinkage of the financial sector, which had been a source of high-productivity jobs in the boom before the 2007 crisis; and the misallocation of capital to “zombie” firms kept alive by ultra-low interest rates rather than to dynamic new enterprises.

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“Maybe the Americans [..] can use high tech trampolines to get into space and do without Russian technology.”

What’s Behind Obama’s Attacks On Putin (Carley)

Relations between Russian president Vladimir Putin and US president Barack Obama are poisoned and irretrievably damaged. It’s therefore a good thing that Obama is leaving office on 20 January. Bad US-Russian relations are of course nothing new. Since the Anglo-American war against Iraq in 2003, the US-Russian relationship has been headed downhill. For Obama, it appears that everything has gotten personal. The US president often acts like a petulant adolescent, jealous of a high school rival. You know, the kid who does everything better than he does. The lad takes it badly and won’t let it go. He challenges his nemesis to some new contest at every opportunity only to lose again and again. That’s got to be hard on the ego. Between Obama and Putin there have been many such encounters. Nor can it help that western cartoonists so often ridicule Obama as out of his depth in comparison to Putin.

Let’s consider Obama’s remarks at his last press conference on Friday, 16 December. «The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us», said Obama: «They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate». This was insulting both Putin and his country, but not enough apparently for Obama. «They [the Russians] can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values. Mr. Putin can weaken us, just like he’s trying to weaken Europe, if we start buying into notions that it’s okay to intimidate the press, or lock up dissidents, or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like».

What on earth is Mr. Obama talking about? Intimidate the press? The Moscow newspapers and television media are loaded with «liberals». Many Russians call them «fifth columnists». They are «people with ‘more advanced’ worldview[s] who do not tolerate ‘Russian propaganda’ themselves», according to one colleague in Moscow. But Mr. Putin tolerates them and pays them no mind. «Lock up dissidents… discriminate against people»? What alternate reality does Mr. Obama live in? Doesn’t produce anything people want to buy? The United States buys rocket engines that it does not now produce at home. Maybe the Americans, a Russian commentator joked, can use high tech trampolines to get into space and do without Russian technology.

[..] You have to give credit to Obama; he was ambitious, aiming for a big prize and the humiliation of Russia and its president. Again, he was thwarted not so much by President Putin but by the Russian people of the Crimea who immediately mobilised their local self-defence units backed by «polite people», Russian marines stationed in Sevastopol, to kick out the Ukrainians with scarcely a shot fired. They organised a referendum to approve entry into the Russian Federation. Reunification was quickly approved by a huge majority and celebrated in Moscow. Putin gave a remarkably candid speech, explaining the Russian position. «NATO remains a military alliance,’ he said, «and we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our backyard or in our historic territory. I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors. Of course, most of them are wonderful guys, but it would be better to have them come and visit us, be our guests, rather than the other way round».

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And why not?

British Councils Admit Massive Use Of Spying Powers On Public (G.)

Councils were given permission to carry out more than 55,000 days of covert surveillance over five years, including spying on people walking dogs, feeding pigeons and fly-tipping, the Guardian can reveal. A mass freedom of information request has found 186 local authorities – two-thirds of the 283 that responded – used the government’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) to gather evidence via secret listening devices, cameras and private detectives. Among the detailed examples provided were Midlothian council using the powers to monitor dog barking and Allerdale borough council gathering evidence about who was guilty of feeding pigeons. Wolverhampton used covert surveillance to check on the sale of dangerous toys and car clocking; Slough to aid an investigation into an illegal puppy farm; and Westminster to crack down on the selling of fireworks to children.

Meanwhile, Lancaster city council used the act, in 2012, for “targeted dog fouling enforcement” in two hotspots over 11 days. A spokeswoman pointed out that the law had since changed and Ripa could only now be used if criminal activity was suspected. The permissions for tens of thousands of days were revealed in a huge freedom of information exercise, carried out by the Liberal Democrats. It found that councils then launched 2,800 separate surveillance operations lasting up to 90 days each. Critics of the spying legislation say the government said it would only be used when absolutely necessary to protect British people from extreme threats. Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem peer who represents the party on home affairs, said: “It is absurd that local authorities are using measures primarily intended for combating terrorism for issues as trivial as a dog barking or the sale of theatre tickets. Spying on the public should be a last resort not an everyday tool.”

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Masters of destruction. Who think they’re creators.

Humankind Has Created 30 Trillion Tons Of Stuff (F.)

Over the course of history, humans have made a lot of stuff — buildings, bottles, oil tankers, iPhones. Some of it is useful; a lot of it ends up being junk. It’s more than enough to leave behind a fossil legacy, were humanity to disappear. And as a species, our collection of stuff is only getting bigger. Researchers publishing in the peer-reviewed journal The Anthropocene Review now estimate that the sum material output of humankind exceeds 30 trillion tons. Spread evenly, that would amount to 110 lbs of human-made stuff for every square meter of Earth’s surface, as FORBES contributor Eric Mack pointed out. That’s a huge number. Here are some other, totally massive ways to conceive of our collective output: That’s about 16.8% of the weight of Mount Everest.

Now let’s visualize that number in terms of human-made things. It takes 5.9 billion Type D GVWR school buses at 10,000 lbs each to match all of humanity’s creations on Earth. If you’d prefer to view it in terms of larger objects such as Boeing 747-8 jet liners or International Space Stations, you’ll be looking at totals of 123 million and 66 million, respectively. If doomed cruise liners are your preferred unit of measurement, you would need over 647,ooo Titanics to come close to the immense weight of humanity’s creations. Increasing the size of your vessel to a 102-thousand ton Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and you cut down the number of boats you’ll need to 293 thousand.

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“Oh you’re in a hurry? Now we’re definitely not crossing the river.”

Being Busy Is Not Cool (Awl)

Because I personally only understand the world through different types of animals, I’m going to use an animal analogy to describe what I think. Let’s say you’re leading a horse and a donkey toward a river. When you reach the little slope that dips down to the riverbank, both of them are gonna pause and be like, “Hey, is this a good idea?” Typically, with a horse, maybe you tug the rope a little and, even though he’s still skeptical, a lot of the time he’ll defer to your logic. “I must be missing something here, it must be safe if you’re saying it is.” He’ll walk down the bank to investigate. The donkey is the opposite. If he has stopped to assess a situation and you try to force his hand before he’s ready, he digs in even deeper. “Oh you’re in a hurry? Now we’re definitely not crossing the river.”

Convincing behavior can be a signal of emotional bias, which can be a signal of poor judgment. In other words, if you need me to cross this river so badly, you’re probably not thinking of my best interest too closely, so let me look over your work. And if you want to rush me along? Seems like a tally mark in the “scam” column tbh. Busyness is the river our culture is trying to get us to cross. To use another example, let’s say someone bursts into the office on Monday morning announcing that everyone has to see the new Star Wars movie because it’s amazing and they’ve never seen anything like it. I’d immediately assume, “This person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Why? Because I am a donkey. I know anyone who’s seen a movie that moved them emotionally or made them them think some new thoughts doesn’t automatically burst through a door like a manic sitcom character evangelizing everyone they encounter. That’s not how that feeling acts. And it’s the same with being busy: signifying is not the same as being.

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“When we think of Italians or Irish, we don’t think of them as immigrants. They’re just people.”

The Man Who Saved 200 Syrian Refugees (TL)

When Jim Estill decided to sponsor 50 Syrian refugee families, he didn’t tell anyone about it at first—not his accountant, not his friends, not even his wife. It was the summer of 2015, and the death toll in Syria had reached a quarter of a million people, while another four million had fled the country. All summer long, the news reported horror stories of Syrians drowning in the Mediterranean. Humanitarian aid programs were being cut across the Middle East. As he watched the news, Estill got worked up. “I didn’t want to be 80 years old and know that I did nothing during the greatest humanitarian crisis of my time,” he says. Estill was disturbed by the wave of xenophobia that had emerged during the Harper administration.

He wanted to demonstrate how refugees could help enrich our society. One of his best friends, Franz Hasenfratz, was a refugee who fled Communist Hungary. Hasenfratz went on to establish Linamar, a car-parts manufacturer, which is Guelph’s largest employer, with nearly 10,000 employees. “I was trying to drown out the xenophobes,” Estill says. “When we think of Italians or Irish, we don’t think of them as immigrants. They’re just people.” So he did some math. He checked Kijiji to find out how much apartments in Guelph were renting for, googled child tax benefits and GST/HST rebates in Ontario, and formulated a monthly food budget. He estimated that $30,000 could support a family of five for one year. He multiplied that number by 50 and realized the total cost—$1.5 million—was one he could easily afford.

[..] After Labour Day, Estill called a slew of local religious organizations—including three churches, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a synagogue—and aid agencies like the Salvation Army. On September 29, 10 civic leaders sat down in Estill’s boardroom at Danby. He’d made a PowerPoint presentation titled Refugees: The Right Thing to Do. Muhammed Sayyed, the president of the Muslim Society of Guelph, was amazed that so many faith groups were participating, even though most of the refugees would be Muslim. When he met Estill, he was filled with gratitude. “I thought, Wow, there are still people like him,” he said. An hour after the group sat down, the project was launched. The Muslim Society of Guelph would create the infrastructure, handle the paperwork and lead the volunteers. Estill would sustain the program with monthly donations. The group partnered with the Islamic Foundation of Toronto, which was a sponsorship agreement holder. This meant Estill could choose which refugees he wanted to sponsor.

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Sep 162016
 
 September 16, 2016  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC Maumee River waterfront, Toledo, OH 1910

Many Presidential Swing States Lag Behind in Income Gains (WSJ)
Mediocre Fundamentals Mean Meteoric Markets Are 70% Overvalued (GMO)
US Seeks $14 Billion From Deutsche Bank Over Mortgage Securities Fraud (AFP)
Deutsche Bank Shares Plunge After Rebuffing $14 Billion US Fine (BBG)
Observations About US Corporate Debt (ZH/Kestel)
This is How You Will Bail Out Municipal Pension Funds (WS)
The Next Bubble: China’s Housing Gets Scarily Expensive (Balding)
Europe, Japan Banking Sectors Threaten Revolt Over Basel Rules (BBG)
It’s A Long Way Down In Australia’s Looming Apartment Fall (Aus.com.au)
EU Leaders Search For Way Out Of ‘Existential Crisis’ (R.)
Greece Raids Home Of Central Bank Head (ZH)
Jay Z: ‘The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail’ (NYT)
Les Déplorables (WSJ)
The Cold War Is Over (Hitchens)

 

 

This is it. This will decide the US elections the same way it did Brexit, and many European elections over the next 2 years and change.

Many Presidential Swing States Lag Behind in Income Gains (WSJ)

Key swing states such as Nevada, North Carolina and Florida have seen some of the weakest income growth in the country since the last non-incumbent presidential contest in 2008, new census figures show. A Wall Street Journal analysis of state-by-state income data set for release on Thursday shows that more than half of the 13 states where the presidential race appears closely contested have seen below-average income growth since 2008. Among the eight laggards, three states saw the lowest wage growth in the U.S. during that time—Nevada, Georgia and Arizona. The new data show how America’s uneven economic recovery is adding another layer of unpredictability to an already volatile electoral map.

The traditional realm of battleground states has expanded, putting into play states such as Arizona and Georgia, which haven’t gone to a Democratic presidential candidate in at least 20 years. The Census Bureau also said income inequality across the country increased in 2015. The recovery’s income gains have been concentrated in central cities, with suburbs and rural areas largely lagging behind for years. “You actually see the bottom and the top pulling apart a little bit more in some of these keys states,” said David Damore, professor of political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. On a national basis, most states still haven’t seen income recover to pre-recession levels. Americans’ median household income in 2015 was 2.6% lower than in 2008, census figures show.

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“Much of the run-up over the past few years has been primarily about multiple expansions. And the scary thing about multiple expansions is that they are reliably mean-reverting—if they run too far, the market always takes it back, sometimes with a vengeance. And we are currently almost 70% too far.”

Mediocre Fundamentals Mean Meteoric Markets Are 70% Overvalued (GMO)

While all eyes were on Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in Jackson Hole, we were watching something else. In August, the Shiller P/E, a well-regarded metric for measuring the valuation of U.S. equities, breached 27. Given that its normal range is something a bit above 16, valuations are looking rather stretched. Further, the last time the Shiller P/E was above 27 was in October … 2007. And we all know how that movie ended. While nobody here at GMO is saying that a crash is imminent (and there’s no law that says stocks cannot become even more expensive), we continue to maintain our bias against U.S. stocks. We will also take this end-of-summer moment to point out the yawning disconnect between fundamentals (of the U.S. economy and even corporate America) and their stocks. It really is a tale of two cities, one of mediocre fundamentals versus a meteoric rise in markets (see the chart below).

We pulled together some meaningful metrics on the health of the economy and some top-line/bottom-line numbers on the S&P 500 Index: GDP growth, productivity, and household income, as well as a few others, including revenue and earnings for U.S. stocks, for good measure. It is a tale of mediocrity, at best. Then, we contrasted those with the actual market returns of the S&P 500 Index over the past five years. Truly meteoric. (As an aside, we at GMO have always been leery of drawing too many investment conclusions from staring at economic data—we are more valuation-oriented, after all—but even we are struck by the divergence.) Which brings us back to the Shiller P/E. Much of the run-up over the past few years has been primarily about multiple expansions. And the scary thing about multiple expansions is that they are reliably mean-reverting—if they run too far, the market always takes it back, sometimes with a vengeance. And we are currently almost 70% too far.

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“Deutsche Bank has no intent to settle these potential civil claims anywhere near the number cited..” “..the bank is aiming for an amount between $2 billion and $3 billion..”

US Seeks $14 Billion From Deutsche Bank Over Mortgage Securities Fraud (AFP)

Authorities in the US are seeking as much as $14 billion from Deutsche Bank to resolve allegations stemming from the sale of mortgage securities in the 2008 crisis, the German financial giant confirmed Thursday. The payout would be the largest ever inflicted on a foreign bank in the United States, easily surpassing the $8.9 billion that French bank BNP Paribas paid in 2014 for sanctions violations. But in a quick reaction, Deutsche Bank rejected the $14 billion figure, which the bank said was an opening proposal in settlement talks with US prosecutors. “Deutsche Bank has no intent to settle these potential civil claims anywhere near the number cited,” the statement said. “The negotiations are only just beginning. The bank expects that they will lead to an outcome similar to those of peer banks which have settled at materially lower amounts.”

The US investment bank Goldman Sachs in April agreed to pay more than $5 billion to settle similar allegations. US authorities have accused major banks of misleading investors about the values and quality of complex mortgage-backed securities sold before the 2008 financial crisis. Much of the underlying lending was worthless or fraudulent, delivering billions of dollars in losses to holders of the mortgage bonds when the housing market collapsed, bringing down numerous banks and touching off the country’s worst recession since the 1930s. According to securities filings, Deutsche Bank as of June 30 had set aside $5.5 billion to resolve pending legal matters. In the mortgage-backed securities matter, the bank is aiming for an amount between $2 billion and $3 billion, according to knowledgeable sources.

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“They have declined about 46% this year.”

Deutsche Bank Shares Plunge After Rebuffing $14 Billion US Fine (BBG)

Deutsche Bank shares slumped after receiving a $14 billion claim from the U.S. Justice Department to settle an investigation into the firm’s sale of residential mortgage-backed securities, a figure the German lender said it won’t pay. “Deutsche Bank has no intent to settle these potential civil claims anywhere near the number cited,” the company said in a statement early Friday in Frankfurt. “The negotiations are only just beginning. The bank expects that they will lead to an outcome similar to those of peer banks which have settled at materially lower amounts.” Bank of America paid $17 billion to reach a settlement in a similar case in 2014, the biggest such accord to date.

Goldman Sachs agreed to a $5.1 billion settlement with the U.S. earlier this year, including a $2.4 billion civil penalty and $875 million in cash payments, to resolve U.S. allegations that it failed to properly vet mortgage-backed securities before selling them to investors as high-quality debt. The settlement included an admission of wrongdoing. “Overall it’s very negative for the share price if you look at the Justice Department figure but you don’t know where it will end up,” said Andreas Plaesier at Warburg Research with a hold recommendation on the shares. “If you come down to the Goldman amount they may not need to do much in terms of reserves.” The shares dropped as much as 8.2% and were down 7.8% at 12.08 euros at 9:04 a.m. in Frankfurt. They have declined about 46% this year.

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“..we project global corporate credit demand (flow) of $62 trillion over 2016-2020, with new debt representing two-fifths and refinancing the rest.”

Observations About US Corporate Debt (ZH/Kestel)

Extraordinary low interest rates around the world have delivered a monumental blow to many investors. Falling interest rates have translated into rising liabilities for (defined benefit) pension plans and, secondly, millions of retirees, who depend on income from savings to take them through retirement, are struggling to make a decent living. Consequently, investors take risks that they weren’t previously prepared to take. Take US corporate high yield bonds. The prevailing view seems to be that US corporates (ex. energy) are in very good shape with loads of cash on their balance sheet, and that they therefore offer a relatively attractive, and a comparatively safe, investment opportunity. I beg to disagree. Firstly, we are late in the economic cycle, and it is usually a bad idea to buy corporate high yield bonds late in an economic upturn. Secondly, let me share some facts with you that undermine the perception outlined above:

  1. The 1% most cash-rich of all US companies control over 50% of all US corporate cash.
  2. The five most cash-rich US companies (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Oracle) control 30% of all US corporate cash.
  3. Total US corporate debt (the other side of the balance sheet) was $5.03 trillion at the end of 2015- up from $2.62 trillion at the end of 2007.
  4. Net debt (i.e. debt ex. cash) amongst US corporates was $3.39 trillion at the end of 2015 vs. $1.88 trillion at the end of 2007.
  5. US corporate debt has risen by $2.8 trillion over the last five years, while corporate cash has only risen by $600 billion.
  6. If you back out the top 1% referred to in (1) above, the cash holdings of the remaining 99% fell 6% in 2015 to stand at just $900 billion by the end of December vs. $6.6 trillion of debt.

Based on those numbers, I think it is fair to say that, with the exception of a few extremely cash-rich companies, corporate America is increasingly indebted and not at all as cash-rich as widely perceived. This also explains why corporate investments in the US are at a 60-year low.

Governments globally are persisting with monetary expansion to support economic growth and prop up inflation, to the detriment of credit quality, particularly for over-indebted Chinese corporates and U.S.leveraged borrowers. In our base-case scenario, we project global corporate credit demand (flow) of $62 trillion over 2016-2020, with new debt representing two-fifths and refinancing the rest. Outstanding debt would expand by half to $75 trillion, with China’s share rising to 43% from 35%.

We estimate that two-fifths (43%) to half (47%) of nonfinancial corporates (unrated and rated) are highly leveraged-of which 2% to 5% face negative earnings or cash flows, based on a sample of about 14,400 corporates. With weakened borrower credit quality, a credit correction is inevitable. Our base case is for an orderly credit slowdown stretching over several years (‘slow burn’ scenario), but a series of major economic or political shocks, such as the recent Brexit vote in the U.K., could trigger a more system-wide credit contraction (‘Crexit’ scenario).

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I see big protests in the offing as public pensions get bailed out by taxpayers who see their private plans left to die.

This is How You Will Bail Out Municipal Pension Funds (WS)

[..] the beneficiaries are voters and employees of the government, and politicians of all stripes bought their votes with promises of low contributions and rising benefits. They got away with it for decades because no one cares about “underfunded pensions.” Even the term makes people’s eyes glaze over. But someone is going to pay. And it’s not going to be the politicians. This is how they will pay for it in Chicago – the city whose credit rating Moody’s cut by two notches to junk in April last year, and whose interest payments, despite historically low interest rates, have continued to skyrocket as it borrows more and skids deeper into the sinkhole of its own making.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s scheme to bail out its largest and worst-off pension fund, the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit fund, which would otherwise be insolvent within ten years – and a lot quicker if markets have a hissy fit. Despite seven years of rampant asset price inflation, and asset bubbles nearly everywhere, the fund’s obligations are only 20% funded. It forms part of Chicago’s $34 billion in retirement debt, accumulated over the decades by politicians making promises to buy votes and support from special interest groups. But neither the beneficiaries nor taxpayers via the city contributed enough to pay for those promises.

To save this one pension fund out of its four pension funds from insolvency, the city is jacking up water and sewer levies by 33%, phased in over a few years. Property owners in Chicago will pay, one way or the other, $3 billion into the fund by 2022, up from $1 billion under the prior scheme. Despite these billions of dollars involved, the fund covers only 77,000 workers and retirees.

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“A 100-city index compiled by SouFun surged by a worrisome 14% in the last year.”

The Next Bubble: China’s Housing Gets Scarily Expensive (Balding)

For many years, China’s authorities took a Goldilocks approach to housing prices: They wanted a market that was neither too hot nor too cold, and took measures as needed to control prices. Although an explicit asset-price target was never announced, it was widely assumed that the government wanted home prices to grow in line with the rate of economic growth. To accomplish this, technocrats in Beijing deployed a combination of monetary stimulus and regulatory measures. When prices overheated, they put the brakes on credit growth, required higher down payments for mortgages and placed administrative restrictions on who could buy in which cities. When prices started to drop, they tried loosening credit and boosting the number of units people could own.

But in the past few years, with economic growth sluggish, the planners became much more tolerant of rising prices, even as signs of a bubble emerged. Official data shows the price-to income-ratio hitting 9.2 at the end of 2015; housing prices have continued to rise significantly since. All this has led to some widespread distortions. China’s homeowners have come to see near double-digit real-estate returns as a birthright, a bet on par with death and taxes. According to one study, more than 70% of Chinese household wealth is in housing. Investors believe there’s an implicit guarantee that the government won’t let home prices drop, even as many buildings sit empty.

Meanwhile, banks have gone on a lending spree: Total outstanding mortgage loans rose more than 30% and new mortgage growth clocked in at 111% in the past year. Since June 2012, outstanding mortgage loans have grown at an annualized rate of 30%. Predictably, that’s pushed prices higher and higher. In urban China, the average price per square foot of a home has risen to $171, compared to $132 in the U.S. In first-tier cities such as Beijing and Shenzhen, prices have increased by about 25% in the past year. A 100-city index compiled by SouFun surged by a worrisome 14% in the last year. Developers are buying up land in some prime areas that would need to sell for $15,000 per square meter just to break even.

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Break their power!

Europe, Japan Banking Sectors Threaten Revolt Over Basel Rules (BBG)

Europeans told the world’s top banking regulator that they’ve had enough. In two heated meetings in the past week, regulators from countries including Germany and Italy told the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision that proposed changes to how banks assess credit, market and operational risks must be scaled back and slowed down, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. Some European officials went so far as to say they wouldn’t adopt the proposals on the table, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations were private. If the EU – home to nearly half of the world’s most systemically important banks – balks at implementing the Basel Committee’s rules, it could undermine the global regulator’s authority and contribute to fragmentation of the industry.

The Basel Committee is racing to finish work on the post-crisis capital framework known as Basel III by the end of the year, and it’s under instructions not to increase capital requirements significantly in the process. The debate in Basel pits bank regulators from Tokyo to Frankfurt against a U.S.-backed push for stiffer standards, which take effect when they’re implemented by national governments. The industry says the proposed revisions to risk-assessment rules and limits on banks’ use of their own models to make these calculations would send capital requirements spiraling. Key policy makers have heeded their message. German FinMin Schaeuble last week insisted that the Basel Committee not only keep any overall increase in capital requirements to a minimum, but also ensure the rules have no “particularly negative consequences for specific regions,” such as Europe.

Shunsuke Shirakawa, vice commissioner for international affairs at Japan’s Financial Services Agency, has said the regulator needs to “make adjustments” to bring the new rules in on target. The Basel Committee’s members include Japan’s FSA, Germany’s Bundesbank and the U.S. Federal Reserve. Large European banks may be more vulnerable than their global peers to the changes under discussion. The biggest European banks had an average common equity Tier 1 capital ratio – a key measure of financial strength – higher than their global peers at end-2015, according to data from the European Banking Authority and the Basel Committee.

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“..mass failure of many Chinese buyers to settle on apartment contracts..”

It’s A Long Way Down In Australia’s Looming Apartment Fall (Aus.com.au)

While Australia debates its interest rate policy, the mass failure of many Chinese buyers to settle on apartment contracts is looming as a much bigger catastrophe than markets are expecting. This emerged from the comments of a reader to my commentary yesterday on the Sydney and Melbourne apartment markets. One of my readers who did not allow his full name to be published but used the name “James” complained that I had grossly understated the problem. James revealed that he owned and ran a debt and equity funding business that is on the frontline of the apartment settlement problem. His business deals with the developers of the apartment complexes rather than rather than the investors. James describes what is ahead this way:

“The problem is much worse than what you have described. Our analysis of every development in the country suggests that settlement failures will be between $1 billion and $1.5bn every month for the next 12 months. This is from the Chinese alone, but when settlement prices start coming more than 10% under purchase prices, we will also start to see local buyers attempting to walk away from settling. As Julius Caesar famously said: ‘the die is cast.’” To understand the implication of what James’ analysis reveals we need to step back and see how the apartment boom was funded. Most developers of apartments in Australia collect their Chinese off-the-plan deposits and then use them to gain security for a bank loan. Those bank loans can constitute 40, 50 or even 60% of the cost of the apartment complex.

The developers obtain the rest of their funding from businesses like those operated by James. This is an area of finance which we know very little about because it is hidden from public view. The banks feel they are safe in their loans to developers because there is a big difference between their loans and the cost of the buildings. But the banks are often funding other players in the apartment development. Apart from the developer, the people at risk include unsecured suppliers and the enterprises that are providing the second mortgage funding. If the Chinese fail to settle on the scale that Harry Triguboff is warning about, then there will be a deep problem. But if James’ study is correct that deep problem will develop into an economic catastrophe.

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It’s over. Wind it down peacefully please.

EU Leaders Search For Way Out Of ‘Existential Crisis’ (R.)

Shaken by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, the leaders of its other 27 countries meet on Friday to try to inject new momentum into their ailing communal project amid deep-seated divisions over migration and economic policy. The Brexit vote in June ended more than half a century of EU enlargement and closer integration. Long seen as a guarantor of peace and prosperity, the bloc is now struggling to convince its citizens that it remains a force for good. Years of economic and financial crisis have pushed up unemployment in many member states, while a spate of attacks by Islamist militants and a record influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa have unsettled voters, who are turning increasingly to populist, anti-EU parties.

“After the vote in the UK the only thing that makes sense is to have a sober and brutally honest assessment of the situation,” European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters in Bratislava on the eve of the meeting. “We must not let this crisis go to waste.” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said earlier this week the EU was in an “existential crisis”. Despite the pressure to lay out a new vision, leaders have played down expectations of real breakthroughs in the Slovak capital, in part because of intractable differences on the biggest issues, notably how to handle the influx of migrants.

Instead they are expected to focus on areas where there is common ground, pledging closer defence cooperation, bolstering security at the EU’s external borders and boosting the capacity of an EU investment fund meant to generate growth and jobs. The aim is to present more concrete proposals at a summit in March of next year that coincides with the 60th anniversary of the bloc’s founding Rome Treaty. But some officials admit in private that major initiatives may not be possible until elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany are out of the way by late 2017.

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Many Greeks accuse Stournaras of exaggerating deficits in order to bring in the Troika.

Greece Raids Home Of Central Bank Head (ZH)

While the US the media lashes out at Trump every time he dares to tell the truth that the central bank is a biased, engaged, political member of the decision-making landscape, other “developed” countries are happily willing to demonstrate just how apolitical the central bank truly is. Take Greece, for example, where today the chief prosecutor ordered a raid of the home of the governor of the Greek central bank, Yannis Stournaras and the company office of his wife, Lina. The searches were part of a probe conducted by the Financial Police in connection to the alleged mismanagement of more than €1 million in state funding by the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, KEELPNO.

The investigation related to funds that KEELPNO allegedly received through a company owned by Nikolopoulou as well as complaints regarding the disappearance of documents tied to the case. According to the WSJ, the raid was part of a continuing investigation into business Stournaras’ wife has done with a state entity, officials said, in a probe that may heighten tension between the top bank official and the left-wing government. Lina Nikolopoulou-Stournaras, the wife of central bank Governor Yannis Stournaras and owner of an communications company specializing in the medical sector, is under investigation from Greek authorities for business she has done with the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or Keelpno.

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Any and all wars declared on nouns are epic fails. But follow the money.

Jay Z: ‘The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail’ (NYT)

This short film, narrated by Jay Z (Shawn Carter) and featuring the artwork of Molly Crabapple, is part history lesson about the war on drugs and part vision statement. As Ms. Crabapple’s haunting images flash by, the film takes us from the Nixon administration and the Rockefeller drug laws – the draconian 1973 statutes enacted in New York that exploded the state’s prison population and ushered in a period of similar sentencing schemes for other states – through the extraordinary growth in our nation’s prison population to the emerging aboveground marijuana market of today. We learn how African-Americans can make up around 13% of the United States population – yet 31% of those arrested for drug law violations, even though they use and sell drugs at the same rate as whites.

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Quite a statement for the Wall Street Journal to publish.

Les Déplorables (WSJ)

To repeat: “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic.” Those are all potent words. Or once were. The racism of the Jim Crow era was ugly, physically cruel and murderous. Today, progressives output these words as reflexively as a burp. What’s more, the left enjoys calling people Islamophobic or homophobic. It’s bullying without personal risk. Donald Trump’s appeal, in part, is that he cracks back at progressive cultural condescension in utterly crude terms. Nativists exist, and the sky is still blue. But the overwhelming majority of these people aren’t phobic about a modernizing America. They’re fed up with the relentless, moral superciliousness of Hillary, the Obamas, progressive pundits and 19-year-old campus activists.

Evangelicals at last week’s Values Voter Summit said they’d look past Mr. Trump’s personal résumé. This is the reason. It’s not about him. The moral clarity that drove the original civil-rights movement or the women’s movement has degenerated into a confused moral narcissism. One wonders if even some of the people in Mrs. Clinton’s Streisandian audience didn’t feel discomfort at the ease with which the presidential candidate slapped isms and phobias on so many people. Presidential politics has become hyper-focused on individual personalities because the media rubs them in our face nonstop. It is a mistake, though, to blame Hillary alone for that derisive remark. It’s not just her.

Hillary Clinton is the logical result of the Democratic Party’s new, progressive algorithm—a set of strict social rules that drives politics and the culture to one point of view. A Clinton victory would enable and entrench the forces her comment represents. Her supporters say it’s Donald Trump’s rhetoric that is “divisive.” Just so. But it’s rich to hear them claim that their words and politics are “inclusive.” So is the town dump. They have chopped American society into so many offendable identities that only a Yale freshman can name them all. If the Democrats lose behind Hillary Clinton, it will be in part because America’s les déplorables decided enough of this is enough.

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Lovely piece.

The Cold War Is Over (Hitchens)

Perhaps we would understand Russia’s situation better if we imagined that NATO has been dissolved and that the Confederate States and the territories conquered in the Mexican-American War have declared independence. The U.S. retains a precarious hold on the naval station at San Diego, sharing it with the Mexican Navy on an expensive lease that Mexico regularly threatens to cancel. Americans still living in San Diego are compelled to adopt Spanish names on their drivers’ licenses, and movie theaters are instructed to show films only in Spanish. Schools teach anti-American history. Quebec has seceded from Canada, and is being wooed by a Russo-Chinese economic union, with a pact including military and political clauses.

Russian politicians are in the streets of Montreal, urging on a violent anti-American mob, which eventually succeeds in overthrowing Quebec’s pro-American president and replacing him with a pro-Russian one—violating Quebec’s constitution in the process. This brings military forces aligned with Russia right up to the border with New York, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. In such a case, I cannot see the U.S. sitting about doing nothing, especially if it had repeatedly warned in major diplomatic forums against this expansion of Russian power on its frontiers, and been repeatedly ignored over fifteen years or so. If a Marxist takeover in Grenada was considered good enough reason for military action, what would these circumstances provoke?

Mikhail Gorbachev’s feline spokesman, Gennadi Gerasimov, once teased suspicious Western correspondents by sneering at them in the early days of the great perestroika and glasnost experiment, “We have done the cruelest thing to you that we could possibly have done. We have deprived you of an enemy.” He was laughing at us, but he was dead right. The Cold War was a period of moral clarity when the other side really was an evil empire, and when armed resolve for once succeeded in defeating the expansion of evil in the world. It allowed my own poor country to feel more important than it really was, and it suppressed the seething impulses and rivalries of the European continent.

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Sep 092016
 
 September 9, 2016  Posted by at 8:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 9 2016
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NPC Daredevil John “Jammie” Reynolds, Washington DC 1917

ECB’s Mario Draghi Has Run Out Of Magic As Deflation Closes In (AEP)
ECB Stands Pat on Stimulus as Draghi Defends Policy (WSJ)
German July Exports, Imports Plunge (Street)
Goldman Calculates True Growth Rate Of China’s Debt: 40% of GDP Per Year (ZH)
China’s Reviving the American Heartland – One Low Wage at a Time (BBG)
Bank of Japan Risk: Running Out of Bonds to Buy (WSJ)
Australia, New Zealand Housing Booms Set Currencies On Course For Parity (BBG)
Coal Rises From the Grave to Become One of Hottest Commodities
Historic Tax Fraud Rocks Denmark As Loss Estimates Keep Growing (BBG)
Goldman Sachs Just Launched Project Fear in Italy (DQ)
Humans Have Destroyed A Tenth Of Earth’s Wilderness In 25 Years (G.)

 

 

Why does it seem so normal to use the word ‘magic’ in this context? When did that start?

ECB’s Mario Draghi Has Run Out Of Magic As Deflation Closes In (AEP)

Large parts of the eurozone are slipping deeper into a deflationary trap despite negative interest rates and €1 trillion of quantitative easing by the ECB, leaving the currency bloc with no safety buffer when the next global recession hits. The ECB is close to exhausting its ammunition and appears increasingly powerless to do more under the legal constraints of its mandate. It has downgraded its growth forecast for the next two years, citing the uncertainties of Brexit, and admitted that it has little chance of meeting its 2pc inflation target this decade, insisting that it is now up to governments to break out of the vicious circle. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said there are limits to monetary policy and called on the rest of the eurozone to act “much more decisively” to lift growth, with targeted spending on infrastructure.

“It is abundantly clear that Draghi is played out and we’re in the terminal phase of QE. The eurozone needs a quantum leap in the nature of policy and it has to come from fiscal policy,” said sovereign bond strategist Nicholas Spiro. Mr Draghi dashed hopes for an expansion of the ECB’s monthly €80bn programme of bond purchases, and offered no guidance on whether the scheme would be extended after it expires in March 2017. There was not a discussion on the subject. “The bar to further ECB action is higher than widely assumed,” said Ben May from Oxford Economics. The March deadline threatens to become a neuralgic issue for markets given the experience of the US Federal Reserve, which suggests that an abrupt stop in QE stimulus amounts to monetary tightening and can be highly disruptive.

The ECB has pulled out all the stops to reflate the economy yet core inflation has been stuck at or below 1pc for three years. Officials are even more worried about the underlying trends. Data collected by Marchel Alexandrovich at Jefferies shows that the percentage of goods and services in the inflation basket currently rising at less than 1pc has crept up to 58pc. This is a classic precursor to deflation and suggests that the eurozone is acutely vulnerable to any external shock. The figure has spiked to 67pc in Italy, and is now significantly higher that it was when the ECB launched QE last year. The eurozone should have reached economic “escape velocity” by now after a potent brew of stimulus starting last year: cheap energy, a cheaper euro, €80bn a month of QE, and the end of fiscal austerity. [..] “The euro is far stronger than they want, and stronger than the economy deserves, but they don’t know how to weaken it. This is exactly what happened to the Japanese,” said Hans Redeker, currency chief at Morgan Stanley.

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Draghi’s starting to come down on Germany, but it’s too late: their exports just fell 10%.

ECB Stands Pat on Stimulus as Draghi Defends Policy (WSJ)

The ECB left its €1.7 trillion stimulus unchanged at a policy meeting Thursday, brushing off concerns over economic shock waves from Britain’s vote to leave the EU and disappointing investors expecting the ECB to act again soon. The decision to stand pat, even as new forecasts showed the ECB missing its inflation target for years, underlines how central banks are approaching the limits of what they can achieve without support from other policy areas, notably governments. In China earlier this month, Group of 20 leaders warned that monetary policy alone can’t fix the world’s economic ills, and pledged to boost spending and adopt overhauls aimed at boosting growth.

At a news conference here, ECB President Mario Draghi said he was concerned about persistently low eurozone inflation, which has fallen short of the ECB’s near-2% target for more than three years. Fresh ECB staff forecasts, published Thursday, showed inflation rising very gradually, to 1.2% next year and 1.6% in 2018. Despite that, Mr. Draghi said policy makers didn’t even discuss fresh stimulus, and praised the effectiveness of the bank’s existing policy measures, which include negative interest rates and €80 billion a month of bond purchases. He also aimed an unusually direct rebuke at Germany, criticizing Berlin for not boosting spending to support the economy. “Countries that have fiscal space should use it,” Mr. Draghi said. “Germany has fiscal space.”

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Germany looks a lot like Japan and China.

German July Exports, Imports in Shock Plunge (Street)

German imports and exports unexpectedly shrunk in July, with a sharp export contraction causing a surprise narrowing in Germany’s trade balance. Federal Statistical Office data showed seasonally adjusted exports fell by 2.6% – analysts had expected about 0.3% growth – whereas imports fell by 0.7%, as against expectations for a 0.8% rise. On the year exports slumped by 10% and imports shriveled by 6.5%. The foreign trade balance shrunk to €19.4 billion from €21.4 billion in June, as against expectations for a balance of €22 billion. The Federal Statistical Office said the pace of German exports to other EU countries fell by 7% in July, while imports from the region fell by 4.5%. The falls were slightly narrower for trade with other eurozone countries.

German trade outside the 28-nation EU fared worse, with exports plunging by 13.8% and imports by 10.1%. Faltering German exports amid lackluster worldwide growth and emerging-market volatility has long been a drag on German growth. But the sharper-than-expected export fall challenges expectations of a second-half pickup in German trade with the rest of the world, and the surprise – albeit small -import decline suggests domestic demand isn’t robust enough to step into the breach. The trade data come in a week that the statistics office reported weaker-than-expected industrial output and manufacturing production for July. But the euro held firm against the dollar after the figures and was recently up 0.11% at $1.1272.

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“..some time around 2019, China’s total Debt/GDP will be over 400%, an absolutely ridiculous number, and one which assures a banking, if not global, financial crisis.”

Goldman Calculates True Growth Rate Of China’s Debt: 40% of GDP Per Year (ZH)

For a long time when it came to Chinese loan creation, analysts would only look at the broadest reported aggregate: the so-called Total Social Financing. And, for a long time, it was sufficient – TSF showed that in under a decade, China had created over $20 trillion in new loans, vastly more than all the “developed market” QE, the proceeds of which were used to kickstart growth after the 2009 global depression, to fund the biggest capital misallocation bubble the world has ever seen and create trillions in nonperforming loans. However, a problem emerged about a year ago, when it was revealed that not even China’s TSF statistic was sufficient to fully capture the grand total of total new loan creation in China.

[..] according to Goldman, “a substantial amount of money was created last year, evidencing a very large supply of credit, to the tune of RMB 25tn (36% of 2015 GDP).” This massive number was 9% higher than the TSF data, which implied that “only” a quarter of China’s 2015 GDP was the result of new loans. As Goldman further noted, the “divergence from TSF has been particularly notable since Q2 last year after a major dovish shift in policy stance.” In short, in addition to everything else, China has also been fabricating its loan creation data, and the broadest official monetary aggregate was undercutting the true new loan creation by approximately a third. The reason for this is simple: China does not want the world – or its own population – to realize just how reliant it is on creating loans out of thin air (and “collateralized” by increasingly more worthless assets), as it would lead to an even faster capital outflow by the local population sensing just how unstable the local banking system is.

Here is the good news: compared to late 2015, the record credit creation has slowed down fractionally, and the gap with the TSF total has shrunk. The smaller gap seems to be in line with recent reports that listed banks’ “investment receivables” expanded less rapidly in 2016 H1, and it might partly reflect the regulators’ tougher stance against shadow lending in recent months. And now, the bad news: this “tougher stance” has not been nearly tough enough, because as the following chart shows on a 1-year moving average, nearly 40% of China’s “economic growth” is the result of new credit creation, or in other words, new loans. What this really means, is that China’s debt/GDP, estimated most recently by the IIF at 300%…

… is now growing between 30% and 40% per year, when one accounts for the unaccounted for “shadow” credit conduits. Here is how Goldman concludes this stunning observation: “The PBOC appears to have shifted to a less dovish, though still supportive, policy bias in the last few months. However, given the prospective headwinds from slower housing construction and tighter on-budget fiscal stance in the coming months, there remains a clear need to sustain a high level of infrastructure investment, which is credit intensive, to achieve the minimum 6.5% full-year growth target. This poses constraints on how much further the PBOC can keep reining in credit, in our view.”

Translating Goldman, some time around 2019, China’s total Debt/GDP will be over 400%, an absolutely ridiculous number, and one which assures a banking, if not global, financial crisis.

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The resounding success of globalization.

China’s Reviving the American Heartland – One Low Wage at a Time (BBG)

For six years, the General Motors factory that used to make Chevy Trailblazers in Moraine, Ohio, sat abandoned, a rusting monument to the decline of the American auto industry. These days, the plant is humming again, fueled by a resurgent U.S. consumer – but now under Chinese management. On the shop floor, Chinese supervisors in sky-blue uniforms that carry the logo of the new owners, Fuyao Glass, teach American employees how to assemble windshields. Drive along Interstate 75, through America’s industrial heartland, and you’ll find no shortage of Chinese-owned firms like Fuyao. They’re setting up shop in states such as Ohio and Michigan, key voter battlegrounds in November, where traditional manufacturing has been hollowed out – in many cases, by trade. With China.

[..] Fuyao acquired roughly half the old GM plant in 2014, spending $450 million to buy and remodel it. For a company that started out as a small producer of covers for water-meters and is now the world’s second-biggest auto-glass supplier, the acquisition capped a decade-long push into U.S. markets. For the Dayton area, it meant employment: the city, hometown of the Wright brothers, was hit hard by the shutdown of the GM plant two days before Christmas in 2008. [..] “Hey, 1,700 jobs is 1,700 jobs,” said Shawn Kane, a 28-year-old chef shopping at the Kroger grocery store in Moraine last month. “At least it’s not sitting empty anymore.” They’re jobs that tend not to pay as well as factory work once did, though – and there probably aren’t as many of them.

To keep its production in the U.S. viable, Fuyao uses more automation than it does in China, said John Gauthier, president of Fuyao Glass America. “Our customers, all they care about is that their cost doesn’t increase,” he said. A line worker at Fuyao starts at $12 per hour, equivalent to an annual salary of about $25,000. GM workers at the old Moraine plant could make at least twice that, topped off by perks like defined-benefit pensions, according to union officials and former employees. “When you don’t have enough protections for American workers, and when you’ve got a globalized economy, this is what happens,” said Chris Baker, a 40-year-old sales rep based near Moraine. “This is the new normal. It’s very sad.”

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WHen will they start buying people’s homes? Cars perhaps?

Bank of Japan Risk: Running Out of Bonds to Buy (WSJ)

Japan’s central bank is facing a new problem: It could be running out of government bonds to buy. The Bank of Japan is snapping up the equivalent of more than $750 billion worth of government debt a year in an effort to spur inflation and growth. At that rate, analysts say, banks could run out of government debt to sell within the next 18 months. The looming scarcity is a powerful sign of the limits central banks face as they turn to ever-more aggressive means of stimulating their economies. The problem is mirrored in Europe, where self-imposed rules limit how many eurozone government bonds the ECB can buy from individual governments. Facing a diminishing supply of sovereign bonds, the ECB started buying corporate debt in June.

Some economists have even called for the ECB to start buying stocks. The central bank left its bond-buying program and interest-rate policy unchanged at its meeting Thursday. The Japanese central bank has fewer options if the country’s banks, which have to hold a certain amount of safe debt to use as collateral in everyday transactions, ever become unwilling to sell more of their holdings. Its most obvious alternatives—pushing rates deeper into negative territory or buying other types of assets—have practical limitations. Meanwhile, the BOJ’s economic goals remain out of reach: Inflation is stubbornly low, and the yen has strengthened about 18% this year.

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Does nobody have any common sense down under?

Australia, New Zealand Housing Booms Set Currencies On Course For Parity (BBG)

Housing booms in New Zealand and Australia could be putting the neighbors’ currencies on course to reach parity for the first time ever. Both nations have seen house prices surge in recent years, but the underlying causes are fundamentally different, according to Deutsche Bank analysis. Australia’s boom is largely home-grown, whereas New Zealand’s is being fueled by record immigration. That’s affecting the countries’ current accounts differently. While Aussies are feeling richer due to house-price gains, prompting them to spend more on imports and boosting their current account deficit, New Zealand is sucking more offshore capital into its housing market, narrowing its current account gap. Currencies are sensitive to trends in the current account – a country’s balance with the rest of the world – because they are a gauge of risk for investors.

“The nature of the real estate boom in Australia should have bearish currency implications because it leads to deterioration in the basic balance,” Robin Winkler, a London-based strategist for Deutsche Bank, said in a research note. “This is not the case in New Zealand and adds to our conviction that AUD/NZD should drop to parity.” The two currencies have never converged in the free-floating era that began in the 1980s. They came close in April last year, when the kiwi briefly reached 99.79 Australian cents or, to express it the other way, the Aussie dollar fell below NZ$1.01. The New Zealand dollar was worth 96.8 Australian cents at 12:35p.m. in Wellington Friday.

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Burn baby burn.

Coal Rises From the Grave to Become One of Hottest Commodities

For all the predictions about the death of coal, it’s now one of the hottest commodities in the world. The resurrection may have further to run. A surge in Chinese imports to compensate for lower domestic production has seen European prices jump to near an 18-month high, while Australia’s benchmark is set for the first annual gain since 2010. At the start of the year, prices languished near decade lows because of waning demand from utilities seeking to curb pollution and amid the International Energy Agency’s declaration that the fuel’s golden age in China was over. Now, traders are weighing the chances of extreme weather hitting major producers and China further boosting imports as factors that could push prices even higher.

“It’s a commodity that’s been on a slippery slide for the past four years and it’s making a remarkable recovery,” said Erik Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities in Oslo, who’s tracked the market for almost a decade. “There’s a strong pulse.” What could light up the market further is the occurrence of a La Nina weather pattern later this year. Last time it happened in 2010 and 2011, heavy rains flooded mines in Australia and Indonesia, the world’s two largest exporters. While some meteorologists have toned down their predictions for the weather phenomenon forming, “another strong forecast” would cause prices to rise further, according to Fitch’s BMI Research.

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Still don’t think I know what exactly the fraud was. Though I read the piece twice.

Historic Tax Fraud Rocks Denmark As Loss Estimates Keep Growing (BBG)

About two weeks after Denmark revealed it had lost as much as $4 billion in taxes through a combination of fraud and mismanagement, the minister in charge of revenue collection says that figure may need to be revised even higher. Speaking to parliament on Thursday, Tax Minister Karsten Lauritzen said he “can’t rule out” that losses might be bigger than the most recent public estimates indicate. It would mark the latest in a string of revisions over the past year, in which Danes learned that losses initially thought to be less than $1 billion somehow ended up being about four times as big. The embarrassment caused by the tax fraud, which spans about a decade of successive administrations, has prompted Lauritzen to consider debt collection methods not usually associated with Scandinavian governments.

Denmark has long had one of the world’s highest tax burdens – government revenue as a percentage of GDP – and a well-functioning tax model is essential to maintaining its fabled welfare system. “We’re entertaining new ideas, considering more new measures,” Lauritzen told Bloomberg. Danish officials are now prepared to pay anonymous sources for evidence from the same database that generated the Panama Papers. Jim Soerensen, a director at Denmark’s Tax Authority, says the first batch of clues obtained using this method is expected by the end of the month.

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Project Fear didn’t work in Britain either.

Goldman Sachs Just Launched Project Fear in Italy (DQ)

Project Fear began two years ago in the run up to Scotland’s national referendum. It then spread to the rest of the UK in the lead up to this summer’s Brexit referendum. But it keeps on moving. Its latest destination is Italy, where the campaign to instill fear and trepidation in the hearts and souls of Italy’s voters was just inaugurated by the world’s most influential investment bank, Goldman Sachs. It just released a 14-page report warning about the potentially dire consequences of a “no” vote in Italy’s upcoming referendum on the government’s proposed constitutional reforms. The reforms seek, among other things, to streamline Italy’s government process by dramatically restricting the powers of the senate, a major source of political gridlock, while also handing more power to the executive.

The polls in Italy are currently neck and neck, though the momentum belongs to the reform bill’s opponents. If the Italian public vote against the bill, the response of the markets could be extremely negative, warns Goldman, putting in jeopardy the latest attempt to rescue Italy’s third largest and most insolvent bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena. The rescue is being led by JP Morgan Chase and Italian lender Mediobanca, and includes the participation of a select group of global megabanks that are desperate to prevent contagion spreading from Italy’s banking system to other European markets, and beyond. In the event of a “no” vote, MPS’ planned €5 billion capital increase would have to be put on ice, while investors wait for the political uncertainty to clear before pledging further funds.

This being Italy, the wait could be interminable and the delay fatal for Monte dei Paschi and other Italian banks, Goldman warns. It also points out that Italy is the only European country where a substantial portion of its bank bonds are held in household portfolios (about 40% according to data from Moody’s, four times more than Germany and eight times more than France and Spain). In other words, things could get very ugly, very fast, if those bank bonds collapse! As for Italian government bonds and Europe’s broader debt markets, they would be insulated from any fallout by former Goldmanite Mario Draghi’s bond binge buying.

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We are unstoppable.

Humans Have Destroyed A Tenth Of Earth’s Wilderness In 25 Years (G.)

Humans have destroyed a tenth of Earth’s remaining wilderness in the last 25 years and there may be none left within a century if trends continue, according to an authoritative new study. Researchers found a vast area the size of two Alaskas – 3.3m square kilometres – had been tarnished by human activities between 1993 and today, which experts said was a “shockingly bad” and “profoundly large number”. The Amazon accounted for nearly a third of the “catastrophic” loss, showing huge tracts of pristine rainforest are still being disrupted despite the Brazilian government slowing deforestation rates in recent years. A further 14% disappeared in central Africa, home to thousands of species including forest elephants and chimpanzees.

The loss of the world’s last untouched refuges would not just be disastrous for endangered species but for climate change efforts, the authors said, because some of the forests store enormous amounts of carbon. “Without any policies to protect these areas, they are falling victim to widespread development. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around,” said lead author Dr James Watson, of the University of Queensland and Wildlife Conservation Society. The analysis defined wilderness as places that are “ecologically largely intact” and “mostly free of human disturbance”, though some have indigenous people living within them. The team counted areas as no longer wilderness if they scored on eight measures of humanity’s footprint, including roads, lights at night and agriculture.

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May 012016
 
 May 1, 2016  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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George N. Barnard Nashville, Tennessee. Rail yard and depot 1864

This is The Biggest Fraud In The History Of The World (SHTF)
China’s Debt Reckoning Cannot Be Deferred Indefinitely (Magnus)
The Cult Of Central Banking Is Dead In The Water (Stockman)
The Real Story Behind The US New Home Sales Collapse (Adler)
Recent Rise In Yen ‘Extremely Worrying’: Japan Finance Minister (AFP)
UK ‘Is In The Throes Of A Housing Crisis’ (G.)
No, Russia Is Not In Decline – At Least Not Any More And Not Yet (FT)
Germany Should Stop Whining About Negative Rates (Economist)
Could Italy Be The Unlikely Saviour Of Project Europe? (PS)
Future Of Scandal-Hit Mitsubishi Motors In Doubt – Again (AFP)
Trump Saves American TV (Brown)
Greece Concludes Agreement With Creditors On Sale Of NPLs (Kath.)
EU Has Made A Mess Of Refugee Reception System In Greece: Oxfam (Kath.)
84 Migrants Missing After Boat Sinks Off Libya’s Coast (AFP)

“..We now exist in an environment where the financial system as a whole has been flipped upside down just to make it function…”

This is The Biggest Fraud In The History Of The World (SHTF)

The stock market may be hovering near all-time highs, but according to Greg Mannarino of Traders Choice that doesn’t mean the valuations are actually real: We exist, beyond any shadow of any doubt, in an environment of absolute fakery where nothing is real… from the prices of assets to what’s occurring here with regard to the big Wall Street banks, the Federal Reserve, interest rates and everything in between. …All of this is being played in a way to keep people believing, once again, that the system is working and will continue to work:

President Obama has suggested that people like Greg Mannarino who are exposing the fraud for what it is are just peddling fiction. And just this week the President argued that he saved the world from a great depression and that the closing credits of the 2008 crash movie “The Big Short” were inaccurate when they claimed that nothing has been done to fundamentally curb the fraud and fix the system under his administration. But as Mannarino notes, the President and his central bank cohorts are making these statements because the system is so fragile that if the public senses even the smallest problem it could derail the entire thing:

“Let’s just look at the stock market… there’s no possible way at this time that these multiples can be justified with regard to what’s occurring here with the price action of the overall market… meanwhile, the market continues to rise. … Nothing is real. I can’t stress this enough… and we’re going to continue to see more fakery… and manipulation and twisting of this entire system… We now exist in an environment where the financial system as a whole has been flipped upside down just to make it function… and that’s very scary. … We’ve never seen anything like this in the history of the world… The Federal Reserve has never been in a situation like this… we are completely in uncharted territory where the world’s central banks have gone negative interest rates… it’s all an illusion to keep the stock market booming.

… Every single asset now… I don’t care what asset… you want to look at currency, debt, housing, metals, the stock market… pick an asset… there’s no price discovery mechanism behind it whatsoever… it’s all fake… it’s all being distorted. … The system is built upon on one premise and that is confidence that it will work… if that confidence is rattled the whole thing will implode… our policy makers are well aware of this… there is collusion between central banks and their respective governments… and it will not stop until it implodes… and what I mean by implode is, correct to fair value.”

And when that confidence is finally lost and the fraud exposed – and it will be as has always been the case throughout history – the destruction to follow will be one for the history books. In a previous interview Mannarino warned that things could get so serious after the bursting of such a massive bubble that millions of people will die on a world-wide scale:

“It’s created a population boom… a population boom has risen in tandem with the debt. It’s incredible. So, when the debt bubble bursts we’re going to get a correction in population. It’s a mathematical certainty. Millions upon millions of people are going to die on a world-wide scale when the debt bubble bursts. And I’m saying when not if… … When resources become more and more scarce we’re going to see countries at war with each other. People will be scrambling… in a worst case scenario… doing everything that they can to survive… to provide for their family and for themselves. There’s no way out of it.”

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“..credit growth is probably running at about 25-30%, or about twice as fast as official data suggest, and roughly four times the growth in money GDP..”

China’s Debt Reckoning Cannot Be Deferred Indefinitely (Magnus)

[..] there is a bit of folklore about the topping out of skyscrapers: the builders’ ceremonial placing of the final beam often heralds the onset of grim economic news, coinciding with the end of a credit cycle that has funded a frenzy of lending for ever-bigger projects. And indeed, as the economy slows markedly, China is increasingly dependent on credit creation. The share of total credit in the economy is approaching 260% and, on current trends, could surpass 300% by 2020 – exceptional for a middle-income country with China’s income per head. The debt build-up must sooner or later end — and when it does it will have a significant impact on the global economy.

Back in 2008, as the western financial crisis spread, China tried to insulate itself with a big credit stimulus programme to counter factory closures and an accompanying return of millions of migrants to the countryside. By 2011 the growth rate had peaked. Its decline was led by a fall in investment in property, then manufacturing. Subsequent stimulus measures have not altered the trend for long but one constant is a relentless build-up in the indebtedness of property companies, state enterprises and local governments. Conventional measures of credit, however, do not fully reflect the growth of total banking assets. Local and provincial governments have been allowed to issue new bonds on yields a bit below bank loans, bought by banks — but they have not paid down more expensive earlier debts to banks as planned.

Banks, moreover, have also increased their lending, often through instruments such as securitised loans, to non-banking financial intermediaries, such as insurance companies, asset managers and security trading firms. When this is taken into account, credit growth is probably running at about 25-30%, or about twice as fast as official data suggest, and roughly four times the growth in money GDP, the cash value of national output. For now, China’s credit surge seems to have stabilised the economy after a sharp slowdown around the turn of the year. The property market has picked up, attracting funds from a stock market that has fallen out of favour with investors after pronounced instability in the middle of last year and early in 2016. The volume of property transactions has risen and prices have rebounded, especially in the biggest cities.

Timing the end of a credit boom is more luck than judgment. There is no question that lenders own bad loans, reckoned unofficially by some banks and credit rating agencies to amount to about 20% of total assets, the equivalent of around 60% of GDP. These will have to be written off or restructured, and the costs allocated to the state, banks, companies or households. Yet in a state-run banking system, where loans can be extended and there are institutional obstacles to realising bad debts, the day of reckoning can be postponed for some time. More likely, the other side of the lenders’ balance sheets, or their liabilities, is where the limits to the credit cycle will appear sooner.

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“..Uncle Sam has gotten $4 trillion of “something for nothing” during the last 16 years, while the Washington politicians and policy apparatchiks were happy to pretend that the “independent” Fed was doing god’s work..”

The Cult Of Central Banking Is Dead In The Water (Stockman)

The Fed has been sitting on the funds rate like some monetary mother hen since December 2008. Once it punts again at the June meeting owing to Brexit worries it will have effectively pegged money market rates at the zero bound for 90 straight months. There has never been a time in financial history when anything close to this happened, including the 1930s. Nor was interest-free money for eight years running ever even imagined in the entire history of monetary thought. So where’s the fire? What monumental emergency justifies this resort to radical monetary intrusion and repression? Alas, there is none. And that’s as in nichts, nada, nope, nothing! There is a structural growth problem, of course. But it has absolutely nothing to do with monetary policy; and it can’t be fixed with cheap money and more debt, anyway.

By contrast, there is no inflation deficiency – even by the Fed’s preferred measure. Indeed, the very idea of a central bank pumping furiously to generate more inflation comes straight from the archives of crank economics. The following two graphs dramatize the cargo cult essence of today’s Keynesian central banking regime. Since the year 2000 when monetary repression began in earnest, the balance sheet of the Fed has risen by 800%, while the amount of labor hours used in the US economy has increased by 2%. At a ratio of 400:1 you can’t even try to argue the counterfactual. That is, there is no amount of money printing that could have ameliorated the “no growth” economy symbolized by flat-lining labor hours.

 

Owing to the recency bias that dominates mainstream news and commentary, the massive expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet depicted above goes unnoted and unremarked, as if it were always part of the financial landscape. In fact, however, it is something radically new under the sun; it’s the footprint of a monetary fraud breathtaking in its magnitude. In essence, during the last 15 years the Fed has gifted the US economy with a $4 trillion free lunch. Uncle Sam bought $4 trillion worth of weapons, highways, government salaries and contractual services but did not pay for them by extracting an equal amount of financing from taxes or tapping the private savings pool, and thereby “crowding out” other investments.

Instead, Uncle Sam “bridge financed” these expenditures on real goods and services by issuing US treasury bonds on a interim basis to clear his checking account. But these expenses were then permanently funded by fiat credits conjured from thin air by the Fed when it did the “takeout” financing. Central bank purchase of government bonds in this manner is otherwise and cosmetically known as “quantitative easing” (QE), but it’s fraud all the same. In essence, Uncle Sam has gotten $4 trillion of “something for nothing” during the last 16 years, while the Washington politicians and policy apparatchiks were happy to pretend that the “independent” Fed was doing god’s work of catalyzing, coaxing and stimulating more jobs and growth out of the US economy. No it wasn’t! What it was actually doing was not stimulating the main street economy, but falsifying and inflating the price of financial assets.

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“ZIRP has enabled corporate CEOs to game the stock market to massively increase their own pay while encouraging them to cut worker salaries and shift higher paying jobs overseas.”

The Real Story Behind US New Home Sales Collapse (Adler)

Comparing the growth in the number of full time jobs versus the growth in new home sales starkly illustrates both the horrible quality of the new jobs, and how badly ZIRP has served the US economy. Growth in new home sales has always been dependent on growth in full time jobs. For 38 years until the housing bubble peaked in 2006, home sales and full time jobs always trended together, subject to normal cyclical swings. With the exception of 1981-83 when Paul Volcker pushed rates into the stratosphere, new home sales always fluctuated between 550 and 1,100 sales per million full time workers in the month of March. But in the housing crash in 2007-09 sales fell to a low of 276 per million full time workers. Since then the number of full time jobs has recovered to greater than the peak reached in 2007. In spite of that, new home sales per million workers remain at depression levels.

With 30 year mortgage rates now at 3.6% sales are lower today than they were when mortgage rates were above 17% in 1982. Sales have never reached 400 sales per million workers in spite of the recovery in the number of jobs, in spite of ZIRP, in spite of mortgage rates often under 4%. ZIRP has actually made the problem worse. It has caused raging housing inflation which has caused median monthly mortgage payments for new homes to rise by 20% since 2009. ZIRP has enabled corporate CEOs to game the stock market to massively increase their own pay while encouraging them to cut worker salaries and shift higher paying jobs overseas. That leaves the US economy to create only low skill, low pay jobs that do not pay enough for workers to be able to purchase new homes. The perverse incentives of ZIRP are why the housing industry languishes at depression levels.

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At WHAT point does WHO become a currency manipulator? The US issued a warning, also to Japan, this week. But Tokyo is being taken to task by the markets. The question becomes: what will seal the fate of Abenomics? A high yen or a low one?

Recent Rise In Yen ‘Extremely Worrying’: Japan Finance Minister (AFP)

Japan’s finance minister said late Saturday the recent sharp rise in the yen is “extremely worrying”, adding Tokyo will take action when necessary. The remarks, which suggest Tokyo’s possible market intervention, came after the Japanese unit surged to an 18-month high against the dollar in New York Friday. It extended the previous day’s rally, which was boosted by a surprising monetary decision made by the BoJ. On Thursday, the central bank shocked markets by failing to provide more stimulus, confounding expectations it would act after a double earthquake and a string of weak readings on the world’s number three economy. The dollar tumbled to 106.31 yen in New York Friday, its lowest level since October 2014, from 108.11 yen. The greenback had bought 111.78 yen in Tokyo before the BoJ announcement on Thursday.

“The yen strengthened by five yen in two days. Obviously one-sided and biased, so-called speculative moves are seen behind it,” Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters. “It is extremely worrying,” he said. The finance minister left on a trip, which will also take him to an annual Asian Development Bank meeting in Germany. “Tokyo will continue watching the market trends carefully and take actions when necessary,” he added. A strong currency is damaging for Japan’s exporting giants, such as Toyota and Sony, as it makes their goods more expensive overseas and shrinks the value of repatriated profits. Aso has reiterated that Japan could intervene in forex markets to stem the unit’s steep rise, saying moves to halt the currency’s “one-sided, speculative” rally would not breach a G20 agreement to avoid competitive currency devaluations.

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You don’t say… Who figured that out?

UK ‘Is In The Throes Of A Housing Crisis’ (G.)

David Cameron’s pledge to build a property-owning democracy is called into serious question by a landmark survey revealing that almost four in 10 of those who do not own a home believe they will never be able to do so. According to an exclusive poll for the Observer on attitudes to British housing, 69% of people think the country is “in the throes of a housing crisis”. A staggering 71% of aspiring property owners doubt their ability to buy a home without financial help from family members. More than two-thirds (67%) would like to buy their own home “one day”, while 37% believe buying will remain out of their reach for good. A further 26% think it will take them up to five years. With affordable homes in short supply and demand for social housing rising, more than half of Britons cite immigration and a glut of foreign investment in UK property as factors driving prices beyond reach.

The findings cast doubt on the prime minister’s claim before last year’s general election that Tory housing policies would transform “generation rent” into “generation buy”. In April last year, as he launched plans to force local authorities to sell valuable properties to fund new “affordable homes”, Cameron said: “The dream of a property-owning democracy is alive and well and we will help you fulfil it.” The poll – which found that 58% of people want more, not less, social housing as a way to ease the crisis – comes as the government’s highly controversial housing and planning bill returns to the Commons on Tuesday. The bill will force councils to sell much of their social housing and curb lifelong council tenancies, introducing “pay to stay” rules that will force better-off council tenants to pay rents closer to market levels.

Described by housing experts as the beginning of the end of social housing, the bill has been savaged by cross-party groups in the Lords. They have inflicted a string of defeats on ministers and forced numerous concessions. The government’s flagship plan for “starter homes” has also been widely attacked on the grounds that the properties – which in London will cost up to £450,000 – will not be affordable. With local elections and the London mayoral election on Thursday, ministers now face the dilemma of whether to back down and accept many of the Lords’ amendments to the bill or face legislative deadlock.

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There is no credible news about Russia left in the west.

No, Russia Is Not In Decline – At Least Not Any More And Not Yet (FT)

A survey of recent writings on Russia by western scholars reveals a widely-held view that the largest of the 15 post-Soviet republics has continued to decline in the 21st century. Yet an examination of the data suggests that Russia has actually risen in comparison with some of its western competitors. Neil Ferguson, the British, Harvard-based historian, wrote in 2011 that Vladimir Putin’s Russia was in decline and “on its way to global irrelevance.” His Harvard colleagues Joseph Nye and Stephen Walt hold similar views. “Russia is in long-term decline,” Nye wrote in April 2015; also last year, Walt wrote of Russia’s decline at least twice. Other western thinkers who have pronounced Russia’s decline in the 21st century include John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, Ian Bremmer of Eurasia Group, Nicholas Burns of Harvard University and Stephen Blank of the American Foreign Policy Council.

Others go further. Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University recently wrote of a “coming Russian collapse”. Lilia Shevtsova, a Russian scholar affiliated with the Brookings Institution, believes the collapse has already begun. But is Russia really in decline, as western scholars claim? A comparison of its performance with the world as a whole or with the west’s leading economies suggests that the claim that post-Communist Russia has continued its decline into the 21st century is highly contestable at the very least. I have compared Russia with the US, the UK, France, Germany and Italy – the west’s biggest economy, western Europe’s four biggest and all of the west’s nuclear powers – in the period 1999 to 2015 (with some exceptions when data is not available). I relied on data supplied by the World Bank, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and the World Steel Association, turning to data from national governments only in the absence of data from the three organisations.

One traditional way of measuring nations’ power relative to each other is to compare their GDP. By this measure, Russia gained economically on all of its competitors as well as on the world as a whole in 1999-2015. Russian GDP was equal to less than 5% of US GDP in 1999. That share grew to 6% in 2015, a 36% increase. Over the same period, Russia’s share of global GDP increased by 23%, from 1.32% in 1999 to 1.6% in 2015. Meanwhile, the US, UK, French, German and Italian shares in global GDP declined by 10%, 11%, 19%, 20% and 32%, respectively. It is well known that the Russian economy has been declining since 2014. According to the World Bank, it is poised to contract by 1% yet again in 2016 before it resumes growth. However, this projected decline will not erase the cumulative gains that the Russian economy has made since 1999 against those of the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy and against the world as a whole.

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Germany doesn’t want a union, it wants a sales market.

Germany Should Stop Whining About Negative Rates (Economist)

Germany and the Netherlands are usually great supporters of central-bank independence. In the 1990s Germany blocked France’s push for a political say over monetary policy in the new ECB. The Dutchman who first headed that bank, Wim Duisenberg, said that it might be normal for politicians to express views on monetary policy, but it would be abnormal for central bankers to listen to them. That was then. Now German and Dutch politicians are trying to browbeat Mario Draghi, the ECB’s current president, into ending the bank’s policy of negative interest rates. The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, accused Mr Draghi of causing “extraordinary problems” for his country’s financial sector; wilder yet, he also pinned on the ECB half of the blame for the rise of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Both countries’ politicians attack low rates as a conspiracy to punish northern European savers and let southern European borrowers off the hook. ECB autonomy was sacred when rates suited Germany; now that rates do not fit the bill, and are imposed by an Italian to boot, it is another matter. The critics are not just hypocritical. They are partly responsible—let’s say 50% to blame—for the mess. As Mr Draghi has pointed out, his mandate is to raise the euro zone’s inflation rate back towards 2%. It is currently at zero, and periodically dips into negative territory. There is a legitimate debate to be had about how far a negative-interest-rate policy can go. The banks are unwilling to pass on negative rates to depositors, which means their own earnings are dented. And yes, savers are undoubtedly suffering at the moment. But raising rates would squash the recovery, and with it any chance of a normalisation of monetary policy.

The ECB’s policies of ultra-low rates and quantitative easing (printing money to buy bonds) are the same as those used by other central banks in the rich world since the onset of the financial crisis. Even the Bundesbank, whose allergy to inflation largely explains why the ECB was slower to embrace unconventional monetary policy than its peers, has felt compelled to defend Mr Draghi from attacks in Germany. The fundamental reason for Europe’s low interest rates and bond yields is the fragility of its economy. Its unemployment rate is stuck at 10%. While the ECB has been doing what it can to press down the accelerator, however, the austerity preached by the likes of the German and Dutch governments has slammed on the brakes. For years, Mr Draghi has been saying that monetary policy alone cannot speed up the economy, and that creditworthy governments must use fiscal policy as well, ideally by raising public investment.

If Mr Schäuble wants higher yields for German savers, he should be spending more money. Instead, his government is running a budget surplus. A hesitation to spend might be understandable if it were difficult for the German government to find good investment opportunities. But Germany has suffered from low infrastructure spending for decades. Investment by municipalities has fallen by about half since 1991, according to a 2015 report by the German Institute for Economic Research; since 2003 it has failed even to keep pace with the deterioration of infrastructure.

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Kaletsky’s dreaming in technicolor: “..The enormous programme of quantitative easing that Draghi pushed through, against German opposition, has saved the euro…”

Could Italy Be The Unlikely Saviour Of Project Europe? (PS)

As the EU begins to disintegrate, who can provide the leadership to save it? German chancellor Angela Merkel is widely credited with finally answering Henry Kissinger’s famous question about the Western alliance: “What is the phone number for Europe?” But if Europe’s phone number has a German dialling code, it goes through to an automated answer: “Nein zu Allem.” This phrase –“No to everything” –is how Mario Draghi, the ECB president, recently described the standard German response to all economic initiatives aimed at strengthening Europe. A classic case was Merkel’s veto of a proposal by Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi to fund refugee programmes in Europe, North Africa, and Turkey through an issue of EU bonds, an efficient and low-cost idea also advanced by leading financiers such as George Soros.

Merkel’s high-handed refusal even to consider broader European interests if these threaten her domestic popularity has become a recurring nightmare for other EU leaders. This refusal underpins not only her economic and immigration policies, but also her bullying of Greece, her support for coal subsidies, her backing of German carmakers over diesel emissions, her kowtowing to Turkey on press freedom, and her mismanagement of the Minsk agreement in Ukraine. In short, Merkel has done more to damage the EU than any living politician, while constantly proclaiming her passion for “the European project”. But where can a Europe disillusioned with German leadership now turn? The obvious candidates will not or cannot take on the role: Britain has excluded itself; France is paralysed until next year’s presidential election and possibly beyond; and Spain cannot even form a government.

That leaves Italy, a country that, having dominated Europe’s politics and culture for most of its history, is now treated as “peripheral”. But Italy is resuming its historic role as a source of Europe’s best ideas and leadership in politics, and also, most surprisingly, in economics. Draghi’s transformation of the ECB into the world’s most creative and proactive central bank is the clearest example of this. The enormous programme of quantitative easing that Draghi pushed through, against German opposition, has saved the euro by circumventing the Maastricht Treaty’s rules against monetising or mutualising government debts. Last month, Draghi became the first central banker to take seriously the idea of helicopter money – the direct distribution of newly created money from the central bank to eurozone residents.

Germany’s leaders have reacted furiously and are now subjecting Draghi to nationalistic personal attacks. Less visibly, Italy has also led a quiet rebellion against the pre-Keynesian economics of the German government and the European commission. In EU councils and again at this month’s IMF meeting in Washington, DC, Pier Carlo Padoan, Italy’s finance minister, presented the case for fiscal stimulus more strongly and coherently than any other EU leader. More important, Padoan has started to implement fiscal stimulus by cutting taxes and maintaining public spending plans, in defiance of German and EU commission demands to tighten his budget. As a result, consumer and business confidence in Italy have rebounded to the highest level in 15 years, credit conditions have improved, and Italy is the only G7 country expected by the IMF to grow faster in 2016 than 2015 (albeit still at an inadequate 1% rate).

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“It would be silly to buy a Mitsubishi car after this..”

Future Of Scandal-Hit Mitsubishi Motors In Doubt – Again (AFP)

Sales are falling off a cliff. Its reputation is in tatters. And even its top executive is talking about whether the automaker will survive. Mitsubishi Motors’ future is hanging in the balance for the second time in a decade after a bombshell admission that it has been cheating on fuel-economy tests for years. The crisis is threatening to put the company into the ditch permanently, but some analysts think the vast web of shareholdings among Japanese firms may just save it from the scrap yard. “I really think the future of Mitsubishi Motors is grim,” said Hideyuki Kobayashi, a business professor at Hitotsubashi University, who authored a book about the company’s struggles with an earlier cover-up. “It would be silly to buy a Mitsubishi car after this (scandal). This isn’t the first time this has happened.”

In 2005, the maker of the Outlander SUV and Lancer cars was pulled back from the brink of bankruptcy after it was discovered that it covered up vehicle defects that caused fatal accidents. The vast Mitsubishi group of companies stepped in with a series of bailouts, saving the embattled firm. But it is not clear if they would be so willing to help this time around as the automaker faces possibly huge fines, lawsuits and customer compensation costs. The scandal has shone a light on the cozy relationships between Japanese firms – including the big equity stakes they hold in each other – which have come under renewed scrutiny in recent years.

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Lowest common denominator.

Trump Saves American TV (Brown)

My friends in the TV news business are in a state of despair about Donald Trump, even as their bosses in the boardroom are giddy over what he’s doing for their once sagging ratings. “It feels like it’s over,” one old friend from my television days told me recently. Any hope of practicing real journalism on TV is really, finally finished. “Look, we’ve always done a lot of stupid shit to get ratings. But now it’s like we’ve just given up and literally handed over control hoping he’ll save us. It’s pathetic, and I feel like hell.” Said another friend covering the presidential campaign for cable news, “I am swilling antidepressants trying to figure out what to do with my life when this is over.” I’ve been there, and I sure am sympathetic.

When I left cable news in 2010 after 14 years as a correspondent and anchor for NBC News and CNN, this kind of ratings pressure was a big reason why (and I don’t take for granted that I had the luxury of being able to walk away). I was not so interested in night-after-night coverage of Michael Jackson’s death or Britney Spears’ latest breakdown—topics that were “breaking news” at the time. And yes, as my friend reminded me, we did “stupid shit” to get the numbers up when it came to political coverage then, too. (Anyone remember the correspondent’s hologram that appeared on set during CNN’s 2008 election coverage?) But it was nothing like what we’re seeing today. I really would like to blame Trump. But everything he is doing is with TV news’ full acquiescence. Trump doesn’t force the networks to show his rallies live rather than do real reporting.

Nor does he force anyone to accept his phone calls rather than demand that he do a face-to-face interview that would be a greater risk for him. TV news has largely given Trump editorial control. It is driven by a hunger for ratings—and the people who run the networks and the news channels are only too happy to make that Faustian bargain. Which is why you’ll see endless variations of this banner, one I saw all three cable networks put up in a single day: “Breaking news: Trump speaks for first time since Wisconsin loss.” In all these scenes, the TV reporter just stands there, off camera, essentially useless. The order doesn’t need to be stated. It’s understood in the newsroom: Air the Trump rallies live and uninterrupted. He may say something crazy; he often does, and it’s always great television.

This must be such a relief for the TV executives managing a business in decline, suffering from a thousand cuts from social media and other new platforms. Trump arrived on the scene as a kind of manna from hell. I admit I have been surprised by the public candor about this bounty. A “beaming” Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, told New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg, “These numbers are crazy—crazy.” But if their bosses are frank about the great ratings, some of my friends left at the cable networks are in various degrees of denial. “Give me a break,” one told me. “You can’t put this on us. Reality has changed because of technology. Look at the White House. They’re basically running their own news organization. They bypass us every day. We’re just trying to keep up.” And then there’s this attempt to put the best face on things, which is the most universal comment I hear: “At least this shows how much we still matter.”

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Anything the EU agrees to can be seen as inconsequential.

Greece Concludes Agreement With Creditors On Sale Of NPLs (Kath.)

An agreement between Greece and its lenders will lead to the vast majority of non-performing loans (NPLs) linked to primary residences with a taxable value under 140,000 euros being protected from sale until 2018, Economy Ministry sources have said. The government said on Saturday that the framework for the sale to distressed debt fund of overdue bank loans had been agreed, a necessary condition for the current bailout review to be concluded. According to the Economy Ministry, income criteria will not apply to the primary residence-backed NPLs that will be excluded from sale.

When coupled with the 140,000-euro “objective value” ceiling, this means that 94% of mortgages linked to main homes will be exempt from sale, the government says. The ministry added that the homeowners whose loans will be sold by banks will not experience any major change. The organizations that buy the loans will be required to use debt collection agencies that are registered in Greece and which have been licensed by the Bank of Greece.

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And on purpose too.

EU Has Made A Mess Of Refugee Reception System In Greece: Oxfam (Kath.)

The EU is failing to deliver a fair and safe system for receiving people in Greece, according to charity group Oxfam. The Greek government’s limited capacity and the pressure to meet the terms of the EU-Turkey agreement has led to refugees and migrants being kept in poor conditions, stressed the humanitarian organization in a statement on Friday. “Europe has created this mess and it needs to fix it in a way that respects people’s rights and dignity,” said Giovanni Riccardi Candiani, Oxfam’s representative in Greece. “The EU says it champions the rights of asylum-seekers beyond its borders but these rights are not being respected within EU countries.” Oxfam highlighted problems at the hotspots on Lesvos, where there have been riots in the past few days.

“Moria center is now very overcrowded, holding more than 3,000 people. Non-Syrians are unable to access asylum processes and about 80 unaccompanied children are among those being held,” said the humanitarian organization. “Nearby Kara Tepe camp, which has freedom of movement and provides care for vulnerable people such as unaccompanied children, pregnant women and the elderly, is almost full, leaving people in need of special care and support stranded at Moria center,” added Oxfam. The organization said it is working at six sites across Greece: Kara Tepe on Lesbos island, and in Katsika, Doliana, Filipiada, Tsepelovo and Konista camps in North-West Greece. Oxfam suspended its presence at Moria after the EU-Turkey deal was agreed and the site was converted into a closed facility.

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Europe’s shame continues.

84 Migrants Missing After Boat Sinks Off Libya’s Coast (AFP)

84 migrants are still missing after an inflatable craft sank off the coast of Libya, according to survivors cited by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Saturday. Twenty-six people were rescued from the boat which sank on Friday and were questioned overnight. “According to testimonies gathered by IOM in Lampedusa 84 people went missing,” IOM spokesperson in Italy Flavio Di Giacomo wrote on his Twitter feed. Di Giacomo told AFP that the survivors indicated 110 people, all from assorted west African states, had embarked in Libya. In an email, he added that the vessel “was in a very bad state, was taking on water and many people fell into the water and drowned”.

“Ten fell very rapidly and several others just minutes later.” Earlier Saturday, Italy’s coastguard said an Italian cargo ship had rescued 26 migrants from a flimsy boat sinking off the coast of Libya but voiced fears that tens more could be missing. The coastguard received a call from a satellite phone late Friday that helped locate the stricken inflatable and called on the merchant ship to make a detour to the area about four miles (seven kilometres) off the Libyan coast near Sabratha. Rough seas and waves topping two metres (seven feet) hampered attempts to find any other survivors.

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Feb 282016
 
 February 28, 2016  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing US Weather Bureau kiosque, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 1921

Markets At Risk As G20 Proves Investor Hopes Were “Pure Fantasy” (ZH)
Currency Wars Coming In Leaderless World: Citi’s Buiter (CNBC)
G-20 Wants Governments Doing More, and Central Banks Less (BBG)
We’re In Recession And It’s Getting Worse: Ron Paul (CNBC)
PBoC Defends Halting Publication Of Sensitive Financial Data (SCMP)
How Xi Jinping Is Bringing China’s Media To Heel (Guardian)
Mervyn King: New Financial Crisis Is ‘Certain’ Without Reform Of Banks (PA)
Hidden Debt That No One Is Talking About -And It Involves You- (SMH)
North Sea Firms Are ‘Sleepwalking Into Disaster’ As Insolvencies Loom (Tel.)
European Oil Majors Tally $19 Billion In Losses (MW)
Citigroup Faces Fraud Suit Claiming $1.1 Billion in Losses (BBG)
How Land Barons, Industrialists And Bankers Corrupted Economics (Kent)
Alabama Lawmakers To Cities: We Won’t Let You Raise The Minimum Wage (CSM)
The Donald – The Good And Bad Of It (David Stockman)
Switzerland Votes On Expelling Foreigners For Minor Offences (Guardian)
Double Crisis Deepens Despair In Greece’s ‘Warehouse Of Souls’ (Guardian)

As I said yesterday before the communique was out.

Markets At Risk As G20 Proves Investor Hopes Were “Pure Fantasy” (ZH)

Anyone hoping this week’s G-20 meeting would yield some manner of “Shanghai Accord” to revive sluggish global growth, pull the global economy out of the deflationary doldrums and calm jittery markets that have seen harrowing bouts of volatility in the first two months of the year are disappointed on Saturday. The joint communique issued by policymakers at the end of the two-day summit is bland and generic, with officials parroting vacuous promises to avoid competitive currency devaluations and maintain monetary policies aimed at supporting economic activity and price stability. Officials pledged to “consult closely” on FX markets, a reference presumably to China’s “surprise” August 11 deval and the PBoC’s move in December to adopt a trade weighted basket as a reference point for the RMB, a move that telegraphed lots of downside for the currency.

The statement also “acknowledges” the fact that geopolitical risks abound and as Bloomberg noted this morning, “officials added a potential ‘Brexit’ to its long worry list in the communique.” “That’s a win for Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who had sought to rally international finance chiefs behind the campaign to keep Britain in the European Union,” Bloomberg goes on to point out. “Downside risks and vulnerabilities have risen,” due to volatile capital flows and slumping commodities but – and this was a critical passage – “monetary policy alone cannot lead to balanced growth.” What?! We thought counter-cyclical Keynesian tinkering was the magic elixir. A cure-all that smooths business cycles and creates demand out of thin air.

Now you’re telling us it “can’t lead to balanced growth” and implicitly that Paul Krugman is a snake oil salesman? This can’t be. “The global recovery continues, but it remains uneven and falls short of our ambition for strong, sustainable and balanced growth,” the statment continues, in a rather dour assessment of the economic landscape. “While recognising these challenges, we nevertheless judge that the magnitude of recent market volatility has not reflected the underlying fundamentals of the global economy,” officials added. Right. If markets were “reflecting the underlying fundamentals” of this global deflationary trainwreck, things would probably be even more volatile.

Predictably, everyone called on fiscal policy to save the day, in what amounts to a tacit admission that central banks have failed. “Countries will use fiscal policy flexibly to strengthen growth, job creation and confidence, while enhancing resilience and ensuring debt as a share of GDP is on a sustainable path,” the statement reads. So countries will somehow adopt expansionary fiscal policies without resorting to deficit financing via debt sales. So, magic. Got it. Long story short, there is no “Shanghai Accord” akin to the 1985 Plaza Accord between the United States, France, West Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, which agreed to weaken the USD to shore up America’s trade deficit and boost economic growth. All we have here is a generic statement and empty promises.

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Even Buiter agrees.

Currency Wars Coming In Leaderless World: Citi’s Buiter (CNBC)

The global economy is bound to remain leaderless, as G-20 countries meeting in Shanghai on Friday are unlikely to produce anything more than a rhetorical statement, Citigroup’s chief economist Willem Buiter said. Buiter said Friday the global economy truly needs an agreement on exchange rates that will be defended through intervention, as well as expansion of supportive monetary policy, fiscal stimulus modulated according to countries’ needs, and “supply side reforms that sustain animal spirits in the corporate sector.” “You’re not going to get any of that in substance. There is no leadership in the global economy. And there is no willingness to forgo the short-run benefits of beggar-thy-neighbor exchange rate depreciation. Currency wars will be the reality of what we’ll see over the next few years,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street”.

Buiter and Citigroup analysts said in a note Wednesday the risk of the global economy falling into a recession is rising as fundamentals remain poor. “We are currently in a highly precarious environment for global growth and asset markets after two to three years of relative calm,” Citigroup said, noting that global growth was “unusually weak” in the fourth quarter at around 2 percent. Buiter said central banks are nearly out of ammo when it comes to using conventional and unconventional monetary policy as a means of stimulating demand. “If we have a further slowdown, it will have to be combined more with the fiscal policy, and the world just isn’t ready for that, institutionally, politically and any other way,” he said.

At the same time, the private and public sectors in most advanced economies have become highly leveraged, he noted. Citi is not expecting a U.S. recession, provided no surprises from abroad send the dollar sharply higher. But it does anticipate a further incremental slowing in the absence of a supportive Federal Reserve and as corporations ratchet up debt following a period of “unspectacular, mediocre” growth, he said. Markets have appropriately priced in the risk of recession following last year’s “excessive optimism,” he said. “Markets are ahead of the policymakers here for once,” he said. “People have now rediscovered that, yes, future earnings growth projections on which the stock valuations were based were unrealistic.”

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While knowing that governments won’t.

G-20 Wants Governments Doing More, and Central Banks Less (BBG)

Finance chiefs from the world’s top economies committed their governments to doing more to boost global growth amid mounting concerns over the potency of monetary policy. In a pledge that will prove easier to write than deliver and may disappoint investors looking for a coordinated stimulus plan, the Group of 20 said “we will use fiscal policy flexibly to strengthen growth, job creation and confidence.” After a two-day meeting in Shanghai, finance ministers and central bank governors also doubled down on a line from their last gathering that “monetary policy alone cannot lead to balanced growth.” For those few analysts calling for a 1985 Plaza Accord-type agreement to address exchange-rate tensions, there was no such luck: IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said there were no discussions about anything like that.

The G-20 members did reaffirm they will refrain from competitive devaluations, and – in new language – agreed to consult closely on currencies. An increasing sense monetary policy is reaching its limit permeated officials’ briefings during the meetings that ended Saturday. While central banks proved critical in avoiding a global slide into depression last decade, there is now no consensus among the world’s top economic guardians backing stepped-up monetary stimulus. That leaves focus on fiscal polices that are subject to domestic political constraints, and a structural-reform agenda the G-20 said will be gauged through a new indicator system. “Central bankers have done their bit in recent years to stabilize the world economy,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong.

“But as their tools are losing their effectiveness, only more aggressive fiscal policy and structural reforms will help to lift growth.” Among those publicly indicating a potentially reduced role for central banks was Lagarde, who said Friday the effects of monetary policies, even innovative ones, are diminishing. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney used a Shanghai speech ahead of the G-20 to voice skepticism over negative interest rates – now in place in continental Europe and Japan – and their ability to boost domestic demand.

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“They’re paid to spin it in a positive manner..” “You can’t expect them to say anything else.”

We’re In Recession And It’s Getting Worse: Ron Paul (CNBC)

Ron Paul wants to deliver a message to the market that he claims the Federal Reserve refuses to do itself. The former U.S. Republican congressman said this week that the Fed has been propping up markets, and the U.S. economy has already entered a recession despite what central bankers might say. “They’re paid to spin it in a positive manner,” the libertarian firebrand told CNBC’s “Futures Now” in an interview. He added: “You can’t expect them to say anything else.” Paul’s warning comes as a growing number on Wall Street have turned pessimistic on the economy. This week, Citigroup analysts cautioned in a note that the risk of the global economy sinking into a full-fledged recession is on the rise, amid a “tightening in financial conditions everywhere.”

Dragging down the economy is a massive load of personal and sovereign debt, Paul said. A 2015 analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute said that global debt had grown by $57 trillion in the last several years, while no major economy has successfully de-leveraged since 2007. According to Paul, the Fed has played a large role in that accumulation of debt by implementing artificially low interest rates for years. This has pushed individuals and companies to spend beyond their means, he added.

“When things get out of kilter from artificially low interest rates…the only correction is the liquidation of the debt, but that is not permissible,” Paul said. Now, Paul warned that the government may be losing control of markets, which will lead to more volatility in stocks. “Everything is designed to keep the stock market alive. At the same time, the employment numbers when you look at them closely aren’t all that great,” he said. In January, the U.S. economy added 151,000 jobs, missing economist expectations and falling well short from the previous month. From here, Paul said growth will continue to deteriorate. “I think that the conditions will get a lot worse,” he said. “The slope is going to be down, for economic growth and prosperity.”

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Lame defense that breaks down confidence instead of building it up.

PBoC Defends Halting Publication Of Sensitive Financial Data (SCMP)

China’s central bank has defended the removal of sensitive data from a regular financial report used by the market to assess the flow of capital in and out of the country. The People’s Bank of China said in a statement that the figures were no longer published as they were misleading and not an accurate reflection of capital flows. The removal of the data comes as huge amounts of cash is flowing out of China as the nation’s economy slows and its currency weakens. China’s foreign exchange reserves fell by a record US$108 billion in December and US$99.4 billion in January. The absence of the regular figures in the report was first reported by the South China Morning Post last week. Analysts had complained that sudden lack of clear information made it hard for markets to draw a clear picture of the financial positions in China’s banking system.

Figures on the “position for forex purchase” for all financial institutions, including the central bank, were regularly published in the PBOC’s monthly report on the “Sources and Uses of Credit Funds of Financial Institutions”. The December reading in yuan was 26.6 trillion yuan. But the data was missing in the central bank’s latest report. The central bank did publish figures for its own purchases of foreign exchange. A central bank statement issued before the start of a G20 finance ministers and central bank leaders meeting in Shanghai said the figures on “commercial banks foreign exchange transactions do not necessarily affect the central bank’s foreign exchange position, nor necessarily reflect capital flows”. The data has “little resemblance to its original meaning and cannot reflect the real condition of capital flows”, the statement said.

The indicator was useful to measure capital flows when almost all foreign exchange at commercial banks was purchased in yuan, but particularly after China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001 the correlation between foreign exchange and yuan positions at commercial banks was no longer clear, the central bank said. The data removed from the report used to be closely monitored by analysts and the media as a guide to capital flows in and out of China. Chen Xingdong, chief economist at BNP Paribas in Beijing, said: “If China’s capital flows were not so closely watched, the tweak may not stir debate, but as China’s capital flow situation is such a hot issue the central bank’s adjustment is put under the spotlight. China’s central bank has to improve its communications” with the market, he said.

[..] Christopher Balding, an associate professor at Peking University HSBC Business School, said the change in published data was relatively small, but still made it more complicated to track China’s capital flows. “Rather than censoring or redacting, it is better to say obfuscating or making [it] more difficult to track,” said Balding. It showed the central bank was unaware “how sceptical people are of these types of surprises and Chinese data”, he said. The problems with central bank data were similar to figures released by other Chinese government agencies, according to Balding. “They are constantly redefining key data to mean different things, most of the time without telling anyone…you never know if you are making the correct comparison.”

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Great way to create confidence.

How Xi Jinping Is Bringing China’s Media To Heel (Guardian)

It was an astonishing admission from one of the Communist party’s key mouthpieces: with China’s economic star fading, its leaders now urgently needed to strengthen their hold on the media in order to maintain control. “It is necessary for the media to restore people’s trust in the Party,” an editorial in the China Daily argued this week in the wake of a high-profile presidential tour of the country’s top news outlets in which Xi Jinping demanded “absolute loyalty” from their journalists. “The nation’s media outlets are essential to political stability.” China’s government-run media has long been a propaganda tool of the Party with Chairman Mao once famously declaring: “Revolution relies on pens and guns.”

But as Xi Jinping enters his third year as president experts say he is seeking to cement that grip even further, doubling down on the Party’s control of organisations such as state broadcaster CCTV, official news agency Xinhua, and Beijing’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily. “They must love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics and action,” Xi told newsroom staff during a highly choreographed tour of the three outlets last Friday after which he set out his blueprint for the media. In case Xi’s message had been missed, an editorial in the People’s Daily informed news reporters their key role was not as speakers of truth to power but “disseminators of the Party’s policies and propositions”. “Guiding public opinion for the Party is crucial to governance of the country,” the newspaper said.

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‘Lord King’. How odd that sounds.

Mervyn King: New Financial Crisis Is ‘Certain’ Without Reform Of Banks (PA)

Another financial crisis is “certain” and will come sooner rather than later, the former Bank of England governor has warned. Mervyn King, who headed the bank between 2003 and 2013, believes the world economy will soon face another crash as regulators have failed to reform banking. He has also claimed that the 2008 crisis was the fault of the financial system, not individual greedy bankers, in his new book, The End Of Alchemy: Money, Banking And The Future Of The Global Economy, serialised in The Telegraph. “Without reform of the financial system, another crisis is certain, and the failure … to tackle the disequilibrium in the world economy makes it likely that it will come sooner rather than later,” Lord King wrote.

He added that global central banks were caught in a “prisoner’s dilemma” – unable to raise interest rates for fear of stifling the economic recovery, the newspaper reported. A remark from a Chinese colleague who said the west had not got the hang of money and banking was the inspiration for his book. Lord King, 67, said without understanding what caused the crash, politicians and bankers would be unable to prevent another, and lays the blame at the door of a broken financial system. He said: “The crisis was a failure of a system, and the ideas that underpinned it, not of individual policymakers or bankers, incompetent and greedy though some of them undoubtedly were.” Spending imbalances both within and between countries led to the crisis in 2008 and he believes a current disequilibrium will lead to the next.

To solve the problem, Lord King suggests raising productivity and boldly reforming the banking system. He said: “Only a fundamental rethink of how we, as a society, organise our system of money and banking will prevent a repetition of the crisis that we experienced in 2008.” Lord King was in charge of the Bank of England when the credit crunch struck in 2007, leading to the collapse of Northern Rock and numerous other British lenders, including RBS, and has been criticised for failing to see the global financial crisis coming.

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Private debt. Warrants far more attention than it gets. See Steve Keen.

Hidden Debt That No One Is Talking About -And It Involves You- (SMH)

There’s a paradox when it comes to debt in Australia. We have endless debate about the magnitude of the government’s borrowings, even though they are comparatively low by global standards. Meanwhile, the level of household debt gets relatively little attention even though it’s among the highest in the world. In the past two decades the debt owed by households has risen from about 80% of combined income to more than 180%. A fresh surge in borrowing driven by the recent boom in house prices, coupled with slow wage growth, has pushed the debt-to-income ratio to new heights. When economist Kieran Davies last year compared countries using another measure – the ratio of household debt to gross domestic product – he found Australia’s to be the world’s highest, just above Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Australians’ household debts may be manageable now, but higher interest rates would stretch many people. Even so, I think Australia’s household debt story gets less scrutiny than it deserves, considering the risks. About 85% of household borrowings – which include mortgages, credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans – are owed to Australian lenders, mostly banks. The Reserve Bank pointed out recently that a small but fast-growing proportion is owed to Australian governments – mostly university-related HECS/HELP debt – and to overseas banks and governments, which is mostly owed by recent migrants. Household surveys by research firm Digital Finance Analytics have found more than one in 10 owner-occupiers would have difficulty meeting their mortgage repayments if interest rates were to rise by just 1 percentage point from their current historic lows.

Martin North, the principal of Digital Finance Analytics, says it’s not just low-income households that are exposed. “My reading is that overall the market is OK but there are some significant pockets of stress even in this low-interest rate environment,” he said. “But those pockets are not necessarily where you would expect the risk to be, it’s not just western Sydney for example. Some quite affluent people who have taken out very large mortgages are more leveraged and therefore more exposed if interest rates were to rise.” One striking trend going largely under the radar is the dramatic shift in customers using short-term loans from so called “payday lenders” following regulatory changes in 2013 and advances in information technology. In the past, payday loans were typically used by those on very low incomes in financial crisis. But a growing share of these loans – now called “small amount credit contracts” – are being taken out by those in higher income groups.

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High time to scrutinize the lenders.

North Sea Firms Are ‘Sleepwalking Into Disaster’ As Insolvencies Loom (Tel.)

The North Sea industry is “sleepwalking” into a wave of insolvencies in the coming months as the full brunt of the collapse in the price of crude causes the finances of many companies to buckle, some of the City’s top restructuring lawyers have said. The majority of North Sea firms have so far endured a punishing 70pc oil price decline since 2014 by relying on loans which were approved based on market hedges secured one to two years before the market crash. But with hedge positions now unwinding firms will be exposed to the full brunt of the oil collapse and the increasingly stressed loan facilities keeping them afloat will be stretched to breaking point. Lenders may have offered firms a stay of execution last year in anticipation of a market recovery, but hopes for significantly higher crude prices are now dashed.

Within weeks, big North Sea lenders will begin a review of the loans that have propped up many Aim-listed explorers through the 18-month oil price rout, prompting a swath of insolvencies later this year.. Stephen Phillips, head of restructuring at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, said: “There’s a sense that the North Sea may be sleepwalking into a disaster zone.” Simon Tysoe a partner at Latham & Watkins, said half a dozen North Sea explorers were being actively discussed by banks and lenders as firms which will go into restructuring and possibly insolvency. North Sea bankruptcies have been rare in the past but the severity of the current downturn has already forced Iona Energy and First Oil Expro, two smaller oil companies, to call in administrators.

Now larger Aim-listed firms look at risk, which will also leave project partners and oilfield service firms vulnerable as the financial contagion spreads through the embattled sector. Mr Tysoe said: “Most oil companies have in fact not been selling their oil at $30 a barrel, they’ve been selling their oil at prices like $75 a barrel, notwithstanding the spot price of oil, because they’ve had financial hedges in place.” “The impact of this collapse is going to look very bad. In oilfield services, the position is significantly worse. The question is: when will lenders pull the trigger?”

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How much did the banks lose?

European Oil Majors Tally $19 Billion In Losses (MW)

How much has Big Oil in Europe lost in the last quarter? Try $19 billion — or slightly more than Iceland’s entire economy. The culprit is of course an unrelenting decline in crude and Brent prices through the period, when the contracts slid 18% and 24%, respectively. That sparked a round of significant impairment charges, project delays and reduced exploration among Europe’s major energy companies, with the majority of the Stoxx Europe 600’s oil and gas producers reporting losses in the one-billion dollar territory. “It’s been a mixed bag for oil company results — most have been pressured by weaker oil prices,” said Jason Kenney, head of pan-European oil equity research at Banco Santander, in emailed comments.

“Many have had to write down assets given the new oil price environment. The key to weathering the storm is disinvestment in our view — cutting costs, lowering capex, deferring spend, divesting peripheral businesses, offloading capital commitments, restructuring operations, and generally squeezing more from current operations for hopefully a lot less,” he added. Earnings from Europe’s oil majors have trickled out through February and were rounded off with a set of downbeat fourth-quarter numbers from Italian oil giant Eni on Friday. Eni said its quarterly loss more than tripled to 8.5 billion euros ($9.4 billion) in the final three months of the year, bringing the total tally of losses among the European oil majors to $19.3 billion..

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Does Belgium jail people for fraud? How about bankers?

Citigroup Faces Fraud Suit Claiming $1.1 Billion in Losses (BBG)

Citigroup Inc. was sued for fraud by investors and creditors of a bankrupt Mexican oil services firm over claims they were harmed by a loan scheme that also led the bank to cut 2013 profit by $235 million and fire at least a dozen people. Citigroup’s loans led to the 2014 collapse of the Mexican firm Oceanografia, and caused Dutch lender Rabobank, with investors and creditors, to lose at least $1.1 billion, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Miami federal court. Rabobank and other investors separately filed a negligence suit in Delaware state court against auditor KPMG. Citigroup’s Mexican subsidiary, Banamex, made short-term loans to Oceanografia, which did work for state-run Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. In turn, Pemex repaid the bank.

Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said in February 2014 that $400 million of accounts receivable from Oceanografia were fraudulent. He said the bank was working with Mexican authorities and would find out “who perpetrated this despicable crime.” Rabobank and the investors claim Citigroup conspired with Oceanografia to accept falsified work estimates even as the oil services firm became increasingly dependent on cash advances to survive. Those Citigroup loans propped up Oceanografia, while Pemex repaid the bank with millions of dollars in interest, according to the complaint. “Intentional misconduct on the part of Wall Street banks – including Citigroup specifically – is far from unfamiliar,” according to the complaint. “Yet again, greed and dishonesty have victimized blameless businesses and investors.”

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Things weren’t always like this.

How Land Barons, Industrialists And Bankers Corrupted Economics (Kent)

The Corruption of Economics by Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison, while free online, is hardly known; as of December 2015 only three New Zealand university libraries and the Auckland Public Library held copies. Yet in it is a very important story. Fred Harrison describes the phenomenon of Henry George, the San Francisco journalist who took the world by storm with his book Progress and Poverty in 1879, in which he argues that the benefits of land ownership must be shared by all and that a single tax is needed to fund government – a land tax. The factors of production are land, capital and labour. Untax labour and tax land was the cry. Poverty could be beaten. Social justice was possible! Of Henry George influential economic historian John Kenneth Galbraith writes,

“In his time and even into the 1920s and 1930s Henry George was the most widely read of American economic writers both at home and in Europe. He was, indeed, one of the most widely read of Americans. Progress and Poverty… in various editions and reprintings… had a circulation in the millions.” Unlike many writers, Henry George didn’t stop there. He took his message of hope everywhere he could travel – across America and to England, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland and Ireland. He turned political. Seven years after his book came out in remote California, in 1886 he narrowly missed out on being elected Mayor of New York, outpolling Teddy Roosevelt. During the 1890s George, Henry George was the third most famous American, after Mark Twain and Thomas Edison. Ten years after Progress and Poverty he was influencing a radical wing of the British Liberal Party.

He was read by semi-literate workers from Birmingham, Alabama to Liverpool, England. His Single Tax was understood by peasants in the remotest crofts of Scotland and Ireland. Gaffney’s section of the book outlines how certain rich land barons, industrialists and bankers funded influential universities in America and proceeded to change the direction of their economics departments. He names names at every turn, wading through presidents and funders of many prestigious universities. In particular, Gaffney, an economist himself, names the economists bought to discredit his theories, their debates with George and their papers written over many decades.

“George’s ideas were carried worldwide by such towering figures as Lloyd George in England, Leo Tolstoy and Alexander Kerensky in Russia, Sun Yat-sen in China, hundreds of local and state and a few power national politicians in both Canada and the USA, Billy Hughes in Australia, Rolland O’Regan in New Zealand, Chaim Weizmann in Palestine, Francisco Madero in Mexico, and many others in Denmark, South Africa and around the world. In England Lloyd George’s budget speech of 1909 reads in part as though written by Henry George himself. Some of Winston Churchill’s speeches were written by Georgist ghosts.” When he died there were 100,000 at his funeral.

The wealthy and influential just couldn’t let the dangerous ideas spread. Their privileged position was gravely threatened. Henry George must be stopped. But the strategy had to be subtle. What better route than by using their money to influence the supposed fount of all knowledge, the universities? That would then indoctrinate journalists and the general public. Nice one! The story explains how, for their wealthy paymasters, academics corrupted the language to subsume it under capital. They redefined rent, and created a jargon to confuse public debate. Harrison says, ‘For a century they have taken people down blind alleys with abstract models and algebraic equations. Economics became detached from the real world in the course of the twentieth century.’ Yes, the wealthy paid money to buy scholars to pervert the science.

Gaffney’s rich, whimsical language is a joy to read. He writes to Harrison, ‘Systematic, universal brainwashing is the crime, tendentious mental conditioning calculated to mislead students, to impoverish their mental ability, to bend their minds to the service of a system that funnels power and wealth to a parasitic minority.’

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“..we’re talking about a legislature … that says we don’t care about y’all.”

Alabama Lawmakers To Cities: We Won’t Let You Raise The Minimum Wage (CSM)

While major demonstrations have led to a $15 minimum wage in San Francisco, Seattle, New York Los Angeles, and 10 other cities in the past year, Birmingham’s plans to boost local wages have been thwarted by state legislation. The city council of Birmingham, Ala., voted 7 to 0 (with one abstention) to become the first city in the deep South to enact a minimum wage above the current federal level of $7.25. The ordinance planned an increase to $8.50 per hour by July 2016, with a second increase to $10.10 set for July 2017. But the Alabama legislature this past week fired back, passing a bill that prevents cities and counties from mandating their own benefits, including minimum wage, vacation time, or set work schedules. The bill passed easily in both houses and Gov. Robert Bentley signed it into law on Thursday.

Supporters argued that a “patchwork” of varying wages would devastate businesses, cost jobs, and send the regional economy into a slump. “We want businesses to expand and create more jobs – not cut entry-level jobs because a patchwork of local minimum wages causes operating costs to rise,” said State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R) after the bill’s passage. Critics of the new law countered that higher wages lift families out of poverty and inject new spending into the regional economy. “We’re talking about the bare survival of people,” said Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D), reported the Montgomery Advertiser. “And we’re talking about a legislature … that says we don’t care about y’all.” “When you lift a person on the bottom, everybody above them is lifted up,” he added.

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No space here for the whole thing, but very much worth the time.

The Donald – The Good And Bad Of It (David Stockman)

[..] Once upon a time, by contrast, the GOP actually stood for free markets, fiscal rectitude, hard money and minimalist government. Calvin Coolidge did a pretty good job of it. And even the unfairly besmirched Warren G. Harding got us out of the foreign intervention business—-a path that the great Dwight D. Eisenhower pretty consistently hewed to under the far more challenging conditions of the cold war. But these were sons of America’s old school interior – Massachusetts, Ohio and Kansas. As temporary sojourners in Washington, they remained incredulous and chary of grand state missions either at home or abroad. Harding called it returning to “normalcy”. Coolidge said Washington’s business was to get out of the way.

And Ike actually shrank the Warfare state by one-third, ended Truman’s wars and started no new ones, resisted much of the Dulles’ brother’s interventionist agenda, balanced the budget and froze the New Deal as hard in place at he had the votes to achieve. Today’s Republican crowd bears no resemblance. They live in the capital, fully embrace its projects and pretensions and visit the provinces as sparingly as possible. And that’s why The Donald has them so rattled, even petrified. To be sure, there is much that is ugly, superficial and stupid about Donald Trump’s campaign platform, if you can call it that, or loose cannon oratory to be more exact. More on that below, but at the heart of his appeal are two propositions which strike terror in the hearts of the Imperial City’s GOP operatives.

To wit, he is loudly self-funding his own campaign and bombastically insisting that America is getting a bad deal everywhere in the world. The first of these propositions explicitly tells the legions of K-Street lobbies to take a hike, thereby posing a mortal threat to the fund raising rackets which are the GOPs lifeblood. And while the “bad deal” abroad is superficially about NAFTA and our $500 billion trade deficit with China, it is really an attack on the American Imperium The American people are sick and tired of the Lindsay Graham/John McCain/George Bush/neocon wars of intervention and occupation; and they resent the massive fiscal burdens of our outmoded but still far-flung alliances, forward bases and apparatus of security assistance and economic aid. They especially have no patience for the continued huge cost of our commitments to cold war relics like NATO, the stationing of troops in South Korea and the defense treaty with the incorrigible Japanese, who still blatantly rig their trade rules against American exports.

In short, The Donald is tapping a nationalist/isolationist impulse that runs deep among a weary and economically precarious main street public. He is clever enough to articulate it in the bombast of what sounds like a crude trade protectionism. Yet if Pat Buchanan were to re-write his speech, it would be more erudite and explicit about the folly of the American Imperium, but the message would be the same. That’s why the War Party is so desperate, and why its last great hope is the bantam weight Senator from Florida. In truth, Marco Rubio is an obnoxious kid who wants to be President so he can play with guns, planes, ships and bombs. He is a pure creature of the Imperial City, even if at his young age he has idled there only since 2010.

Yet down to the last nuance of his insipid neocon worldview and monotonous recitation of the American Exceptionalism catechism, he might as well have been born in Washington of GS-16 parents, not Cuban refugees, raised as a Congressional page, and apprenticed to the Speaker of the US House rather than serving as the same in the backwaters of Tallahassee. What Marco Rubio is all about is Warfare State republicanism. When he talks about restoring American Greatness it is through the agency of Imperial Washington. He has no kinship with Harding, Coolidge or Eisenhower. None of them were intent on searching the earth for monsters to destroy, as does Rubio in every single speech.

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Traffic violations?! Gives a whole new meaning to ‘two strikes you’re out’.

Switzerland Votes On Expelling Foreigners For Minor Offences (Guardian)

Switzerland votes in a referendum Sunday on whether foreigner citizens who commit two minor offences, like traffic violations, in the space of 10 years should be automatically deported. The referendum asks whether any foreign national found guilty of two lower-level infractions, including fighting, money laundering, giving false testimony and indecent exposure, should be expelled. The vote comes at a time when many European countries are hardening their attitudes to migrants after more than a million arrived on the continent last year. A quarter of the people living in Switzerland have a foreign passport, the majority of them from European countries.

More than half of Swiss voters backed strengthening rules to automatically expel foreign nationals convicted of violent or sexual crimes in a referendum on the same topic six years ago. But the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which won the biggest share of the vote in parliamentary elections last October, has accused parliament of dragging its feet on writing the text into law and watering it down when it did so last March. Known for its virulent campaigns against immigration, the European Union and Islam, the party has proposed tougher rules, calling for “a real deportation of criminal foreigners”. The initiative faces stiff opposition, including from the government, parliament and all the other major political parties, who have warned it circumvents the “fundamental rules” of democracy.

If passed, it would dramatically increase the number of offences that could get foreign nationals automatically kicked out of Switzerland, including misdemeanours usually punishable with fines or short prison sentences. It would also remove a judge’s right to refrain from deportation in cases where it would cause the foreign national “serious personal hardship”. More than 50,000 people including hundreds of celebrities have signed a petition against the proposals. [..] Opponents warn that if the text passes, people born to foreign parents in Switzerland risk being deported to countries they have never lived in, for petty offences.

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Getting worse fast.

Double Crisis Deepens Despair In Greece’s ‘Warehouse Of Souls’ (Guardian)

There are more than 25,000 refugees and migrants stuck in Greece, police sources have told the Observer. The borders leading out have closed down one by one, leaving the country in danger of becoming what the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, described last week as a “warehouse of souls”. Tsipras has threatened to block future EU agreements and has withdrawn the Greek ambassador to Austria from Vienna in protest at the lack of support being offered by other nations during the refugee crisis. Austria is accepting only 80 migrants a day. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, plans to hold a referendum on compulsory migrant quotas. Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia are refusing to accept Afghans and other refugees deemed not to be from conflict zones and are accepting a maximum of 580 migrants a day. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, appears to be staking everything on a crucial EU-Turkey summit, scheduled to take place on 7 March.

[..] The convergence of two crises – the refugee influx and the debt drama that has plagued the country for the past six years – has caused the rhetoric of catastrophe to be ratcheted up in Athens and abroad. After the announcement by the European commission on Friday that, in the wake of border closures, it had been forced to put together a humanitarian aid plan for Greece, there is an inescapable sense of impending doom. “It was difficult for the government to manage Greece’s own domestic economic crisis,” said Dirk Reinermann, project manager for southern Europe at the World Bank. “The new exogenous challenge of having to deal with refugees and migrants is such that the overall task at hand borders on the impossible.” While EU diplomats spoke of the nightmare scenario of seeing hundreds of thousands of people trapped in the country by May, analysts predicted that Europe’s southern flank could soon become embroiled in scenes of chaos and immense social hardship.

“It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” said Thanos Dokos, who heads Eliamep, a leading Greek thinktank. He told the Observer: “We are at risk of seeing an economy without any hope of recovery, and the country being flooded by people who have no intention of staying in camps but instead [will be] making their way to borders where there will be no shelter or facilities to host them.” Anger at the influx has mounted on Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast, where tourism has been hard hit. In an interview, Constantine Michalos, president of the Athens chamber of commerce and industry, said pre-bookings in Kos, Rhodes and Lesbos, the islands that have borne the brunt of the refugee and migrant arrivals, were down by 60%.

[..] Dimitra Koutsavli is working for Doctors of the World – Greece. The organisation is having constantly to move its operations to follow the ever-changing makeshift camps opening and closing on political orders across the country. She said she had never seen the situation as bad in Athens as over the past few days. “The situation here is worsening. Refugees are all over the city, in squares, in the port. According to our emergency mission in Piraeus port on Friday, we saw thousands of refugees there, among them many children.” To say that Greeks think the rest of Europe could do more is an understatement. There were peaceful protests in Athens and Piraeus last week by Greeks and refugees, and on Saturday there was a protest by 300 people outside the Austrian embassy in Athens. Not many of those in Victoria Square went to the demonstration. “It’s for Europe to decide if it can help us. We just say, ‘Please open the borders.’ We don’t want to sit here,” said Sharzai..

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Sep 272015
 
 September 27, 2015  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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John Collier Workmen at emergency office construction job, Washington, DC Dec 1941

As Very “Grim” Earnings Season Unfolds, All Eyes Will Be On Bank of America (ZH)
Monetary Stimulus Doesn’t Work The Way You Think It Does, Redux (FT)
Britain Has One Booming Market That Could Do With A Crash (Economist)
Forty Years Of Greenwashing – The Well-Travelled Road Taken By VW (Bloomberg)
Volkswagen Scandal: The Cost Of A Car Crash Like No Other (Telegraph)
VW Scandal Exposes Cozy Ties Between Industry And Berlin (Reuters)
UK Government Tried To Block Tougher EU Car-Emissions Tests (Guardian)
Volkswagen Scandal Costs Qatar’s Sovereign Wealth Fund $5 Billion (Telegraph)
Volkswagen Managed Faked US Test Results From Germany (Bloomberg)
While EU Governments Demur, Refugees Find A Welcome On The Web (Guardian)
Catalonia Vote Opens With Separatists Tipped To Win (AFP)
Scientists Are Worried About A Cold ‘Blob’ In The North Atlantic Ocean (WaPo)
Humans Have Caused Untold Damage To The Planet (Gaia Vince)

“..if BofA has some major and unexpected litigation provision or some “rogue” loss as a result of marking its deeply underwater bond portfolio [..], the drop in the S&P will increase by a whopping 30%, and all due to just one company.”

As Very “Grim” Earnings Season Unfolds, All Eyes Will Be On Bank of America (ZH)

[..] it isn’t AAPL that everyone will be looking at this quarter – the company that will make or break the Q3 earnings season is not even a tech company at all, but a financial: it’s Bank of America. The reason, as Factset points out, is that thanks to a base effect from a very weak Q3 in 2014, Bank of America is not only projected to be the largest contributor to year-over-year earnings growth for the Financials sector, but it is also projected to be the largest positive contributor to year-over-year earnings for the entire S&P 500! The positive contribution from Bank of America to the earnings for the Financials sector and the S&P 500 index as a whole can mainly be attributed to an easy comparison to a year-ago loss. The mean EPS estimate for Bank of America for Q3 2015 is $0.36, compared to year-ago EPS of -$0.01.

In the year-ago quarter, the company reported a charge for a settlement with the Department of Justice, which reduced EPS by $0.43. Bank of America has only reported a loss in two (Q1 2014 and Q3 2014) of the previous ten quarters. This is how big BofA’s contribution to Q3 earnings season will be: if Bank of America is excluded from the index, the estimated earnings growth rate for the Financials sectors would fall to 0.7% from 8.2%, while the estimated earnings decline for the S&P 500 would increase to -5.9% from -4.5%. In other words, if BofA has some major and unexpected litigation provision or some “rogue” loss as a result of marking its deeply underwater bond portfolio to market as Jefferies did last week pushing its fixed income revenue (not profit) negative, the drop in the S&P will increase by a whopping 30%, and all due to just one company.

Finally, if the market which has been priced to perfection for years finally cracks – and by most accounts it will be on the back of bank earnings which have not been revised lower to reflect a reality in which the long awaited recovery was just pushed back to the 8th half of 2012, and where trading revenues are again set to disappoint – then the recently bearish David Tepper will once again have the final laugh because not only will the new direction in corporate revenues and earnings by confirmed, but a very violent readjustment in the earnings multiple would be imminent. As a reminder, Tepper hinted that the new fair multiple of the S&P 500 would drop from 18x to 16x. Applying a Q3 EPS of 114 and, well, readers can do their own math…

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“..foreign euro-denominated bond issuance has dwarfed the borrowing of the domestic non-financial private sector for years..”

Monetary Stimulus Doesn’t Work The Way You Think It Does, Redux (FT)

Once upon a time people thought central banks could boost business investment by lowering interest rates. Thus America had its Large-Scale Asset Purchase programmes, which, according to the Fed, lowered longer-term Treasury yields. Again, according to the Fed, part of the appeal of these purchases was the impact they would have on investors with fixed income liabilities. Unable to hit their return targets with safer bonds they would be forced to buy riskier instruments, which, in theory, should improve the flow of credit to businesses and households and therefore spending. The plan worked, from a certain point of view. Most of the US government bonds bought by the Fed were sold by foreigners, and for the most part they used their proceeds to buy newly issued dollar-denominated corporate bonds.

The problem was that these new bonds overwhelmingly funded companies outside the US, often firms based in emerging market countries that wanted to exploit the yield spread between local currency financial assets and dollar liabilities. (This shouldn’t have been too surprising, since researchers have found borrowing costs are irrelevant for investment decisions.) It turns out something similar has happened in Europe. First, consider who has been borrowing since 2012, when Mario Draghi uttered his priestly incantation to narrow credit spreads. It turns out basically all of the euro-denominated bonds issued by the private non-financial sector were issued by companies outside the euro area. The share of euro-denominated corporate issuance has soared from about one fifth of the total to about half. Via a recent presentation by Citi’s Hanz Lorenzen:

Some of this can probably be explained by the incredible shrinkage of European bank balance sheets, but as the chart below shows, foreign euro-denominated bond issuance has dwarfed the borrowing of the domestic non-financial private sector for years:

We’ve previously noted the eagerness of American firms to borrow in euros — which, counterintuitively, has encouraged European banks to increase their borrowing in dollars. (Unlike the offshore dollar bonds issued by many emerging market companies, Americans and Europeans don’t seem to be borrowing to finance unhedged cash holdings in higher-yielding foreign currency.) [..] we have at least two significant examples of central bank stimulus, ostensibly meant to encourage borrowing and capital expenditure by domestic businesses, instead encouraging foreign firms to borrow from foreign investors using local currency. No wonder people are so hungry for alternatives to the existing monetary transmission mechanism.

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Even the Economist wakes up to the perversity of UK housing policies.

Britain Has One Booming Market That Could Do With A Crash (Economist)

As house prices rise globally, in Britain they are soaring. In the past 20 years they have increased by more than in any other country in the G7; by some measures British property is now the most expensive in the world, save in Monaco. It is particularly dear in the south-east, where about one-quarter of the population lives. According to Rightmove, a property website, at today’s rate of appreciation the average London property will cost £1m ($1.5m) by 2020. The booming market weighs heavily on the rest of the economy. People priced out of the capital take jobs in less productive places or waste time on marathon commutes. Young Britons have piled on mortgage debt—those born in 1981 have one-half more of it than those born in 1961 did at the same age—making them vulnerable to rises in interest rates, which are coming. Some will retire before they pay it off.

Who is to blame? One oft-cited culprit is rich foreign buyers, who are said to see London property as a tax-efficient investment, or even a way to launder ill-gotten gains. Having bought plum properties, they often leave them empty. Transparency International (TI), a pressure group, identified 36,342 London properties held by offshore companies. Polls by YouGov show that the most popular explanation for high prices is “rich people from overseas buying top-end London property”. The argument does not stand up. For one, the number of vacant houses in England has fallen, from 711,000 in 2004 to 610,000 in 2014. And foreign ownership of houses is rare beyond a tiny corner of the capital. TI says that in Westminster one-tenth of all property is owned by firms in tax havens. But outside the centre things look different; the rate is just 1.3% in posh Islington, for instance, and beyond London it is even lower.

Demand from within Britain exerts a much bigger effect. In the past 20 years the population has grown by 11%, twice the average in the European Union. As in other countries, people are marrying later and divorcing more readily than they did in previous decades, meaning that one in ten Britons now lives alone, boosting the demand for homes. Despite stagnant incomes, buyers have more bite in the housing market. The Bank of England’s base rate of interest has been 0.5% since 2009; in real terms, rates have been below their historical peacetime average since 2004 and in nominal terms they are at their lowest ever. Demand has been stoked by “Help to Buy”, a mortgage-subsidy scheme launched in 2013.

Britons have thus taken on masses of cheap debt. In the 1970s it took the average mortgage-holder eight years to pay off his loan, estimates Neal Hudson of Savills, an estate agent. These days it will take 20 years. Small wonder: the average loan-to-income ratio has jumped from 1.8 in 1981 to 3.2 in 2014. And many are not just buying houses for their own use. Outstanding “buy-to-let” mortgages for landlords are now worth £190 billion, more than 20 times their value at the turn of the century. The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit, a former public body, found that 7% of a total increase in house prices of 150% between 1996 and 2007 was accounted for by increased lending to landlords.

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“On 23 July 1973, the EPA accused it of installing defeat devices in cars it wanted to sell in the 1974 model year.”

Forty Years Of Greenwashing – The Well-Travelled Road Taken By VW (Bloomberg)

Almost as soon as governments began testing vehicle emissions, carmakers found ways to cheat. In the 1970s, some vehicles were found to be rigged with “defeat devices” that turned off the emission systems when the air-conditioning was on. Others had sensors that activated pollution controls only at the temperature regulators used during the tests. “The concept of a defeat device has always been there, because there s such an incentive for the manufacturers to cheat on the emissions tests, said Clarence Ditlow at Washington s Center for Auto Safety. Volkswagen “took it to another level of sophisticated deception we’ve never seen before”.

The scandal now engulfing VW, which has admitted to fitting cars with software designed to give false readings in emissions tests, is unique both for its size and digital complexity. But it’s not the first emissions-cheating case, even for the German giant itself. On 23 July 1973, the EPA accused it of installing defeat devices in cars it wanted to sell in the 1974 model year. VW then admitted it had sold 1973 models with the devices, which consisted of temperature-sensing switches that cut out pollution controls at low temperatures. The EPA suspected that VW had sold 25,000 vehicles with the cheating technology. The US took the company to court for violating the Clean Air Act. It settled with a $120,000 fine without admitting any wrongdoing.

In 1995 General Motors agreed to pay $45m after being accused of circumventing pollution controls on 470,000 Cadillac luxury sedans. The cars 4.9-litre V8 engines were tuned to turn off pollution controls when the air-conditioning ran, the EPA said at the time. The government alleged that the engines, installed for the model years from 1991 to 1995, ended up releasing 100,000 tons of excess carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. GM disagreed, saying it was paying the fine as part of a conciliatory approach inn order to dispose of enforcement cases more quickly. Besides agreeing to cover $25m in recall costs, GM paid an $11m fine and agreed to spend $9m in corporate community service . To help the cause of cleaner air, the Detroit-based carmaker agreed to buy back older, more polluting cars and provide school districts with buses powered by batteries or natural gas.

The EPA says VW has admitted to using defeat devices in the 482,000 cars now under investigation in the US. The agency says the devices sensed when they were being tested on a dynamometer. In these circumstances, the car uses an emission control system that traps nitrogen oxide, a key ingredient in smog. When the car senses it is on the road, it cuts back on the emission control releasing from 10 to 40 times the permissible amount of nitrogen oxide. “It takes a very savvy program to fool the computer and detect the sophisticated test cycle, said Stanley Young, at the California Air Resources Board, which is also investigating VW. “This was clearly well thought-out and took a lot of programming. Engines these days are very complicated”, he added. “So there is a sophisticated and powerful computer inside all cars, and that was where this algorithm, this second routine, was embedded”.

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“Our members don’t know if they’re coming or going,” said Luke Bosdet of the AA.”

Volkswagen Scandal: The Cost Of A Car Crash Like No Other (Telegraph)

VW represents 12.9pc of the global passenger car market, but its reach is even broader than that. The firm also generated 13pc of earnings per share for the entire DAX index of large-value German stocks, Deutsche Bank figures suggest, and its reputation is tied up with that of Germany’s manufacturing clout. The company also buys 12pc of the world’s semi-conductors, according to UBS, and even if the producers of this technology are not implicated in the scandal their sales could suffer as the market recalibrates. After Toyota’s massive recall in 2009-10, suppliers to Hyundai benefited. “As such, we think a switch to US/Japanese vendors needs to be monitored going forwards,” said the UBS analysts. The worst-case scenario for VW includes an $18bn fine in the United States – or $37,500 for each of the half a million diesel cars it has sold there – along with class actions lawsuits, a criminal investigation and further penalties around the world.

Previous fines in the US for such transgressions have been much smaller. Caterpillar and others were in 1998 handed an $83.4m penalty for defeat devices on industrial diesel engines. General Motors recently agreed to pay $935m for covering up an ignition problem linked to 169 deaths. VW has felt some of this pain already. A sum greater than the possible fine has already been wiped from its market value, angering some shareholders, including Nordea Bank, which said it will retain its 2.2bn kronor stock and debt holdings but has banned its fund managers from buying any more VW stock. Other manufacturers including BMW, Daimler, Jaguar Land Rover and Renault have said they do not use defeat devices, although the listed carmakers have also been caught up in the sell-off of car stocks around the world in the past week. For drivers of diesel cars of all marques, this news is particularly shocking.

“The central point is that from a driver’s point of view, they were told they had to reduce their CO2 and many of them have gone to diesel as a result and as a way to deal with high fuel costs. Now they’ve been told they’ve done the wrong thing. Our members don’t know if they’re coming or going,” said Luke Bosdet of the AA. More than half of European motorists use diesel – compared to less than 3pc in the United States – following tax breaks and other cost benefits designed to reduce Europe’s emissions of carbon dioxide under the Kyoto Protocol agreed in the 1990s. “The move against VW is going to act as a catalyst to speed up the fall in diesel market share in Europe and halt it in the US,” Bernstein told clients. “In fact, regulators will now be much more conservative about what they permit and much tougher real-world tests may prove either too difficult or too expensive for diesel to meet.”

The UK, already struggling to meet European targets on air quality, might now accelerate measures to reduce the use of diesel cars. London, Birmingham and Leeds are forecast to exceed EU air pollution limits until 2030, and local governments are examining levies and even bans on certain disel vehicles to ensure that pollution readings fall. A study by King’s College London published last year found that nearly 9,500 people a year were dying prematurely in London every year as a result of air pollutants including nitrogen oxide. Given the health implications of the scandal, the cost – both financially and in terms of reputation – remains incalculable, but what is clear is that it will be a long time before Volkswagen is able to fulfil its long-held desire to expand further into the lucrative US market, or anywhere else for that matter.

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Revolving doors.

VW Scandal Exposes Cozy Ties Between Industry And Berlin (Reuters)

There are good reasons why Berlin stands by its car companies. The industry employs over 750,000 people in Germany, has been a poster child for German engineering prowess and dwarfs other sectors of the economy. In 2014, the big three carmakers, Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, hauled in revenues of €413 billion, far bigger than the German federal budget, which stood at just under €300 billion. This has bred a cozy relationship between the industry and politicians. Top auto lobbyist Wissmann is a veteran of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who, despite their cabinet clash 20 years ago, uses the familiar “Du” with the chancellor.

Daimler’s chief lobbyist is Eckart von Klaeden, a senior CDU politician who worked under Merkel in the chancellery and whose abrupt switch to the Mercedes manufacturer in 2013 prompted an investigation by Berlin prosecutors and new rules on “cooling off” periods. His predecessor at Daimler was Martin Jaeger, now spokesman for Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. The ties cross party lines. Thomas Steg, a former spokesman under Social Democrat (SPD) chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, heads up government affairs at Volkswagen. Even former foreign minister Joschka Fischer of the environmentalist Greens has done ads for BMW in recent years. The political connections are particularly strong at Volkswagen, whose arcane shareholder structure is laid out in the “Volkswagen Law” which dates back to 1960 and has faced repeated legal challenges at the European level.

The law effectively shields the company from takeovers and bestows hung influence on Lower Saxony, a state in central Germany that owns a 20 percent stake in VW and has been a stepping stone to national power for countless politicians. Premiers of Lower Saxony who have sat on VW’s board include Schroeder, nicknamed the “Auto Chancellor”, current Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and former president Christian Wulff. When Schroeder launched his far-reaching reform of the German labor market in 2003, he turned to Peter Hartz, the human resources chief of VW, to steer it. Years later, Hartz was at the center of another major scandal to hit VW, a tale of corruption involving lavish company trips for employee representatives, including visits to prostitutes. He received a suspended sentence and a fine.

The VW scandal has also exposed the toothlessness of Germany’s regulatory regime, opposition parties and industry experts say. The main oversight agency for the car sector, the Federal Motor Transport Authority, falls under the Transport Ministry in Berlin, raising questions about its independence and readiness to police the sector. “The worst of all is that the automobile industry was left to do these tests themselves, there was no control,” Oliver Kirscher, a lawmaker for the Greens said in a debate in the German parliament on Friday. Industry group the VDA rejects the idea that controls were lax and says it has been pressing for reform of the test regime for emissions “intensively and constructively” for years.

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What a surprise.

UK Government Tried To Block Tougher EU Car-Emissions Tests (Guardian)

The British government sought to block EU legislation that would force member states to carry out surprise checks on the emissions of cars, raising fresh questions over ministers’ attitude to air pollution and their conduct in the Volkswagen scandal. A document obtained by the Observer reveals that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been advising British MEPs to vote against legislation that would oblige countries to carry out “routine and non-routine” inspections on vehicles’ “real-world” emissions. The revelation will add to the growing concerns over the government’s commitment to tackling air pollution. It follows the admission last week that the Department for Transport had ignored significant evidence of the fraudulent practices being employed by the car industry when this was sent to it a year ago.

Around 29,000 deaths in the UK are hastened by inhalation of minute particles of oily, unburnt soot emitted by all petrol engines, and an estimated 23,500 by the invisible but toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) discharged by diesel engines. Volkswagen has been engulfed in a scandal after it emerged that some of its diesel cars had been fitted with devices that could detect when they were being tested, concealing the real level of pollutants being emitted by them when on the road. Now it has emerged that Defra has also been lobbying against part of a proposed EU directive that would force member states to establish national testing regimes to catch out those who tried to conceal the damage they were doing. The proposed legislation – the national emissions ceiling directive – is designed to “ensure that policies and measures are effective in delivering emission reductions under real operating conditions”, according to the European commission.

A Defra briefing document circulated among European parliamentarians in July, and seen by the Observer, says that, while the British government agrees in principle to the need for tough checks to enforce emission limits of NO2, MEPs should vote against the imposition on member states of “market surveillance and environmental inspections” as the legislation is unclear and legally unnecessary. The British government has also been seeking to water down legislation in the directive which seeks to limit the emission of a series of pollutants other than NO2, including methane and ammonia. Officials claim that some of the measures proposed would unnecessarily increase the “administrative burden for industry and government”, according to the briefing paper. The European parliament is due to vote on the proposals at the end of October.

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I see a lawsuit in your future.

Volkswagen Scandal Costs Qatar’s Sovereign Wealth Fund $5 Billion (Telegraph)

The collapse in Volkswagen’s share price as a result of the widening emissions scandal has cost Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund more than £3.3bn, according to calculations seen by The Telegraph. Qatar Holdings – a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) – is the third largest shareholder in the German car manufacturer, with a 17pc stake, after Porsche and the German state of Lower Saxony. As a result of VW’s 34pc share price fall last week, more than €20bn (£14.7bn) has been wiped off the value of the car company. In the last week alone Qatar Holdings has seen almost £2.8bn wiped off the value of its portfolio mainly due to losses in Volkswagen following the revelations that it had allegedly cheated US emissions tests for its diesel cars.

Qatar Holdings now holds a mixture of ordinary shares and preference shares in VW. Preference shares offer a higher return but have no voting rights in company management. Combined they have lost £3.3bn in Volkswagen so far this year, according to calculations. The Qataris initially bought into the company through a complex deal in 2009 with Porsche, which involved the carmaker transferring most of its VW share options to Qatar Holdings. The problems at VW are not Qatar’s only problems – the fund is sitting on paper losses approaching £7bn as a result of its variety of investments.

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“If any vehicle failed to meet emissions targets, a team of engineers from Volkswagen headquarters or luxury brand Audi’s base in Ingolstadt was flown in..”

Volkswagen Managed Faked US Test Results From Germany (Bloomberg)

Volkswagen executives in Germany controlled the key aspects of emissions tests whose results the carmaker now admits were faked, according to three people familiar with the company’s U.S. operations. The criteria, outcomes and engineering of cars that missed emissions targets were overseen by managers at Volkswagen’s base in Wolfsburg, according to the people who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Their accounts show the chain of command and those involved in the deception stretched to Volkswagen headquarters. While the company has asked German prosecutors to open an investigation, the executive committee of the supervisory board has backed former CEO Martin Winterkorn’s statement that he knew nothing about the malfeasance.

Emissions testers at the company’s site in Westlake Village, California, evaluated all the cars involved according to criteria sent from Germany and translated into English, and all results were sent back to Germany before being passed to the EPA, one of the people said. If any vehicle failed to meet emissions targets, a team of engineers from Volkswagen headquarters or luxury brand Audi’s base in Ingolstadt was flown in, the person said. After the group had tinkered with the vehicle for about a week, the car would then pass the test. VW had no engineers in the U.S. able to create the mechanism that cheated on the test or who could fix emissions problems, according to two other people. Audi development chief Ulrich Hackenberg and Porsche development head Wolfgang Hatz are among those who will leave the company in the wake of Winterkorn’s resignation two days ago. The two previously ran units at the heart of the affair – Hackenberg, a Winterkorn confidant, was responsible for VW brand development from 2007 to 2013, while Hatz ran the group’s motor development from 2007 to 2011.

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Politicians have too much to lose, or so they think.

While EU Governments Demur, Refugees Find A Welcome On The Web (Guardian)

With one million people expected to seek asylum in Europe this year and governments arguing over how to cope, thousands of volunteers are taking to the Internet to offer refugees shelter free of charge. In France, the Netherlands and other European countries, private individuals are proposing free lodging via Web-based platforms inspired by Airbnb, the home rental venture that has flourished with the rise of smartphones. Some fear private endeavors may complicate government efforts to direct the refugee flow, or simply prove too short-lived as the strains of sharing a home take their toll. “It’s laudable symbolically but it’s not the model favored by the state,” said an official at the interior ministry of France, where arrivals are despatched to accommodation centers or state-paid hotel rooms.

But refugees, many of whom relied heavily on mobile phone maps and communications during their journey to Europe from Syria, Iraq or Africa, will find plenty of offers online. On one Irish website, more than 1,000 people “pledged a bed” for refugees within three hours. In Germany, “Refugees Welcome” offers a matching service to put people with lodgings in touch with refugees. One French venture, Singa, has registered 10,000 offers of free lodgings since it started up in June and now has 10 volunteers working full time to match refugees with hosts. “We’re overwhelmed. We had no idea there would be such an enthusiastic response,” said founder Nathanael Molle. So far, Singa has put 47 refugees in homes around Paris.

Civil servant Clara de Bort, 40, used to rent a spare room to paying tourists. Now she shares her home for free with Aicha, a woman who fled ethnic conflict and forced marriage in Chad and who has been through 14 different state-funded accommodation centers and hotels since she arrived two years ago. Aicha, 25, recently equipped with a book to help her learn French, hopes for a convivial living arrangement and eventual stability. “What I need now is to speak French properly, get a job and find a HLM (long-term social housing),” said the Arabic-speaker. She asked not to have her family name published. Dutch-based Refugee Hero, whose founders describe it as a “mobile-friendly website with similar functionality to Airbnb”, says 50 refugees have made contact since it started a few days ago.

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This could go completely off the rails. Madris threatens with the army. The army itself does too.

Catalonia Vote Opens With Separatists Tipped To Win (AFP)

Polls opened Sunday in a regional election in Catalonia seen as the most important in Spain’s recent history, with separatists tipped to win. Polling stations opened under cloudy skies in Barcelona, where red- and yellow-striped Catalan flags hung from buildings, AFP reporters saw. More than 5.5 million of Catalonia’s 7.5 million inhabitants were eligible to vote at nearly 2,700 polling stations across the region. A pro-independence alliance led by regional president Artur Mas has vowed to proceed towards a declaration of independence by 2017 if it secures a majority in the regional parliament, even if it manages to do so without a majority of votes. Spain’s central government brands secession illegal and has called for the country to stay united as the eurozone’s fourth-biggest economy recovers from recession.

Madrid says Catalonia would drop out of the European Union and eurozone if it broke away from Spain. “Catalonia decides its future in Europe,” ran Sunday’s front-page headline in the centre-right national daily El Mundo. “The future of Catalonia is at stake,” said Catalan daily La Vanguardia. Centre-left national El Pais declared the ballots “historic” on its front page. Nationalists in Catalonia, which has its own language and cultural traditions, complain that they get less back from Madrid than they pay in taxes. Separatist demands have surged in the recent years of economic crisis. Mas wants Catalonia to follow the example of Scotland and Quebec in Canada by holding a vote on independence – though in both those cases most voters rejected a breakaway. Since Madrid has blocked Mas’s efforts to hold a straight referendum, he has framed Sunday’s election for the regional parliament as an indirect vote on secession.

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The end of the conveyor belt?!

Scientists Are Worried About A Cold ‘Blob’ In The North Atlantic Ocean (WaPo)

It is, for our home planet, an extremely warm year. Indeed, last week we learned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the first eight months of 2015 were the hottest such stretch yet recorded for the globe’s surface land and oceans, based on temperature records going back to 1880. It’s just the latest evidence that we are, indeed, on course for a record-breaking warm year in 2015. Yet, if you look closely, there’s one part of the planet that is bucking the trend. In the North Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland and Iceland, the ocean surface has seen very cold temperatures for the past eight months: What’s up with that? First of all, it’s no error.

I checked with Deke Arndt, chief of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, who confirmed what the map above suggests — some parts of the North Atlantic Ocean saw record cold in the past eight months. As Arndt put it by email: “For the grid boxes in darkest blue, they had their coldest Jan-Aug on record, and in order for a grid box to be “eligible” for that map, it needs at least 80 years of Jan-Aug values on the record.” Those grid boxes encompass the region from “20W to 40W and from 55N to 60N,” Arndt explained. And there’s not much reason to doubt the measurements — the region is very well sampled. “It’s pretty densely populated by buoys, and at least parts of that region are really active shipping lanes, so there’s quite a lot of observations in the area,” Arndt said.

“So I think it’s pretty robust analysis.” Thus, the record seems to be a meaningful one — and there is a much larger surrounding area that, although not absolutely the coldest it has been on record, is also unusually cold. At this point, it’s time to ask what the heck is going on here. And while there may not yet be any scientific consensus on the matter, at least some scientists suspect that the cooling seen in these maps is no fluke but, rather, part of a process that has been long feared by climate researchers — the slowing of Atlantic Ocean circulation. In March, several top climate scientists, including Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Michael Mann of Penn State, published a paper in Nature Climate Change suggesting that the gigantic ocean current known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is weakening.

It’s sometimes confused with the “Gulf Stream,” but, in fact, that’s just a southern branch of it. The current is driven by differences in the temperature and salinity of ocean water (for a more thorough explanation, see here). In essence, cold salty water in the North Atlantic sinks because it is more dense, and warmer water from farther south moves northward to take its place, carrying tremendous heat energy along the way. But a large injection of cold, fresh water can, theoretically, mess it all up — preventing the sinking that would otherwise occur and, thus, weakening the circulation.

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Our destiny.

Humans Have Caused Untold Damage To The Planet (Gaia Vince)

We live in epoch-making times. Literally. The changes humans have made in recent decades have been on such a scale that they have altered our world beyond anything it has experienced in its 4.5bn-year history. Our planet is crossing a geological boundary and we humans are the change-makers. Millions of years from now, a stripe in the accumulated layers of rock on Earth’s surface will reveal our human fingerprint, just as we can see evidence of dinosaurs in rocks of the Jurassic, or the explosion of life that marks the Cambrian or the glacial retreat scars of the Holocene. Our influence will show up as a mass of species going extinct, changes in the chemistry of the oceans, the loss of forests and the growth of deserts, the retreat of glaciers and the sinking of islands.

Geologists of the far future will note in the fossil records the extinctions of wild animals and the abundance of domesticates, the chemical fingerprint of materials such as aluminium drinks cans and plastic carrier bags, and the footprint of projects such as the Syncrude mine in the Athabasca oil sands of north-west Canada, which moves 30bn tonnes of earth each year – twice the amount of sediment that flows down all the rivers in the world in that time. Geologists are calling this new epoch the Anthropocene, recognising that humanity has become a geophysical force on a par with the earth-shattering asteroids and planet-cloaking volcanoes that defined past eras. Earth is now a human planet. We decide whether a forest stands or is razed, whether pandas survive or become extinct, how and where a river flows, even the temperature of the atmosphere.

We are now the most numerous big animal on Earth, and the next in line are the animals we have created through breeding to feed and serve us. 40% of the planet’s land surface is used to grow our food. Three-quarters of the world’s fresh water is controlled by us. It is an extraordinary time. In the tropics, coral reefs are disappearing, ice is melting at the poles, and the oceans are emptying of fish because of us. Entire islands are vanishing under rising seas, just as naked new land appears in the Arctic. During my career as a science journalist, it has become my business to take special interest in reports on how the biosphere was changing. There was no shortage of research.

Study after study came my way, describing changes in butterfly migrations, glacier melt rate, ocean nitrogen levels, wildfire frequency … all united by a common theme: the impact of humans. Scientists I spoke to described the many and varied ways humans were affecting the natural world. Climate scientists tracking global warming told of deadly droughts, heatwaves and metres of sea-level rise. Conservation biologists were describing biodiversity collapse to the extent of a mass extinction; marine biologists were talking of “islands of plastic garbage” in the oceans; space scientists were holding conferences on what to do about all the junk up there threatening our satellites; ecologists were describing deforestation of the last intact rainforests; agro-economists were warning about deserts spreading across the last fertile soils.

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May 152015
 
 May 15, 2015  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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G. G. Bain Police machine gun, New York 1918

Every Speculative Bubble Rests On Some Kind Of A Fairy Tale (G&M)
Banks Seek Waivers Ahead Of Forex Guilty Pleas (Reuters)
How China’s Banks Hide Trillions In Credit Risk – Full Frontal (Zero Hedge)
Max Keiser: ‘Britain Is The Epicentre Of Financial Fraud’ (Newsweek)
EU Prevents Greece From Implementing Reforms: Varoufakis (EFE)
Varoufakis Refuses Any Bailout That Would Send Greece In ‘Death Spiral’ (Guar.)
Greece To Privatize Port, Airports In Concession To Creditors (Bloomberg)
Varoufakis Says Debt Swap Fills Draghi’s ‘Soul With Fear’ (Reuters)
Greek Government Defends Itself Over Central Bank Tensions (Reuters)
Syriza Highlights ‘Red Lines’ In Negotiations, Calls On People (Kathimerini)
Syriza and Greece: Dancing with Austerity (Village.ie)
Greece Signs EBRD Deal Worth €500 Million A Year (Reuters)
You Can’t Read The TPP, But These Huge Corporations Can (Intercept)
Secrets, Betrayals and Merkel’s Risky Silence in the NSA Scandal (Spiegel)
Flash Crash Patsy Complained Over 100 Times About Real Market Manipulators (ZH)
Monsanto’s Syngenta Gambit Hinges On Sale Of Seed Businesses (Reuters)
A Third Of Europe’s Birds Is Under Threat (Guardian)
Your Attention Span Is Now Less Than That Of A Goldfish (OC)

“Every speculative bubble rests on some kind of a fairy tale.. And now it is the faith in the central-planning capabilities of global central bankers. When the loss of confidence in the Fed, the ECB etc. begins, the stampede out of stocks and bonds will start.”

Every Speculative Bubble Rests On Some Kind Of A Fairy Tale (G&M)

Government bonds regarded as among the safest in the developed world have become subject to violent price swings typically associated with more speculative assets. Yields on German 10-year bunds, the benchmark for the euro zone, shot up more than 20% at one point Tuesday, in a selloff described by Goldman Sachs analysts as “vicious.” As recently as last month, the same debt reached a record-low yield of 0.05%. At the other end of the confidence scale, Greek bonds strengthened slightly, reflecting renewed optimism that the embattled leftist government could cobble together a deal with euro-zone finance ministers that would get the bailout cash flowing again into its nearly empty coffers. But deal or no deal, the chances of a Greek default remain high. And despite the efforts of European authorities to contain any fallout and safeguard the euro, a spillover to other battered members of the euro club can’t be ruled out.

“There are a lot of rotten assets out there, and ultimately you have to have a reckoning,” warned Alex Jurshevski at Recovery Partners, who advises governments and corporations on debt restructuring. Although most analysts doubt this would trigger a seismic global financial shock, the risk of contagion is more than trivial, as underscored by the current sovereign-bond rout – with a loss in value of about $450-billion across global markets in just three weeks. “There’s a lot of risk in any of the markets that have been subjected to artificial downward pressure on interest rates,” Mr. Jurshevski said. Worries about sovereign debt have been around since European nations first latched on to this instrument as a relatively low-cost way of meeting the high costs of waging wars and undertaking other expensive projects.

Within four years after the newly minted Bank of England issued such bonds in 1694, government debt ballooned to £16-million from £1.25-million. By the middle of last year, government-related debt around the world totalled $58-trillion (U.S.), a 76% increase since the end of 2007, according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute aptly titled “Debt and (not much) deleveraging.” The ratio of all debt to GDP jumped 17 %age points to a whopping 286%. Since the Great Recession, debt has been expanding faster than the economy in every developed nation on the planet, led by a huge expansion of public-sector borrowing.

“Every speculative bubble rests on some kind of a fairy tale, a story the bubble participants believe in and use as rationalization to buy extremely overvalued stocks or bonds or real estate,” Mr. Vogt argued. “And now it is the faith in the central-planning capabilities of global central bankers. When the loss of confidence in the Fed, the ECB etc. begins, the stampede out of stocks and bonds will start. I think we are very close to this pivotal moment in financial history.”

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Commit to crimes and demand BAU in the same breath.

Banks Seek Waivers Ahead Of Forex Guilty Pleas (Reuters)

Banks want assurances from U.S. regulators that they will not be barred from certain businesses before agreeing to plead guilty to criminal charges over the manipulation of foreign exchange rates, causing a delay in multibillion-dollar settlements, people familiar with the matter said. In an unprecedented move, the parent companies or main banking units of JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, RBS, Barclays and UBS are likely to plead guilty to rigging foreign exchange rates to benefit their transactions. The banks are also scrambling to line up exemptions or waivers from the Securities and Exchanges Commission and other federal regulators because criminal pleas trigger consequences such as removing the ability to manage retirement plans or raise capital easily.

In the past, waivers have generally been granted without a hitch. However, the practice has become controversial in the past year, particularly at the SEC, where Democratic Commissioner Kara Stein has criticized the agency for rubber stamping requests and being too soft on repeat offenders. Negotiating some of the waivers among the SEC’s five commissioners could prove challenging because many of these banks have broken criminal or civil laws in the past that triggered the need for waivers. Many of the banks want an SEC waiver to continue operating as “well-known seasoned issuers” so they can sell stocks and debt efficiently, people familiar with the matter said.

Such a designation allows public companies to bypass SEC approval and raise capital “off the shelf” – a process that is speedier and more convenient. Several of the people said another waiver being sought by some banks is the ability to retain a safe harbor that shields them from class action lawsuits when they make forward-looking statements. The banks involved are also seeking waivers that will allow them to continue operating in the mutual fund business, sources said. At least some of the waivers at issue in the forex probe will need to be put to a vote by the SEC’s five commissioners. No date has been set yet..

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“..loan loss reserves aren’t even sufficient to cover NPLs + special mention loans, let alone defaults on a portion of the 38% of credit risk carried off the books..”

How China’s Banks Hide Trillions In Credit Risk – Full Frontal (Zero Hedge)

There are several takeaways here. First – and most obvious – is the fact that accurately assessing credit risk in Chna is extraordinarily difficult. What we do know, is that between forced roll-overs, the practice of carrying channel loans as “investments” and “receivables”, inconsistent application of loan classification norms, and the dramatic increase in off balance sheet financing, the ‘real’ ratio of non-performing loans to total loans is likey far higher than the headline number, meaning that as economic growth grinds consistently lower, the country’s lenders could find themselves in deep trouble especially considering the fact that loan loss reserves aren’t even sufficient to cover NPLs + special mention loans, let alone defaults on a portion of the 38% of credit risk carried off the books.

The irony though is that while China clearly has a debt problem (282% of GDP), it’s also embarking on a concerted effort to slash policy rates in an effort to drive down real rates and stimulate the flagging economy, meaning the country is caught between the fallout from a shadow banking boom and the need to keep conditions loose because said boom has now gone bust, dragging credit growth down with it. In other words, the country is trying to deleverage and re-leverage at the same time. A picture perfect example of this is the PBoC’s effort to facilitate a multi-trillion yuan refi program for China’s heavily-indebted local governments. The idea is to swap existing high yield loans (accumulated via shadow banking conduits as localities sought to skirt borrowing limits) for traditional muni bonds that will carry far lower interest rates.

So while the program is designed to help local governments deleverage by cutting hundreds of billions from debt servicing costs, the CNY1 trillion in new LGB issuance (the pilot program is capped at 1 trillion yuan) represents a 150% increase in supply over 2014. Those bonds will be pledged as collateral to the PBoC for cheap cash which, if the central bank has its way, will be lent out to the real economy. So again, deleveraging and re-leveraging at the same time. This is just one of many ‘rock-hard place’ dynamics confronting the country as it marks a difficult transition from a centrally planned economy based on credit and investment to a consumption-driven model characterized by the liberalization of interest and exchange rates.

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‘If you see me walking the streets of your town, then you’re probably screwed’.

Max Keiser: ‘Britain Is The Epicentre Of Financial Fraud’ (Newsweek)

A general election, Benjamin Disraeli once observed, “inflames the passions of every class of the community. Even the poor,” he added, “begin to hope.” In 2015, Max Keiser argues, the power of global markets has rendered election fever something of an anachronism: “Tony Blair personified the shift away from democracy, towards control by bankers.” In modern politics, the prime minister “is really taking orders from finance”. “What if Miliband had won?” “There’s an impending scheme called TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed EU-US agreement) whereby all complaints – against US companies fracking in Britain, say – would go to a global tribunal, moderated by corporations. They don’t care who the prime minister is. “Why should we?” David Cameron’s role, “is being eroded to the point of insignificance”.

Keiser, 55, is a New York University graduate and former high-achieving Wall Street trader whose mischievous wit and renegade instincts have made him one of the most widely viewed broadcasters on the planet. His flagship show, Keiser Report, is carried by Russian state-funded channel RT; for that alone, some fellow-Americans consider him a traitor. But Keiser connects with a predominantly youthful audience otherwise indifferent to economics. “Rage against kleptocrats is building incrementally,” says Keiser, a tireless scourge of JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers and HSBC. “All over the world, people have had enough.” Untroubled by controversy, Keiser conducted the 2011 interview with Roseanne Barr during which she explained that a fitting reward for “banksters” would be to bring back the guillotine.

He once advised Cameron to “go back to Eton and get some of that back-stall shower pleasure”. When we first met, three years ago, just after Keiser moved to London with co-presenter and wife Stacy Herbert, he told me that the modern voter was worse off than a medieval serf. “Back then,” he said, “at least the process of theft was transparent. The barons whacked you over the head, then took all your money. The mode of larceny has changed, that’s all.” What he calls “the Thatcher-Reagan market model” has, he says, “been consigned to the dustbin. There’s no growth. There’s quantitative easing, which causes deflation. The global economy is collapsing.”

The EU, as Keiser likes to describe it, “poses as an elite club; actually it’s a leper colony where everyone’s comparing who has the most fingers left”. “Could France, say, go bankrupt?” “Absolutely. The forces killing Greece are active in France, Italy and Spain.” The EU, he says, “could be viewed as The Fourth Reich. Germany is a superpower. The Greek crisis is great for them – it keeps the euro low and German exports cheap. When countries like France go broke, EU federalisation will proceed through Berlin.”

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“So far, none of the many planned reforms have been implemented because the partners first wanted a broad and comprehensive agreement..”

EU Prevents Greece From Implementing Reforms: Varoufakis (EFE)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Thursday that its European partners have prevented the Greek government from legislating many necessary reforms, and stressed that he would only sign an agreement that aims at economic sustainability, Efe news agency reported. So far, none of the many planned reforms have been implemented because the partners first wanted a broad and comprehensive agreement, and believed that any legislation would constitute a unilateral act, Varoufakis argued at a conference organised in the Greek capital by The Economist weekly.

The minister said that from the beginning, creditors rejected proposals to negotiate and regulate in parallel, an action that, in his view, would have helped to create confidence between Greece and its partners. Varufakis stressed that Greece was determined to reform everything in the country, noting that if Greece did not reform, it would sink. However, he stressed that he would not sign any agreement inconsistent with macroeconomics or unsustainable, and accepting conditions that cannot be met, such as had been down in the past. The error of the past, he explained, was that every negotiation looked only for what to do to make the next bailout payment instead of seeking solutions to pursue economic recovery.

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Oh boy: “[Draghi] received a rapturous welcome from Christine Lagarde, who introduced him as “maestro” – the nickname once given to Alan Greenspan. “Those who know you understand that you are a man of outstanding insight, fierce determination, and above all, courage.”

Varoufakis Refuses Any Bailout That Would Send Greece In ‘Death Spiral’ (Guar.)

Greece’s embattled finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, stepped up his war of words with eurozone policymakers on Thursday, saying he wished his country still had the drachma, and would not sign up to any bailout plan that would send his country into a “death spiral”. With Greece facing a severe cash crisis as it struggles to secure a rescue deal from its creditors, Varoufakis – who has been officially sidelined from the debt negotiations – told a conference in Athens that he would reject any agreement in which “the numbers do not add up”. Greek GDP figures, published on Wednesday, revealed that the economy has already returned to recession. “I wish we had the drachma, I wish we had never entered this monetary union,” Varoufakis said.

“And I think that deep down all member states with the eurozone would agree with that now. Because it was very badly constructed. But once you are in, you don’t get out without a catastrophe”. He also warned that a mooted proposal for a bond swap, to ease Athens’ cash-crunch, was likely to be rejected, because it struck “fear into the soul” of European Central Bank president Mario Draghi. Despite his comments Greece on Thursday offered a concession to its international lenders by pushing ahead with the sale of its biggest port, Piraeus. Greece has asked three firms to submit bids for a majority stake in the port, a senior privatisation official told Reuters, unblocking a major sale of a public asset as creditors demand economic reforms from Athens.

Draghi, who was in Washington on Thursday to deliver a lecture on monetary policy, pointedly failed to mention the ongoing Greek crisis. He received a rapturous welcome from Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, who introduced him as “maestro” – the nickname once given to Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. “Those who know you understand that you are a man of outstanding insight, fierce determination, and above all, courage. You can call a spade a spade without putting any of your cards on the table,” she said.

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“It’s “definite” that Greece won’t proceed with selling other state assets on a list that had been agreed on by the previous government..”

Greece To Privatize Port, Airports In Concession To Creditors (Bloomberg)

Greece will continue with efforts to privatize the country’s largest port and regional airports as it seeks ways to attract investment for other state assets, Economy Minister George Stathakis said, in a government concession in talks with its creditors. The privatization process that is already underway for the Piraeus Port Authority, operator of Greece’s largest harbor, and for 14 regional airports will continue, Stathakis said today in an interview in Tbilisi, Georgia. “We’re trying to revise some elements of these privatizations in order to improve them and I think we’ll get a sensible agreement for both.” A sale of the Piraeus Port would be a reversal on the part of Greece’s Syriza party-led government, which had earlier pledged to block such moves.

As part of ongoing negotiations to unlock aid to Europe’s most-indebted nation, Greek’s European creditors have asked for more specific policy proposals in areas including labor market deregulation, a pension-system overhaul, sales tax reform and privatization of state-held assets. Still, Stathakis said the government doesn’t plan to sell other assets at the moment.The Piraeus Port sale “is part of the bailout negotiations,” and the fact that the government “agrees to privatize the port is a compromise to creditors,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told reporters in Athens Thursday. A venture led by Fraport won the right in November 2014 to use, operate and manage the 14 regional airports after it offered €1.2 billion for 40 years and promised to pay an annual, guaranteed leasing fee of €22.9 million.

Fraport also pledged to make €330 million in investments over the next four years. Greece is talking to Fraport and a decision should be reached “very soon.” It’s “definite” that Greece won’t proceed with selling other state assets on a list that had been agreed on by the previous government such as water companies, the post office or Public Power Corp, Stathakis said. “We’re trying to work on a different model than privatizing to attract capital and investment such as for the country’s railways and other ports” and Greece is looking at “alternative options to 100% privatization.” The sale of land at Hellenikon, site of Athens’s old airport that is Europe’s largest unused tract of urban real estate, “is an issue under discussion,” Stathakis said. A venture led-by Lamda Development last year agreed to buy the property for €915 million while also committing to spend €1.2 billion on infrastructure at the site.

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“..such a swap of our own new bonds with these bonds … would feed Mr. Weidmann with excuses to create problems with the ECB’s QE.”

Varoufakis Says Debt Swap Fills Draghi’s ‘Soul With Fear’ (Reuters)

Repayment of what Greece owes to the ECB should be pushed into the future, but it is not an option because it fills ECB chief Mario Draghi’s “soul with fear”, Greece’s finance minister said on Thursday. Yanis Varoufakis said Draghi, president of the ECB, cannot risk irritating Germany with such a debt swap because of Berlin’s objection to his bond-buying program. Varoufakis first raised the idea of swapping Greek debt for growth-linked or perpetual bonds when his leftist government came to power earlier this year, But Athens has since dropped the proposal after it got a cool reception from eurozone partners.

The outspoken minister, who has been sidelined in talks with EU and IMF lenders, brought it up again on Thursday, saying €27 billion of bonds owed to the ECB after €6.7 billion worth are repaid in July and August should be pushed back. “What must be done (is that) these €27 billion of bonds that are still held by the ECB should be taken from there and sent overnight to the distant future,” he told parliament. “How could this be done? Through a swap. The idea of a swap between the Greek government and the ECB fills Mr. Draghi’s soul with fear. Because you know that Mr. Draghi is in a big struggle against the Bundesbank, which is fighting against QE. Mr. Weidmann in particular is opposing it.”

Varoufakis was referring to the ECB’s quantitative easing (QE) or bond-buying plan and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann’s unabashed criticism of it. Varoufakis said the bond-buying plan is “everything for Mr. Draghi” but that “allowing such a swap of our own new bonds with these bonds … would feed Mr. Weidmann with excuses to create problems with the ECB’s QE.” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government stormed to power in January promising it would end austerity and demand a debt writeoff from lenders to make the country’s debt manageable. It has spoken little about debt relief in recent months as it tries to focus on reaching a deal with lenders on a cash-for-reforms deal, which has proved difficult amid a deadlock on pension and labor issues.

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I have the impression Syriza is being very polite on this issue.

Greek Government Defends Itself Over Central Bank Tensions (Reuters)

Greece’s leftist government on Thursday sought to deflect criticism over tensions with the Bank of Greece, saying it respected the bank’s independence but was free to castigate the governor for actions he took as finance minister. Governor Yannis Stournaras’s relations with the government have come under scrutiny in recent days after a newspaper accused him of undermining Greece’s talks with creditors and government officials openly criticized him on other issues. “The Greek government hasn’t opened any issue with Mr. Stournaras. If issues have surfaced, it wasn’t due to the government’s initiative,” government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis told reporters. “The issue of the central bank’s independence, which is fully respected by the Greek government, is above all an issue for the central bank to defend.” [..]

Stournaras was appointed central bank governor last June. Before that he was finance minister in the conservative-led government, where he spearheaded Greece’s return to the bond markets in April 2014 after a four-year exile. But he also drew criticism from anti-bailout groups for implementing harsh spending cuts demanded by the EU and IMF. Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis this week was quoted as saying Stournaras’s role in winding down ATEbank – a small lender that gave loans to farmers – in 2012 was a “scandal.” “The criticism by Mr. Lafazanis towards Mr. Stournaras refers to the period that he was finance minister,” Sakellaridis said. “Obviously, today he is a central banker but there can be and should be political criticism over the period that he was a finance minister.”

Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis this week also questioned why Stournaras – who suggested Greece tap an IMF holding account to repay €750 million to the fund this week and avoid default – had not mentioned the funds earlier. The latest tensions flared when the Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper reported over the weekend the Bank of Greece in an e-mail to journalists leaked economic data including deposit outflows during Tsipras’s first 100 days in power. Hours later, officials at Tsipras’s office called on the central bank to deny the report, saying the report, if true, “constitutes a blow to the central bank’s independence.” The Bank of Greece has denied that either Stournaras’s office or the bank’s press office sent such an e-mail.

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“Now is the time for the people to join the battle..”

Syriza Highlights ‘Red Lines’ In Negotiations, Calls On People (Kathimerini)

Even as negotiations with Greece’s creditors enter a critical phase, the political secretariat of SYRIZA has indicated that the party will not back down from its so-called red lines, reaffirming pre-election promises to protect pensioners and workers. In a statement issued late on Thursday after a stormy session of senior party cadres, the secretariat said, “the red lines of the government are also red lines of the Greek people, expressing the interests of workers, the self-employed, pensioners, farmers and young people.” Underlining the need for the debt-racked country to return to a path of growth and social justice, the statement referred to “the persistence of creditors on enforcing the memorandum program of the Samaras government” whom it accused of exercising pressure through politics and by restricting liquidity.

The fixation on austerity was “paving the way for the far-right,” it added. The secretariat stressed that the demands of creditors “cannot be accepted, adding that SYRIZA MPs and officials would continue efforts to inform the Greek people and to invite them to join “a mobilization toward the victory of democracy and dignity.” “Now is the time for the people to join the battle,” it said. The statement followed a feverish session during which Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis is said to have come under fire by many SYRIZA officials for making concessions to creditors. Senior SYRIZA MP and Parliament Speaker Zoe Constantopoulou was said to be among those who claimed the government has ceded too much ground from its pre-election pledges.

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Excellent longish essay. “We come with arguments, they reject them, then they say, ‘you’re wasting time’. What does that mean? It’s just saying, agree with us. You’re wasting time between getting elected and doing what we say”.

Syriza and Greece: Dancing with Austerity (Village.ie)

Dimitrios Tzanakopoulos is Alexis Tsipras’ Chief of Staff. A serious Marxist theorist with an utterly coherent anti-capitalist worldview, he is at the very heart of the new government, directing the affairs of the Prime Minister’s office. He remains “optimistic that there will be a deal” with the partners. “Europe needs to ask if austerity is the future. If not, there must be a solution to these social catastrophes. SYRIZA has promised to find one and this is what we will do”. In many ways the government’s line in negotiations mirrors his Althusserian politics. It views instability as the most important threat for the ruling class and capital accumulation. The election of SYRIZA brought such instability, inserting an unpredictable and politically divergent player into decision-making in Europe.

So, the logic goes, the number one goal of European elites will be to overthrow the government. Not by violent means but by a soft coup, which they are currently attempting to execute by combination of economic strangulation and political humiliation. This instability thesis is a profound challenge to the dominant narrative of capitalism today, which sees it as a system based on risk and reward. But actually it has a long history as a critique, with even moderate figures like Keynes noting instability’s effects on the “animal spirits” of the economy. The prevalence of the word “confidence” in contemporary discourse evidences the degree to which economic and financial players value security. Therefore if they cannot overthrow SYRIZA, and if no capitulation is forthcoming, the team around Alexis Tsipras believe that European elites and the IMF will compromise.

This is because the third option, the last on the table, brings about an explosion of instability: the threat of Grexit from the eurozone. This opinion is shared by Loudovikos Kotsonopoulos, party intellectual and senior advisor in the Economy Ministry. “My prediction is that there will be a compromise. European elites fear a geopolitical realignment. It is very difficult for the European Union to suffer a defeat of such magnitude as a departure of one of its members. Until now the only direction was countries coming into the EU. If this ceased to be the only option it would have significant ramifications. I’m not sure that they can manage such a defeat, and neither are they. But they know as well that we are in trouble if we exit the euro. So it is tense. What are the sides going to give? And how can this be presented as a victory for both?”.

Dimitris Ioannou, writer for party publication Enthemata, is more sceptical about a compromise. “We come with arguments, they reject them, then they say, ‘you’re wasting time’. What does that mean? It’s just saying, agree with us. You’re wasting time between getting elected and doing what we say”.

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Peanuts, but nice peanuts.

Greece Signs EBRD Deal Worth €500 Million A Year (Reuters)

Greece signed an investment deal worth up to €500 million a year with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on Thursday, gaining a rare financial endorsement from the region for its attempts to remain solvent.The EBRD and Greece formally signed the five-year agreement at the development bank’s annual meeting in Georgia. It was approved by the bank’s shareholders in March.“It could help the country’s economic recovery significantly,” Greece’s Economy Ministry said in a statement.The ministry added it should boost the funding options of Greek businesses, especially the small and medium-sized ones that have been hit the hardest by the country’s economic crisis.

The EBRD’s decision to start lending in Greece comes after years of debate at the bank about whether a member of the world’s most advanced monetary union fits with the bank’s role of helping countries make the transition to market economies.The head of the bank, Suma Chakrabarti, has said he hopes to have the first Greek projects in place in coming months but admits Athens leaving the euro would complicate things.New EBRD forecasts on Thursday predicted Greece’s economy would stagnate this year and the bank’s staff warned if it left the euro, the situation would be far worse both for itself and the countries around it.

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Congress can’t even read it unhindered. But GE, Apple, Nike and Walmart can.

You Can’t Read The TPP, But These Huge Corporations Can (Intercept)

[..] who can read the text of the TPP? Not you, it’s classified. Even members of Congress can only look at it one section at a time in the Capitol’s basement, without most of their staff or the ability to keep notes. But there’s an exception: if you’re part of one of 28 U.S. government-appointed trade advisory committees providing advice to the U.S. negotiators. The committees with the most access to what’s going on in the negotiations are 16 “Industry Trade Advisory Committees,” whose members include AT&T, General Electric, Apple, Dow Chemical, Nike, Walmart and the American Petroleum Institute. The TPP is an international trade agreement currently being negotiated between the US and 11 other countries, including Japan, Australia, Chile, Singapore and Malaysia.

Among other things, it could could strengthen copyright laws, limit efforts at food safety reform and allow domestic policies to be contested by corporations in an international court. Its impact is expected to be sweeping, yet venues for public input hardly exist. Industry Trade Advisory Committees, or ITACs, are cousins to Federal Advisory Committees like the National Petroleum Council that I wrote about recently. However, ITACs are functionally exempt from many of the transparency rules that generally govern Federal Advisory Committees, and their communications are largely shielded from FOIA in order to protect “third party commercial and/or financial information from disclosure.” And even if for some reason they wanted to tell someone what they’re doing, members must sign non-disclosure agreements so they can’t “compromise” government negotiating goals. Finally, they also escape requirements to balance their industry members with representatives from public interest groups.

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Angela needs to be careful.

Secrets, Betrayals and Merkel’s Risky Silence in the NSA Scandal (Spiegel)

The world of politics abounds with tales of secrets and betrayals, of collective silence and the indiscretion of individuals. Tales of trust and mistrust. The shadowy world of espionage is no different — its secrets and betrayals legendary. But Sigmar Gabriel’s treachery stands out nonetheless. The German vice chancellor recently announced that Angela Merkel had twice assured him that the NSA and Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), had never spied on German companies. In fact, in 2008 the Americans began reneging on agreements and going too far – much too far. They spied on aviation giant Airbus, among others. In August 2013, Angela Merkel had her then Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla announce that the NSA was doing “nothing that damaged German interests.”

In fact, the Chancellery knew better. But Merkel refrained from taking action, opting instead to navigate her way through the situation by saying nothing. Nearly two years ago, after the information leaked by Edward Snowden first surfaced, she said she didn’t really know what it was all about. The message she’s been conveying ever since is that it’s all terribly technical and not all that important, really. The chancellor’s strategy had the desired effect. The public saw her as a victim. The general election in 2013 should have been dominated by the NSA spying scandal, but Merkel emerged unscathed, triumphant. Newspapers like the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung naively wrote that secret services just happen to spy — and, after all, we need intelligence, so what is one to do?

But the intelligence services and the US had overreached. Merkel could have told them exactly how far was too far. She could have backed their activities and at the same time made sure they didn’t get out of hand. In other words, she could have taken charge. When Merkel assumed office in 2005, she took an oath vowing to protect the German people from harm. It’s her job to protect German companies and the public when US secret services act as though Germany is not a sovereign nation. But people in power often fail to notice when the very quality that brought about their rise to the top turns into a weakness, a danger and even their ultimate undoing.

Merkel tends to lead by stealth. She doesn’t care for rhetoric and confrontation and she avoids quick decisions. These might not be bad qualities, but they don’t suit a head of government. Many of her predecessors loved nothing more than decisiveness and debate. It was why they sought power in the first place. But Merkel seems to worry that she will make enemies with plain speaking, so she chooses to remain close-lipped in crises such as this one.

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“As for Sarao’s complaints going anywhere else: fear not, they will – just as soon as the market crashes.”

Flash Crash Patsy Complained Over 100 Times About Real Market Manipulators (ZH)

Several weeks ago, when the CFTC and DOJ’s laughable attempt to scapegoat the May 2010 flash crash on the actions of a live-in-his-parents-basement UK trader, we explained “Why Sarao Is The Flash Crash Patsy: He Threatened To Expose The “Mass Manipulation Of High Frequency Nerds.” It now turns out that he not only threatened to expose the real market manipulators, but he acctually did it. More than 100 times.

Navinder Singh Sarao, the trader arrested last month on U.S. charges he manipulated futures prices and contributed to the May 2010 “flash crash,” leveled claims of similar misconduct against other traders before his arrest. Mr. Sarao complained to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he traded futures contracts, more than 100 times over the past several years about traders he believed were engaging in manipulative conduct, people familiar with the matter said. His last complaint came just weeks before he was arrested on Justice Department charges, one of the people said.

Previously released documents have shown Mr. Sarao urging exchanges to target high-frequency trading practices he viewed as manipulative, but the frequency and extent of his complaints weren’t known. His complaints underscore the extent to which Mr. Sarao viewed his own trading as a legitimate counter to other high-speed traders. Mr. Sarao appears to have filed an unusually large volume of complaints. “That would be considered a high number,” said Ray Cahnman, a longtime futures trader and chairman of the proprietary trading firm Transmarket. “Most people would break down before they get to 100 because they realize the complaints aren’t going anywhere,” he said.

Sarao’s complaints got him somewhere: straight to prison. And now we know why. As for Sarao’s complaints going anywhere else: fear not, they will – just as soon as the market crashes. Because not only will the next market crash be epic, it will be blamed entirely on the same HFTs that for the past 7 years worked in tandem with the central banks – the source of all capital misallocation decisions – in the creation of the biggest asset bubble of all time.

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You may know Syngenta under any one of these names: Imperial Chemical Industries, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Geigy, Sandoz, Ciba.

Monsanto’s Syngenta Gambit Hinges On Sale Of Seed Businesses (Reuters)

U.S. seeds giant Monsanto is trying to line up buyers for assets worth up to $8 billion to appease competition authorities before making a fresh takeover approach for Swiss Syngenta, possibly within three weeks, industry sources said. Monsanto is expected to tap German chemicals group BASF, an existing joint venture partner, as it seeks a buyer for the U.S. seeds business of Syngenta, which can’t be part of its proposed takeover, sources said. The St. Louis-based group is after Syngenta for its industry-leading crop chemicals, driven by the idea that seeds and pesticides will be better sold and developed together.

Monsanto produces glyphosate, or Roundup, the world’s most widely used broad-spectrum herbicide, and has engineered a range of proprietary crops that resist it. Syngenta closely integrated its seeds and crop chemicals operations in 2011 and Monsanto is expected to unravel some of the main strategic decisions that shaped the group over the last four years – selling off seeds and merging Syngenta’s crop chemicals with Monsanto’s seeds. Global antitrust authorities are expected to demand remedies to reshape the balance of power in the crop protection industry before any combination is allowed.

Syngenta’s management will not want to be seen backing a deal that is then shot down by antitrust watchdogs, two industry sources said. Monsanto commands about a quarter of the $40 billion global seeds market while Syngenta’s own seeds business has a global market share of 8%. The Swiss group’s seeds business could be worth between $6 billion and more than $8 billion, according to analysts. It will have to be sold because authorities are expected to block Monsanto from entrenching its dominance of the U.S. soy and corn seeds market.

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“Of 804 natural habitats assessed by the European Environment Agency for the report, 77% were deemed to be in a poor condition..”

A Third Of Europe’s Birds Under Threat (Guardian)

One in three European birds is endangered, according to a leaked version of the most comprehensive study of Europe’s wildlife and natural habitats ever produced. The EU State of Nature report, seen by the Guardian, paints a picture of dramatic decline among once common avian species, and also warns that ecosystems are struggling to cope with the impact of human activity. Turtle dove populations have plunged by 90% or more since 1980 and could soon be placed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) ‘red list’ of threatened species. Numbers of skylark and ortolan bunting, a songbird illegally hunted and eaten whole in France, have fallen by around half.

Of 804 natural habitats assessed by the European Environment Agency for the report, 77% were deemed to be in a poor condition, with almost a third having deteriorated since a study in 2006. Just 4% were found to be improving. The wide-ranging technical survey made use of data compiled by 27 EU countries between 2007-2012, and will be released by the European Commission later this year. “The report clearly shows that Europe’s wildlife and natural habitats are in crisis,” said Andreas Baumueller, the head of WWF Europe’s natural resources unit. “Our habitats are slowly dying and our natural capital – reflected by species such as birds and butterflies – is being put under enormous pressure from unsustainable agriculture and land use policies.”

The study finds that intensive farming and changes to natural terrain pose the greatest threat to Europe’s flora and fauna, even though biodiversity loss costs the EU an estimated €450bn per year, or 3% of GDP. Agriculture accounts for two-thirds of EU land use. The destruction or conversion of grasslands, heathlands and scrub to grow more crops – often using pesticides – has decimated many bird populations. Monoculture farming, changes in grazing regimes, and the removal of natural vegetation and landscape have added to the pressure. The report also lists changes to waterways, fragmentation of habitats and human activities such as hunting, trapping, poisoning and poaching as specific threats to birdlife.

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Ha!

Your Attention Span Is Now Less Than That Of A Goldfish (OC)

People now have shorter attention spans than goldfish — and our always-on portable devices may be to blame, a new study suggests. The study from Microsoft draws on surveys of more than 2,000 Canadians who played games online in order to determine the impact that pocket-sized devices and the increased availability of digital media and information are having on everyday life. Researchers also did in-lab monitoring, using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor brain activity of 112 people. Among the findings of the 54-page study was that, thanks to our desire to always be connected, people can multi-task like never before. However, our attention spans have fallen from an average of 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds today.

A goldfish is believed to have a nine-second attention span on average, the study says. “Canadians with more digital lifestyles (those who consume more media, are multi-screeners, social media enthusiasts, or earlier adopters of technology) struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed,” reads the study. “While digital lifestyles decrease sustained attention overall, it’s only true in the long-term. Early adopters and heavy social media users front load their attention and have more intermittent bursts of high attention. They’re better at identifying what they want/don’t want to engage with and need less to process and commit things to memory.”

Microsoft’s data is supported by similar findings released by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information and the National Library of Medicine in the U.S. Among the most concerning findings of the study is our declining ability to sustain our focus during repetitive activities: 44% of respondents said they had to concentrate really hard to stay focused on tasks, while 37% said they were unable to make the best use of their time, forcing them to work late evenings and or weekends.

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