Apr 182016
 
 April 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


DPC Coaches at Holland House Hotel on Fifth Avenue, NY 1905

Oil Prices Plunge After Doha Output Talks Fail (AFP)
Oil Producers Get Worst Possible Outcome, Destroy Remaining Credibility (R.)
Failure To Reach Oil Output Deal Sparks Selloff Across Emerging Markets (BBG)
Loonie, Aussie Drop After Doha Failure; Yen Near 1 1/2-Year High (BBG)
The Bad Smell Hovering Over The Global Economy (G.)
Untried, Untested, Ready: Remedies for the Global Economy (BBG Ed.)
China’s QoQ and YoY GDP Data Don’t Add Up (BBG)
Is China Ready To Let More State-Owned Enterprises Default? (BBG)
China Makes Plans for 1.8 Million Workers Facing Unemployment (WSJ)
The Trucker’s Nightmare That Could Flatten Europe’s Economy (BBG)
George Osborne: Brexit Would Leave UK ‘Permanently Poorer’ (G.)
Brazilian Congress Votes To Impeach President Dilma Rousseff (G.)
Australia’s Debt Dilemma Raises Downgrade Fears (BBG)
Peter Schiff: ‘Trump’s Right, America Is Broke’ (ZH)
Make America Solvent Again (Jim Grant)
Is Capitalism Entering A New Era? (Kaletsky)
Fears Of ‘The Big One’ As 7 Major Earthquakes Strike Pacific In 96 Hours (E.)

A curious piece of two-bit theater. It failed before it started. Why do it then? The west trying to pit Saudi vs Iran/Russia?

Oil Prices Plunge After Doha Output Talks Fail (AFP)

Oil prices plunged on Monday after the world’s top producers failed to reach an agreement on capping output aimed at easing a global supply glut during a meeting in Doha. Hopes the world’s main producer cartel, OPEC, and other major exporters like Russia would agree to freeze output has helped scrape oil prices off the 13-year lows they touched in February. But crude tanked after top producer Saudi Arabia walked away from the talks, which many hoped would ease a huge surplus in world supplies, because of a boycott by its rival Iran. Oil tumbled in early Asian trade after the collapse of Sunday’s talks, with prices dropping as much as seven% in opening deals.

At around 0100 GMT, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery was down $2.11, or 5.23%, from Friday’s close at $38.25 a barrel. Global benchmark Brent crude for June lost 4.71%, or $2.03, to $41.07. “Despite many of the 18 oil producers believing the meeting in Doha was merely a rubber stamp affair for an oil production freeze, Saudi Arabia managed to throw a spanner in the works,” said Angus Nicholson at IG Markets. “With Saudi Arabia fighting proxy wars with Iran in Yemen and Syria/Iraq, it is understandable that they had little inclination to freeze their own production and make way for newly sanctions-free Iran to increase their market share.”

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It’s impossible for a reporter to see that no output freeze was ever in the works, simply because no producer can afford a freeze.

Oil Producers Get Worst Possible Outcome, Destroy Remaining Credibility (R.)

It was the worst possible outcome for oil producers at their weekend meeting in Doha, with their failure to reach even a weak agreement showing very publicly their divisions and inability to act in their own interests. Expectations for the meeting had been modest at best, with sources in the producer group predicting an agreement to freeze output. But even this meagre hope was dashed by Saudi Arabia’s insistence Iran join any deal, something the newly sanctions-free Islamic republic wouldn’t countenance. From a producer point of view, an agreement including Iran that shifted market perceptions on the amount of oil supply available would have been the best outcome.

The acceptable result would have been an agreement that froze production at already near record levels, with an accord that Iran would join in once it had reached its pre-sanctions level of exports. What was delivered instead was confirmation that the Saudis are prepared to take more pain in order not to deliver their regional rivals Iran any windfall gains from higher prices and exports. The meeting in Qatar on Sunday effectively pushed a reset button on the crude markets, putting the situation back to where the market was before hopes of producer discipline were first raised. What happens now is that the market will have to continue along its previous path of re-balancing, without any assistance from the OPEC or erstwhile ally Russia. Brent crude fell nearly 7% in early trade in Asia on Monday, before partly recovering to be down around 4%.

The potential is for crude to fall further in coming sessions as long positions built up in the expectation of some sort of producer agreement are liquidated in the face of the reality of no deal. It’s likely that recriminations will follow for some time among the oil producers, with the Russians and Venezuelans said to be annoyed at what they see as the Saudi scuppering of a deal that had almost been locked in. This will make it harder for any future agreement, with the OPEC meeting on June 2 the next chance for the grouping to reach some sort of agreement. For the time being, OPEC’s credibility is shot, and won’t be restored by even a future agreement as it will take actual, verifiable action to convince a now sceptical market. However, as the events in Doha showed, the Saudis are unlikely to agree to anything in the absence of Iranian participation, and that is also equally unlikely.

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Naturally. Sell-off is waning already, by the way. But the trend is clear.

Failure To Reach Oil Output Deal Sparks Selloff Across Emerging Markets (BBG)

The failure by the world’s biggest oil producers to agree on an output freeze spurred a selloff across emerging markets, with stocks halting a seven-day rally as Brent crude plunged as much as 7%. The ringgit led declines in developing-nation currencies as the disappointment stemming from the weekend meeting in Doha disrupted a recovery in commodity prices, putting pressure on Malaysian finances as a net oil exporter. Hopes an agreement would be reached had pushed Brent above $44 a barrel for the first time since December and spurred gains across asset classes in recent days. It’s now headed back toward $41 as the discussions to address a global oil glut stalled after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations wouldn’t commit to any deal unless all OPEC members joined, including Iran.

“We have seen a high correlation between oil, commodity prices and emerging assets this year and we have seen a strong run up, so the latest development on the failure to agree on an oil output freeze should spark profit-taking among investors,” said Miles Remington, head of equities at BNP Paribas Securities Indonesia. Energy-related companies fell the most among the 10 industry groups of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, which dropped 0.7% and retreated from last week’s highest level since November. While that was the biggest decline since April 5, the energy component slid 1.4% and industrial stocks 1%.

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Japan can’t keep this up much longer.

Loonie, Aussie Drop After Doha Failure; Yen Near 1 1/2-Year High (BBG)

The Canadian and Australian dollars dropped as crude tumbled after oil-producing nations failed to reach an accord to freeze output. The yen, used by investors as a haven, rose toward a 17-month high. The currencies of Australia, Canada, Malaysia and Norway all retreated at least 0.7% after negotiations in Doha ended without an agreement from OPEC and other oil producers to freeze supplies. Foreign-exchange traders sought the safety of Japan’s currency as the diplomatic failure threatens to send crude back toward the more than 13-year lows reached in February. World leaders at the end of last week signaled opposition to any efforts from Japan to directly halt the yen’s 11% climb this year.

“Lack of agreement from Doha has hit commodity currencies lower,” said Robert Rennie at Westpac Banking in Sydney. “The prospects of another near-term round of talks appear limited ahead of the June OPEC meeting.” The Aussie dropped 0.8% to 76.65 U.S. cents as of 7:01 a.m. London time, set for the largest decline since April 7. Canada’s loonie tumbled 1.1% to C$1.2962 against the greenback. Crude is the nation’s second-largest export. Malaysia’s ringgit slid 0.8% to 3.9348 per dollar. Oil futures fell as much as 6.8%, the biggest intraday drop since Feb. 1. “The oil price will reset lower and could even retest $30 over the next three months,”said James Purcell at UBS’s wealth-management business in Hong Kong.

“Short term, that will dampen enthusiasm for risk assets. However, markets are being slightly myopic. Economic data have improved in both China and the U.S. of late.” The lack of agreement at Doha highlights the deep divisions between OPEC members, and importantly, within Saudi Arabia, Westpac’s Rennie said. The Aussie should hold support from about 75.75 cents to 76 cents at least through the next day or so, he said. The yen jumped 0.7% to 107.96 per dollar, and touched 107.77. It reached 107.63 on April 11, the strongest since October 2014. Hedge funds and other large speculators pushed wagers on yen strength to a record last week as Japanese authorities appeared reluctant to intervene to reverse the strengthening currency.

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Price discovery is the economy’s biggest enemy.

The Bad Smell Hovering Over The Global Economy (G.)

All is calm. All is still. Share prices are going up. Oil prices are rising. China has stabilised. The eurozone is over the worst. After a panicky start to 2016, investors have decided that things aren’t so bad after all. Put your ear to the ground though, and it is possible to hear the blades whirring. Far away, preparations are being made for helicopter drops of money onto the global economy. With due honour to one of Humphrey Bogart’s many great lines from Casablanca: “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon.” But isn’t it true that action by Beijing has boosted activity in China, helping to push oil prices back above $40 a barrel? Has Mario Draghi not announced a fresh stimulus package from the European Central Bank designed to remove the threat of deflation? Are hundreds of thousands of jobs not being created in the US each month?

In each case, the answer is yes. China’s economy appears to have bottomed out. Fears of a $20 oil price have receded. Prices have stopped falling in the eurozone. Employment growth has continued in the US. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth in the global economy of just over 3% this year – nothing spectacular, but not a disaster either. Don’t be fooled. China’s growth is the result of a surge in investment and the strongest credit growth in almost two years. There has been a return to a model that burdened the country with excess manufacturing capacity, a property bubble and a rising number of non-performing loans. The economy has been stabilised, but at a cost. The upward trend in oil prices also looks brittle. The fundamentals of the market – supply continues to exceed demand – have not changed.

Then there’s the US. Here there are two problems – one glaringly apparent, the other lurking in the shadows. The overt weakness is that real incomes continue to be squeezed, despite the fall in unemployment. Americans are finding that wages are barely keeping pace with prices, and that the amount left over for discretionary spending is being eaten into by higher rents and medical bills. For a while, consumer spending was kept going because rock-bottom interest rates allowed auto dealers to offer tempting terms to those of limited means wanting to buy a new car or truck. In an echo of the subprime real estate crisis, vehicle sales are now falling. The hidden problem has been highlighted by Andrew Lapthorne of the French bank Société Générale. Companies have exploited the Federal Reserve’s low interest-rate regime to load up on debt they don’t actually need.

“The proceeds of this debt raising are then largely reinvested back into the equity market via M&A or share buybacks in an attempt to boost share prices in the absence of actual demand,” Lapthorne says. “The effect on US non-financial balance sheets is now starting to look devastating.” He adds that the trigger for a US corporate debt crisis would be falling share prices, something that might easily be caused by the Fed increasing interest rates.

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BBG senior editor David Shipley displays the general fallacy: all that’s there are desperate attempts to go back to something that once was, only in a more centralized fashion. But there’s no going back.

Untried, Untested, Ready: Remedies for the Global Economy (BBG Ed.)

The deeper the slump, economists used to say, the stronger the recovery. They don’t say that anymore. The effects of the crash of 2008 still reverberate, with the latest forecasts for global growth even more dismal than the last. The persistently stagnant world economy is more than just a rebuke to economic theory, of course; it exacts a human toll. And while politicians and central bankers – or economists, for that matter – can’t be faulted for their creativity, their remedies might have more impact if they were bolder and better-coordinated. By ordinary standards, to be sure, governments haven’t been timid. Without fiscal stimulus and aggressive monetary easing in the U.S. and other countries, things would look even worse. And yet, worldwide output is predicted to rise only 3.2% this year, falling still further below the pre-crash trend.

Simply doubling down on current strategies is unlikely to work. Large-scale bond-buying, or so-called quantitative easing, has run into diminishing returns. Negative interest rates, where they’ve been tried, haven’t revived lending, and central banks are unable or unwilling to cut further. What about new fiscal stimulus? Where possible, that would be good – but it’s hardest to do in the very countries that need it most, because that’s where public debt is already dangerously high. True, as the IMF’s new fiscal report says, almost all countries could become more growth-friendly by combining measures to curb public spending in the longer term (for instance, raising the retirement age) with steps to increase demand in the short term (cutting payroll taxes, raising employment subsidies and building infrastructure).

Getting fiscal policy right country by country would surely help – yet probably wouldn’t be enough: No single country can adequately deal with a global shortfall of demand. A finance ministry for the world isn’t happening any time soon. Still, it’s a pity that governments aren’t trying harder to coordinate their fiscal policies more intelligently, or indeed at all. The global slump persists partly because of international spillovers. Better coordination would take these into account: Countries that could safely deploy fiscal stimulus would give some weight to global as well as national conditions, and fiscal policy would be formed interactively. Even within the EU, where you’d expect economic coordination to be the norm, and where the single currency makes it essential, there’s no sign of it.

At the global level, in forums such as the IMF, you might expect the U.S. to take the lead in any such effort. So it should – but it will need to mend its shattered policy-making machinery first. If Washington can’t come to a decision on its own on taxes or spending, the question of coordination doesn’t arise. The last resort, if the slump goes on and governments can’t coordinate better, might be to combine monetary and fiscal policy in a hybrid known (unfortunately) as helicopter money. Governments would cut taxes and/or spend more, but meet the cost by printing money rather than by borrowing. In one variant, central banks might simply send out checks to taxpayers. That’s a startling idea, no doubt – but so was quantitative easing not long ago.

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Quarter-on-quarter annualized growth rate is 4.5%..

China’s QoQ and YoY GDP Data Don’t Add Up (BBG)

China’s growth rates for quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year GDP for the past year don’t match. That, combined with confirmation that 1Q output was underpinned by an unsustainable resurgence in real estate, tarnishes the newly acquired shine on the country’s economic prospects. The initial reaction to the 1Q GDP data, published Friday, was a sigh of relief. Growth at 6.7% year on year was in line with expectations and comfortably inside the government’s 6.5-7% target range. If anyone noticed that the normal quarter-on- quarter data was missing from the National Bureau of Statistics release, few thought anything of it. Then, on Saturday, the quarter-on-quarter data was published, and some of the relief turned to consternation.

Quarter-on-quarter growth in 1Q was just 1.1% – an annualized growth rate of 4.5%, and the lowest print since the data series became available in 2011. Worse, based on the accumulated quarter-on-quarter data over the last year, annual growth in 1Q was just 6.3% – substantially below the NBS’s 6.7% reading for year-on-year growth. Explaining the inconsistency between the two data points is tough to do. Accumulated quarter-on-quarter growth over four quarters should add up to year-on-year growth. In the past, it has. The divergence in the 1Q readings might reflect something as simple as difficulties with seasonal adjustment. Even so, against a backdrop of concerns about data reliability, it can only add to skepticism about China’s true growth rate.

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Xi’s dilemma.

Is China Ready To Let More State-Owned Enterprises Default? (BBG)

China’s state-owned enterprises are likely to suffer more defaults over the next year as the government shows its readiness to shut companies in industries struggling with overcapacity, according to Standard & Poor’s. “In a major policy shift, the central government appears willing to close and liquidate struggling enterprises in the steel, mining, building materials, and shipbuilding industries,” S&P analyst Christopher Lee wrote in a report Monday. “We believe this stance will exacerbate the problems of companies in these cyclical and capital-intensive sectors, which are facing sluggish demand amid slowing investment growth.”

The warning follows S&P’s decision earlier this month to cut China’s sovereign rating outlook to negative from stable because economic rebalancing is likely to proceed more slowly than it had expected. Moody’s Investors Service also downgraded the outlook to negative in March, highlighting surging debt and the government’s ability to enact reforms. The revisions were biased, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said in Washington on Friday. Premier Li Keqiang has pledged to withdraw support from so-called zombie firms that have wasted financial resources and dragged on economic growth, which is at the slowest in a quarter century. China’s central bank has lowered benchmark interest rates six times since 2014, underpinning a jump in debt to 247% of GDP.

China Railway Materials, a state-backed commodities trader, is seeking to reorganize debt and halted trading on 16.8 billion yuan ($2.6 billion) of bonds this month. Baoding Tianwei last year became the first government-backed company to renege on onshore bonds. Sinosteel defaulted on onshore debt in October. Leverage among the largest state-owned enterprises has reached a “critical” level, according to Lee. It is likely to worsen in 2016 as a weak top line is not fully offset by cost cuts and capital expenditure reductions, he wrote in the report.

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1.8 million is a rounding error in China.

China Makes Plans for 1.8 Million Workers Facing Unemployment (WSJ)

China etched in details of plans to help workers laid off from the bloated coal and steel industries, saying assistance would include career counseling, early retirement and help in starting businesses, among other measures. New guidelines released by seven Chinese ministries over the weekend build on previously announced commitments to restructure the coal and steel industries, whose excess production is dragging on the economy, and to take care of an estimated 1.8 million workers who will be displaced. The new measures place priority on finding jobs and cushioning the transition to reduce the unemployment that the authoritarian government sees as a threat to social stability.

“Proper placement of workers is the key to working to resolve excess capacity,” said the document issued by the labor ministry, the top economic planning agency and others. It urged local governments to “take timely measures to resolve conflicts” and to “avoid ignoring the issue.” Unlike a far-reaching restructuring of state industries two decades ago, Beijing is taking a cautious approach this time around, prompting some economists to caution that the protracted pace may make the situation worse. Government data released Friday showed economic growth slowing slightly in the first quarter, buoyed by new loans, debt and investment in real estate and factories—methods that are likely to lengthen the transition to a more consumer-driven society from one driven by investment and manufacturing.

Western-style “restructuring is not on the horizon here,” said ING economist Tim Condon. “Rebalancing, forget that. That’s for another day.” Government plans call for reducing some 10% to 15% of the excess capacity in the steel and coal sectors over the next several years. That is less than half the portion analysts say is needed to bring supply closer in line with demand. And steel and coal are only two of numerous other industries plagued by overcapacity that haven’t been addressed. The large number of ministries that have signed off on the plan dated April 7 but released more than a week later underscore the sensitivity, importance and breadth of resources China is devoting to the unemployment problem.

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Europe goes blindly into the night.

The Trucker’s Nightmare That Could Flatten Europe’s Economy (BBG)

[..] Germany, Austria, France and Sweden, among others, have reintroduced border checkpoints in some places. They are pressured by Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II – about 1 million migrants arrived in Greece and Italy in 2015 – terrorist attacks, and the growth of anti-immigration movements. But the economic cost of dumping Schengen, at a time when growth across the continent is still weak, would be massive. A permanent return to border controls could lop €470 billion of GDP growth from the European economy over the next 10 years, based on a relatively conservative assumption of costs, according to research published by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation. That’s like losing a company almost the size of BMW AG every year for a decade.

The open borders power an economy of more than 400 million people, with 24 million business trips and 57 million cross-border freight transfers happening every year, the European Parliament says. Firms in Germany’s industrial heartland rely on elaborate, just-in-time supply chains that take advantage of lower costs in Hungary and Poland. French supermarket chains are supplied with fresh produce that speeds north from Spain and Portugal. And trans-national commutes have become commonplace since Europeans can easily choose to, say, live in Belgium and work in France. For many Europeans, passport-free travel is part of being, simply, European. For the company hiring driver Unczorg, the security checks increase costs in terms of delays, storage and inventory.

Permanent controls would destroy the business model of German industry, says Rainer Hundsdoerfer, chairman of EBM-Papst. “You get the products you need for assembly here in Germany just in time,” he said by phone. “That’s why the trucks go nonstop. They come here, they unload, they load, and off they go. The cost isn’t the only prime issue” in reinstating border checks. “It’s that we couldn’t even do it.” Nor could anyone else, he adds: “Nothing in German industry, regardless of whether it’s automotives or appliances or ventilators, could exist without the extended workbenches in eastern Europe.”

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This sort of over the top comment could be the biggest gift to the Leave side. Then again, they have Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage as their figureheads. Not going to work.

George Osborne: Brexit Would Leave UK ‘Permanently Poorer’ (G.)

Britain would be “permanently poorer” if voters choose to leave the EU, George Osborne has warned, as a Treasury study claimed the economy would shrink by 6% by 2030, costing every household the equivalent of £4,300 a year. In the starkest warning so far by the government in the referendum campaign, the chancellor describes Brexit as the “most extraordinary self-inflicted wound”. Osborne will embark on one of the government’s most significant moves in the referendum campaign on Monday when he publishes a 200-page Treasury report which sets out the costs and benefits of EU membership. In a Times article the chancellor wrote: “The conclusion is clear for Britain’s economy and for families – leaving the EU would be the most extraordinary self-inflicted wound.”

Osborne warned that the option favoured by Boris Johnson – a deal along the lines of the EU-Canada arrangement – would lead to an economic contraction of 6% by 2030. Supporters of Britain’s EU membership say the EU-Canadian deal would be a disaster for the UK because it excludes financial services, a crucial part of the British economy. The chancellor asked whether this was a “price worth paying” as he said there was no other model for the UK that gave it access to the single market without quotas and tariffs while retaining a say over the rules. Osborne continued: “Put simply : over many years, are you better off or worse off if we leave the EU? The answer is: Britain would be worse off, permanently so, and to the tune of £4,300 a year for every household.”

“It is a well-established doctrine of economic thought that greater openness and interconnectedness boosts the productive potential of our economy. That’s because being an open economy increases competition between our companies, making them more efficient in the face of consumer choice, and creates incentives for business to innovate and to adopt new technologies.”

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One corrupt clan fights the other. Rousseff may well be the cleanest of the bunch.

Brazilian Congress Votes To Impeach President Dilma Rousseff (G.)

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday as a hostile and corruption-tainted congress voted to impeach her. In a rowdy session of the lower house presided over by the president’s nemesis, house speaker Eduardo Cunha, voting ended late on Sunday evening with 367 of the 513 deputies backing impeachment – comfortably beyond the two-thirds majority of 342 needed to advance the case to the upper house. As the outcome became clear, Jose Guimarães, the leader of the Workers party in the lower house, conceded defeat with more than 80 votes still to be counted. “The fight is now in the courts, the street and the senate,” he said. As the crucial 342nd vote was cast for impeachment, the chamber erupted into cheers and Eu sou Brasileiro, the football chant that has become the anthem of the anti-government protest.

Opposition cries of “coup, coup,coup” were drowned out. In the midst of the raucous scenes the most impassive figure in the chamber was the architect of the political demolition, Cunha. Watched by tens of millions at home and in the streets, the vote – which was announced deputy by deputy – saw the conservative opposition comfortably secure its motion to remove the elected head of state less than halfway through her mandate. There were seven abstentions and two absences, and 137 deputies voted against the move. Once the senate agrees to consider the motion, which is likely within weeks, Rousseff will have to step aside for 180 days and the Workers party government, which has ruled Brazil since 2002, will be at least temporarily replaced by a centre-right administration led by vice-president Michel Temer.

On a dark night, arguably the lowest point was when Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right deputy from Rio de Janeiro, dedicated his yes vote to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the Doi-Codi torture unit during the dictatorship era. Rousseff, a former guerrilla, was among those tortured. Bolsonaro’s move prompted left-wing deputy Jean Wyllys to spit towards him. Eduardo Bolsonaro, his son and also a deputy, used his time at the microphone to honour the general responsible for the military coup in 1964. Deputies were called one by one to the microphone by the instigator of the impeachment process, Cunha – an evangelical conservative who is himself accused of perjury and corruption – and one by one they condemned the president. Yes, voted Paulo Maluf, who is on Interpol’s red list for conspiracy. Yes, voted Nilton Capixiba, who is accused of money laundering. “For the love of God, yes!” declared Silas Camara, who is under investigation for forging documents and misappropriating public funds.

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Australia played all on red. Which can you take to mean either China, for exports, or debt, for housing. Realizing that in the ned the house always wins, it’s a suicide strategy.

Australia’s Debt Dilemma Raises Downgrade Fears (BBG)

1986 may seem like a long time ago, but for Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison some of the parallels with his current budget balancing act are getting too close for comfort. Back then, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s pulled their AAA ratings as weak commodity prices wrecked government income and external finances. With resources again in a funk and a widening funding gap, National Australia Bank and JPMorgan said last week Morrison needs to undertake repairs in his May 3 budget to safeguard the country’s top rankings. Moody’s warned Thursday that debt will grow without revenue-boosting measures. “Moody’s are understandably getting impatient,” said Shane Oliver at Sydney-based AMP Capital Investors.

“We’ve seen each successive budget update push out the return to surplus. This time around – like back in the middle of the ’80s when we did suffer downgrades – we again have a twin deficit problem.” Thirty years ago, then-Treasurer Paul Keating warned the country risked becoming a “banana republic” because of its reliance on resources and it took nearly 17 years to regain the two top credit scores. While Morrison’s language hasn’t been as strident, he has said Australia must live within its means and indicated a focus on reduced spending. The government expects Australia’s budget position to improve in coming years despite the environment for commodity prices as it controls expenditure growth, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Thursday in an e-mailed response to questions.

“The Government is committed to responsible budget management which protects our AAA credit rating,” he said. “Our public debt remains low internationally and consistent with our plan, the government is committed to stabilizing and reducing our debt over time.” Australia’s general government net debt is projected to peak at 19.9% in 2017, lower than any Group of Seven economy, according to the IMF’s fiscal monitor. That number has climbed from minus 0.6% in 2009. “One differentiating feature between Australia and other Aaa rated sovereigns is that, while government debt has increased markedly in Australia, it has been more stable for other Aaa sovereigns,” Marie Diron at Moody’s in Singapore wrote. “We expect a further increase in debt and will look at policy measures and the economic environment to review our analysis on this.”

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Japan and Europe are in a much better position than the US? Really?

Peter Schiff: ‘Trump’s Right, America Is Broke’ (ZH)

Euro Pacific Capital’s Peter Schiff sat down with Alex Jones last week to discuss the state of the economy, and where he sees everything going from here. Here are some notable moments from the interview. Regarding how bad things are, and what’s really going on in the economy, Schiff lays out all of the horrible economic data that has come out recently, as well as making sure to take away the crutch everyone uses to explain any and all data misses, which is weather.

“It’s no way to know exactly the timetable, but obviously this economy is already back in recession, and if it’s not in a recession it’s certainly on the cusp of one” “We could be in a negative GDP quarter right now, and I think that if the first quarter is bad the second quarter is going to be worse” “The last couple years we had a rebound in the second quarter because we’ve had very cold winters. Well this winter was the warmest in 120 years so there is nothing to rebound from.”

On the Fed, and current policies, he very bluntly points out that nothing is working, nor has it worked, but of course the central planners will try it all anyway. He also takes a moment to agree with Donald Trump regarding the fact that the U.S. is flat out, undeniably broke.

“The problem for the Fed is how do they launch a new round of stimulus and still pretend the economy is in good shape.” “Negative interest rates are a disaster. It’s not working in Japan, it’s not working in Europe, it’s not going to work here. Just because it doesn’t work doesn’t mean we’re not going to do it, because everything we do doesn’t work and we do it anyway. It shows desperation, that you’ve had all these central bankers lowering interest rates and expecting it to revive the economy. And then when they get down to zero, rather than admit that it didn’t work, because clearly if you go to zero and you still haven’t achieved your objective, maybe it doesn’t work. Instead of admitting that they were wrong, they’re now going negative.”

“The United States, no matter how high inflation gets, we’ll do our best to pretend it doesn’t exist or rationalize it away because we have a lot more debt. America is broke, if you look at Europe and Japan even though there is some debt there, overall those are still creditor nations. The world still owes Europe money, the world still owes Japan money, but America owes more money than all of the other debtor nations combined. Trump is right about that, we are broke, we’re flat broke, and we’re living off this credit bubble and we can’t prick it. Other central banks may be able to raise their rates, but the Fed can’t.”

On how he sees everything unfolding from this point, Peter again points out that the economy is weak and it’s only a matter of time before this entire centrally planned manipulation is exposed for what it is, and becomes a disaster for the Federal Reserve. He likens how investors are behaving today to the dot-com bubble, and the beginning of the global financial crisis.

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“Let each wage-earning citizen hold the whole of his or her untaxed earnings–actually touch them. Then let the government pluck its taxes.” “..in six months we would have either a tax revolution or a startling contraction of the budget!”

Make America Solvent Again (Jim Grant)

[..] The public debt will fall due someday. It will have to be repaid or refinanced. If repaid, where would the money come from? It would come from you, naturally. The debt is ultimately a deferred tax. You can calculate your pro rata obligation on your smartphone. Just visit the Treasury website, which posts the debt to the penny, then the Census Bureau’s website, which reports the up-to-the-minute size of the population. Divide the latter by the former and you have the scary truth: $42,998.12 for every man, woman and child, as I write this. In the short term, the debt would no doubt be refinanced, but at which interest rate? At 4.8%, the rate prevailing as recently as 2007, the government would pay more in interest expense –$654 billion– than it does for national defense.

At a blended rate of 6.7%, the average prevailing in the 1990s, the net federal-interest bill would reach $913 billion, which very nearly equals this year’s projected outlay on Social Security. We always need protection against cockeyed economic experimentation. Once a national consensus on money and debt furnished this protective armor. Money was gold and debt was bad, Americans assumed. Most credentialed economists today will smile at these ancient prejudices. Allow me to suggest that our forebears knew something. Keynes himself would recoil at 0% bank-deposit rates, chronically low economic growth and the towering trillions that we have so generously pledged to one another. (All we have to do now is earn the money to pay them.) How do we escape from our self-constructed fiscal jail? According to the Government Accountability Office, unpaid taxes add up to more than $450 billion a year.

Even so, according to the Tax Foundation, Americans spend 6.1 billion hours and $233.8 billion each tax season complying with a federal tax code that runs to 10 million words. Are we quite sure we want no part of the flat-tax idea? An identical low rate on most incomes. No deductions, no H&R Block. Impractical? So is the debt. So is the spending (and the promises to spend more down the road). We need to stop the squandermania. How? By resuming the principled fight that Vivien Kellems waged against the IRS during the Truman Administration. It enraged Kellems, a doughty Connecticut entrepreneur, that she was forced to withhold federal taxes from her employees’ wages. She called it involuntary servitude, and she itched to make her constitutional argument in court. She never got that chance, but she published her plan for a peaceful revolution.

She asked her readers –I ask mine– to really examine the stub of their paycheck. Observe how much your employer pays you and how much less you take home. Notice the dollars withheld for Medicare, Social Security and so forth. If you are like most of us, you stopped looking long ago. You don’t miss the income that you never get to touch. Picking up where Kellems left off, I propose a slight alteration in payday policy. Let each wage-earning citizen hold the whole of his or her untaxed earnings–actually touch them. Then let the government pluck its taxes. “Such a payroll policy,” wrote Kellems in her memoir, Taxes, Toil and Trouble, “is entirely legal and if it were universally adopted, in six months we would have either a tax revolution or a startling contraction of the budget!” Black ink, sound money and the spirit of Vivien Kellems are the way forward. “Make America solvent again” is my credo and battle cry. You can fit it on a cap.

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“The message of today’s populist revolts is that politicians must tear up their pre-crisis rulebooks and encourage a revolution in economic thinking.” No, it’s that today’s politicians must go.

Is Capitalism Entering A New Era? (Kaletsky)

The defining feature of each successive stage of global capitalism has been a shift in the boundary between economics and politics. In classical nineteenth-century capitalism, politics and economics were idealized as distinct spheres, with interactions between government and business confined to the (necessary) raising of taxes for military adventures and the (harmful) protection of powerful vested interests. In the second, Keynesian version of capitalism, markets were viewed with suspicion, while government intervention was assumed to be correct. In the third phase, dominated by Thatcher and Reagan, these assumptions were reversed: government was usually wrong and the market always right. The fourth phase may come to be defined by the recognition that governments and markets can both be catastrophically wrong.

Acknowledging such thoroughgoing fallibility may seem paralyzing – and the current political mood certainly seems to reflect this. But recognizing fallibility can actually be empowering, because it implies the possibility of improvement in both economics and politics. If the world is too complex and unpredictable for either markets or governments to achieve social objectives, then new systems of checks and balances must be designed so that political decision-making can constrain economic incentives and vice versa. If the world is characterized by ambiguity and unpredictability, then the economic theories of the pre-crisis period – rational expectations, efficient markets, and the neutrality of money – must be revised. Moreover, politicians must reconsider much of the ideological super-structure erected on market fundamentalist assumptions.

This includes not only financial deregulation, but also central bank independence, the separation of monetary and fiscal policies, and the assumption that competitive markets require no government intervention to produce an acceptable income distribution, drive innovation, provide necessary infrastructure, and deliver public goods. It is obvious that new technology and the integration of billions of additional workers into global markets have created opportunities that should mean greater prosperity in the decades ahead than before the crisis. Yet “responsible” politicians everywhere warn citizens about a “new normal” of stagnant growth. No wonder voters are up in arms. People sense that their leaders have powerful economic tools that could boost living standards.

Money could be printed and distributed directly to citizens. Minimum wages could be raised to reduce inequality. Governments could invest much more in infrastructure and innovation at zero cost. Bank regulation could encourage lending, instead of restricting it. But deploying such radical policies would mean rejecting the theories that have dominated economics since the 1980s, together with the institutional arrangements based upon them, such as Europe’s Maastricht Treaty. Few “responsible” people are yet willing to challenge pre-crisis economic orthodoxy. The message of today’s populist revolts is that politicians must tear up their pre-crisis rulebooks and encourage a revolution in economic thinking. If responsible politicians refuse, “some rough beast, its hour come at last” will do it for them.

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Japan, Philippines, Tonga, Vanuatu, Ecuador and more

Fears Of ‘The Big One’ As 7 Major Earthquakes Strike Pacific In 96 Hours (E.)

Japan has been worst hit by the tremors. The latest quake to hit the country yesterday, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, injured more than 1,000 and trapped people in collapsed buildings, only a day after a quake killed nine people in the same region. Rescue crews searched for survivors of a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck Japan’s Kyushu Island, the same region rattled by a 6.2 quake two days earlier. Around 20,000 troops have had to be deployed following the latest 7.3 earthquake at 1.25am local time on Saturday. Roads have also been damaged and big landslides have been reported, there are also 200,000 households without power. The death toll in the latest Kyushu earthquake is 16 people and a previous earthquake that struck the area on Thursday had killed nine people.

There have been other large earthquakes recorded in recent days, including a major one in southern Japan which destroyed buildings and left at least 45 people injured, after Myanmar was rocked on Wednesday. Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 7,262 people have sought shelter at 375 centers since Friday in Kumamoto Prefecture. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to do everything he could to save lives following the disaster. He said: “Nothing is more important than human life and it’s a race against time.” On Thursday, The Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital confirmed 45 were injured, including five with serious injuries after a quake of magnitude 6.2 to 6.5 and a series of strong aftershocks ripped through Kumamoto city.

Several buildings were damaged or destroyed and at least six people are believed to be trapped under homes in Mashiki. Local reports said one woman was rescued in a critical condition Scientists say there has been an above average number of significant earthquakes across south Asia and the Pacific since the start of the year. The increased frequency has sparked fears of a repeat of the Nepal quake of 2015, where 8,000 people died, or even worse. Roger Bilham, seismologist of University of Colorado, said: “The current conditions might trigger at least four earthquakes greater than 8.0 in magnitude. “And if they delay, the strain accumulated during the centuries provokes more catastrophic mega earthquakes.”

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Apr 172016
 
 April 17, 2016  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Underwood&Underwood Chicago framed by Gothic stonework high in the Tribune Tower 1952

South Korea Exports To China Tumble 15.7% In Q1 (Yonhap)
Chinese P2P Shadow Lender’s Woes Expose Its Global Tentacles (WSJ)
Doha Oil Freeze Talks Face Last-Minute Trouble (Reuters)
Iran Central Banker Dismisses Idea Of Oil Output Cut (CNBC)
Greece’s Creditors Weigh Extra Austerity Measures to Break Deadlock (WSJ)
Panama and a New Copernican Revolution (Tett)
Wolfgang Schäuble Warns UK Of Tough Brexit Negotiations (FT)
BlackRock Wields Its Big Stick Like a Wet Noodle (Morgenson)
Foreign Investment Turns New Zealand Stock Market Into A Casino (BBG)
Free Trade Has Won: Adapt Or Die Is The Only Option Left To Us (G.)
Economists Ignore One of Capitalism’s Biggest Problems (Steve Keen)
Saudi Arabia Warns of Economic Fallout if Congress Passes 9/11 Bill (NYT)
Varoufakis Joins French ‘Nuit Debout’ Anti-Labor Reform Protests (AFP)
Pope Flies 12 Syrian Refugees to Vatican in Potent Symbol for EU (BBG)

China’s strongarming all of eastern Asia into submission to its exports. This could get very ugly.

South Korea Exports To China Tumble 15.7% In Q1 (Yonhap)

South Korea suffered a 15.7% fall in exports to China in the first quarter this year, data showed Sunday, deepening its overall trade woes. It marks the biggest drop in seven years in South Korea’s outbound shipments to China, its single biggest market. China accounts for about 25% of South Korea’s total exports. Exports to China stood at $28.5 billion in the year’s first three months, down 15.7% from a year earlier, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA). By item, exports of semiconductors, flat panel displays, petrochemical products, car parts and synthetic resins recorded notable declines. Experts cited a structural problem and suggested a shift in trade strategy. “Over 70% of South Korean goods exported to China are intermediate goods. China’s demand for those is diminishing,” said Park Jin-woo, head of KITA’s strategic market research office.

“In particular, China is making massive investments and expanding facilities in such sectors as semiconductors, while reducing imports.” He stressed the need for targeting the consumer goods market instead. South Korea’s exports to the United States also sank 3.3% on-year to $16.8 billion in the January-March period and imports were down 4.9% to $10.1 billion. Trade with Japan remains in trouble as well. Exports fell 13.1% to $5.5 billion, representing a double-digit drop for the sixth consecutive quarter, and imports dwindled 11.2% to $10.6 billion. In contrast, exports to Vietnam, which has emerged as South Korea’s third-largest exports market, maintained an upward trend. Exports grew 7.6% to $7 billion, although growth rates showed signs of slowing.

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Mom and pop, shadow banking, P2P, Hollywood, Ponzi, it’s all there.

Chinese P2P Shadow Lender’s Woes Expose Its Global Tentacles (WSJ)

A crisis rocking a loosely regulated lending network is underlining the risks of a financing boom that has channeled Chinese household money into Hollywood movies and Wall Street deals Droves of teary-eyed investors from around China have descended on Shanghai Kuailu Investment Group’s swanky offices over the past week to demand their money back after the firm halted redemptions on wealth-management products for the roughly 250,000 clients of the firm and three affiliates. The uncertainty around investments handled by Kuailu could force a re-evaluation of a financing trend that has become widespread, in the latest knock to a financial system damaged by months of stock-market turmoil and a slowing economy.

Kuailu is one of thousands of finance companies in a universe of Chinese “shadow banks” that funnel investors funds to businesses and individuals, often with an assurance of high returns. Moody’s estimated credit extended by nonbank financing companies in China stood at $370 billion in mid-2015. Many Chinese refer to the diverse industry using English: P2P, as in peer-to-peer lending, though that business of matching small lenders and borrowers is just one segment of operations at Kuailu. Kuailu isn’t the first such lender to leave investors hanging amid recent collapses in the sector. What is distinctive is how its problems are exposing an international dimension to the industry, which bankers said is common but little understood.

The Shanghai firm invested in at least 20 feature films, including the coming release of “The Bombing” starring Bruce Willis, according to the company. Client money holds a slice of a $9 billion deal to privatize NYSE-listed Chinese Internet-security company Qihoo 360 Technology, firm marketing documents show. A crisis-management specialist that Kuailu’s founding chairman this month put in charge of sorting through $1.5 billion in liabilities told the WSJ it wasn’t a Ponzi scheme, a fear some investors have raised with the company. “No cash flow. That’s the issue,” said Xu Qi, who estimated assets cover about 90% of what is owed to investors, but that most of it is tied up in investments or projects that can’t be quickly converted to cash.

Companies like Kuailu got their start in peer-to-peer lending, initially a modest effort to supply money to Chinese households and entrepreneurs that was endorsed by top government officials as a way to power new streams of consumer activity. But crowdsourced lending has quickly expanded and now powers financing across China, from wedding loans to land speculation. Like banks, but with less regulation, such lenders compete aggressively for deposits, often via online platforms. Many attract money faster than they can thoroughly research investments, according to analysts.

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B Movie.

Doha Oil Freeze Talks Face Last-Minute Trouble (Reuters)

A meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers on an agreement to freeze output ran into last-minute trouble in Qatar on Sunday due to a new request by OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia, sources told Reuters. Oil ministers were heading into a meeting with the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani – who was instrumental in promoting output stability in recent months – in an attempt to rescue the deal designed to bolster the flagging price of crude. “There is an issue. Experts are discussing how to find an acceptable solution. I’m confident they will come up with a solution,” one of the sources said. According to another source, Saudi Arabia said it wanted all OPEC members to participate in the talks, despite insisting earlier on excluding Iran because Tehran does not want to freeze production.

Saudi Arabia has taken a tough stance on Iran, the only major OPEC producer to have refused to participate in the freeze. Tehran says it needs to regain market share after the lifting of international sanctions against it in January. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg that the kingdom would restrain its output only if all other major producers, including Iran, agreed to freeze production. More than a dozen nations inside and outside OPEC have officially confirmed they would attend the meeting in Doha but the role of Iran has been the key issue overhanging the talks. “We have told some OPEC and non-OPEC members like Russia that they should accept the reality of Iran’s return to the oil market,” Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, was quoted as saying by his ministry’s news agency SHANA on Saturday.

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Iran will go all out.

Iran Central Banker Dismisses Idea Of Oil Output Cut (CNBC)

Iran’s top central banker is adding to growing doubts about an agreement to freeze output at a meeting of oil producers in Doha, Qatar on Sunday. Ahead of a pivotal meeting that may determine the near-term outlook for crude prices, Iran on Saturday announced that it would not participate in the conference. The country, still trying to recover from Western sanctions, is seen trying to preserve market share, and has steadfastly resisted any suggestions that Iran should freeze or curb output in order to prop up prices. On the sidelines of an IMF meeting in Washington, D.C., Valiollah Seif, head of Iran’s central bank told CNBC that asking Iran to freeze output right now is unfair.

“What Iran is doing right now is trying to get back and secure its share of the market,” Seif said, adding that “what Saudi Arabia is asking Iran to do is not a very fair [or] logical request.” On several occasions, the leadership of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly said they would agree to an output freeze as long as Iran did too. Currently, analysts believe the two rivals are unlikely to reach a near-term consensus. Seif told CNBC that Iran, as a member of OPEC, has a quota of 2.4 million barrels per day. Under sanctions for its nuclear program, that quota went unfilled.

At the same other members used their output to fill the gap. “And right now, Iran is trying to just take back the quota it is entitled to get, so we are going to do that and this is the main direction of our economy,” Seif added. He went as far as to say other OPEC members are to blame for the sharp fall in oil prices, which are down more than 37% year to date. “This request is coming from those countries which are responsible for this surplus production in the market, because they have exceeded output beyond their quota, and I think this is not fair,” Seif added. He cautioned that this was his personal viewpoint, and the ultimate decision lies with Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zangeneh.

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Predators experimenting on an entire nation.

Greece’s Creditors Weigh Extra Austerity Measures to Break Deadlock (WSJ)

Greece’s creditors are considering seeking extra austerity measures that would be triggered if Athens misses its fiscal targets, in a bid to bridge differences between Europe and the IMF and break a deadlock threatening to unravel the Greek bailout. Under the proposal, say officials involved in the discussions, Greece would have to sign up to so-called contingency measures of up to about €3 billion, on top of the package of about €5 billion in tax increases and spending cuts Greece and its lenders are already negotiating. The country would only have to implement the extra measures if falls short of targeted budget surpluses for coming years that were set out in last year’s bailout agreement, the officials say.

The idea, which has support from the eurozone’s dominant power Germany, hasn’t yet been agreed upon, and officials on the creditors’ side say it would be politically hard for Greece’s embattled government to swallow. Creditors say the contingency-measures idea could finally overcome the monthslong disagreement between European institutions and the IMF about the outlook for Greece’s budget. That disunity has paralyzed talks about what Greece needs to do to secure a new IMF loan program and unlock rescue funding from Europe. Without billions of euros in fresh bailout funds, Greece faces bankruptcy in July, when large debts fall due. Months of talks without agreement have stoked concern in Europe about another Greek debt drama this summer, reviving fears the country could tumble out of the eurozone.

Athens has argued that imposing even-more austerity measures would go beyond what was agreed in the July 2015 bailout deal, according to people familiar with Athens’s thinking. The deadlock among creditors since last fall stems from Germany’s insistence that Greece get no more money from the eurozone’s bailout fund until the IMF agrees to lend more money too. Since Greece’s bailout odyssey began in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted IMF involvement is essential. But the IMF is unconvinced by the math of the eurozone’s July 2015 bailout plan for Greece. The fund says it can’t resume lending to Greece unless there is a combination of a credible fiscal plan for Greece and debt relief from Europe.

The creditors and Greece agreeing on a fiscal plan would allow for the start of concrete talks on a second thorny issue: debt relief for Greece. Germany is deeply reluctant to offer much debt relief, but tends to agree with the IMF about the weaknesses of Greece’s budget, rather than with the more upbeat assessments of the European Union’s executive arm, the Commission. The Commission believes around €5 billion of austerity measures would be enough for Greece to hit a key target in the bailout plan: a primary budget surplus, meaning before interest payments, of 3.5% of gross domestic product. But the IMF is more pessimistic about Greek growth and finances. It insists about €8 billion of savings are needed to hit the target. The European side’s proposed measures, the IMF thinks, would only get Greece to a primary surplus of 1.5% of GDP.

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Dream on.

Panama and a New Copernican Revolution (Tett)

The name Nicolaus Copernicus is not usually mentioned in the same breath as corporate tax planning or Mossack Fonseca. This month, however, it probably should be. Six centuries ago, the Polish astronomer formulated a model of the universe that put the sun, rather than the earth, at the centre of the solar system. It was a paradigm shift that led to a transformation in the way that we view the universe. I suspect something similar might be happening with global finance. This month, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published some 11.5 million documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Among other things, these gave details about offshore companies the firm created for the elite.

The leak has already provoked a number of political scandals: last week, the Icelandic prime minister resigned after it emerged that he had an offshore company in Panama; and David Cameron, the British prime minister, has faced a steady stream of criticism about an offshore company created by his late father. Meanwhile, revelations about Chinese and Russian billionaires could spark further recriminations. To my mind, it is not just the revelations concerning the rich and famous that make the Panama Papers so fascinating; after all, it is not illegal to create such companies, unless they are used to evade taxes or launder money. Instead, the most interesting issue is whether this leak will create something akin to a Copernican moment.

Think about it. Most of us vaguely know that money flows through offshore centres but the details of this world are very shadowy and opaque. Thus, insofar as any of us have ever tried to visualise the 21st-century “map” of global finance, we assumed that the visible onshore activity was the “sun” that dominated this universe — and offshore finance just a fuzzy little planet, that hovered on the edge. But the Panama Papers have given contours to that fuzzy, offshore world. More specifically, anyone who wants to get a sense of what has been happening in Panama can now go on to the ICIJ website and search those 11.5 million documents with keywords. Try it out at home — it is as simple as a Wikipedia search.

As further details tumble out, it’s not just more names that will be generated but numbers too. Even before the data were readily available, activist groups such as the Tax Justice Network had claimed that some $21tn-$32tn was being stashed in offshore centres, but they had no real way of verifying the figure. With the Panama Papers online, more precise figures could emerge — and with that the ability to compare them with the overall picture of global banking. Could this spark a bigger policy change, such as a crackdown on tax avoidance or money laundering? A cynic might argue not. Remember, powerful vested interests are involved. But if you want to get a sense of what can happen when that mental map flips, think about how attitudes to shadow banking have changed in the past decade.

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EU does not rhyme with democracy, and never will. We’re going to see a lot of crazy claims and numbers pre-referendum.

Wolfgang Schäuble Warns UK Of Tough Brexit Negotiations (FT)

Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has warned British chancellor George Osborne that Berlin would be a tough negotiator if the UK votes to leave the EU. Speaking on the sidelines of the IMF spring meetings on Saturday, Mr Schäuble, one of the strongest forces in European politics, also jested that British football teams in a post-Brexit world should be excluded from the European champions league — something not actually linked to EU membership. His confirmation that Germany would not readily agree to an easy trading relationship with Britain after Brexit undermines the Leave campaign’s argument that the UK would be able to secure preferential EU trade deals without freedom of movement of people or the need for Britain to contribute to the EU budget.

The German finance minister, who is known for his unyielding negotiating positions, told German media that he wanted the UK to remain in the EU and did not want to inflame the British debate. But he added that if Britain were to leave, the process would not be easy. The Treasury confirmed that Mr Schäuble told Mr Osborne just how tough negotiations would be after Brexit during a bilateral meeting this weekend — and made the same joke about European football. In Washington this weekend, finance minsters from around the world have gradually been waking up to the possibility that Britain will seek to leave the EU within a matter of months. The IMF said it would wreak “severe damage” to the British and European economies.

Christine Lagarde, the IMF head, admitted this week that while she hoped Europe would avoid having to deal with Brexit, “the continued relationship with other countries in the EU would be at risk”. The difficulties of post-Brexit negotiations will be amplified by elections in Germany and France in 2017, European finance ministers said privately on the sidelines of the IMF meetings. With populist rightwing Eurosceptic parties threatening mainstream politics in both countries, the domestic incentives would prevent concessions to Britain as politicians would need to show their electorates that leaving the EU comes with a heavy price.

Many European officials and ministers have tried to avoid the subject of how they would negotiate with the UK after Brexit, saying instead that they hoped the British people would vote to remain. But some did speak out. Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism, said that the leave campaign’s ambition to secure full access to the single market without accepting free movement of people and budget contributions “has never happened in Europe”. “I’m pretty certain [the negotiations ] would take quite a while — two years is not enough — so there would be several years of high uncertainty, which would have a negative impact on the UK economy,” Mr Regling said.

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BlackRock and ‘corporate responsibility’.. Yeah, sure.

BlackRock Wields Its Big Stick Like a Wet Noodle (Morgenson)

For several years, Laurence D. Fink, chairman and chief executive of BlackRock, the money management giant, has been on a crusade, exhorting corporations to change their short-term ways. Executives should forgo tricks that reward short-term stock traders, he argues, like share buybacks purchased at high valuations. Instead, corporate managers should focus on creating value for long-term shareholders. It’s an admirable argument that has won Mr. Fink wise-man status on Wall Street and accolades in the press. Hillary Clinton has echoed his ideas on the campaign trail. Certainly, as the head of BlackRock, Mr. Fink wields an outsize stick. With $4.6 trillion in assets and ownership of shares in roughly 15,000 companies, BlackRock is the world’s largest investment manager.

But if Mr. Fink really wants to get the attention of company executives on stock buybacks and other corporate governance issues, why doesn’t BlackRock vote more often against CEO pay packages of companies that play the short-term game? Executive compensation is inextricably linked to the shareholder-unfriendly actions Mr. Fink has identified; voting against pay packages infected by short-termism would help curb the problem. But BlackRock rarely takes such a stance. From July 1, 2014, to last June 30, according to Proxy Insight, a data analysis firm, BlackRock voted to support pay practices at companies 96.2% of the time. On pay issues, anyway, Mr. Fink’s big stick is more like a wet noodle. BlackRock’s “yes” percentage runs far higher than that of other money managers that express concern about corporate responsibility. Domini Funds supported pay practices only 6% of the time during the period, while Calvert Investments did so at 46% of companies.

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As if Auckland real estate wasn’t bad enough yet.

Foreign Investment Turns New Zealand Stock Market Into A Casino (BBG)

As fund manager Mark Williams deliberated from his London office where next to invest, the world’s most remote stock market was just too good to pass up. That’s worrying locals, 11,000 miles away in New Zealand. The S&P/NZX 50 Index is the world’s best-performing developed stock gauge this year, climbing more than 7% to a record after overseas buying of equities jumped 21% in 2015. That’s driven stock valuations in the South-Pacific nation close to a record high, leaving them more expensive than anywhere else in the region. Funds from Henderson Global Investors to Liontrust Asset Management are buying into New Zealand, lured by dividends almost double the global average, rising earnings and expectations the central bank will cut interest rates to maintain growth.

Yet with a market cap of about $75 billion, smaller than the publicly traded value of Nike, opportunities are becoming more limited, says Matthew Goodson, an Auckland-based investor. “We’ve seen significant offshore inflows into larger-cap stocks and that’s driven their valuations to unusually high levels,” Goodson, who helps oversee about $1 billion at Salt Funds Management, said by phone. “It’s swamped the market and it leaves them very vulnerable. We’re somewhat nervous.” Foreigners now own about one third of New Zealand’s market, about three times the overseas ownership of U.S. equities, according to estimates from brokerage JBWere. Mark Williams, a money manager at Liontrust, is optimistic, given he expects the nation’s central bank will cut its key interest rate from an already record-low 2.25%.

While New Zealand accounts for less than 0.1% of the MSCI All Country World Index, Williams said he has 4.5% of his fund invested in the country. He bought Spark New Zealand and Fletcher Building in March, attracted by dividend yields of more than 5%. Spark, a communications provider, is the largest member by weighting of the S&P/NZX 50 gauge. “We find plenty of opportunities in New Zealand,” Williams, who helps manage $6.7 billion running an Asian equity-income fund at Liontrust, said by phone from London. “Interest rates remain relatively high, so that could lead to further cuts.”

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This author gets it spectacularly wrong.

Free Trade Has Won: Adapt Or Die Is The Only Option Left To Us (G.)

The Tata Steel sale has revived the battle between protectionists and free traders, a debate that became particularly acute in the run-up to the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995, which marked the success of “free traders” all around the world. In the protectionist camp, there is now a wide range of political parties from the extreme left to the extreme right: from Syriza to Ukip, from the Front National to Podemos. The common element for all these parties is that they dream of returning to a time when “we were in control”; when we could easily open or close our borders; when the world was manageable and small and we did not have to compromise. That is why they want national rules rather than international ones; and that is also why ultimately most of them despise the EU, because it is based not on direct control but on compromise.

The problem with that notion is that such a cosy world does not exist any more. The new generations expect to talk, travel and trade with each other all over the world, no matter where they are. My children, for example, know more about startup products released for crowdfunding around the world than about what is sold in shops in our high street; they respond to fashions that are created thousands of miles away; and they expect products to reach them almost instantaneously, no matter where they are made. Fluidity, speed, seamlessness and complexity define the 21st century. Fighting those trends makes sense only if you are of such an age and means that you can afford the luxury of whingeing about the present and dreaming nostalgically about the past, but if you are still trying to make your way in life, you have to embrace change and adapt.

Companies are rightly responding as quickly as possible to those new demands and, as a result, we are witnessing a level of international outsourcing that we could never have imagined. “Made in” labels mean little nowadays: companies based in the west often have their production plants elsewhere and use components sourced from third countries; and are financed by investors in yet other countries. If that were not complex enough, when countries impose trade barriers and erect controls, companies simply move overnight. Regulators and governments often do not stand a chance. That does not mean regulators should let modern trade become the Wild West. But it means they need to have the flexibility and tools to react better and faster.

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Banks create money out of nothing. They’re not intermediaries.

Economists Ignore One of Capitalism’s Biggest Problems (Steve Keen)

I like Joe Stiglitz, both professionally and personally. His Globalization and its Discontents was virtually the only work by a Nobel Laureate economist that I cited favourably in my Debunking Economics, because he had the courage to challenge the professional orthodoxy on the “Washington Consensus”. Far more than most in the economics mainstream—like Ken Rogoff for example—Joe is capable of thinking outside its box. But Joe’s latest public contribution—“The Great Malaise Continues” on Project Syndicate—simply echoes the mainstream on a crucial point that explains why the US economy is at stall speed, which the mainstream simply doesn’t get. Joe correctly notes that “the world faces a deficiency of aggregate demand”, and attributes this to both “growing inequality and a mindless wave of fiscal austerity”, neither of which I dispute.

But then he adds that part of the problem is that “our banks … are not fit to fulfill their purpose” because “they have failed in their essential function of intermediation”: Between long-term savers (for example, sovereign wealth funds and those saving for retirement) and long-term investment in infrastructure stands our short-sighted and dysfunctional financial sector… Former US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke once said that the world is suffering from a “savings glut.” That might have been the case had the best use of the world’s savings been investing in shoddy homes in the Nevada desert. But in the real world, there is a shortage of funds; even projects with high social returns often can’t get financing. I’m the last one to defend banks, but here Joe is quite wrong: the banks have very good reasons not to “fulfill their purpose” today, because that purpose is not what Joe thinks it is.

Banks don’t “intermediate loans”, they “originate loans”, and they have every reason not to originate right now. In effect, Joe is complaining that banks aren’t doing what economics textbooks say they should do. But those textbooks are profoundly wrong about the actual functioning of banks, and until the economics profession gets its head around this and why it matters, then the economy will be stuck in the Great Malaise that Joe is hoping to lift us out of. The argument that banks merely intermediate between savers and investors leads the mainstream to a manifestly false conclusion: that the level of private debt today is too low, because too little private debt is being created right now. In reality, the level of private debt is way too high, and that’s why so little lending is occurring.

I can make the case empirically for non-economists pretty easily, thanks to an aside that Joe makes in his article. He observes that when WWII ended, many economists feared that there would be a period of stagnation: Others, harking back to the profound pessimism after the end of World War II, fear that the global economy could slip into depression, or at least into prolonged stagnation. In fact, the period from 1945 till 1965 is now regarded as the “Golden Age of Capitalism”. There was a severe slump initially as the economy changed from a war footing to a private one, but within 3 years, that transition was over and the US economy prospered—growing by as much as 10% in real terms in some years. (see Figure 1). The average from 1945 till 1965 was growth at 2.8% a year. In contrast, the average rate of economic growth since 2008 to today is precisely zero.

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Time for Trump?!

Saudi Arabia Warns of Economic Fallout if Congress Passes 9/11 Bill (NYT)

Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts. Several outside economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. But the threat is another sign of the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The administration, which argues that the legislation would put Americans at legal risk overseas, has been lobbying so intently against the bill that some lawmakers and families of Sept. 11 victims are infuriated.

In their view, the Obama administration has consistently sided with the kingdom and has thwarted their efforts to learn what they believe to be the truth about the role some Saudi officials played in the terrorist plot. “It’s stunning to think that our government would back the Saudis over its own citizens,” said Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and who is part of a group of victims’ family members pushing for the legislation. President Obama will arrive in Riyadh on Wednesday for meetings with King Salman and other Saudi officials. It is unclear whether the dispute over the Sept. 11 legislation will be on the agenda for the talks. Saudi officials have long denied that the kingdom had any role in the Sept. 11 plot, and the 9/11 Commission found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.”

But critics have noted that the commission’s narrow wording left open the possibility that less senior officials or parts of the Saudi government could have played a role. Suspicions have lingered, partly because of the conclusions of a 2002 congressional inquiry into the attacks that cited some evidence that Saudi officials living in the United States at the time had a hand in the plot. Those conclusions, contained in 28 pages of the report, still have not been released publicly. The dispute comes as bipartisan criticism is growing in Congress about Washington’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, for decades a crucial American ally in the Middle East and half of a partnership that once received little scrutiny from lawmakers. Last week, two senators introduced a resolution that would put restrictions on American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which have expanded during the Obama administration.

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French protests have been going on for a while. Not sure Yanis should desire a role in this.

Varoufakis Joins French ‘Nuit Debout’ Anti-Labor Reform Protests (AFP)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on Saturday addressed opponents of the French government’s workplace reforms at a protest in Paris, telling them the planned changes would “devalue labor.” “He (French President Francois Hollande) wants to devalue French labor… it can’t work,” Varoufakis told protesters as he paid a visit to the latest “Nuit Debout” (Up All Night) gathering at the city’s vast Place de la Republique. “Devaluing French labor can only deepen the crisis… I’m bringing to you solidarity from Athens,” he told the crowd. The labor reforms of France’s Socialist government aim to make it easier for struggling companies to fire people.

The government says they will make France’s rigid labor market more flexible but opponents say the reforms are too pro-business and will fail to reduce the 25% jobless rate among the young. Hundreds, at times thousands, of people have been demonstrating every night for the past two weeks at the Place de la Republique in central Paris. The labor reforms are a unifying theme of the gatherings but the so-called “Nuit Debout” movement is broader, embracing a range of anti-establishment grievances. The nightly protests have been marred by sporadic violence. The latest clashes erupted late Friday when, according to police, some 100 protesters set rubbish on fire and threw bottles and stones at officers, who responded with tear gas. Twenty-two people were arrested. The “Nuit Debout” demonstrations have spread to cities across France, becoming a major headache for the government.

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I still can’t muster much enthousiasm about this. He should have used much harsher words. There are still 3,000 people locked up there, including many children.

Pope Flies 12 Syrian Refugees to Vatican in Potent Symbol for EU (BBG)

Pope Francis made an emotional visit to the Greek island of Lesbos Saturday, plucking 12 Syrian refugees to take back to Rome with him and draw attention to what he called Europe’s most serious humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Francis, who has made migration a defining issue of his papacy, visited a refugee center as he appealed to the international community to deal with the migrants crisis as a humanitarian catastrophe. The pope said there was “reason to weep” on his visit to the refugees, and he brushed aside any political reasons for his invitation to have three families from Syria, 12 people including six children, accompany him on the flight home. “It is a purely humanitarian thing,” he told reporters on his chartered plane.

The Vatican will take financial responsibility for the families and an organization of volunteers, Comunità di Sant’Egidio, will initially host the groups, according to a statement. During the five-hour visit to Lesbos, the pontiff visited a refugee center with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church, and was welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He also criticized the use of walls to keep migrants out. “In reality, barriers create divisions instead of promoting the true progress of peoples, and divisions sooner or later lead to conflicts,” Francis said in a speech at the port of Lesbos.

The visit was made days after migrants to Greece started being sent back to Turkey under a European Union agreement that has been criticized by the Vatican and denounced by human rights groups as impractical and legally suspect. Lesbos has become a repository for migrants seeking a better life in the EU: there were 3,560 refugees on the island as of Wednesday morning with more arriving each day, according to a daily tally issued by the Greek authorities. As he began the journey to Greece, the pope told reporters on his flight that the trip is marked by sadness. “This is important. It is a sad trip,” he said. “Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories and need to be treated as such,” the pontiff said through his Twitter account.

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Apr 162016
 
 April 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


NPC Pennsylvania Avenue storefront view, Washington DC 1921

ECB Sees No Evidence Of Asset Bubbles: Draghi (Reuters)
China Buys ‘Recovery’ With A Record Amount Of New Debt (ZH)
Flood of Chinese Cotton Exports Sends Global Prices Tumbling (BBG)
Greek Banks’ EFSF Notes Eligible For ECB’s QE Purchases (Reuters)
Startup Investors Hit the Brakes (WSJ)
Goodrich Petroleum Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection (WSJ)
Saudi Prince Reiterates Oil Freeze Depends on Others Joining (BBG)
Neoliberalism – The Ideology At The Root Of All Our Problems (Monbiot)
Erdogan and the Satirist: Inside Merkel’s Comedy Conundrum (Spiegel)
March Global Temperature Smashes 100-Year Record (G.)
Pope Francis Flies To Lesbos To Highlight Humanitarian Crisis In Europe (G.)
Pope Francis Visits Lesbos, Frontline Of Europe’s Refugee Crisis (Reuters)
Lesbos Refugee Detention Centre Whitewashed For Pope’s Visit (Ind.)

Apparently not at all worried about credibility, then.

ECB Sees No Evidence Of Asset Bubbles: Draghi (Reuters)

The ECB will continue to do what is necessary to boost inflation and has not seen evidence so far that exceptionally loose monetary policies are creating asset bubbles, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Friday. Draghi added that the economic outlook for the euro zone faces uncertainty due to risks to growth prospects in emerging market economies, a clouded outlook for oil prices and geopolitical risks. “While accommodative monetary policies over an extended horizon may have unintended consequences for certain sectors in the form of excessive risk-taking and misaligned asset prices, we do not currently see any broad-based evidence of excesses in the behavior of banks and other financial institutions and valuations of euro area asset prices,” Draghi said in a statement. Draghi also repeated the ECB’s forward guidance that the key policy rates will remain at the current or lower levels for an extended period of time, well past the horizon of the net asset purchases.

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Over $1 trillion in just one quarter. My comment yesterday: “This is such a contradiction in terms it’s crazy the WSJ prints it: “China’s economy may have stabilized for now, thanks to gobs of new debt..”

China Buys ‘Recovery’ With A Record Amount Of New Debt (ZH)

When China reported its economic data dump last night which was modestly better than expected (one has to marvel at China’s phenomenal ability to calculate its GDP just two weeks after the quarter ended – not even the Bureau of Economic Analysis is that fast), the investing community could finally exhale: after all, the biggest source of “global” instability for the Fed appears to have been neutralized. But what was the reason for this seeming halt to China’s incipient hard landing? The answer was in the secondary data that was reported alongside the primary economic numbers: the March new loan and Total Social Financing report.

As the PBOC reported last night, Chinese banks made 1.37 trillion yuan ($211.23 billion) in new local-currency loans in March, well above analyst expectations, as the central bank scrambled to keep the economy engorged with new loans “to keep policy accomodative to underpin the slowing economy” as Reuters put it. This was up from February’s 726.6 billion yuan but off a record of 2.51 trillion yuan extended in January. Outstanding yuan loans grew 14.7% by month-end on an annual basis, versus expectations of 14.5%. But it wasn’t the total loan tally that is the key figure tracking China’s credit largesse: for that one has to look at the total social financing, which in just the month of March rose to 2.34 trillion yuan, the equivalent of more than a third of a trillion in dollars!

And there is your answer, because if one adds up the Total Social Financing injected in the first quarter, one gets a stunning $1 trillion dollars in new credit, or $1,001,000,000,000 to be precise, shoved down China’s economic throat. As shown on the chart below, this was an all time high in dollar terms, and puts to rest any naive suggestion that China may be pursuing “debt reform.” Quite the contrary, China has once again resorted to the old “growth” model where GDP is to be saved at any cost, even if it means flooding the economy with record amount of debt.

And to put it all together, the PBOC also reported that the broad M2 money supply measure grew 13.4% in March from a year earlier, or precisely double the rate of growth of GDP. This means that it took two dollars in new loans to create one dollar of GDP growth. With China’s debt/GDP already estimate at 350%, how much longer can China sustain this stunning debt (and by definition, deposit) growth continue?

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China has too much steel, too much cotton, and too much of lots of other things.

Flood of Chinese Cotton Exports Sends Global Prices Tumbling (BBG)

China is about to open the floodgates on its huge supplies of cotton, sparking a rout in prices. The country plans to auction about 2 million metric tons from May through August, a government statement showed Friday. That’s almost equal to total shipments expected this season from American growers, the world’s top exporters. The auction sales would represent about 14% of the 13.9-million tons that the U.S Department of Agriculture estimates that China has in its stockpiles. Cotton futures fell the most in six weeks. The price slid more than 7% in the past year in part because the large Chinese inventories curbed overseas purchases from the Asian nation, the biggest consumer of the fiber.

“We knew this was coming, but it’s probably a bit more than what people were expecting” and reduces the country’s import outlook in the near term, Keith Brown, president of brokerage Keith Brown & Co. in Moultrie, Georgia, said in a telephone interview. Adding to the outlook for bigger supplies is favorable growing weather in U.S. cotton areas. Rains in the next few days will boost soil moisture in Texas, the country’s top producer, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Drier conditions will aid planting in the U.S. Southeast, the forecaster said. American farmers are expected to increase plantings in the season that starts in August as low prices for competing crops leave farmers with few options, the USDA projects.

“Any increase in production, as well as any volume pushed out of Chinese reserves, will be added to globally available supply in the coming crop year,” industry researcher Cotton Inc. said in a report this week. “High levels of available supply can be expected to keep downward pressure on prices.” Still, the auction sales come as China’s crop is set to shrink this year to the lowest in more than a decade, USDA data show. That’s reducing global output by more than 16%, the biggest annual slide since at least 1961. As the Asian country depletes inventories, in the “long-run it’s positive,” for prices because it means that there will be less supply further down the road, boosting the outlook for eventual imports, Brown said.

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Draghi buys anything now.

Greek Banks’ EFSF Notes Eligible For ECB’s QE Purchases (Reuters)

The ECB has included European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) notes in its list of eligible securities for purchasing under its so-called quantitative easing program, an ECB spokesperson said on Friday. “Up to 50% of the outstanding amount can be purchased as this is the limit applicable to securities issued by eligible international organizations,” the spokesperson told Reuters. With holdings of more than €30 billion of such notes after rounds of recapitalization, Greek banks stand to make gains on the securities.

Bank shares were rebounding 16.2% on Friday after losses in the previous sessions. “The market jumped on this one-off positive piece of news after days of negativity,” said Eurobank analyst Nick Koskoletos. Banks had not been not allowed to sell the EFSF notes in the market but they repoed them with the ECB to obtain cheap funding. Apart from capital gains, selling a portion of their EFSF notes to the ECB could reduce the amount Greek banks borrow from it.

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The focus on startups and unicorns smells of despair, a last ditch attempt to deny the demise of the economy.

Startup Investors Hit the Brakes (WSJ)

Venture-capital investors hit the brakes on investing in the first quarter, following a funding bonanza the past two years that pushed valuations of once-hot technology startups to soaring heights. Funding for U.S. startups fell 25% from the fourth quarter to $13.9 billion, the largest quarterly decline on record since the dot-com bust, according to data from Dow Jones VentureSource. The numbers of deals also hit a four-year low of 884. The drop threatens to hasten a slump rippling through Silicon Valley that is pushing startups to slash marketing budgets, lay off staff and dial back lofty ambitions. Investors such as mutual funds and big banks that pumped money into startups on the promise of big returns have since retrenched, as a punishing market for initial public offerings has spoiled the runaway optimism.

The sky-high valuations of last year have retreated as a result. In the first quarter, the median value of U.S. startups plummeted to $18.5 million after hitting a peak of $61.5 million in last year’s third quarter. “I think investors are nervous, sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens,” said Brian Mulvey at PeakSpan Capital, which recently raised a venture fund of $150 million. Investors caution the first-quarter data spans a relatively small period and that capital tends to fluctuate widely throughout the year. VentureSource counts funding rounds for U.S.-based companies with at least one venture-capital firm as an investor. It doesn’t include startups only backed by individuals or majority-owned by corporations or private-equity firms. Several other data providers with varying methodologies show less of a decline.

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Commodities break on plunging demand.

Goodrich Petroleum Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection (WSJ)

Goodrich Petroleum filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday with investment firms slated to pick up the pieces, as yet another company sought court protection amid the shakeout in the oil and gas industry. Houston-based Goodrich, an oil and gas producer which struggled to cut its debt as crude prices tumbled, has a deal in place that would erase $400 million in debt from its books through a swap with a group of investors that own bonds the company issued last year. The Goodrich bondholders, who include Franklin Advisors, Penn Capital Management and Jefferies, have agreed to forgive $175 million in debt in exchange for ownership of the company. The deal is part of a larger bankruptcy-exit plan that would pay off or carry over $40 million of higher-ranking senior bank debt and wipe out $224 million in unsecured bonds.

Goodrich’s bankruptcy deal mirrors those proposed recently by other struggling oil producers as the energy slump transforms a U.S. industry once dominated by Texas oil men into one controlled by financial firms from across the nation. Falling oil prices have roiled the industry since the summer of 2014. Since that time, about 60 North American oil and gas companies have filed for bankruptcy, involving nearly $20 billion in debt, according to the law firm Haynes & Boone. On Thursday, Houston’s Energy XXI filed for bankruptcy to complete a debt-for-equity swap with a group of bondholders that includes Oaktree Capital Management.

Denver-based Venoco filed for bankruptcy last month after striking a deal with Apollo Global Management and MAST Capital Management that will erase nearly $1 billion in debt. Energy & Exploration Partners, Magnum Hunter Resources and New Gulf Resourcesare among other energy companies that have brokered similar deals. The rising number of debt-for-equity swaps is due to lenders’ unwillingness to accept the fire-sale prices that potential buyers are offering for oil assets, according to Ian Peck, head of Haynes & Boone’s bankruptcy practice.

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Orchestrated theater. Too many producers can’t afford a freeze.

Saudi Prince Reiterates Oil Freeze Depends on Others Joining (BBG)

Saudi Arabia won’t restrain its oil production unless other producers, including Iran, agree to freeze output at a meeting this weekend in Doha, the kingdom’s deputy crown prince said. The world’s biggest crude exporter would cap its market share at about 10.3 million to 10.4 million barrels a day, if producers agree to the freeze, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said during an interview on Thursday at King Salman’s private farm in Diriyah, the original home of the Al Saud royal family. “If all major producers don’t freeze production, we will not freeze production,” said Prince Mohammed, 30, who has emerged as Saudi Arabia’s leading economic force. “If we don’t freeze, then we will sell at any opportunity we get.”

At least 15 nations including Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s two largest crude oil producers, will gather in Doha on April 17 to discuss freezing output to stabilize an oversupplied market. Prince Mohammed has said Saudi Arabia’s commitment to a production cap would depend on Iran’s participation. Iran’s oil minister has dismissed the prospect of joining the deal as “ridiculous” for now. A Russian official said it was possible to reach a deal in Doha to freeze oil output, regardless of Iran whose crude shipments have risen by more than 600,000 barrels a day this month. That increase has added to the pressure on producer nations to reach an agreement to prop up prices as economies from Venezuela to Nigeria reel from the market rout. The meeting in Doha is only relevant if no deal is reached, prompting a sharp selloff in the markets, according to Ed Morse at Citigroup.

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Promising, but incomplete.

Neoliberalism – The Ideology At The Root Of All Our Problems (Monbiot)

[..] It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan “there is no alternative”. But, as Hayek remarked on a visit to Pinochet’s Chile – one of the first nations in which the programme was comprehensively applied – “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism”. The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows. Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments.

Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty. As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted: for example, in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, which Friedman described as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system” in New Orleans. Where neoliberal policies cannot be imposed domestically, they are imposed internationally, through trade treaties incorporating “investor-state dispute settlement”: offshore tribunals in which corporations can press for the removal of social and environmental protections. When parliaments have voted to restrict sales of cigarettes, protect water supplies from mining companies, freeze energy bills or prevent pharmaceutical firms from ripping off the state, corporations have sued, often successfully. Democracy is reduced to theatre.

Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one. Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich. Inequality in the distribution of both income and wealth, after 60 years of decline, rose rapidly in this era, due to the smashing of trade unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation.

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Lots of criticism of Merkel for this, not sure that’s justified. She must be careful when it comes to trumping the law. Let the courts decide. It’s not as if they’ll lock the guy up. Many EU nations have similar antiquated ‘insult to foreign leaders’ laws, by the way.

Erdogan and the Satirist: Inside Merkel’s Comedy Conundrum (Spiegel)

Jan Böhmermann has disappeared. He’s not giving interviews; he’s not answering his phone. Since Monday, he has also gone silent on Twitter, where he is normally extremely active. He has hardly left his home in Cologne in the last few days and he is also now under police protection. He had his Thursday show on the German public broadcaster ZDF cancelled and his Sunday radio show on RBB will likewise not be broadcast this week. It was cancelled last Sunday as well. Böhmermann was already in his home studio ready to record when he realized that he was in no mood to be funny. So he called it off. Friends and acquaintances who have had contact with him in the last few days are worried that he won’t be able to withstand the pressure.

The ZDF satirist is a sensitive person, even if that hasn’t always been part of his public persona. The scandal surrounding the disparaging poem he wrote about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has affected him more deeply than many have realized. Perhaps one has to be vulnerable to emotional pain in order to know how to inflict such pain on others. Two weeks ago, when he was still active on social media, he tweeted out the Beatles hit “The Fool on the Hill.” The song is about a simpleton sitting alone on a hill with a silly grin on his face – and everyone can see that he is a half-wit. It is essentially how people see Böhmermann, and it is how he wanted to be seen: The misunderstood fool. The tweet went out two days after his insulting Erdogan poem was broadcast on his ZDF show “Neo Magazin Royale” and one day after the broadcaster deleted the show from its video hub and distanced itself from Böhmermann’s verses.

And that was just the beginning. Prior to the scandal, Böhmermann had led a niche existence in Germany’s media landscape, but now everybody in the country knows who he is. The 35-year-old has triggered an affair of state, one which has served to demonstrate just how limited Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power really is. And how absurd German law can be. If Böhmermann intended to show just how powerful satire can be, he has been incredibly successful. The Böhmermann scandal is now entering its third week, and only now is it becoming clear just what the five-minute clip has set in motion. It didn’t just shine the spotlight on the Turkish president’s sensitivity and the limits of chancellor’s steadfastness, it has also unsettled all of Germany – a country which normally doesn’t spend much time thinking about satire and art and the freedoms associated with them.

On Friday, the need for doing so became even more apparent. Chancellor Merkel announced that the federal government had granted permission for criminal proceedings to go ahead against Jan Böhmermann under the controversial Paragraph 103 of the German Criminal Code. The law makes it illegal to insult the representatives of foreign countries. The federal government must approve the initiation of Paragraph 103 proceedings.

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These things take much longer to sink in then they do to happen.

March Global Temperature Smashes 100-Year Record (G.)

The global temperature in March has shattered a century-long record and by the greatest margin yet seen for any month. February was far above the long-term average globally, driven largely by climate change, and was described by scientists as a “shocker” and signalling “a kind of climate emergency”. But data released by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) shows that March was even hotter. Compared with the 20th-century average, March was 1.07C hotter across the globe, according to the JMA figures, while February was 1.04C higher. The JMA measurements go back to 1891 and show that every one of the past 11 months has been the hottest ever recorded for that month.

Data released released later on Friday by Nasa confirmed last month was the hottest March on record, but the US agency’s data indicated February had seen the biggest margin. The Nasa data recorded March as 1.65C above the average from 1951-1980, while February was 1.71C higher. The World Meteorological Organisation, the UN body for climate and weather, said the March data had “smashed” previous records.

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Let’s see if this is more than just a show.

Pope Francis Flies To Lesbos To Highlight Humanitarian Crisis In Europe (G.)

Pope Francis, widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest defender of refugees, flies into Lesbos on Saturday to highlight the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Europe. The Roman Catholic leader will spend five hours on the island with the Ecumenical head of world Orthodoxy, Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos II. Imbued with added urgency on the frontline of the EU’s migrant emergency, the meeting is also being seen as a further warming of ties between the western and eastern branches of Christianity, almost 10 centuries after their bitter split in 1054. The pontiff, who has publicly criticised Europe’s “anaesthetised conscience” on refugees, will go straight to the menacing detention centre above the hilltop village of Moria where more than 3,000 men, women and children are held.

On Friday, just hours before Francis’ scheduled visit, detainees chanted “freedom, freedom” as demonstrators denounced their incarceration. Standing under the razor wire-topped fence, Sham Jutt, a young Pakistani, spoke of the refugees’ plight, saying he hoped the pope could intervene. “We expected a life of hope and now he is our only hope,” said the 21-year-old, adding that he had seen the camp change from being a registration centre to a prison following the controversial pact the EU signed with Turkey to stem the flows. “Now, with this agreement, we are very afraid they will deport us.” Greece’s leftist-led government described Saturday’s visit of religious leaders as “extremely significant”. Lesbos has borne the brunt of the refugee influx with over 850,000 of the 1.1 million Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis who streamed into Europe last year, coming through the island.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras, also due to fly in, was expected to underline Greece’s increasingly fragile situation in talks with Francis. More than 50,000 migrants and refugees have been trapped in the country since Macedonia and other Balkan states cut off the migrant trail by closing borders. Greece has been struggling to house refugees in makeshift facilities even if arrivals have dropped dramatically since the deal came into effect on 20 March. For detainees who have arrived since then, conditions have deteriorated dramatically. Human rights organisations have withdrawn from Moria and other detention centres for fear of being associated with mass expulsions.

Before the church leaders’ visit, authorities had gone out of their way to clean up the camp, whitewashing graffiti-splattered walls, replacing tents with containers, installing air conditioning and taking families out of the overcrowded facility to an open-air holding centre nearby. “In every sense of the word, they have given it a whitewash,” said Jakob Mamzzak, a volunteer from California. “Today we even heard they had given [inmates] clean clothes, let them have their first shower in 25 days and brought them good food when the truth is conditions are inhumane.”

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Taking 10 refugees with him on his way back.

Pope Francis Visits Lesbos, Frontline Of Europe’s Refugee Crisis (Reuters)

Pope Francis arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, turning the world’s attention to the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis which has claimed hundreds of lives in the past year. Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, was scheduled to spend about six hours on the small Aegean island. Based on his schedule, he was to meet 250 refugees and have lunch with eight of them. Hundreds of people have died making the short but precarious crossing from Turkey to the Lesbos shores in inflatable dinghies in the past year, and the island is full of unmarked graves. “This is a trip that is a bit different than the others … this is a trip marked by sadness,” Francis told reporters on the airplane taking him to Lesbos.

“We are going to encounter the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War Two. We will see many people who are suffering, who don’t know where to go, who had to flee. We are also going to a cemetery, the sea. So many people died there … this is what is in my heart as I make this trip.” With Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Francis will visit Moria, a sprawling, fenced complex holding more than 3,000 refugees. “This is an island which has lifted all the weight of Europe upon its shoulders,” Tsipras told Francis at Lesbos airport, where a red carpet was rolled out for the pontiff’s arrival. Greek state TV reported Francis was planning to take ten refugees back with him to the Vatican, eight of them Syrians.

Aid organizations have described conditions at Moria, a disused army camp, as appalling. Journalists have no access to the facility on a hillside just outside Lesbos’s main town of Mytiline, but aid workers said walls were whitewashed, a sewer system fixed and several dozen migrants at the overcrowded facility were transferred to another camp, which the pope will not visit. . Aid organizations say queues for food are long, and people often wait for an hour or more. Saturday’s encounter with refugees would be ‘no frills’ and the religious leaders would eat the same food as everyone else at the camp, an official at the camp told Reuters.

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The Pope should speak out a lot louder and clearer. Meeting a few preselected refugees won’t cut it.

Lesbos Refugee Detention Centre Whitewashed For Pope’s Visit (Ind.)

A detention centre for asylum seekers in Greece is being urgently spruced up ahead of a visit by the Pope as thousands of people remain trapped inside, waiting to find out if they will be sent back to Turkey. Workers were dispatched to whitewash the wall surrounding Moria, a former refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, while others painted fences, cleared litter and moved stray tents. The last-minute efforts on Friday came ahead of Pope Francis’ arrival tomorrow with a delegation of Catholic and Orthodox leaders. Sacha Myers, who is working inside Moria with Save the Children, told The Independent that the now “very white” wall was not a priority for the families living inside Moria. “We hope the improvements continue but they don’t change the fact that we have still got thousands of people locked inside this detention centre with no idea how long they will be here,” she said.

“The camp was built to hold 2,000 people and now there are 2,900. Families are living on top of each other, there is absolutely no privacy. “We’re seeing a real deterioration in conditions.” Ms Myers, a communications and media manager for the charity, said she had met Iraqi and Syrian mothers whose babies were ill with diarrhoea and fever amid declining hygiene. “Some people are aware of the Pope’s visit,” she added. “They really want him to help them and understand their issues.” Save the Children is warning that child refugees are being held in appalling conditions at the centre, where they report illness, fights and theft. Charity workers described dirty rooms without enough beds, where children are denied legal services and basic support despite concerns for their mental and physical wellbeing.

High-profile visits by Angelina Jolie, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Labour MP Yvette Cooper, among others, have done little to improve the situation in Moris. It was set up last year as one of two refugee camps in Lesbos, but on 20 March the gates were locked as it was turned into a detention centre as part of the controversial EU-Turkey deal. The Pope will be joined by leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches as he tours Lesbos, which has seen the highest number of refugees arrive out of any island in Europe. After visiting Moria, they will have lunch with refugee representatives and make a joint declaration, before heading to the island’s capital for a prayer service in memory of the many asylum seekers who have drowned attempting to reach Europe.

The Vatican said the five-hour visit to Lesbos was purely humanitarian and religious in nature, not political, and wasn’t meant as a criticism of the deportation programme seeing some asylum seekers sent back to Turkey. Pope Francis said he intended “to express closeness and solidarity both to the refugees and to the Lesbos citizens and all the Greek people who are so generous in welcoming (refugees)”. The pontiff has been outspoken in calls for greater compassion and international co-operation in the refugee crisis, denouncing the “globalisation of indifference” during a trip to Lampedusa – another migrant hotspot.

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