It’s been a long time since I wrote anything at all about nuclear energy. And even then I thought the whole discussion had been wrapped up and thrown away. But I guess it’s inevitable that as the climate change debate develops, there’d be parties seeking to revive the nukes ‘discussion’, because there’s so much potential profit in there. And then today I came upon this report, and a few interpretations of it, that set me off again, and brought back the whole Yucca Mountain issue to mind.
Please note that in all that follows, there is ONE very obvious notion to keep in mind: nuclear energy is a huge economic loss-maker, no matter how and where you look.
And that makes nukes, right from the get-go, completely unfit to replace anything fossil-fuel based, because coal and oil and gas are sources that do the opposite: they generate huge profits while nukes generate huge losses, i.e.: you can’t run your economy on nuclear. You can not run an economy on any energy source that generates economic losses. It does NOT get simpler than that. It’s the economics of energy, and for once economics are right (though not economists, name me one who understands this. Hi, Steve!).
Mind you, you can’t run our present complex economies and societies on renewables either, no more than you can run them on nuclear. Much simpler economies, sure, but then you will have to figure out how you’re going to pay for that. It’s hard to comprehend to which extent fossil fuels have shaped our world, but we have no choice but to try, because this is one thing you don’t want to get wrong.
The report comes from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), which studied 674 nuclear power plants built since 1951. Their own abstract says the following:
The debate on effective climate protection is heating up in Germany and the rest of the world. Nuclear energy is being touted as “clean” energy. Given the circumstances, the present study analyzed the historical, current, and future costs and risks of nuclear energy. The findings show that nuclear energy can by no means be called “clean” due to radioactive emissions, which will endanger humans and the natural environment for over one million years. And it harbors the high risk of proliferation. An empirical survey of the 674 nuclear power plants that have ever been built showed that private economic motives never played a role.
Instead military interests have always been the driving force behind their construction. Even ignoring the expense of dismantling nuclear power plants and the long-term storage of nuclear waste, private economy-only investment in nuclear power plant would result in high losses— an average of five billion euros per nuclear power plant, as one financial simulation revealed. In countries such as China and Russia, where nuclear power plants are still being built, private investment does not play a role either. Nuclear power is too expensive and dangerous; therefore it should not be part of the climate-friendly energy mix of the future.
In other words, nuclear energy is already a huge economic loser even before decommissioning and waste storage are taken into consideration, and those last two costs are by far the largest. So much so that it even makes precious little sense to calculate nuke costs without including decommissioning and waste storage costs. But people do it, and they get paid for that….
A site called Renew Economy, which appears to be Australian, has this comment on the DIW report (they’re one of the few I found that had any comment at all):
A new study of the economics of nuclear power has found that nuclear power has never been financially viable, finding that most plants have been built while heavily subsidised by governments, and often motivated by military purposes, and is not a good approach to tackling climate change. The study has come from DIW Berlin, a leading German economic think-tank, and found that the average 1,000MW nuclear power plant built since 1951 resulted in an average economic loss of 4.8 billion euros ($7.7 billion AUD). The report comes amid a hot debate over the future of nuclear power in both Germany and Australia.
The report published by the German Institute for Economic Research (known as DIW Berlin) reviewed the development of 674 nuclear power plants built since 1951, finding that none of the plants was built using ‘private capital under competitive conditions’. “The results showed that in all cases, an investment would generate significant financial losses. The (weighted) average net present value was around minus 4.8 billion euros,” the study says. “Even in the best case, the net present value was approximately minus 1.5 billion euros. The authors included conservative assumptions with high electricity prices, low capital costs, and specific investment. Considering all assumptions regarding the uncertain parameters, nuclear energy is never profitable.”
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The report authors are also pessimistic about the future of nuclear power, concluding that nuclear power will remain unprofitable into the foreseeable future. Unlike Australia, Germany has a history of nuclear power use, which as recently as 2010, supplied around a quarter of Germany’s electricity. The government led by Angela Merkel has committed to the complete phase-out of nuclear power by 2022. The report found that when nuclear power plants were built using private investment, that “large state subsidies” were used to make the projects viable, and that in most cases, nuclear power stations were built at a loss.
DIW Berlin calculated that for every 1,000 Megawatts of nuclear power capacity that has been built since 1951, there were average economic losses of between 1.5 to 8.9 billion Euros. “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons. That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomical. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean.’ Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years,” Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study said.
The DIW Berlin report stressed that governments should not be seduced by claims that nuclear power was a solution to the climate crisis. “Nuclear energy for climate protection” is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as “clean” ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond,” the report concluded.
Another site called Recharge Transition finds basically the same:
Nuclear power is economically unviable, dangerous and should not be labelled as a clean form of energy, the renowned German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) said, pointing to research it has carried out on the profitability of investments in nuclear power plants. DIW Berlin is one of the leading economic think tanks in Germany. According to “numerous scientific studies,” none of the world’s more than 600 nuclear power stations have ever been economically viable, and the plants could only be operated for years due to government subsidies, the institute claims.
“That nuclear energy has never been economically competitive comes as no surprise as electricity production has always only be a by-product. Military and geo-strategical interests have always come first and this energy source has been massively subsidised,” the study’s author Christian von Hirschhausen said. “Now it is also certain that it won’t be profitable in the future either to invest in atomic energy – neither in new nuclear power plants, nor in the extension of existing ones. “If in addition you consider that nuclear power absolutely isn’t safe, the fairy tale of a climate friendly alternative to fossil energy sources completely collapses.”
And you know what’s “funny” is that as mentioned before, the report never even talks about decommissioning and storage. For me, this was a closed topic, got it, move on. But I looked it up anyway. I couldn’t remember the dates the judge had set. I knew he had thrown out the EPA’s 10,000 years for guaranteed storage safety.
10,000 years is already way beyond man’s powers to guarantee anything at all, it’s pure hubris. According to YuccaMountain.org, the latest a judge mentioned is at least 300,000 years. You know, half-life and all that. I didn’t remember if it was 100,000 or 1 million, and it makes no difference at all, man can make no claim of being capable of doing either, or even 10,000.
On July 9, 2004, the Court of Appeals ruled on Nevada’s Yucca Mountain Lawsuits. The judges dismissed almost all of the State’s claims except a key challenge against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Court ruled that the EPA’s 10,000-year safety standard on radiation containment at the site was arbitrary and inconsistent with the congressionally-mandated recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences. The Court also struck down the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing standards insofar as they include a 10,000 year compliance limit.
The National Academy of Sciences said the radiation safety standard should be set at a higher limit, when the waste would be at its peak radiation levels – at least 300,000 years from the time the waste is sent to Yucca. The EPA was required by law to base its rule on NAS’ recommendation, but chose to set the standard at 10,000 years instead.
[..] State officials believe the ruling will significantly delay or even scrap the project. State Attorney General Brian Sandoval claimed a sound victory for Nevada, saying that the EPA would have to form a new rule with a tougher standard – a standard the Energy Department would not be able to meet due to Yucca Mountain’s inferior geology. This “is a fatal blow to the repository ,” Sandoval said. DOE itself has expressed doubts in the past about being able to meet a longer time limit. As quoted by the Court, former project director Lake Barrett wrote in 1999 that a safety standard significantly longer than 10,000 years would be “unworkable and probably unimplementable.”
Yeah, there are dozens of nuclear plants either under construction or in planning phases as we speak. We are told to see Chernobyl and Fukushima as unfortunate accidents, and there are plenty nuclear plants that never have accidents like those, but even then they are all of them gigantic economic loss-makers, and that’s before decommissioning and waste storage, which generate additional behemoth financial losses, and in the end are incapable of solving the problems they themselves generate. It’s all exclusively about profit, damn humans or other lifeforms, and damn the torpedoes.
And the little green Martians out there in space somewhere are watching us saying ”A potentially smart species. Too bad they’re doomed by their own ultimate hubris. But why would they volunteer to nuke their offspring?”
One more time: you can not run an economy on an energy source that generates economic losses. It is NOT an option. Our present economies have been made possible by fossil energy sources that gave us 10-100 times more energy than we put in to extract them. Those days are over. Please adjust your lifestyles accordingly.
A political cease-fire achieved by a further FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanaugh evaporated over the weekend, as the White House fended off accusations it had placed overly restrictive limitations on the probe of its Supreme Court nominee. The one-week-at-most inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, brokered as a last-minute deal Friday between Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was intended to satisfy concerns that allegations against Kavanaugh weren’t being fully vetted before the full Senate took up his nomination.
But early signs that the FBI probe would be on a short leash inflamed Democratic criticism that President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans weren’t out to explore fully the allegations, while the White House, Senate and FBI all appeared to shift responsibility for the scope of the probe elsewhere. “The FBI’s hands must not be tied in this investigation,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, wrote on Twitter. Later Sunday, Feinstein asked White House counsel Don McGahn and the director of the FBI to release a copy of the directive sent by the White House to the bureau outlining the scope of the investigation.
The contours of the FBI investigation weren’t clear and appeared at times to shift, as Trump and senior administration officials pushed back against reports that the White House directed who would be interviewed as part of a reopening of Kavanaugh’s background investigation. Administration officials said they were taking cues from the Senate. Leading the process for the West Wing is McGahn, who helped prepare Kavanaugh for the questions he would face in Judiciary Committee hearings. The lack of clarity extended to what investigators could ask witnesses, such as whether they would examine the accuracy of Kavanaugh’s testimony last week on his drinking habits as a teen.
“Fire and Fury,” “A Higher Loyalty,” “Fear”: three books about Donald Trump have each sold more than a million copies in the United States, a first that reflects Americans’ fascination with their ever-surprising president. The great majority of successful books on politics have been written by politicians themselves — or by ghostwriters working with them. Barack Obama set the standard in the genre, selling a combined 4.6 million copies of his autobiographical books “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.” In their time, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton and even Sarah Palin all topped the best-seller lists at least for a few weeks, while not reaching Obama’s lofty level.
And in 1976, Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward sold 630,000 copies of his “The Final Days,” chronicling the dramatic unwinding of the Nixon presidency. After that, however, there have been no chart-toppers about a president. But in just nine months, “Fire and Fury” by journalist and author Michael Wolff, “A Higher Loyalty” by former FBI chief James Comey, and Woodward’s “Fear” have sold a combined total of more than five million copies, according to numbers reviewed by AFP. “I’m not surprised,” said David Corn, co-author of “Russian Roulette,” a book about Russian interference in the American presidential campaign. “There is deep desire on the part of many Americans for an understanding of what happened in this country” during the 2016 presidential campaign, he said, and also of “what’s going on now within the Trump White House.”
In the past, books about a presidency were generally published only after it was over, leaving sources freer to talk and allowing greater historical perspective. But, “as ever, Trump has sped everything up,” Jon Meacham, the author of several best-selling political and historical books, told MSNBC. “It’s almost as if we had a webcam” providing live coverage of events inside the White House. [..] “The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis (author of “Liar’s Poker” and “The Big Short”), “The Apprentice” by Washington Post journalist Greg Miller, and the Stormy Daniels book “Full Disclosure,” about the adult film star’s alleged sexual liaison with Trump, are all set to reach bookstores on Tuesday. “One potential problem is that people get too accustomed to the outrages of the Trump administration,” Corn said, “and therefore become less interested in books like these. “But I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
The United States and Canada forged a last-gasp deal on Sunday to salvage NAFTA as a trilateral pact with Mexico, rescuing a three-country, $1.2 trillion open-trade zone that had been about to collapse after nearly a quarter century. In a big victory for his agenda to shake-up an era of global free trade that many associate with the signing of NAFTA in 1994, President Donald Trump coerced Canada and Mexico to accept more restrictive commerce with their main export partner. Trump’s primary objective in reworking NAFTA was to bring down U.S. trade deficits, a goal he has also pursued with China, by imposing hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs on imported goods from the Asian giant.
While the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) avoids tariffs, it will make it harder for global auto makers to build cars cheaply in Mexico and is aimed at bringing more jobs into the United States. Since talks began more than a year ago, it was clear Canada and Mexico would have to make concessions in the face of Trump’s threats to tear up NAFTA and relief was palpable in both countries on Sunday that the deal was largely intact and had not fractured supply chains between weaker bilateral agreements. “It’s a good day for Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters after a late-night cabinet meeting to discuss the deal, which triggered a jump in global financial markets.
Deep divisions over Brexit overshadowed the opening day of the Conservative party conference on Sunday as Theresa May attempted to wrestle back the focus on to her domestic agenda. The bitter infighting that has crippled the Conservative party was laid bare as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg laid into the prime minister’s Brexit plans as thousands of delegates gathered in Birmingham. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, launched a scathing attack on Johnson, suggesting the former foreign secretary could not do “grown-up politics” and saying he did not expect him to become prime minister. May appealed to Tory MPs and the party’s grassroots to back her Chequers proposal as she was forced to hit back at Johnson, her former foreign secretary, who questioned her belief in leaving the European Union.
“I do believe in Brexit, but crucially I believe in delivering Brexit in a way that respects the vote and delivers on behalf of the British people, while also protecting our union, protecting jobs and ensuring we make a success of it,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr. However, May risked infuriating the party’s pro-Brexit grassroots by appearing to refuse to rule out further compromises to her Chequers plan in order to broker a final deal. It came after Johnson used a newspaper interview to launch a renewed attack on May’s entire Brexit plan, dismissing it as “deranged” while suggesting the proposal for Britain and the EU to collect each other’s tariffs was “entirely preposterous”. Rees-Mogg, the leader of the hard Brexiter European Research Group, said the plan was the “deadest of dying ducks” at a packed fringe meeting with hundreds of delegates..
The U.K. government is demanding action from the European Union (EU) amid strong frustration over the lack of proposals from Brussels on a post-Brexit relationship. The U.K. is set to leave the EU in March 2019 and negotiators are working against the clock, trying to hammer a deal that will allow businesses to continue trading under relatively low tariffs. However, key differences, including the future of the Irish border with Northern Ireland, remain – leading many to believe that a no-deal is the more likely outcome. Speaking to CNBC over the weekend, several members of the U.K. government appeared frustrated about the lack of help coming from the European Union.
“At the moment, it is very much a question of the European Union responding with its proposals. At the moment, there is nothing on the table,” Chris Grayling, transport secretary told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick at the Conservative Party conference currently taking place in Birmingham. Liam Fox, Trade secretary and an outspoken Brexit supporter, told CNBC on Sunday that it is the EU’s “duty” to help the U.K. and put forward their proposals. “They said they were not very happy with what the U.K. offered, in which case let them bring forward their own proposals,” he said. “Under Article 50 (the legislation that allows a EU country to leave the Union), we have the right to leave the European Union and they have a duty to help us in that future relationship. Let’s see them now deliver what they promised to do in that treaty,” Fox said.
Chinese factory activity slowed in September, official data showed Sunday, as the Asian giant’s trade war with the United States showed no sign of abating. The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a key gauge of factory conditions, came in at 50.8 for the month, down from 51.3 in August, the National Bureau of Statistics said. The figure was below the 51.2 reading tipped in a Bloomberg News survey of economists. Although the numbers indicated a slowdown, they remained above the 50-point mark that separates expansion from contraction. A separate manufacturing index, calculated independently by the Caixin media group, also showed a deceleration.
“Exports increasingly dragged down performance and continued softening demand began to have an impact on companies’ production,” said Caixin analyst Zhengsheng Zhong. “In addition, the employment situation worsened further. Downward pressure on China’s economy was significant.”
Tesla Inc’s settlement with U.S. regulators will help soothe investors calling for more oversight of Chief Executive Elon Musk, experts said, even as it gives ammunition to short-sellers pursing separate cases and to a probe by the Justice Department. Musk and Tesla will pay $20 million each, bring in two independent directors and have the billionaire step down as board chairman to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that Musk misled investors by tweeting he had financing for a go-private deal. That settlement must still be approved by a court, and does not end the Justice Department probe disclosed by Tesla into Musk’s tweets or lawsuits by short-sellers and other investors alleging losses and securities law violations.
“The real worry for the company is not the SEC but private actions that follow a settlement like this,” said Charles M. Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “By paying that size fine, it bolsters investors’” claims over stock market losses, he said. [..] Musk settled with the SEC after advisers persuaded him the terms were favorable and a lengthy court fight would not be in the best interest of the company, a person familiar with the deal said. Musk had wanted to personally pay the fine for money-losing Tesla but the SEC rejected that proposal, the person said.
Money laundering is a multi-bank phenomenon. Danske Bank Estonia has been revealed as the hub of a $234bn money laundering scheme involving Russian and Eastern European customers. But Danske Bank Estonia couldn’t do this by itself. Much of the money was paid in U.S. dollars, and for that, it needed help from other banks. Banks that had access to Fedwire, the Federal Reserve’s electronic settlement system. Big banks, in other words. It appears that four big banks helped Danske Bank Estonia make its dodgy transactions. J.P. Morgan, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank AG all made dollar transfers on behalf of the Estonian branch’s non-resident customers. And according to the Wall Street Journal, Citigroup’s Moscow branch may have been involved in some financial transfers in and out of Danske Bank Estonia.
But how much responsibility do these banks bear for these transfers? Could they reasonably have been expected to know – or suspect – that the money was dirty? Banks that make transactions on behalf of customers of other banks are known as “correspondent banks”. In the past, correspondent banks often had little information about the originator or final recipient of the money they were transmitting. They simply trusted that their customer bank was acting legally and that its customers were above board. Old habits die very hard: in 2016, the correspondent banks involved in the FIFA corruption case, which include Citigroup, HSBC, Wells Fargo and Barclays, all claimed that they could not have known that the transfers were corrupt.
But these days, banks are expected to “know their customers’ customers”. They are supposed to conduct their own checks to make sure that they are not unwittingly being used to launder dirty money. In the case of Danske Bank Estonia, one of the correspondent banks did suspect something was wrong. In 2013, J.P. Morgan terminated its correspondent banking relationship with Danske Bank Estonia because it was concerned that it was being used as a conduit for dodgy funds. Deutsche Bank, however, blithely continued to make U.S. dollar wire transfers on behalf of the Estonia branch’s non-resident customers after J.P. Morgan’s departure. So did Bank of America, which replaced J.P. Morgan.
According to a new OECD working paper, Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Net wealth is estimated to stand at around $500,000 per household – more than double the equivalent figure in Germany, and triple that in the Netherlands. Only Luxembourg and the USA are wealthier among OECD countries. On one level, this isn’t too surprising – Britain has long been a wealthy country. But in recent decades Britain’s economic performance has been poor. Decades of economic mismanagement have left the UK lagging far behind other advanced economies. British workers are now 29% less productive than workers in France, and 35% less than in Germany. How can this discrepancy between high levels of wealth and low levels of productivity be explained?
[..] Let’s start with land: Germany has among the strongest tenant protection laws in Europe, and many German cities also impose rent controls. This, along with a banking sector that favours real economy lending over property lending, means that Germany has not experienced the rampant house price inflation that the UK has. Remarkably, the house price-to-income ratio is lower in Germany today than it was in 1995, while in the UK it has nearly tripled over the same time period. The fact that houses are not lucrative financial assets, and renting is more secure and affordable, means that the majority of people choose to rent rather than own a home in Germany – and therefore do not own any property wealth.
In Britain, the story couldn’t be more different. Over the past five decades Britain has become a property owners’ paradise, as successive governments have sought to encourage people onto the property ladder. Taxes on land and property have been removed, and subsidies for homeownership introduced. The deregulation of the mortgage credit market in the 1980s meant that banks quickly became hooked on mortgage lending – unleashing a flood of new credit into the housing market. Rent controls were abolished, and the private rental market was deregulated. Today tenant protection is weaker than almost anywhere else in Europe. Meanwhile, the London property market has served as a laundromat for the world’s dirty money. As Donald Toon, head of the National Crime Agency, has described: “Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”.
The man who created the world wide web by implementing the first ever successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the internet in 1989 lamented that his creation has been abused by powerful entities for everything mass surveillance to fake news to psychological manipulation to corporations commodifying individuals’ information. But he’s long been at work on a new project to take the web back, described in depth by the business technology magazine Fast Company: This week, Berners-Lee will launch, Inrupt, a startup that he has been building, in stealth mode, for the past nine months.
Backed by Glasswing Ventures, its mission is to turbocharge a broader movement afoot, among developers around the world, to decentralize the web and take back power from the forces that have profited from centralizing it. In other words, it’s game on for Facebook, Google, Amazon. “We have to do it now,” Berners-Lee said of the newly launched project. “It’s a historical moment.” He identified the main impetus behind his recent announcement that he’ll be going on sabbatical from his research professor post at MIT to work full-time on the project as the recent revelation that Facebook allowed political operatives to gain access to some 50 million users’ private data.
At MIT Berners-Lee has for years led a team on designing and building a decentralized web platform called ‘Solid’ — which will underlie the Inrupt platform. The Inrupt venture will serve as users’ first access to the new Solid decentralized web: If all goes as planned, Inrupt will be to Solid what Netscape once was for many first-time users of the web: an easy way in. And like with Netscape, Berners-Lee hopes Inrupt will be just the first of many companies to emerge from Solid. “I have been imagining this for a very long time,” says Berners-Lee.
Macedonia’s prime minister pledged on Sunday to press on with a vote in parliament to change the country’s name to resolve a decades-old dispute with Greece, despite failing to secure the 50 percent turnout at a referendum required to make it valid. The proposed name change is part of an agreement reached in June by pro-Western Prime Minister Zoran Zaev with Greece to resolve the dispute over the country’s name, which had prevented Macedonia from joining NATO or the EU. With 85 percent of votes counted, official turnout was just 36 percent, and election officials made clear there was no chance the threshold would be cleared. “On this referendum, it is clear that the decision has not been made,” election commission head Oliver Derkoski told reporters.
The people who did vote overwhelmingly backed the name change — more than 90 percent voted yes with 63 percent of polling stations reporting. But that had never been in doubt, since opponents of the change had urged followers not to vote, rather than vote no. “It is clear that the agreement with Greece has not received the green light from the people,” main nationalist opposition VMRO-DPMNE party leader Hristiajn Mickoski told journalists. The referendum was itself not legally binding, but lawmakers had pledged to abide by it, and the failure to reach the turnout threshold means opponents can now freely vote against the deal. The nationalist opposition holds 49 seats in the 120-seat parliament, enough to block the two-thirds majority required to change the constitution.
The operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has said that much of the radioactive water stored at the plant isn’t clean enough and needs further treatment if it is to be released into the ocean. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and the government had said that treatment of the water had removed all radioactive elements except tritium, which experts say is safe in small amounts. They called it “tritium water,” but it actually wasn’t. Tepco said Friday that studies found the water still contains other elements, including radioactive iodine, cesium and strontium. It said more than 80 percent of the 900,000 tons of water stored in large, densely packed tanks contains radioactivity exceeding limits for release into the environment.
Tepco general manager Junichi Matsumoto said radioactive elements remained, especially earlier in the crisis when plant workers had to deal with large amounts of contaminated water leaking from the wrecked reactors and could not afford time to stop the treatment machines to change filters frequently. “We had to prioritize processing large amounts of water as quickly as possible to reduce the overall risk,” Matsumoto said. About 161,000 tons of the treated water has 10 to 100 times the limit for release into the environment, and another 65,200 tons has up to nearly 20,000 times the limit, Tepco said.
[..] are sea levels going up or down? The answer seems clear when you consider that Antarctica has lost 3 trillion tonnes of ice in the last 25 years. Yet to understand what is going on we first have to recognise that the Earth isn’t solid. It started life as a ball of hot liquid about 4.5bn years ago and our planet has been cooling ever since. Right at the centre of the Earth is a solid core of metal made of iron and nickel at a temperature of approximately 5,000C. But this core is surrounded by an approximately 2,000km-thick ocean of molten metal, again mostly iron and nickel.
Surrounding this is a layer of rock called the mantle that is between 500C to 900C, and at these red-hot temperatures the rock behaves like a solid over short periods of time (seconds, hours, and days) but like a liquid over longer time periods (months to years) – so the rock flows, even though it is not molten. On top of the fluid mantle floats the crust, which is like the skin of the Earth. It is a relatively thin layer of cool rock that is between 30 to 100km thick and contains all the mountains, forests, rivers, seas, continents – our world.
Since the crust is floating on the fluid mantle, if you increase its weight by, for instance, building up kilometres of ice on top of it, then it sinks further into the mantle. This is what has happened to the landmasses of Antarctica and Greenland, which are both covered in 2km to 3km of thick ice. If global warming were to cause all that ice to melt, then the sea level of the oceans would rise by more than 50 metres, submerging all the coastal cities of the world and making hundreds of millions of people homeless. This seems obvious. What is less obvious is how it might unfold.
I’m not sure what this is, but it’s definitely different. A bunch of tweets and videos by Mike Cernovich, Scott Adams and Kanye West have been dancing in an unexpected way that has conservatives now talking about a shift in consciousness transforming the way humanity functions in the near future. Liberals and leftists are scoffing at it of course, but it’s definitely a thing, and in my opinion it’s downright fascinating. The MAGA crowd has always impressed me with its ability to energetically and spontaneously unify behind a single theme as a group, like a flock of birds or school of fish changing direction together on a dime. There are certainly worse things they could pour their collaboration into than manifesting a spiritual revolution.
And who the hell am I to say they’re wrong about that? It’s not like we’ve got a choice anyway; either our species will change the way it functions or we’ll wipe ourselves out via nuclear holocaust or climate catastrophe within a few decades, no matter how loudly and smugly we scoff at the guys in MAGA hats. If humanity is going to take a last-ditch, evolve-or-die leap into the unknown and unprecedented, now would surely be the time to do it. If a bunch of right-wingers get it into their heads that humanity is undergoing a spiritual transformation, that certainty could be all it takes to tip us into the shift we all know we need to make anyway.
Could something big be in the works? Something which transcends all our little echo chamber walls and ideological boundaries, which comes not from the repetitive thought loops in our minds but from our deep evolutionary drive to survive? I hope so. And call me naive and deluded if you like, but right now I’m seeing plenty of reasons to hope.
Who hit Kanye with that white privilege stick? The rapper / fashion maven / theologian / Kardashian arm candyman sent chills through the Twitterverse when he declared himself, somewhat elliptically, off-the-bus of the Progressive #Resistance movement and an admirer of the Golden One in the Oval Office. This came in his endorsement of YouTube blogger Candace Owen, who happens to not be down with the cause of the national victim lottery. Both Kanye and Candace have apparently crossed some boundary into a Twilight Zone of independent thought. Many probably wonder how they are able to get out of bed in the morning without instructions from Don Lemon.
Speaking as a white cis-hetero mammal, I’m not quite as dazzled by the president, but it’s a relief to see, at last, some small rebellion against the American Stasi who have turned the public arena into a giant holding pen for identity offenders — though it is but one corner of the triad-of-hysteria that also includes the Hate Russia campaign and the crusade against men. This nonsense has been going on long enough, while the country hurtles heedlessly into a long emergency of economic disarray. Next in line after Kanye and Candace, a popular Twitter critter name of Chance the Rapper endorsed Kanye endorsing Candace, more or less, by tweeting “black people don’t have to be Democrats.”
The horror this thought aroused! Slavery, these days, it turns out, has a lot of appeal — maybe not so much for laboring in the canefields under the noonday sun as for serving juleps in the DNC plantation house. It happened that Kanye’s mom was a college professor, Chance’s dad was an aide to Chicago Mayor Daley (Jr.), and later worked in Mr. Obama’s Department of Labor. Candace describes her childhood home in Stamford, CT, as “very poor,” but she rose far-and-fast out of college to become an executive on Wall Street in her twenties. What they seem to have in common is being tainted with bourgeois values, horror again!
[..] I dunno about the perpetually scowling Kanye, with his periodic mood problems and spotlight-stealing antics on stage, or Chance the Rapper’s artificial hood raptures, but Candace makes the argument for the value of a common culture that might bind us together as a nation of individuals, not hostile tribes, starting with a language that everybody can understand. Of course, the whole Kanye / Candace dust-up may be forgotten by the middle of next week, and the country can go back to gaslighting itself into either a new civil war or world war three. Candace seems to have drive, guts, and stamina and there’s no sign that she’s going to shut up. Won’t some Ivy League university please invite her to speak, just to see what happens?
North Korea on Saturday hailed its summit with the South as a “historic meeting” that paved the way for the start of a new era, after the two leaders pledged to pursue denuclearisation and a permanent peace. The official KCNA news agency carried the text of the leaders’ Panmunjom Declaration in full and said the encounter opened the way “for national reconciliation and unity, peace and prosperity”. In the document, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in “confirmed the common goal of realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula”. But the phrase is a diplomatic euphemism open to interpretation on both sides.
Pyongyang has long wanted to see an end to the US military presence and nuclear umbrella over the South, but it invaded its neighbour in 1950 and is the only one of the two Koreas to possess nuclear weapons. Analysts warn that previous displays of inter-Korean affection and pledges by the North ultimately came to naught. For years, Pyongyang insisted it would never give up the “treasured sword” of its nuclear arsenal, which it says it needs to defend itself against a possible US invasion. But it has offered to put it up for negotiation in exchange for security guarantees, according to Seoul – although Kim made no public reference to doing so at Friday’s spectacular summit. In a separate report, KCNA said the two leaders had a “candid and open-hearted exchange of views” on issues including “ensuring peace on the Korean Peninsula and the denuclearisation of the peninsula”.
Wall Street has now truly jumped the shark – the one jockeyed by Jeff Bezos. Last night Amazon reported a whopping 41% plunge in free cash flow for the March 2018 LTM period compared to prior year. Yet it was promptly rewarded by a $50 billion surge in market cap – with $10 billion of that going to the guy riding topside on the Great White Shark of Bubble Finance. That’s right. Amazon’s relatively meager operating free cash flow for the March 2017 LTM period had printed at $9.0 billion, but in the most recent 12 months the number has slithered all the way down to just $5.3 billion. And that’s where the real insanity begins. A year ago Amazon’s market cap towered at $425 billion – meaning that it was being valued at a downright frisky 47X free cash flow.
But fast forward a year and we get $780 billion in the market cap column this morning and 146X for the free cash flow multiple. Folks, a company selling distilled water from the Fountain of Youth can’t be worth 146X free cash flow, but don’t tell the giddy lunatics on Wall Street because they are apparently just getting started. Already at the crack of dawn SunTrust was out with a $1900 price target – meaning an implied market cap of $970 billion and 180X on the free cash flow multiple. At this point, of course, you could say who’s counting and be done with it. But actually it’s worse – and for both Amazon and the US economy.
That’s because Amazon is both the leading edge of the most fantastic ever bubble on Wall Street and also a poster boy for the manner in which Bubble Finance is hammering growth, jobs, incomes and economic vitality on main street. Moreover, soon enough a collapsing Wall Street bubble will bring the already deeply impaired main street economy to its knees. So Amazon is a double-destroyer. [..] Fully 96% of Amazon’s $5.0 billion of LTM operating income was accounted for by its cloud services business (AWS). The e-Commerce juggernaut, by contrast, posted just $188 million of LTM operating income, which amounts to, well, 0.1% of sales on a computational basis. But we’d round that to zero – especially because Amazon’s e-Commerce business was already almost there in the year ago period when its margin on sales came in a tad higher at 0.6%!
The disproportionate number of deaths of black and brown people in incidents with the police shows that structural racism remains rooted in the fabric of British society, a panel of UN human rights experts has said. The panel cited data from the Metropolitan police showing a disproportionate number of minority ethnic people – particularly those of African or Caribbean descent – dying due to excessive use of force by the state. Noting that there had never been a successful prosecution of a police officer for a death in police custody, the panel said: “This points to the lack of accountability and the impunity with which law enforcement and state agencies operate.”
The warning from members of the UN human rights council comes before a 12-day visit to the UK by E Tendayi Achiume, the special rapporteur on racism, beginning on Monday. “The deaths reinforce the experiences of structural racism, over-policing and criminalisation of people of African descent and other minorities in the UK,” they said. “Failure to properly investigate and prosecute such deaths results in a lack of accountability for those individuals and state agencies responsible, as well as in the denial of adequate remedies and reparation for the families of the victims.” The panel pointed particularly to the disproportionate use of stun guns. People from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were three times more likely to be subjected to the use of such weapons by police, they said.
The members added: “People of African descent with psychosocial disabilities and those experiencing severe mental or emotional distress reportedly face multiple forms of discrimination and are particularly affected by excessive use of force.” A report last year by David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, found racial disparities across the criminal justice system. He has consistently said that young black men feel as though they are living in a police state and that a different standard of policing is applied to black youths, compared with whites.
Today, I will violate one of my favorite principles, and hereby make this prediction: No Brexit! In other words, the U.K. will not exit the European Union. By 2023, we will look back at the entire ridiculous affair as if it were a rediscovered lost episode of “Fawlty Towers.” Soon after the referendum in which Brits unwisely voted to leave the EU, I suggested there was a 33% chance that Brexit wouldn’t occur. Now, I raise that to 75%, and with each passing day of incompetence shown by Prime Minister Theresa May’s administration, the probabilities move higher.
With that disclosure out of the way, I’d like to explain the thinking behind this not-so-bold forecast. From the very beginning, I have been a skeptic that a full Brexit would occur. The concept was simply so foolish and self-destructive that the reasonable expectation was cooler heads would prevail. But that was a modest assumption and didn’t anticipate the feckless May government making a bad situation even worse. There seem to be several ways this can, and probably will, fall apart. In order of likelihood (recognizing a combination of any and all of these is possible):
1) Doing nothing
2) Snap parliamentary election leading to a May loss
3) New referendum
4) Ireland/Scotland make it too complicated
5) Europe makes it impossible
While more than 100 countries take a day off for May Day, U.S. President Donald Trump will spend next Tuesday deciding whether to extend a largely U.S.-China trade standoff into a more global dispute. In a week featuring a Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting, U.S. monthly jobs data and first estimates on euro zone inflation and economic growth, Trump’s decision on metal tariffs may prove to the be biggest market mover. The United States set import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum a month ago, but granted temporary exemptions to the European Union, NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico, as well as Argentina, Brazil, Australia and South Korea. Those exemptions expire on May 1.
Korea secured a permanent exemption for steel within days of agreeing to a revision of its trade pact with the United States. Canada and Mexico may rely on advances in talks on North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for an extension. Continued exemptions for the other countries, and notably the European Union, remain in doubt. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were meeting Trump in Washington as part of EU lobbying effort in the past week, but German officials played down the chances of a breakthrough before Merkel’s Friday visit. “From today’s point of view, we must reckon that the tariffs will come on May 1,” one official said.
The European Commission, which oversees trade policy for the 28-member bloc, has insisted the United States grant it a permanent exemption without conditions. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Thursday that Trump wanted concessions on automobiles, for which import duties are higher into Europe than into the United States.
We have entered a landmark moment: no president since Woodrow Wilson (during whose administration the Federal Reserve was established) will have appointed as many board members to the Fed as Donald Trump. His fingerprints will, in other words, not just be on Supreme Court decisions, but no less significantly Fed policy-making for years to come — even though, like that court, it occupies a mandated position of political independence. The president’s latest two nominees to that institution’s Board of Governors exemplify this. He has nominated Richard Clarida, a former Treasury Department official from the days of President George W. Bush who later became a strategic adviser to investment goliath Pimco, to the Fed’s second most important slot, while giving the nod to Michelle Bowman, a Kansas bank commissioner, to represent community banks on that same board.
Like many other entities in Washington, the Fed’s Board of Governors has been operating with less than a full staff. If Clarida is approved, he will join Trump-appointed Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and incoming New York Federal Reserve Bank head John C. Williams — the New York Fed generally exists in a mind meld with Wall Street — as part of the most powerful trio at that institution. Williams served as president of the San Francisco Fed. Under his watch, the third largest U.S. bank, Wells Fargo, created about 3.5 million fake accounts, gave its CEO a whopping raise, and copped to a $1 billion fine for bilking its customers on auto and mortgage insurance contracts.
Not surprisingly, Wall Street has embraced Trump’s new Fed line-up because its members are so favorably disposed to loosening restrictions on financial institutions of every sort. Initially, the financial markets reflected concern that Chairman Powell might turn out to be a hawk on interest rates, meaning he’d raise them too quickly, but he’s proved to be anything but. As Trump stacks the deck in his favor, count on an economic impact that will be felt for years to come and could leave the world devastated. But rest assured, if the Fed can help Trump keep the stock market buoyant for a while by letting money stay cheap for Wall Street speculation and the dollar competitive for a trade war, it will.
The U.S. issued a new warning to China on its handling of intellectual property as President Donald Trump prepares to dispatch senior advisers to the Asian nation to head off a trade dispute. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office kept China on its “priority watch list” of countries whose IP practices require monitoring. China has an “urgent need” to fix a range of IP-related concerns, including trade-secret theft, online piracy, and forced technology transfer, USTR said in its annual report on IP protection and enforcement. Escalating trade tensions between the world’s two-biggest economies have rattled markets and sparked fears of a trade war. Trump has proposed tariffs on as much as $150 billion of Chinese imports on the grounds of alleged IP theft, while Beijing has vowed to retaliate on everything from American soybeans to airplanes.
The annual list, which carries no immediate penalties, is supposed draw attention to the need for nations to address everything from copyright infringement to online piracy. Trump said this week Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other senior officials will visit China within days, adding that there’s a “very good chance” the two countries can reach a deal. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow will also be part of the delegation. Kudlow said he expects serious negotiations on a range of trade irritants, including technology-related issues, and the U.S. will be looking for specific actions from China. Officials in Beijing in recent weeks have been announcing steps to further open up the economy, such as gradually scrapping foreign ownership caps on local vehicle companies.
The administration added Canada and Colombia to the highest priority watch list for IP challenges, and it dropped Thailand from the regular watch list. Canada is the only Group of Seven country on the monitoring list. The USTR said the country has failed to resolve “key longstanding deficiencies,” including poor border and law enforcement with respect to counterfeit and pirated goods, weak patent protection and pricing for pharmaceuticals, and inadequate copyright protection.
Investors who pushed up Chinese bank shares last week on news of lower reserve requirements may have been celebrating too soon. The subtext to Tuesday’s move is an effort to prepare the banks for a painful new phase in China’s campaign to reduce financial-sector risks, as regulators free up deposit rates and accelerate their crackdown on the nation’s $16 trillion shadow banking sector. “China is gearing up to crack a hard nut with deleveraging and financial reforms, and the central bank is offering some coordinated policies to ensure it will be a smooth transition,” said Xia Le, chief Asia economist at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Hong Kong.
The People’s Bank of China’s decision to free up more liquidity for banks by slashing reserve ratio requirements, at a time when funding conditions are plentiful, shows the central bank is trying to insulate lenders for the next phase of reform, said Ming Ming, head of fixed-income research at Citic Securities. A key element of that reform process is a plan to give banks greater freedom to set interest rates, flagged by PBOC Governor Yi Gang at the Boao forum earlier this month. That will help banks better compete for deposits from Chinese savers and hasten the shift away from shadow instruments such as wealth management products.
Already, China Construction Bank, Bank of China and other large lenders have started trying to attract funding by rolling out certificates of deposit with sharply higher interest rates. But the move away from off balance sheet WMPs to on-balance sheet deposit funding is likely to be painful. Guosen Securities analyst Wang Jian described interest rate liberalization as like “throwing a bomb at banks” in an April 11 note, saying the need to offer higher deposit rates to attract funds could push them into riskier lending, to real estate for example, in order to protect profits.
History shows that central banks rarely stem a currency’s long-term decline simply by spending foreign-exchange reserves. Yet not stepping in at all can prove far worse. That’s the argument used by authorities in Brazil, Indonesia and most recently Argentina to explain why it makes sense to shower billions of dollars on what looks like a losing bet. This week alone, Argentina spent about $3 billion, or 5% of its reserves, to bolster the peso after it plunged to a record low. Then, wielding another monetary cudgel, it unexpectedly goosed interest rates. In Buenos Aires, the combination worked – at least for today. The peso ended just a blip or two in the green after sliding 1.8% earlier. It’s still this year’s worst-performing major currency, nosing out Russia’s ruble and the Turkish lira.
“It was a success in the sense that it gave two signals to the market,” said Daniel Chodos, a strategist at Credit Suisse based in the Argentine capital. “One is that it can and will use all available instruments to conduct monetary policy, that is, interest-rate and FX interventions. The second signal is that because of the tool kit it has, it can intervene and cause some pain to markets.” Indonesia is a more cautionary tale. The southeast Asian nation’s central bank drained $6 billion of foreign reserves in February and March partly to stabilize the rupiah, and may have further eroded the $126 billion pile as it stepped up intervention this month. But the moves, coupled with a threat to hike rates, didn’t calm volatility. That led the central bank to say it’s preparing a second line of defense to ensure liquidity.
Brazil’s interventions in the foreign-exchange market, using currency swaps, became so regular between 2013 and 2015 that traders started likening them to “ração diária,” the moment each day set aside to feed your pets.
In what could be the beginning of the new way forward to utilities, on Tuesday, Hawaiian Gov. David Ige signed the Ratepayer Protection Act, a new law that directs utilities in Hawaii to change their business models and fully decouple revenue and capital expenditures. “This is the first jurisdiction that is doing this. It’s a concept that’s been discussed at some length among scholars and experts in the field but no one has actually implemented this so this was definitely a moonshot bill,” said State Sen. Stanley Chang in an interview. “Instead of charging what the market can bear or letting utilities charge on a cost-plus basis to recoup their costs, for the first time they are going to charge based on factors including affordability, reliability, transparency, renewable energy integration, efficiency,” he added.
“That’s a total change to the business model of these utilities.” Today, one of the only ways that utilities all across the world can generate revenue is by rate-basing capital expenditures. What that means in plain English is that the more utilities spend on infrastructure, such as upgrading transmission and distribution equipment (and building new generation plants in some territories), the more money they make because they are allowed to add those capital expenditures to their electric rates plus a healthy margin and recover their costs through ratepayer dollars.
As of July 1, 2020, this model will cease to exist in Hawaii. Under the new law Hawaiian utilities and the public utility commission (PUC) will need to come up with “performance incentives and penalty mechanisms that directly tie an electric utility revenues to that utility’s achievement on performance metrics and break the direct link between allowed revenues and investment levels,” according to the new law.
The radiation dispersed into the environment by the three reactor meltdowns at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan has exceeded that of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, so we may stop calling it the “second worst” nuclear power disaster in history. Total atmospheric releases from Fukushima are estimated to be between 5.6 and 8.1 times that of Chernobyl, according to the 2013 World Nuclear Industry Status Report. Professor Komei Hosokawa, who wrote the report’s Fukushima section, told London’s Channel 4 News then, “Almost every day new things happen, and there is no sign that they will control the situation in the next few months or years.”
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has estimated that about 900 peta-becquerels have spewed from Fukushima, and the updated 2016 TORCH Report estimates that Chernobyl dispersed 110 peta-becquerels.(A Becquerel is one atomic disintegration per second. The “peta-becquerel” is a quadrillion, or a thousand trillion Becquerels.) Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 in Ukraine suffered several explosions, blew apart and burned for 40 days, sending clouds of radioactive materials high into the atmosphere, and spreading fallout across the whole of the Northern Hemisphere — depositing cesium-137 in Minnesota’s milk.
The likelihood of similar or worse reactor disasters was estimated by James Asselstine of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), who testified to Congress in 1986: “We can expect to see a core meltdown accident within the next 20 years, and it … could result in off-site releases of radiation … as large as or larger than the releases … at Chernobyl. Fukushima-Daiichi came 25 years later. Contamination of soil, vegetation and water is so widespread in Japan that evacuating all the at-risk populations could collapse the economy, much as Chernobyl did to the former Soviet Union. For this reason, the Japanese government standard for decontaminating soil there is far less stringent than the standard used in Ukraine after Chernobyl.
European Union countries voted on Friday in favour of a near-total ban on neonicotinoid insecticides which are blamed for an alarming collapse in bee populations. The move comes after the European food safety agency said in February that most uses of the chemicals posed a risk to bees, prompting environmentalists to push the 28-nation EU to immediately outlaw them. Bees help pollinate 90% of the world’s major crops, but in recent years have been dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed on mites, pesticides, virus, fungus, or a combination of these factors.
Campaigners dressed in black and yellow bee suits rallied outside the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels ahead of the vote for a ban on three key pesticide chemicals. EU Environment Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said he was “happy that member states voted in favour of our proposal” to restrict the chemicals and tweeted a picture of the activists.
Microplastic pollution contaminates soil across Switzerland, even in remote mountains, new research reveals. The scientists said the problem could be worse in other nations with poorer waste management and that research was urgently needed to see if microplastics get into food. In the first major study of microplastics in soil, the researchers analysed soil samples from 29 river flood plains in nature reserves across Switzerland. They found microplastics, fragments under 5mm in size, in 90% of the soils. The scientists believe the particles are carried across the country by the wind. Research on microplastic pollution to date has largely concentrated on the oceans, in which it is found across the globe, including the Arctic. The particles have been shown to harm marine life and can absorb toxins from the water.
Record levels of microplastics were revealed in rivers by research released in March and last year tap water around the world was found to contain plastic fibres. Other studies have found microplastics in bottled water, which prompted the World Health Organization to launch a review, as well as in beer, honey and salt. However, almost no research has yet been done on whether the particles end up being widely consumed by people and whether they are harmful. Michael Scheurer and Moritz Bigalke at the Geographical Institute of the University of Bern, conducted the new research, which is published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. “These findings are alarming,” Scheurer said. “For example, new studies indicate that microplastics in the soil can be harmful to and even kill earthworms in the soil.”
Microplastics were found even in remote mountain regions that can only be reached by foot. “We were really surprised,” said Bigalke. “All the areas were in national parks. We thought we might find one or two plastic particles, but we found a lot.” [..] One of the very few studies into microplastics in food examined backyard chickens in Mexico. The researchers found 57 particles per gramme in the gizzards of the chickens. “Chicken gizzard is a specialty in the Mexican kitchen and the intake of the present plastics form a strong risk for human health,” the scientists said.
The world may have hit ‘peak trade,’ according to an expert who pointed to robotics, digitization and localization as major game-changers for the sprawling supply chains that have defined globalization. Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Wealth Management, said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s recently announced trade tariffs are not to blame. “I don’t think that the modest taxes imposed by Trump are a driver of peak trade, at this stage. Trade protectionism — mainly non-tariff barriers to trade — have been rising for some years,” he told CNBC. Rather, Donovan said, the peak trade argument is based on “a reversal of the structural way in which globalization took place in recent years.” Globalization as we know it has meant long cross-border supply chains, where many different countries and entities would take part in the production or processing of goods.
The resulting value of trade rose for each country as a proportion of GDP. Trade to GDP, therefore, rose as supply chains lengthened. “What is now happening is that robotics and digitization mean we can produce efficiently, locally,” Donovan said. As an example, he compared the purchase of a compact disc — whose components, intellectual property and packaging would come from different places — a decade ago to downloading music now, which requires only one transaction of intellectual property. This reduces the ratio of trade to GDP. [..] “Robotics, digitization and localization mean that trade wars today are fighting battles from the past,” Donovan said. “I think global trade in goods (not services) revert to something like the old ‘imperial model’ of importing raw materials and then processing close to the consumer.”
China’s exports unexpectedly surged at the fastest pace in 3 years in February, suggesting its economic growth remains resilient even as trade relations with the United States rapidly deteriorate. Trade tensions have jumped to the top of the list of risks facing China this year, with proposed U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium imports suggesting more measures may be on the way, Zhou Hao, senior emerging markets economist at Commerzbank, [said]. China’s February exports rose 44.5% from a year earlier, compared with analysts’ median forecast for a 13.6% increase, and an 11.1% gain in January, official data showed on Thursday. Imports grew 6.3%, the General Administration of Customs said, missing analysts’ forecast for 9.7% growth, and down from a sharper-than-expected 36.9% jump in January.
Analysts caution Chinese data early in the year can be heavily distorted by the timing of the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in February this year but in January in 2017. But combined January-February trade data also showed a dramatic acceleration in export growth. Exports rose 24.4% on-year in Jan-Feb, much better than 10.8% in December and 4% growth in Jan-Feb last year. The government also releases combined data for the first two months in an attempt to smooth out seasonal distortions. The deceleration in import growth for February may be payback for the previous month’s unusual strength, rather than a sign there has been an abrupt weakening in demand. Robust import growth in January was mostly led by commodities as factories scrambled to restock inventories ahead of the long holiday. Imports in the first two months of the year rose 21.7%, compared with 4.5% in December.
Jesse Colombo’s comment: “And what’s amazing is that these retirement stats are during a massive, Fed-driven asset bubble that has inflated the value of retirement accounts – and people STILL can’t retire! Stick a fork in it…we’re done.”
At this rate, retirement is more of a fantasy than a reality for many people in this country. About 42% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire, according to a study by GoBankingRates released Tuesday. The No. 1 reason most people cited for not stashing more away was because they didn’t earn enough to save, followed by the fact that they were already struggling to pay bills, GoBankingRates said. The personal finance site polled more than 1,000 adults online in February.
For those with little or no savings, a serious lack of proper investment income and planning, coupled with a longer life expectancy, has destroyed any retirement expectations. Although millennials are most likely to have less than $10,000 saved, older Americans are also becoming steadily more pessimistic about their future economic prospects, according to a separate study by United Income, a start-up that aims to apply big-data analysis to financial planning.
America relinquished its role as the world’s leading manufacturer in exchange for cheaper imported goods and services from other countries. The profits of U.S.-based manufacturing companies were enhanced with cheaper foreign labor, but the wages of U.S. employees were impaired, and jobs in the manufacturing sector were exported to foreign lands. This had the effect of hollowing out America’s industrial base while at the same time stoking foreign appetite for U.S. debt as they received U.S. dollars and sought to invest them. In return, debt-driven consumption soared in the U.S. The trade deficit, also known as the current account balance, measures the net flow of goods and services in and out of a country. The graph shows the correlation between the cumulative deterioration of the U.S. current account balance and manufacturing jobs.
Since 1983, there have only been two quarters in which the current account balance was positive. During the most recent economic expansion, the current account balance has averaged -$443 billion per year. To further appreciate the ramifications of the reigning economic regime, consider that China gained full acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. The trade agreements that accompanied WTO status and allowed China easier access to U.S. markets have resulted in an approximate quintupling of the amount of exports from China to the U.S. Similarly, there has been a concurrent increase in the amount of credit that China has extended the U.S. government through their purchase of U.S. Treasury securities as shown below.
To further understand why the current economic regime is tricky to change, one must consider that the debts of years past have not been paid off. As such the U.S. Treasury regularly issues new debt that is used to pay for older debt that is maturing while at the same time issuing even more debt to fund current period deficits. Therefore, the important topic not being discussed is the United States’ (in)ability to reduce reliance on foreign funding that has proven essential in supporting the accumulated debt of consumption from years past. Trump’s ideas are far more complicated than simply leveling the trade playing field and reviving our industrial base. If the United States decides to equalize terms of trade, then we are redefining long-held agreements introduced and reinforced by previous administrations.
In breaking with that tradition of “we give you dollars, you give us cheap goods (cars, toys, lawnmowers, steel, etc.), we will most certainly also need to source alternative demand for our debt. In reality, new buyers will emerge but that likely implies an unfavorable adjustment to interest rates. The graph below compares the amount of U.S. Treasury debt that is funded abroad and the total amount of publicly traded U.S. debt. Consider further, foreigners have large holdings of U.S. corporate and securitized individual debt as well. (Importantly, also note that in recent years the Fed has bought over $2 trillion of Treasury securities through QE, more than making up for the recent slowdown in foreign buying.)
There are many ways of assessing the value of the stock market. The Shiller PE (price relative to the past decade’s worth of real, average earnings) and Tobin’s Q (the value of companies’ outstanding stock and debt relative to their replacement cost) are likely the two best. That doesn’t mean those metrics are accurate crash indicators, or that one can use them profitably as trading signals. Expensive stocks can stay expensive or get more expensive, and cheap stocks can stay cheap or get cheaper for inconveniently long periods of time.
But those metrics do have a good record of forecasting future long-term (one decade or more) returns. And that’s important for financial planning and wealth management. Difficult though it is sometimes, everyone must plug in an estimated return into a formula for retirement savings. And if an advisor is plugging in a 7% or so return for a balanced portfolio currently, he or she is likely not doing their job well. Stocks will almost certainly return less than their long-term 10% annualized average for the next decade or two given a starting Shiller PE over 30. The long-term average of the metric, after all, is under 17.
[..] Companies are always manipulating items on income statements to arrive at a particular earnings number. Recently, record numbers of companies have supported net income numbers with non-GAAP metrics. That can be legitimate sometimes. For example, depreciation on real estate is rarely commensurate with reality. But it can also be nefarious[..] So I created a chart showing sales per share growth and price per share growth of the S&P 500 dating back to the end of 2008. From the beginning of 2009 through the end of 2016, companies in the index grew profits per share by nearly 4% annualized, a perfectly respectable number for a mature economy. But price per share grew by a whopping 14.5% over that time. Over that 8 year period, sales grew less than 50% cumulatively, while share prices tripled.
Anyone invested in stocks should worry about this chart. How do share prices get so divorced from underlying corporate sales? One likely answer is low interest rates. But there must be other reasons because we’ve had low interest rates and low stock prices before – namely in the 1940s. That was after the Great Depression, and stocks were still likely viewed as suspect investments. Today, by contrast, stocks are not viewed with much suspicion, despite the technology bubble peaking in 2000 and the housing bubble in 2008. Investors still believe in stocks as an asset class.
As if a brewing trade war wasn’t enough to worry about, investors also need to be alert to the threat of a major currency conflict. Norihiro Takahashi, president of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, dismissed Donald Trump’s tariffs plan as a “performance” for his supporters, and said U.S. assets are no longer expensive, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal this week. That marks a change in stance since the December quarter, when the world’s largest pension fund scaled back its exposure to foreign assets. Takahashi’s comments could well be a veiled expression of Japan’s displeasure at a stronger yen. The Japanese currency has soared 6.6% against the greenback this year — and we’re only three months into 2018. For a yen-based investor, Treasuries, in particular, do indeed look more reasonably priced than in December.
In theory, currency policy falls under the jurisdiction of Japan’s finance ministry. In practice, government agencies from the Bank of Japan to the GPIF co-ordinate their actions. Don’t forget that on Oct. 31, 2014, the central bank expanded its monetary policy on the same day the GPIF adopted a “new policy asset mix” that increased the fund’s exposure to foreign bonds. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda can deny it, but the central bank has every interest in seeking a weak yen. Japanese corporate earnings are highly cyclical: On a market-weighted basis, companies on the Topix index derive more than 37% of their revenue from abroad, data compiled by Gadfly show. A strengthening yen can cause stocks to plunge, depressing consumption and tipping the economy back into deflation.
With the Topix down more than 10% from its January high, that’s no idle threat. CPI ex-food, the BOJ’s inflation metric, was 0.9% in January, still nowhere near the 2% target that was last breached in 2015. Kuroda’s domestic toolbox, meanwhile, is starting to look empty. With a record 40% of government bonds already in its hands, the central bank is running out of assets to buy.
The financial commentariat and the robo-machines are all in a tizzy this morning because Gary Cohn up and quit. But we say good riddance: The man gave Trump bad advice on nearly every single issue – trade, taxes, fiscal policy and the Fed. We didn’t make any bones about that viewpoint during our appearance on Fox Business this AM. When Maria Bartiromo asked us about Cohn’s departure, our reply was: Hallelujah, the Goldman Sachs Regency in the White House is finally over! The fact is, we do have a trade crisis, but Gary Cohn and the Wall Street pseudo-free traders don’t care and never have. That’s because they fiercely support a perverted, self-serving monetary regime that systematically and massively inflates financial assets, even as it strip mines and deflates the main street economy.
As we have been pointing out in this series, there is a perverse symbiosis between the Fed and the Dirty Float central banks of the 10 major countries (China, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan, etc), which account for 90% of the nation’s $810 billion trade deficit (2017). Together they have ripped the guts out of the US industrial economy – effectively sending jobs and production abroad and cash flow and liquidated capital to Wall Street. For its part, the Fed has monkey-hammered US competitiveness. That’s the result of its insensible 2.00% inflation policy, which has fatally inflated nominal dollar wages in a world market drowning in cheap labor priced in artificially under-valued currencies. At the same time, its massive interest rate repression and price-keeping operations in the stock market have turned the C-suites of corporate America into financial engineering joints.
So doing, they have slashed real net business investment by nearly 3o% since the turn of the century, by 20% from the 2007 pre-crisis peak and, actually, to a level in 2016 that barely exceeded real net investment two decades earlier in 1997. Meanwhile, the C-suites shuttled upwards of $15 trillion of cash flow and debt capacity during the last decade alone into stock buybacks, vanity M&A deals and excess dividends and recaps.
The Trump administration will initially exclude Canada and Mexico from stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, an exemption they would lose if they fail to reach an updated Nafta agreement with the U.S., White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Wednesday. The two nations won’t be subject to tariffs on their steel and aluminum if they sign a new NAFTA that meets the satisfaction of the U.S., Navarro said, adding that other American allies could use a similar system to ask for an exemption. If Nafta talks fall through, Canada and Mexico would face the same tariff as other nations, expected to be 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum. “Here’s the situation, and the president has made this public,” Navarro said. “There’s going to be a provision which will exclude Canada and Mexico until the Nafta thing is concluded one way or another.”
The decision-making process regarding the tariffs has evolved and more changes could be made before President Donald Trump formally approves them. China on Thursday vowed to retaliate, its most forceful comments yet on the threatened tariffs. “A trade war is never the right solution,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing. “In a globalized world, it is particularly unhelpful, as it will harm both the initiator and the target countries. In the event of a trade war, China will make a justified and necessary response.” Earlier Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the tariff plan would feature “potential carve outs for Canada and Mexico based on national security” considerations and also possible exclusions for specific countries. Australia is among those making the case for exemption, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop citing her nation’s status as a “close ally and partner” in a Sky News interview on Thursday.
Apple’s iPhone X may not have wooed Asian consumers during the Lunar New Year holiday — but the company has some new products in the pipeline, according to Rosenblatt Securities’ Jun Zhang. Zhang chopped 5.5 million units off expectations for iPhone X sales for the first half of this year in a Wednesday research note. But with sales of high-end smartphones shrinking, Apple could offset lower iPhone sales with new products. “We are not surprised with the quick cooldown of iPhone X sales following Chinese New Year,” Zhang wrote. “Further iPhone X cuts, in our view, suggest the high-end smartphone market upgrade cycle continues to extend. We are seeing similar issues for Samsung’s S9 model since our research suggests that preorders are weak.”
Apple and Samsung, like many tech companies, and rarely release data on new products or unit sales outside of quarterly reports or launch events. But, Zhang wrote, Apple could sell 6 million to 8 million iPad Pro units with more advanced 3-D sensing, as well as new phones in the fall. A new red iPhone model, lower-end iPhones and a lower-priced HomePod might also be in the works, Zhang said. (Apple has had a partnership with HIV/AIDS organization (RED) for over a decade, and often sells red-colored products to support AIDS research and prevention.) “Since we expect the overall smartphone market to be flat this year, particularly in the mid-to-high end markets, Apple’s upcoming lower priced iPhone model could drive Apple’s unit growth,” Zhang wrote.
Thousands of homes in Vancouver have been declared unused and liable for a new empty homes tax as part of a government attempt to tackle skyrocketing home prices and soaring rents. About 4.6% or 8,481 homes in the western Canadian city stood empty or underutilised for more than 180 days in 2017, according to declarations submitted to the municipality by 98.85% of homeowners. Properties deemed empty will be subjected to a tax of 1% of their assessed value. Vancouver has rolled out a raft of measures to cool prices and improve housing affordability in the country’s most expensive real estate market. Empty houses, also a big issue in the UK, are only one aspect of the problem. In 2017 the provincial government of British Columbia raised its foreign buyer tax from 15% to 20% to target offshore investors blamed for pushing up prices.
Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, followed suit with a 15% tax in April. Before the foreign buyer tax, sales agents said investors in Hong Kong, China and other parts of Asia were acquiring up to 40% of Vancouver condominium projects marketed abroad, absorbing the more expensive units that domestic buyers could not afford. Nearly 61% of the homes declared empty in Vancouver were condos, and other multi-family properties made up almost 6%, according to the city government. More than a quarter of the empty properties were in downtown Vancouver. Property owners who did not submit a declaration and those who claimed exemptions, such as for renovations or if the owner was in hospital or long-term care, were included in the empty homes number.
There are more people called David or Steve who head up FTSE 100 companies than there are women or ethnic minorities, underscoring the extent to which corporate Britain is still dominated by men. According to research conducted by INvolve, a group that champions diversity and inclusion in business, there are currently five ethnic minority and seven female chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. Nine are named David and four are called Steve. Later this month Royal Mail, which is headed up by Moya Greene, is set to join the index of the UK’s biggest publicly listed companies, taking the total number of female-led firms to eight.
The number highlights how women and ethnic minorities are still dramatically underrepresented on corporate boards across the UK. According to the Government’s Hampton-Alexander Review into female leaders across FTSE companies published last November, only five FTSE 250 companies had at the time achieved a gender-balanced board. Speaking at an event in London to mark International Women’s Day this week, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said that women are now joining boards in greater numbers than ever, but often as non-executive directors.
President Vladimir Putin, who recently startled the world by unveiling Russia’s advanced nuclear arsenal, has again spoken of nuclear arms, clarifying the circumstances in which Moscow is prepared to enter a nuclear war. “Certainly, it would be a global disaster for humanity; a disaster for the entire world,” Putin said, in an interview for a Russian documentary “The World Order 2018,” adding that “as a citizen of Russia and the head of the Russian state I must ask myself: Why would we want a world without Russia?” Even though Putin admitted that any conflict involving the use of nuclear weapons would have dire consequences for humanity, he maintained that Russia would be forced to defend itself using all available means if its very existence is put at stake.
“A decision on the use of nuclear weapons may only be taken if our ballistic missile attack warning system not only detects a launch, but also predicts that the warheads would hit Russian territory. This is called a retaliation strike,” he said in the interview. Russia’s latest edition of its nuclear doctrine allows the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack against Russia or its allies, or to a conventional attack that threatens the existence of Russia. Putin also denied Russia was interested in pursuing a nuclear arms race, saying that “to begin with, we did not start this… nuclear bomb was first developed not by us but by the US,” he said in the interview, pointing out that “we have never used nuclear weapons [although] the US used them against Japan.”
Boris Johnson just about observed diplomatic protocol when he addressed MPs about the apparent poisoning of Sergei Skripal. He stopped short of accusing the Russian state directly. But his inference – a malevolent and unjustified inference for the Foreign Secretary of a country that harps on about the rule of law – was indeed of Russian guilt. And it was clearest in the parallel he invited MPs to draw with the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Now it may indeed be that Russia – or Russians (something rather different) – are responsible for whatever happened in Salisbury. And it is true that Russians in the UK seem disproportionately accident-prone. But it is premature in the extreme to blame the Russian state, and just as misleading to draw this particular parallel with the Litvinenko case.
Both men may have been Russians branded traitors by their homeland, and both may have been victims of poisoning, but there are important differences. In Russia, Litvinenko worked against organised crime; he was less a spy in the conventional sense than a criminal intelligence officer. He fled the country after blowing the whistle on his corrupt bosses, and applied for asylum in the UK. His first choice, the US, had turned him down on the apparent grounds that the information he had to offer was not valuable enough. Unlike Skripal, he started working for MI5/6 only after arriving in the UK, and even then seems to have had difficulty getting on the payroll. His widow, Marina, is still battling to get the intelligence agencies to pay a pension or recognise a duty of care. It is cruel to say so, but Litvinenko seems almost to have been more use to the UK in death – as a totem of Russia’s general badness – than he was in life.
[..] For the moment, though, I will resist the temptation to delve into my inner Le Carre and return to Litvinenko. As I said, there are crucial differences between the two – differences that should militate against state-sponsored assassination being the favoured explanation for Skripal’s plight. But there should be doubts, too, about this judgment in the case of Litvinenko. The conclusions of the Litvinenko inquiry, now treated as unimpeachable proof of Russian state culpability, are nowhere near as definitive – or credible – as they have since been presented. The much-trumpeted (and over-interpreted) conclusion of the judge, Sir Robert Owen, was that “the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev [then head of the FSB] and also by President Putin”. He said there was “a strong probability” that Andrei Lugovoy poisoned Litvinenko “under the direction of the FSB” and the use of polonium-210 was “at very least a strong indicator of state involvement”. What sort of proof is that?
Turkey’s prime minister has renewed a threat against efforts to search for offshore gas around Cyprus. Turkey opposes what it says are “unilateral” efforts to search for gas, saying they infringe the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the ethnically split island’s resources. Binali Yildirim said Wednesday during a joint news conference with Tufan Erhurman, the so-called “prime minister” of the breakaway north of Cyprus, that “provocative activities will be met with the appropriate response.” Yildirim’s comments were in response to reports that an ExxonMobil vessel was heading toward the Mediterranean, coinciding with exercises in the area involving the US Navy. Last month, Turkish warships prevented a rig from reaching an area southeast of Cyprus where Italian company Eni was scheduled to drill for gas.
The United States recognizes the right of Cyprus to develop the resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone, and discourages any actions or statements that provoke a rise in tensions in the region, a State Department official has said. In a statement late on Wednesday, the official said that Washington’s policy on Cyprus’ EEZ was longstanding and has not changed, noting that the US “recognizes the right of the Republic of Cyprus to develop its resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone.” “We continue to believe the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement,” the official said. “We discourage any actions or rhetoric that increase tensions in the region.” The official did not comment directly on threats from Ankara regarding the arrival in the region of a research vessel belonging to US company ExxonMobil.
A costly “ice wall” is failing to keep groundwater from seeping into the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, data from operator Tokyo Electric Power Co shows, preventing it from removing radioactive melted fuel at the site seven years after the disaster. When the ice wall was announced in 2013, Tepco assured skeptics that it would limit the flow of groundwater into the plant’s basements, where it mixes with highly radioactive debris from the site’s reactors, to “nearly nothing.” However, since the ice wall became fully operational at the end of August, an average of 141 metric tonnes a day of water has seeped into the reactor and turbine areas, more than the average of 132 metric tonnes a day during the prior nine months, a Reuters analysis of the Tepco data showed.
The groundwater seepage has delayed Tepco’s clean-up at the site and may undermine the entire decommissioning process for the plant, which was battered by a tsunami seven years ago this Sunday. Waves knocked out power and triggered meltdowns at three of the site’s six reactors that spewed radiation, forcing 160,000 residents to flee, many of whom have not returned to this once-fertile coast. Though called an ice wall, Tepco has attempted to create something more like a frozen soil barrier. Using 34.5 billion yen ($324 million) in public funds, Tepco sunk about 1,500 tubes filled with brine to a depth of 30 meters (100 feet) in a 1.5-kilometre (1-mile) perimeter around four of the plant’s reactors. It then cools the brine to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit).
The aim is to freeze the soil into a solid mass that blocks groundwater flowing from the hills west of the plant to the coast. However, the continuing seepage has created vast amounts of toxic water that Tepco must pump out, decontaminate and store in tanks at Fukushima that now number 1,000, holding 1 million tonnes. It says it will run out of space by early 2021. “I believe the ice wall was ‘oversold’ in that it would solve all the release and storage concerns,” said Dale Klein, the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the head of an external committee advising Tepco on safety issues.
In Canada, more than 500 doctors and residents, as well as over 150 medical students, have signed a public letter protesting their own pay raises. “We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations,” the letter says. The group say they are offended that they would receive raises when nurses and patients are struggling. “These increases are all the more shocking because our nurses, clerks and other professionals face very difficult working conditions, while our patients live with the lack of access to required services because of the drastic cuts in recent years and the centralization of power in the Ministry of Health,” reads the letter, which was published February 25.
“The only thing that seems to be immune to the cuts is our remuneration,” the letter says. Canada has a public health system which provides “universal coverage for medically necessary health care services provided on the basis of need, rather than the ability to pay,” the government’s website says. The 213 general practitioners, 184 specialists, 149 resident medical doctors and 162 medical students want the money used for their raises to be returned to the system instead. “We believe that there is a way to redistribute the resources of the Quebec health system to promote the health of the population and meet the needs of patients without pushing workers to the end,” the letter says.
“We, Quebec doctors, are asking that the salary increases granted to physicians be canceled and that the resources of the system be better distributed for the good of the health care workers and to provide health services worthy to the people of Quebec.” A physician in Canada is paid $260,924 ($339,000 Canadian) for clinical services by the government’s Ministry of Health per year on average, according to a report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information published in September 2017. On average, a family physician is paid $211,717 ($275,000 Canadian) for clinical services and a surgical specialist is paid $354,915 ($461,000 Canadian), according to the same report.
The Automatic Earth and its readers have been supporting refugees and homeless in Greece since June 2015. It has been and at times difficult and at all times expensive endeavor. Not at least because the problems do not just not get solved, they actually get worse. Because the people of Greece and the refugees that land on their shores increasingly find themselves pawns in political games.
Therefore, even if the generosity of our readership has been nothing short of miraculous, we must continue to humbly ask you for more support. Because our work is not done. Our latest essay on this is here: The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund – Christmas and 2018 . It contains links to all 14 previous articles on the situation.
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Following a year in which the U.S. stock market hit a record number of records and seen basically nothing in the way of pullbacks or volatility, investors have gone all-in on stocks. Exchange-traded funds, perhaps the most popular way to get exposure to broad parts of the market, have seen record-breaking inflows over the year, with both domestic and foreign-based stock funds seeing heavy interest and no major category seeing outflows. Both retail and institutional investors have gotten in on the action and are positioning in a way that suggests both see further gains ahead. The S&P 500 has rallied about 20% over 2017, on track for its best year since 2013.
According to Torsten Sløk, Deutsche Bank’s chief international economist, “U.S. retail investors say that today is the best time ever to invest in the market,” based on data from the University of Michigan consumer sentiment report, which asks about the probability of an increase in stock prices over the coming year. Younger investors in particular are warming up to equities, according to E*Trade. The latest AAII investor sentiment survey indicates that 50.5% of polled investors are bullish on the market, meaning they expect prices will be higher in six months. That’s the highest level in nearly two years, and significantly above the 38.5% historical average. The number of bullish investors has gone up by 5.5 percentage points in the last week alone, while the percentage of bearish investors has dropped to 25.6%, down 2.5 percentage points over the last week.
Optimism has gotten so high that cash balances for Charles Schwab clients reached their lowest level on record in the third quarter, according to Morgan Stanley, which wrote that retail investors “can’t stay away.” The investment bank noted a similar trend in institutional investors, who it wrote were “loading the boat on risk,” with “long/short net and gross leverage as high as we have ever seen it.”
There have been fundamental reasons for this optimism, including a strong labor market and improving economic data. Furthermore, the recently passed tax bill will cut corporate taxes, which should boost corporate profits — which have already been enjoying their fastest year of growth since 2011. However, the incessant buying has pushed valuations to levels that are not only stretched, but stretched to a historic extent. As was recently noted by LPL Financial, the relative strength index, an indicator of technical momentum, is at its highest level since 1995, which indicates the S&P 500 is at its most overbought level in 22 years.
Margin debt is the embodiment of stock market risk. As reported by the New York Stock Exchange today, it jumped 3.5%, or $19.5 billion, in November from October, to a new record of $580.9 billion. After having jumped from one record to the next, it is now up 16% from a year ago. Even on an inflation-adjusted basis, the surge in margin debt has been breath-taking: The chart by Advisor Perspectives compares margin debt (red line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line), both adjusted for inflation (in today’s dollars). Note how margin debt spiked into March 2000, the month when the dotcom crash began, how it spiked into July 2007, three months before the Financial-Crisis crash began, and how it bottomed out in February 2009, a month before the great stock market rally began:
Margin debt, which forms part of overall stock market leverage, is the great accelerator for stocks, on the way up and on the way down. Rising margin debt – when investors borrow against their portfolios – creates liquidity out of nothing, and much of this new liquidity is used to buy more stocks. But falling margin debt returns this liquidity to where it came from. Leverage supplies liquidity. But it isn’t liquidity that moves from one asset to another. It is liquidity that is being created to be plowed into stocks, and that can evaporate just as quickly: When stocks are dumped to pay down margin debt, the money from those stock sales doesn’t go into other stocks or another asset class, doesn’t become cash “sitting on the sidelines,” as the industry likes to say, and isn’t used to buy gold or cryptocurrencies or whatever. It just evaporates without a trace.
After stirring markets into an eight-year risk-taking frenzy, the Fed is now worried that markets have gone too far. Among the Fed governors fretting out loud over this was Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan who recently warned about the “record-high levels” of margin debt, along with the US stock market capitalization, which, at 135% of GDP, is “the highest since 1999/2000.” “In the event of a sell-off, high levels of margin debt can encourage additional selling, which could, in turn, lead to a more rapid tightening of financial conditions,” he mused. The growth in margin debt has far outpaced the growth of the S&P 500 index in recent years. The chart below (by Advisor Perspectives) shows the percentage growth of margin debt and the S&P 500 index, both adjusted for inflation:
The Russian Ministry of Finance has prepared a sweeping regulatory law that will cover many facets of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin in Russia. In an interview with state-owned television broadcaster Rossiya 24 over Christmas, Russia’s finance minister Anton Siluanov confirmed the ministry’s draft law on a regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies. The regulation, as expected, will cover bitcoin mining rules, taxation laws for adopters and guidelines for exchanges selling cryptocurrencies. As reported by Russian news source TASS, Siluanov stated: The Ministry of Finance has prepared a draft law, currently under consideration, which will determine the procedure for issuing, taxing, buying and circulation of cryptocurrency. In conjunction, the Ministry of Finance is also reportedly preparing amendments to Russian legislation toward the broader regulation of new financial technologies and digital payments.
The developments are a remarkable contrast to legislation proposed by Russia’s Finance Ministry as recently as March 2016. At the time, the ministry proposed a 7-year prison sentence for bitcoin adopters and users. Earlier in September, Siluanov called for the Russian government to accept and understand “that cryptocurrencies are real.” “There is no sense in banning them,” Siluanov said at the time, “there is a need to regulate them.” The new laws, in its draft, is expected to be submitted to the State Duma (the lower house of the Russian Parliament) tomorrow before its anticipated adoption sometime in March 2018. The new laws were fast-tracked by authorities following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s mandate to develop regulations for cryptocurrencies, mining and initial coin offerings (ICOs). The amendments to existing Russian laws to recognize cryptocurrencies will also aid in the prepping for the launch of Russia’s own national cryptocurrency – the CryptoRuble.
Bitcoin resumed its tumble on Thursday after South Korea said it was eyeing options including a potential shutdown of at least some cryptocurrency exchanges to stamp out a frenzy of speculation. South Korea has been ground zero for a global surge in interest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as prices surged this year, prompting the nation’s prime minister to worry over the impact on Korean youth. While there’s no immediate indication Asia’s No. 4 economy will shutter exchanges that have accounted by some measures for more than fifth of global trading, the news poses a warning as regulators the world over express concerns about private digital currencies. Bitcoin fell as much as 9% to as low as $13,828 in Asia trading, erasing modest gains after the South Korean release, composite Bloomberg pricing shows.
It’s now down about 28% from its record high reached last week. South Korea will require real-name cryptocurrency transactions and impose a ban on the offering of virtual accounts by banks to crypto-exchanges, according to a statement from the Office for Government Policy Coordination. Policy makers will review measures including the closure of crypto-exchanges suggested by the Ministry of Justice and take proper measures swiftly and firmly while monitoring the trend of the speculation. Bitcoin was trading at about a 30% premium over prevailing international rates on Thursday in Seoul – a continuing sign of the country’s obsession, and the difficulty in arbitraging between markets. “Cryptocurrency speculation has been irrationally overheated in Korea,” the government said in the statement, which comes little more than a week after the bankruptcy filing of one South Korean exchange. “The government can’t leave the abnormal situation of speculation any longer.”
Bitcoin’s surging price has driven private-investor demand for derivatives tracking the virtual currency. Trading in so-called participation notes has skyrocketed this year on Boerse Stuttgart, Europe’s largest exchange for retail derivatives. The number of executed orders jumped 22-fold from 436 in January to almost 10,000 in December.
Over the past week we have shown on several occasions that there once again appears to be a sharp, sudden dollar-funding liquidity strain in global markets, manifesting itself in a dramatic widening in FX basis swaps, which – in this particular case – has flowed through in the forward discount for USDJPY spiking from around 0.04 yen to around 0.23 yen overnight. As Bloomberg speculated, this discount for buying yen at future dates widened sharply as non-U.S. banks, which typically buy dollars now with sell-back contracts at a future date, scrambled to procure greenbacks for the year-end. However, as Deutsche Bank’s Masao Muraki explains, this particular dollar funding shortage is more than just the traditional year-end window dressing or some secret bank funding panic.
Instead, the DB strategist observes that the USD funding costs for Japanese insurers and banks to invest in US Treasuries – which have surged reaching a post-financial-crisis high of 2.35% on 15 Dec – are determined by three things, namely (1) the difference in US and Japanese risk-free rates (OIS), (2) the difference in US and Japanese interbank risk premiums (Libor-OIS), and (3) basis swaps, which illustrate the imbalance in currency-hedged US and Japanese investments. In this particular case, widening of (1) as a result of Fed rate hikes and tightening of dollar funding conditions inside the US (2) and outside the US (3) have occurred simultaneously. This is shown in the chart below.
What is causing this? Unlike on previous occasions when dollar funding costs blew out due to concerns over the credit and viability of the Japanese and European banks, this time the Fed’s rate hikes could be spurring outflows from the US, European, and Japanese banks’ deposits inside the US. Absent indicators to the contrary, this appears to be the correct explanation since it’s not just Yen funding costs that are soaring. In fact, at present EUR/USD basis swaps are widening more than USD/JPY basis swaps. [..] According to Deutsche, it is possible that an increase in hedged US investments by Europeans could be indirectly affecting Japan, and that market participants could also be conscious of the risk that the repatriation tax system could spur a massive flow-back into the US, of funds held overseas by US companies In fact, one can draw one particularly troubling conclusion: the sharp basis swap moves appear to have been catalyzed by the recently passed Trump tax reform.
Leon Black recently posed a question whose answer will determine how profitable the new U.S. tax regime could make Wall Street firms like his Apollo Global Management. Publicly traded partnerships, including private equity firms Apollo, Blackstone and Carlyle Group, are taxed differently than corporations. So should they take advantage of the overhauled tax rules to pay less in taxes? Or should they use this chance to change to an Inc. from an LLC or LP, which would increase tax bills but allow them to attract investments from mutual funds that have previously been out of reach? “We’re still analyzing,’’ Black told the Goldman Sachs U.S. Financial Services Conference Dec. 6. “It’s an uncertain outcome.’’
Either way, it’s most likely a money-making outcome. The tax changes are a boon for firms such as Apollo, where Black is chief executive officer. The new lower corporate rate has made it possible for bigger publicly traded partnerships to consider the change. As it is, management fees, which typically account for 30 percent or more of their earnings, are already taxed at the corporate rate. That will drop. The legislation scarcely touched the 23.8 percent rate paid on incentive fees, also called carried interest, which incur no additional levy when paid out to shareholders. If the partnerships converted to corporations, the incentive fees would be hit with a second layer of tax when they’re paid out. That would push the combined tax rate on incentive income paid out as dividends to nearly 40 percent, according to Peter Furci, co-chair of Debevoise & Plimpton’s global tax practice.
At its inception, the internet was a beautifully idealistic and equal place. But the world sucks and we’ve continuously made it more and more centralized, taking power away from users and handing it over to big companies. And the worst thing is that we can’t fix it – we can only make it slightly less awful. That was pretty much the core of Pirate Bay’s co-founder, Peter Sunde‘s talk at tech festival Brain Bar Budapest. TNW sat down with the pessimistic activist and controversial figure to discuss how screwed we actually are when it comes to decentralizing the internet. In Sunde’s opinion, people focus too much on what might happen, instead of what is happening. He often gets questions about how a digitally bleak future could look like, but the truth is that we’re living it.
“Everything has gone wrong. That’s the thing, it’s not about what will happen in the future it’s about what’s going on right now. We’ve centralized all of our data to a guy called Mark Zuckerberg, who’s basically the biggest dictator in the world as he wasn’t elected by anyone. Trump is basically in control over this data that Zuckerberg has, so I think we’re already there. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong and I don’t think there’s a way for us to stop it.” One of the most important things to realize is that the problem isn’t a technological one. “The internet was made to be decentralized,” says Sunde, “but we keep centralizing everything on top of the internet.”
To support this, Sunde points out that in the last 10 years, almost every up-and-coming tech company or website has been bought by the big five: Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. The ones that manage to escape the reach of the giants, often end up adding to the centralization. We don’t create things anymore, instead we just have virtual things. Uber, Alibaba and Airbnb, for example, do they have products? No. We went from this product-based model, to virtual product, to virtually no product what so ever. This is the centralization process going on. Although we should be aware that the current effects of centralization, we shouldn’t overlook that it’s only going to get worse. There are a lot of upcoming tech-based services that are at risk of becoming centralized, which could have a huge impact on our daily lives.
[..] Feeling a bit optimistic, I asked Sunde whether we could still fight for decentralization and bring the power back to the people. His answer was simple. “No. We lost this fight a long time ago. The only way we can do any difference is by limiting the powers of these companies – b y g o v e r n m e n t s s t e p p i n g i n – but unfortunately the EU or the US don’t seem to have any interest in doing this.”
The website of the China Foreign Exchange Trade System (CFETS) recently announced the establishment of a yuan-ruble payment system, hinting that similar systems regarding other currencies participating in the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will also be in place in the near future. Crucially, this is not about reducing currency risk; after all Russia and China have increasingly traded bilaterally in their own currencies since the 2014 US-imposed sanctions on Russia. This is about the implementation of a huge, new alternative reserve currency zone, bypassing the US dollar. The decision follows the establishment by Beijing, in October 2015, of the China International Payments System (CIPS). CIPS has a cooperation agreement with the private, Belgium-based SWIFT international bank clearing system, through which virtually every global transaction must transit.
What matters in this case is that Beijing – as well as Moscow – clearly read the writing on the wall when, in 2012, Washington applied pressure on SWIFT; blocked international clearing for every Iranian bank; and froze $100 billion in Iranian assets overseas as well as Tehran’s potential to export oil. In the event Washington might decide to slap sanctions on China, bank clearing though CIPS works as a de facto sanctions-evading mechanism. Last March, Russia’s central bank opened its first office in Beijing. Moscow is launching its first $1 billion yuan-denominated government bond sale. Moscow has made it very clear it is committed to a long term strategy to stop using the US dollar as their primary currency in global trade, moving alongside Beijing towards what could be dubbed a post-Bretton Woods exchange system.
Gold is essential in this strategy. Russia, China, India, Brazil & South Africa are all either large producers or consumers of gold – or both. Following what has been extensively discussed in their summits since the early 2010s, the BRICS are bound to focus on trading physical gold. Markets such as COMEX actually trade derivatives on gold, and are backed by an insignificant amount of physical gold. Major BRICS gold producers – especially the Russia-China partnership – plan to be able to exercise extra influence in setting up global gold prices. [..] The current state of play is still all about the petrodollar system; since last year what used to be a key, “secret” informal deal between the US and the House of Saud is firmly in the public domain.
Even warriors in the Hindu Kush may now be aware of how oil and virtually all commodities must be traded in US dollars, and how these petrodollars are recycled into US Treasuries. Through this mechanism Washington has accumulated an astonishing $20 trillion in debt – and counting. Vast populations all across MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) also learned what happened when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein decided to sell oil in euros, or when Muammar Gaddafi planned to issue a pan-African gold dinar. But now it’s China who’s entering the fray, following on plans set up way back in 2012. And the name of the game is oil-futures trading priced in yuan, with the yuan fully convertible into gold on the Shanghai and Hong Kong foreign exchange markets.
The UK Labour party need to cash in now on the government’s mishandling of Brexit and the country’s economy, or risk being seen as part of that government. Corbyn et al know thay could jump in the polls by denouncing Brexit itself, but they don’t have the courage to do that. So on the no. 1 problem, they’re the same as the Tories.
John McDonnell has said the UK is in the grip of a personal debt crisis with levels of unsecured borrowing predicted to hit a record of £19,000 per household by the end of this parliament. The shadow chancellor said the increase in debt, to more than £14,000 per household this year, was alarming. Analysis from Labour shows unsecured debt is on course to exceed £15,000 per household next year and could go on to exceed £19,000 per household by 2022 if it follows the current trajectory. It is understood Labour plans to focus on the issue in the new year, warning that the continuing squeeze on wages and the high level of inflation are contributing to high levels of personal debt.
On Wednesday the Resolution Foundation, a thinktank, predicted that the stagnation in real wages was set to continue throughout 2018 and may only begin to lift towards the end of the year. McDonnell said: “The alarming increase in average household debt already means many families in our country are struggling over the Christmas period. The Tories have no real answers to tackle the debt crisis gripping our country and have no solutions to offer those struggling to get by as prices run ahead of wages. “The next Labour government will introduce a £10 per hour real living wage, scrap student fees, end the public sector pay cap and cap interest on consumer credit to build an economy for the many, not the few.”
If a single structure can define a community, for the 90,000 residents of Kashiwazaki town and the neighbouring village of Kariwa, it is the sprawling nuclear power plant that has dominated the coastal landscape for more than 40 years. When all seven of its reactors are in operation, Kashiwazaki-kariwa generates 8.2m kilowatts of electricity – enough to power 16m households. Occupying 4.2 sq km of land along the Japan Sea coast, it is the biggest nuclear power plant in the world. But today, the reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa are idle. The plant in Niigata prefecture, about 140 miles (225km) north-west of the capital, is the nuclear industry’s highest-profile casualty of the nationwide atomic shutdown that followed the March 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.
The company at the centre of the disaster has encountered anger over its failure to prevent the catastrophe, its treatment of tens of thousands of evacuated residents and its haphazard attempts to clean up its atomic mess. Now, the same utility, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], is attempting to banish its Fukushima demons with a push to restart two reactors at Kashiwazaki-kariwa, one of its three nuclear plants. Only then, it says, can it generate the profits it needs to fund the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi and win back the public trust it lost in the wake of the meltdown. This week, Japan’s nuclear regulation authority gave its formal approval for Tepco to restart the Kashiwazaki-kariwa’s No. 6 and 7 reactors – the same type of boiling-water reactors that suffered meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi.
After a month of public hearings, the nuclear regulation authority concluded that Tepco was fit to run a nuclear power plant and said the two reactors met the stricter safety standards introduced after the 2011 disaster.
Children caught in war zones are increasingly being used as weapons of war – recruited to fight, forced to act as suicide bombers, and used as human shields – the United Nations children’s agency has warned. In a statement summarising 2017 as a brutal year for children caught in conflict, Unicef said parties to conflicts were blatantly disregarding international humanitarian law and children were routinely coming under attack. Rape, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement had become standard tactics in conflicts across Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as in Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar. Some children, abducted by extremist groups, are abused again by security forces when they are released.
Others are indirectly harmed by fighting, through malnutrition and disease, as access to food, water and sanitation are denied or restricted. Some 27 million children in conflict zones have been forced out of school. “Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” said Manuel Fontaine, Unicef’s director of emergency programmes. “As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.” Much of the fighting affecting children occurred in long-running conflicts in Africa.
“Buy the dip” has never been so popular. The practice of treating any and all pullbacks in risk assets as opportunities to accumulate more has become entrenched in global equity markets, especially in the U.S., according to analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Investors no longer fear shocks but love them,” a team led by global equity derivatives researcher Nitin Saksena wrote in a note Tuesday. “Since 2013, central banks have stepped in (or communicated that they may step in) to protect markets, leaving investors confident enough to ‘buy-the-dip.’” Intraday realized volatility for the S&P 500 Index relative to the realized volatility in the open-close ratio for the benchmark gauge has soared to record highs this year, emblematic of an environment in which buying the dip has become gospel for traders, according to the bank’s analysis of price action going back to 2003.
This ratio is also above the 90th%ile for the Euro Stoxx 50 Index and Nikkei 225. In practice, this suggests any early weakness in stocks is being met with an onslaught of buying that propels the index back to where it opened by the time the closing bell sounds. BofA equity derivatives strategist Clovis Couasnon puts it this way: Imagine the S&P 500 Index is down 1% at midday, only to rebound and finish broadly unchanged. The open-to-close return would be close to zero, but under the surface there were two moves of about 1%. “So if the buy-the-dip behavior is strong enough to cause mean reversion, this will cause intraday vol to be more supported than open-to-close vol,” he explained.
Interactive Brokers plans to let bitcoin bears bet against the digital currency’s recently debuted futures contracts. Starting this week, the brokerage will allow its users to take short positions on bitcoin futures under certain conditions, according to company spokeswoman Kalen Holliday, who said the decision was made “in response to client demand.” Interactive Brokers has accepted long positions with a margin requirement of at least 50% since the contracts debuted Sunday on Cboe Global Markets Inc. Shorting bitcoin futures, or betting that their price will fall, is potentially an even riskier strategy.
It’s possible to lose an unlimited amount of money on a short position, particularly if the cost of the digital currency and its derivatives continues to climb. Interactive Brokers has a few requirements for shorting bitcoin futures: the spread must be one-to-one, and the short leg must have the earlier expiry date so that once it expires the surviving leg will be long, according to Holliday. Trading won’t be offered in retirement accounts or to Japanese residents.
China’s economy will expand a bit faster than expected this year on resilient consumption but growth will stutter in 2018, the Asian Development Bank said Wednesday. Growth on the mainland is now expected at 6.8% in 2017, up from the previous forecast of 6.7%, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in its latest forecasts released on Wednesday. Growth prospects in China for 2017 have been revised upward as spending by households has held up reasonably well. Still, persisting headwinds will weigh on economic impulses next year. The world’s second-largest economy is likely to grow by 6.4% in 2018 due to “controlled moderation” in the economy, Joseph Zveglich, ADB’s macroeconomic research director told CNBC. That would mark the slowest pace of expansion since 1990, according to World Bank data.
The Chinese government is treading a thin line between deleveraging and keeping its debt-fueled economy humming. Growth in the wider region will also be a bit better this year. Stronger-than-expected exports and domestic consumption likely lifted economic growth in developing Asia in 2017, the ADB said. The upgraded outlook saw GDP growth in the region of developing Asia moving up 0.1 percentage point to 6% in 2017. The region includes 45 ADB members including China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, but excludes Japan. The rosier prediction came after a year of uncertainty due to fears of trade protectionism. There was “stronger-than-expected growth in most of our economies especially in terms of the pickup in trade,” Zveglich said.
China giveth, and China taketh away. Across Asia, the world’s second-largest economy has financed infrastructure projects as part of its massive, so-called Belt and Road program. But it’s entirely up to Beijing to decide which countries get funding and when — and Pakistan offers a cautionary tale. Pakistan is home to one of China’s central infrastructure schemes: a near $60 billion collection of land and sea projects known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). But Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration said it would halt funding for three major roads that are part of the corridor, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported last week, citing an Islamabad official. Beijing will resume funding after it releases “new guidelines,” the newspaper said.
[..] If true, the news is proof of China’s unilateral management style, analysts said. “What Beijing giveth, Beijing can also taketh away,” Ian Bremmer, president and founder of political consultancy Eurasia Group, wrote in a recent note. Unlike the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, another China-led program, Belt and Road projects “aren’t transparent or consensus driven,” he said. “The nature of Chinese economic decision-making has the potential to cause significant downside risks for those countries that become most dependent on the Belt Road initiative,” he said. Nations that suddenly fall out of political favor with Beijing, for whatever reason, could subsequently suffer weighty economic consequences.
Following the early 2016 correction, the “carry trade” has picked up steam and has continued to force asset prices higher as liquidity seeks opportunity. With the “carry trade” now extremely extended currently, which is also highly leveraged, watch for a triggering of a “sell signal” as a sign to temporarily reduce equity-related risk. But wait, the Fed is reducing their liquidity flows into the financial system, right? Not so much. As shown in the first chart below, the Fed’s balance sheet continues to remain stable even as asset prices surge.
With global Central Banks still flooding the system with liquidity, the Fed has yet to begin rolling off their reinvestments as expected. In fact, the Fed made a timely reinvestment during the “Senate Tax Bill” debacle earlier this month.
Of course, that bump of liquidity sent asset prices rocketing higher. The question becomes just what will happen to the markets when the Fed actually does begin to aggressively decrease their “reinvestments” in the coming year. The projected decline in the balance sheet looks like the following. One can only imagine how a market which has been repeatedly driven higher on a “feast of liquidity,” either from the Fed or other Central Banks, will react to being put on a diet.
According to the celebrated Stolper-Samuelson theorem of trade theory, in places—like the US and western Europe—where skilled workers are plentiful, unskilled workers will see their wages decline under freer trade. Openness to trade always hurts some people in society, except in the extreme case (not relevant for any large economy) where the only things imported are things that are never produced at home. In theory, countries could always compensate their losers by redistributing from the winners, and in practice they sometimes did. With its extensive safety nets, Europe in the second half of the 20th century was relatively well prepared to deal with disruptive trade flows. In addition, trade negotiators initially carved out special regimes for garments and textiles exporters in the advanced economies, limiting their exposure.
Even in the best of circumstances, however, freeing up trade caused pain as well as gain. After the 1980s, the balance began to look worse and worse. When tariffs (like taxes) are too high they distort economic behaviour more, and do more damage to prosperity. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, tariffs were often very high and so their reduction did much to grow the overall economic pie. But four or five decades later, in a world where typical tariffs were in single figures, the picture was different. If you’re starting off with the tariffs of the post-war era, the standard economic models suggest that to achieve an overall net gain of $1 in national income through liberalising trade, you could expect to see around $4 or $5 of income being reshuffled across different groups within a particular country.
But under the tariffs that applied by the end of the 20th century, achieving that overall dollar of gain would be associated with as much as $20 being redistributed, implying the creation of an awful lot of losers. And what’s more, by the 1990s we were into an era of welfare state retrenchment rather than expansion. So it became less plausible than it used to be to believe that those losses will be compensated.
Do you remember back to May 2016, when the British Treasury, which is clearly full of mainstream macroeconomists who have little understanding of how the system actually operates released their ‘Brexit’ predictions? The ‘study’ (putting the best spin possible on what was a tawdry piece of propaganda) – HM Treasury analysis: the immediate economic impact of leaving the EU – was strategically released to have maximum impact on the vote, which would come just a month later. Fortunately, for Britain and its people, the attempt to provide misinformation failed. As time passes, while the British government and the EU dilly-dally about the ‘divorce’ details, we are getting a better picture of what is happening post-Brexit as the ‘market’ sorts what it can sort out.
Much has been said about the destructive shifts in trade that will follow Brexit. But these scaremongers fail to grasp that Britain has been moving away from trade with the EU for some years now and that process will continue into the future. I come from a nation that was dealt a major trading shock at the other end of Britain’s ill-fated dalliance with Europe. It also made alternative plans and prospered as a result. The outcomes of Brexit will be in the hands of the domestic policies that follow. Stick to neoliberalism and there will be a disaster. But the opportunity is there for British Labour to recast itself and seize the scope for better public infrastructure, better services and stronger domestic demand. Then the nation will see why leaving the corporatist, austerity-biased failure that the EU has become was a stroke of genius.
The only good thing about the Treasury Report was that it was “Printed on paper containing 75% recycled bre content minimum” but even then it was a waste of real resources.
So, the Fed has this thing called a balance sheet, which is actually a computer file, filled with entries that denote securities that it holds. These securities, mostly US government bonds of various categories and bundles of mortgages wrangled together by the mysterious government-sponsored entity called Freddie Mac, represent about $4.5 trillion in debt. They’re IOUs that supposedly pay interest for a set number of years. When that term of years expires, the Fed gets back the money it loaned, which is called the principal. Ahhhh, here’s the cute part! You see, the money that the Fed loaned to the US government (in exchange for a bond) was never there in the first place. The Fed prestidigitated it out of an alternate universe. They gave this money to a “primary dealer” bank in exchange for the bond, which the bank abracadabraed up for the US Treasury.
Well, not really. In fact, the Fed just made a notation on the bank’s “reserve” account that the money from the alternate universe appeared there. Somehow that money was sent via a virtual pneumatic tube to the US Treasury, where it was used to pay for drones to blow up Yemeni wedding parties, and for the Secret Service to visit pole dancing bars when the president traveled to foreign lands. Here’s the fun part. The Fed announces that it is going to shed this nasty debt, at about $10 billion worth a month starting this past October. Their stated goal is to reach an ultimate wind-down velocity of $50 billion a month (cue laugh track). If they ever get there (cue laugh track) it would take 20 years to complete the wind-down. The chance of that happening is about the same as the chance that Janet Yellen will come down your chimney on December 24 with a sack-full of chocolate Bitcoins.
But never mind the long view for the moment. One way they plan to accomplish this feat is to “roll off” the bonds. That is, when the bonds mature — i.e. come to the end of their term — they will cease to exist. Poof! Wait a minute! When a bond matures, the issuer has to send the principal back to the lender. After all, the Fed lent the US Treasury X-billion dollars, the US Treasury paid interest on the loan for X-years, and now it has to fork over the full value of the loan (hopefully in dollars that have magically inflated over the years and are now worth less than when they were borrowed — another magic trick!). But that doesn’t happen.
Senior FBI officials who helped probe Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign told a colleague that Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had to win the race to the White House, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. Peter Strzok, a senior FBI agent, said Clinton “just has to win” in a text sent to FBI lawyer Lisa Page, the Times reported. The messages showed concern from Strzok and Page that a Trump presidency could politicize the FBI, the report said, citing texts turned over to Congress and obtained by the newspaper.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is investigating the texts in a probe into FBI’s handling of its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server for official correspondence when she was Secretary of State under former President Barack Obama, the report added. Strzok was removed from working on the Russia probe after media reports earlier this month suggested he had exchanged text messages that disparaged Trump and supported Clinton. Strzok was involved in both the Clinton email and Russia investigations.
A former Facebook executive has said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his work on “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”, joining a growing chorus of critics of the social media giant. Chamath Palihapitiya, who was vice-president for user growth at Facebook before he left the company in 2011, said: “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.” The remarks, which were made at a Stanford Business School event in November, were just surfaced by tech website the Verge on Monday. “This is not about Russian ads,” he added. “This is a global problem. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”
Palihapitiya’s comments last month were made a day after Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, criticized the way that the company “exploit[s] a vulnerability in human psychology” by creating a “social-validation feedback loop” during an interview at an Axios event. Parker had said that he was “something of a conscientious objector” to using social media, a stance echoed by Palihapitaya who said that he was now hoping to use the money he made at Facebook to do good in the world. “I can’t control them,” Palihapitaya said of his former employer. “I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that shit. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that shit.” He also called on his audience to “soul-search” about their own relationship to social media. “Your behaviors, you don’t realize it, but you are being programmed,” he said. “It was unintentional, but now you gotta decide how much you’re going to give up, how much of your intellectual independence.
A Japanese court overturned a ruling that allowed a nuclear reactor in the country’s south to operate, frustrating the government’s push to bring online dozens of plants shut in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The decision by the Hiroshima High Court, which cited risks from nearby volcanoes, sides with local citizens and reverses a lower court’s ruling that had cleared the way for Shikoku Electric Power to operate its Ikata No. 3 unit, according to an emailed statement Wednesday from the company. The reactor, which restarted last year under stricter safety regulations, has been shut for maintenance and was scheduled to restart on Jan. 20. Shikoku Electric fell as much as 11% in Tokyo, the biggest decline in more than four years, before paring the drop to 8.3%.
The injunction issued by the court is a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of having nuclear power account for as much as 22% of the nation’s electricity mix by 2030. Public opposition through local courts and municipal governments has emerged as one of the biggest obstacles to that plan. Just four of Japan’s 42 operable nuclear reactors are currently online. The ruling was the first time a high court in Japan has overturned a lower court on the issue of nuclear restarts since the Fukushima disaster. A district court in Hiroshima sided with the utility in March in deciding not to issue a temporary injunction. Shikoku called Wednesday’s ruling “unacceptable” and said it will try to get it reversed. The injunction is effective through Sept. 30, 2018, according to court documents.
Tax authorities have confiscated the salaries, pensions and assets of more that 180,000 taxpayers since the start of the year, but expired debts to the state have continued to rise, reaching almost €100 billion, as the taxpaying capacity of the Greeks is all but exhausted. In the month of October, authorities made almost 1,000 confiscations a day from people with debts to the state of more than €500. In the first 10 months of the year, the state confiscated some €4 billion, and the plans of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue provide for forced measures to be imposed on 1.7 million state debtors next year. IAPR statistics show that in October alone, the unpaid tax obligations of households and enterprises came to €1.2 billion. Unpaid taxes from January to October amounted to €10.44 billion, which brings the total including unpaid debts from previous years to almost €100 billion, or about 55% of the country’s GDP.
The inability of citizens and businesses to meet their obligations is also confirmed by the course of public revenues, which this year have declined by more than €2.5 billion. The same situation is expected to continue into next year, as the new tax burdens and increased social security contributions look set to send debts to the state soaring. Notably, since 2014, there has been a consolidated trend of a €1 billion increase each month in expired debts to the state. There are now 4.17 million taxpayers who owe the state money. This means that one in every two taxpayers is in arrears to the state, with 1,724,708 taxpayers facing the risk of forced collection measures. Of the €99.8 billion of total debt, just €10-15 billion is still considered to be collectible, as the lion’s share concerns debts from previous years, in many cases of bankrupt enterprises and deceased individuals.
It’s just after nine on an ordinary Thursday night. About 50 people are gathered next to the main entrance of Pedion Tou Areos, the park at the northern limits of central Athens. The weather is now unmistakably cold, but the refugees gathering every night here seem to be increasing in number. It’s a spot where one can buy and sell drugs, or the bodies of underage boys who are stuck in Greece thanks to a recent law change that dictates they must stay here until they come of age. Both the drugs and the boys are cheap. A few euros for a hit of sisa, a synthetic drug called “the cocaine of the poor”, and a tenner for a session in the park’s bushes with kids as young as 14. The faces change, but the situation remains the same, or worse.
A 14-year-old boy from Afghanistan called Mohammed who was working in the park disappeared over the summer without a trace. He most probably made his way towards the border, to be smuggled out. If he’s lucky he will have made it to northern Europe. If not, he will just be one of thousands who have vanished in the Balkan corridor. It’s now December and winter is being felt across the country. Storms in October and November flooded parts of Greece, turning the open air camps that still hold thousands of refugees in more than 50 locations into mudpits. A video shared by refugees currently staying in Moria, the camp on the island of Lesvos that sits at the forefront of the Greek refugee crisis, shows a small child crying while walking through the camp’s grounds. Tents provided by the UNHCR and the Greek state are in bad shape.
Some have caved in. Floors are under mud and water. “They are trying to turn the island into Greece’s Guantanamo,” said the mayor of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos, at a press conference. If you climb up a little hill on the side of the camp, you can get a good view of the compound. A year ago, the refugees had mostly been staying in prefabs, but fires, accidents and overcrowding brought the tents back. [..] An emergency relief programme is relocating people from Lesvos to camps across Greece, 30 to 50 at a time. But the rest of the camps are in is no better shape. Recently, a nine-year-old boy from Afghanistan tried to commit suicide on Chios, another Greek island. The doctors treating him suspected he had been abused inside the camp. It’s no suprise. Médecins Sans Frontières Greece said that “in our clinic in Lesvos, we have at least ten people per day who have self-harmed or attempted suicide. The situation in the islands is beyond desperate.”
Permafrost in the Arctic is thawing faster than ever, according to a new US government report that also found Arctic seawater is warming and sea ice is melting at the fastest pace in 1,500 years. The annual report released on Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed slightly less warming in many measurements than a record hot 2016. But scientists remain concerned because the far northern region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and has reached a level of warming that’s unprecedented in modern times. “2017 continued to show us we are on this deepening trend where the Arctic is a very different place than it was even a decade ago,” said Jeremy Mathis, head of NOAA’s Arctic research program and co-author of the 93-page report.
Findings were discussed at the American Geophysical Union meeting in New Orleans. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic; it affects the rest of the planet,” said acting NOAA chief Timothy Gallaudet. “The Arctic has huge influence on the world at large.” Permafrost records show the frozen ground that many buildings, roads and pipelines are built on reached record warm temperatures last year nearing and sometimes exceeding the thawing point. That could make them vulnerable when the ground melts and shifts, the report said. Unlike other readings, permafrost data tend to lag a year. Preliminary reports from the US and Canada in 2017 showed permafrost temperatures are “again the warmest for all sites” measured in North America, said study co-author Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.
Arctic sea ice usually shrinks in September and this year it was only the eighth lowest on record for the melting season. But scientists said they were most concerned about what happens in the winter – especially March – when sea ice is supposed to be building to its highest levels. Arctic winter sea ice maximum levels in 2017 were the smallest they’ve ever been for the season when ice normally grows. It was the third straight year of record low winter sea ice recovery. Records go back to 1979. About 79% of the Arctic sea ice is thin and only a year old. In 1985, 45% of the sea ice in the Arctic was thick, older ice, said NOAA Arctic scientist Emily Osborne
Wall Street isn’t just in a bull market, it’s in an “epic” one. That is according to Morgan Stanley, which on Tuesday wrote that the equity market rally “has reached epic proportions.” “We say this not as hyperbole, but based on a quantitative perspective,” the investment bank explained. “Dispersions in valuations and growth rates are among the lowest in the last 40 years; stocks are at their most idiosyncratic since 2001; and equity hedge fund beta is at its highest since March 2008.” Simply from the perspective of price moves, the “epicness” of recent trading activity should come as no surprise to investors. The Dow DJIA, S&P 500 SPX, Nasdaq COMP, and Russell 2000 RUT have all hit repeated records this year alone, notching dozens of all-time highs. Those gains have been widespread and “perpetual,” to use Morgan Stanley’s description.
Only two of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors are in negative territory for the year, and for broader indexes, even mild pullbacks of 3% have basically been nonexistent for months. Volatility is near record lows. Beta refers to a measure of an assets tendency to fluctuate compared against a benchmark like the S&P 500. [..] “While investors have at times appeared reluctant to embrace the recent rally, there is evidence from last month that risk appetites are increasing,” Morgan Stanley wrote. The investment bank noted that cyclical sectors, which are more closely correlated to the pace of economic growth, have been outperforming defensive ones, just as small-capitalization stocks have outperforming larger companies. “Momentum is now strongly correlated with high beta globally, and the presence of this cohort of investors could produce continued risk-seeking behavior,” wrote the team of analysts, led by Brian Hayes, an equity strategist.
I’ve been telling you for years that the employment data produced by the US government were misleading people into thinking the economy was performing better than it really was. Now Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen — finally! — agrees. Yellen, speaking before the National Association of Business Economics on Sept. 26, said, “My colleagues and I may have misjudged the strength of the labor market, the degree to which longer-run inflation expectations are consistent with our inflation objective or even the fundamental forces driving inflation.” That’s what she said. Internet news sites picked up that statement, but none of the major newspapers did. And the story behind Yellen’s admission and its importance would be way over the heads of TV news anchors — so they ignored it as well.
Yet Yellen’s statement is important as heck. It means that the Fed has been screwing up in thinking that the US economy was, as Yellen has often said, near full employment. But here’s the kicker — Yellen has been overestimating the strength of the job market and underestimating the amount of inflation in the economy. The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong. There will need to be years of investigation to determine that, but I’ll give you a clue now. Anyone who lives in the real world knows that the unemployment rate is far higher than the 4.2% that the Labor Department reports. And that the job growth each year — as I’ve been harping on — is mostly driven by guesstimates and adjustments made by government statisticians who apparently don’t live in the real world.
And, of course, the economy has been creating crappy-paying, benefit-lacking jobs that don’t come close to replacing the higher-quality employment that went bye-bye after the last recession. Last Friday, Labor said the jobless rate dipped in September to 4.2% from 4.4% in August — and its number crunchers also reported that 33,000 jobs were lost last month. It blamed the hurricanes. The experts were expecting the US economy to have added 100,000 new jobs despite the storms. Labor also announced that it revised August’s figures lower — from growth of 189,000 jobs to just 138,000. So instead of being reasonably good, August was blah, with nary a hurricane to blame.
A buoyant and complacent stock market is worrying Richard H. Thaler, the University of Chicago professor who this week won the Nobel Prize in economics. “We seem to be living in the riskiest moment of our lives, and yet the stock market seems to be napping,” Thaler said, speaking by phone on Bloomberg TV. “I admit to not understanding it.” The S&P 500 index has been reaching repeated records since President Donald Trump’s election last November amid steady growth in the U.S. economy and labor market, as well as expectations for lower taxes, though policy action in Washington has been limited. Thaler, who has made a career of studying irrational and temptation-driven actions among economic actors and won the Nobel for such contributions to behavioral economics, expressed misgivings about the low volatility and continued optimism among investors.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m nervous, and it seems like when investors are nervous, they’re prone to being spooked,” Thaler said, “Nothing seems to spook the market” and if the gains are based on tax-reform expectations, “surely investors should have lost confidence that that was going to happen.” The economist said that he didn’t know “where anyone would get confidence” that tax reform is going to happen. “The Republican leadership does not seem to be interested in anything remotely bipartisan, and they need unanimity within their caucus, which they don’t have,” Thaler said. “And the president’s strategy of systematically insulting the votes he needs doesn’t seem to be optimizing anything I can think of, but maybe he’s a deeper thinker than me.”
Schrödinger’s State. On Wikipedia, someone last night put Catalonia at no. 1 on the List of Shortest-Lived States. At 8 seconds, which is how long the applause lasted when Puigdemont said he had the mandate, only to say right after that he would hold off on executing the mandate. Wikipedia took it down.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said that he’ll seek talks with the government in Madrid over the future of his region in Spain, rowing back from an immediate declaration of independence that threatened to turn a constitutional crisis into an economic one. Addressing the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday evening after days of tension in Catalonia, Puigdemont said the result of an Oct. 1 referendum had given him the mandate to pursue independence, but he would hold off for “weeks” for dialogue on the way forward with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration. Rajoy convened an extraordinary meeting of his cabinet in Madrid on Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss his next move, and is due to address the Spanish Parliament on the crisis in Catalonia later in the day.
“Today Mr. Puigdemont has plunged Catalonia into the highest level of uncertainty,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Madrid late on Tuesday. “Neither Mr. Puigdemont nor anyone else can draw conclusions from a law that doesn’t exist, from a referendum that hasn’t taken place and from the wishes of the Catalan people which it’s trying to take over.” Pressure has piled on Puigdemont as the Spanish government and Catalan business leaders demand that he desist from pitching the region further down a path to independence that they warn would wreck the economy and tear apart Spain’s social fabric. Rajoy has consistently ruled out talks until the Catalans drop the threat of a declaration of independence that is illegal under Spanish law.
“Today I assume the mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic,” Puigdemont said to cheers from the packed assembly, with Catalan police deployed around the parliament perimeter. “We propose the suspension of the effects of the declaration of independence for a few weeks, to open a period of dialogue.”
A key Chinese initiative to rein in the world’s largest corporate-debt load has been a program swapping some loans into equity stakes. As the initiative gets going, however, it’s becoming clear the debt isn’t really going away. In a late-summer notice, central government officials said that new bonds should be used to finance the swaps, effectively moving the debt off the balance sheets of the original lenders onto those buying the new debt. The first such deal came last month, according to China Lianhe Credit Rating Co., a domestic rating firm. Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group Co., a troubled old-line industrial company, was targeted for a debt-for-equity swap. Then the Shaanxi provincial government in northwest China set up an asset-management company to raise new debt to pay off the existing lending that was designated to be swapped for an equity stake.
One criticism of the debt-for-equity initiative, which was launched a year ago, is that it keeps afloat struggling enterprises, leaving excess capacity intact and pulling down productivity. The Shaanxi example shows a further weakness: while the company won’t need to service debt any more, the new asset-management unit will – without any new source of revenue having been generated. “If the funding comes from debt, it’s really not solving the issue here because the capital is not permanent capital,” Christopher Lee, managing director of corporate ratings at S&P Global Ratings in Hong Kong. “In fact, you are adding more debt just to refinance the debt that was going to be swapped.”
Property-hungry Chinese investors have shrugged off the impact of tighter capital controls and continue to pour money into Australian housing. Foreign buyers are acquiring about a quarter of new housing supply in New South Wales, and China accounts for about 90% of that demand, according to Credit Suisse analysis of tax office data. Foreigners are buying 17% of new housing in Victoria, and 8% in Queensland, Credit Suisse said. While local property agents say higher state taxes on foreigners are deterring buyers, Credit Suisse isn’t so sure they will have a big impact on prices.
They point to even-higher taxes in other global cities, the relative cheapness of Australian property compared to Chinese cities, and the growing stock of wealth in China. “Local incomes are becoming less relevant in determining the outlook for house prices and regional wealth is becoming more relevant,’’ Credit Suisse analysts Hasan Tevfik and Peter Liu said in the report. “We see no evidence of a slowdown in foreign demand because of the stronger capital controls introduced by Chinese authorities.” That’s not good news for locals already struggling to break into the booming housing market.
Kobe Steel shares tumbled a further 16% on Wednesday after it admitted it may have fabricated data on iron powder products and media reported the possible sale of its real estate business. The latest disclosure comes after Japan’s No.3 steelmaker said on the weekend it had falsified data to show that its aluminum and copper products had met customer specifications, and suggests the problems could be widespread. Japanese manufacturers were thrown into turmoil by the revelation, with implications for materials used in cars, aircraft and possibly a space rocket and defense equipment.
Shares in Kobe Steel were down 15.73% at 900 yen as of 0114 GMT on Wednesday, underperforming the broader market which was steady. They fell 22% the previous day. A Kobe Steel spokesman confirmed a report on Wednesday in the Yomiuri newspaper saying the firm may have fabricated data on iron powder products used in components such as automotive gears. He said the company was investigating the issue. The Nikkei business daily meanwhile reported that Kobe Steel intended to put its real estate business on the block in an effort to shore up already shaky finances now threatened by the data falsification scandal.
Fifty-one large euro zone banks are leaving themselves exposed to a sudden change in interest rates and may need to aside more capital against that risk, the European Central Bank said on Monday. The ECB is preparing to start dialing back its monetary stimulus after years of ultra-low interest rates and massive bond purchases, paving the ground for rate hikes further down the line. After simulating scenarios ranging from a sudden monetary tightening to the kind of lending freeze that followed Lehman Brothers’ collapse, the ECB found that most of the 111 euro zone banks it tested are well prepared for interest rates shocks. But it cautioned it needed “intense discussions” with 51 of them after finding they may be making themselves vulnerable via large bets on derivative instruments and overly aggressive models for calculating risk.
A hike in interest rates could mean the banks suddenly need more capital. “What we need to do is have intense discussions and check with the banks if they’re aware of the… risk and if they have enough capital if things go wrong,” Korbinian Ibel, a senior supervisor at the ECB, said. Results of the test, which started in February, are incorporated into the ECB’s guidance on how much capital each lender on its watch should hold. Ibel said the 51 banks may, in principle, see their capital demands rise by up to 25 basis points, although any decision would depend on the individual circumstances of each firm. Similarly, the remaining 60 banks could see their guidance reduced by the same amount.
Russia will block access to websites of exchanges that offer crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, Russian Central Bank First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov said on Tuesday. He called them “dubious”. Russian financial authorities initially treated any sort of money issued by non-state approved institutions as illegal, saying they could be used to launder money. Later the authorities accepted the globally booming market of crypto-currencies but want to either control the turnover or to limit access to the market “We cannot stand apart. We cannot give direct and easy access to such dubious instruments for retail (investors),” Shvetsov said, referring to households.
Speaking at a conference on financial market derivatives, Shvetsov said the central bank sees rising interest in crypto-currencies because of high returns from buying into such instruments. He warned, however, that crypto-currencies gradually transform into high-yielding assets from being a mean of payment. “We think that for our citizens, for businesses the usage of such crypto-currencies as an investment object carries unreasonably high risks,” he said. Russian authorities said earlier this year they would like to regulate the use of crypto-currencies by Russian citizens and companies.
A district court in Fukushima prefecture on Tuesday ruled that Tokyo Electric Power and the Japanese government were liable for damages totaling about 500 million yen ($4.44 million) in the largest class action lawsuit brought over the 2011 nuclear disaster, Kyodo news agency said. A group of about 3,800 people, mostly in Fukushima prefecture, filed the class action suit, marking the biggest number of plaintiffs out of about 30 similar class action lawsuits filed across the nation. This is the second court ruling that fixed the government’s responsibility after a Maebashi district court decision in March.
All the three district court decisions so far have ordered Tepco to pay damages. Only the Chiba court decision last month did not find the government liable for compensation. The plaintiffs in Fukushima case have called on defendants for reinstating the levels of radioactivity at their homes before the disaster, but the court rejected the request, Kyodo said. Tepco has long been criticized for ignoring the threat posed by natural disasters to the Fukushima plant and the company and the government were lambasted for their handling of the crisis.
The number of homeless students in the New York City public school system rose again last year, according to state data released on Tuesday. The increase pushed the city over a sober milestone: One in every 10 public school students was homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year. More than 111,500 students in New York City schools were homeless during the last academic year, a 6% increase over the year before and enough people to populate a small city. Of the overall figure, 104,000 students attended regular district public schools, while the rest were in charter schools. Statewide, 148,000 students were homeless, or about 5% of the state’s public school population.
The data was released by the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students, a project of Advocates for Children of New York funded by the state Education Department. The plight of homeless students is part of the entrenched and growing problem of homelessness confronting New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is pushing a controversial plan to expand the city’s shelter system. After rising steadily for about five years, the number of homeless students reported to the state shot up in the 2015-16 school year, reaching nearly 100,000 children, and in the last school year the numbers crossed that threshold. The count this year is the highest since the state began keeping records.
Have you ever heard of Deutsch Jahrndorf? No? I don’t blame you. The tiny Austrian village, which is situated four miles from the Danube, is utterly unremarkable, except for the fact that it sits on the border of three countries. To the east is Slovakia. To the south lies Hungary. As such, within shouting distance of one another, live three peoples speaking completely unintelligible languages. Austria belongs to the West Germanic language group, Hungary to Finno-Ugric and Slovakia to West Slavic. I thought about the exquisitely rich tapestry of European languages, cultures, customs, and nationalities as I watched the sad spectacle of Spanish riot police and Catalan separatists confronting one another on the streets of Barcelona. How on earth can the European Union unite that which history forced asunder?
The European Union, French President Emmanuel Macron has recently declared to almost universal acclaim, needs more unity, including the creation of “a eurozone budget managed by a eurozone parliament and a eurozone finance minister”. The need for the centralization of power in Brussels is, apparently, the lesson that the EU establishment has learned from the outcome of the British referendum on EU membership. Meanwhile, in Catalonia, millions of people have set their sights on independence from Spain. Foremost among their complaints is that the Catalan budget is influenced by Madrid. Independence, the Catalans feel, will rectify a grave injustice occasioned by the French capture of Barcelona in 1714. The conqueror, Duke of Anjou, became the first Bourbon king of Spain under the name of Philip V. His descendant, Philip VI, is on the throne today. In Europe, ancient lineages last as long as ancient resentments.
Therein lies the conundrum of European unification. On the one hand, people throughout much of Europe desire greater autonomy. Madrid has the vexing problem of the Basque Country to worry about as well as Catalonia. In Italy, Padania and South Tyrol in the North don’t feel like they have very much in common with the Mezzogiorno in the South. Corsica does not want to be French and Britain has only recently revisited a territorial arrangement that dates back to 1707. On the other hand, every separatist movement in Europe declares its support for the project of European unification. But, how likely is it that people annoyed by Madrid, Rome, Paris, and London will be happy to have their affairs decided upon in Brussels? Will the Catalans, resentful of subsidizing farmers in Andalusia, quietly have no problem with subsidizing Polish peasants in Lower Silesia?
We are still living in the long 20th century. We are stuck with its redundant technologies: the internal combustion engine, thermal power plants, factory farms. We are stuck with its redundant politics: unfair electoral systems, their capture by funders and lobbyists, the failure to temper representation with real participation. And we are stuck with its redundant economics: neoliberalism, and the Keynesianism still proposed by its opponents. While the latter system worked very well for 30 years or more, it is hard to see how it can take us through this century, not least because the growth it seeks to sustain smacks headlong into the environmental crisis. Sustained economic growth on a planet that is not growing means crashing through environmental limits: this is what we are witnessing, worldwide, today.
A recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5C at just 1%, and less than 2C at only 5%. Why? Because while the carbon intensity of economic activity is expected to decline by 1.9% a year, global per capita GDP is expected to grow by 1.8%. Almost all investment in renewables and efficiency is cancelled out. The index that was supposed to measure our prosperity, instead measures our progress towards ruin. But the great rupture that began in 2008 offers a chance to change all this. The challenge now is to ensure that the new political movements threatening established power in Britain and elsewhere create the space not for old ideas (such as 20th-century Keynesianism) but for a new politics, built on new economic and social foundations.
There may be a case for one last hurrah for the old model: a technological shift that resembles the second world war’s military Keynesianism. In 1941 the US turned the entire civilian economy around on a dime: within months, car manufacturers were producing planes, tanks and ammunition. A determined government could do something similar in response to climate breakdown: a sudden transformation, replacing our fossil economy. But having effected such a conversion, it should, I believe, then begin the switch to a different economic model.
When the crisis began, the tragedy that the Greek people are still living through, I began to gather material and information in an attempt to make sense of the reasons and the people – published, filmic and oral. However, what I was missing were the goings on behind the closed doors, where the representatives of the European Union and the Greek people met. On 16th July 2015, just after his resignation, I sent a text message to Yanis Varoufakis, whom I did not know personally. In that message I wrote: “Reading your interview in the New Statesman, I believe I found what I have been looking for a long time: the subject for a film, a piece of fiction, about a Europe governed by a group of cynical people disconnected from human, political and cultural concerns – obsessed with numbers and them alone.”
Soon, the arrangements were made and Michele, my wife, and I visited Yanis and Danae in Greece a few weeks later. Meanwhile I read two of his books, The Global Minotaur (London: Zed Books, 2011,2015) and the manuscript of a book he was completing at that time entitled And The Weak Suffer What They Must? (London: The Bodley Head, 2016). I was impressed by the quality and originality of their content, as well as the prose. When we met we had long conversations, in the context of which he let me know that he was about to begin writing his own account of his tenure as Greece’s finance minister, a tale of being an outsider in politics, of the negotiations in the Eurogroup – that illegitimate but ultra powerful EU body. I asked to read the manuscript. He agreed and began sending it to me chapter by chapter, as the book was being written.
Immediately I was convinced by the text’s seriousness and the accuracy of the description of the behaviour of each of the tragedy’s protagonists. Reading it saddened me, and I found myself often angered, indeed enraged, by the violence and the indifference of Eurogroup members, especially the German side, to the drama and unsustainable situation in which the people of Greece lived, and live. I decided to make a film out of this tragedy. Yanis Varoufakis gave me the rights to his book and absolute freedom to adapt it.
A mental health emergency is unfolding in migrant camps on Greece’s islands, fueled by poor living conditions, neglect and violence, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Tuesday. Medical staff have seen a sharp increase in people trying to get help after attempting suicide, harming themselves or suffering psychotic episodes, the humanitarian organization said in a report. More than 13,000 migrants and refugees, mostly Syrians and Iraqis fleeing years of war, are living in five camps on Greek islands close to Turkey, government figures show. Four of those camps are holding two to three times as many people as they were designed for. “Every day our teams treat patients who tell us that they would prefer to have died in their country than be trapped here,” said Jayne Grimes, manager of MSF’s mental health activities on Samos.
The organization said six or seven new patients had visited its clinic on the nearby island of Lesvos each week over the summer following suicide attempts, self-harm or psychotic episodes, 50% more than the previous three months. Violence which many experienced on the journey or in Greece was one factor aggravating mental distress, MSF said. “I know I need to find hope, but when the night falls and I see where I am, I feel like I’m going crazy,” it quoted a Syrian man as saying. The 25-year-old said he was haunted by the images of people dying of hunger in front of him in the long-besieged town of Madaya. “I still remember the taste of the leaves and the smell of death,” he said. On Samos, more than 3,000 people are crammed into facilities designed to hold 700, and about 400 live in the woods. In one Lesvos camp, about 1,500 people are in makeshift shelters or tents without flooring or heating, the UN refugee agency says.
Hurricane Maria destroyed many of Puerto Rico’s local seed and organic food-producing farm crops. Please, if you can, send me seeds. Even fruit seed for the tropics – I can plant them quickly. I will hand them out to those in need – as well as start flats in order to jumpstart their crops. Thank you!
PO BOX 9020931
Old San Juan, PR
Just dumping another 10,000 people on the island is not the (whole) answer. Too many people criticize too easily. Time to leave the echo chamber. If HuffPo can do it, so can you.
“As a Puerto Rican, I can tell you that the problem has nothing to do with the U.S. military, FEMA, or the DoD.”
Speaking today exclusively and live from Puerto Rico, is Puerto Rican born and raised, Colonel Michael A. Valle (”Torch”), Commander, 101st Air and Space Operations Group, and Director of the Joint Air Component Coordination Element, 1st Air Force, responsible for Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the U.S. commonwealth with a population of more than 3 million. Since the ‘apocalyptic’ Cat 4 storm tore into the spine of Puerto Rico on September 20, Col. Valle has been both duty and blood bound to help. Col. Valle is a firsthand witness of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) response supporting FEMA in Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican himself with family members living in the devastation, his passion for the people is second to none. “It’s just not true,” Col. Valle says of the major disconnect today between the perception of a lack of response from Washington verses what is really going on on the ground.
“I have family here. My parents’ home is here. My uncles, aunts, cousins, are all here. As a Puerto Rican, I can tell you that the problem has nothing to do with the U.S. military, FEMA, or the DoD.” “The aid is getting to Puerto Rico. The problem is distribution. The federal government has sent us a lot of help; moving those supplies, in particular, fuel, is the issue right now,” says Col. Valle. Until power can be restored, generators are critical for hospitals and shelter facilities and more. But, and it’s a big but, they can’t get the fuel to run the generators. They have the generators, water, food, medicine, and fuel on the ground, yet the supplies are not moving across the island as quickly as they’re needed.
“It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers. Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports, waiting to have a vehicle to unload into. However, only 20% of the truck drivers show up to work. These are private citizens in Puerto Rico, paid by companies that are contracted by the government,” says Col. Valle. Put another way, 80% of truck drivers do not show up to work, and yet again, it’s important to understand why. “There should be zero blame on the drivers. They can’t get to work, the infrastructure is destroyed, they can’t get fuel themselves, and they can’t call us for help because there’s no communication. The will of the people of Puerto Rico is off the charts. The truck drivers have families to take care of, many of them have no food or water. They have to take care of their family’s needs before they go off to work, and once they do go, they can’t call home,” explains Col. Valle.
[..] some truck drivers from outside the island have been brought in, and more are coming, however it’s not a fix-all. “We get more and more offers to help, but there is no where to stay, we can’t take any more bodies, there’s no where to put them.” Col. Valle says, adding that their “air mobility” is good, and reiterating that getting more supplies or manpower is not the issue. When asked three times what else Washington can do to help, or anyone for that matter, three times Col. Valle answered, “It’s going to take time.”
People in the United States, especially those from the 1980s onward, know little of Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939) and the long dictatorship that followed. This knowledge is helpful in understanding the situation in Spain and Catalonia right now. The judge (Ismael Moreno) who is set to decide on sedition charges against Catalan activists for attempting to hold a democratic referendum on October 1st, for example, has roots that are deeply connected to Francisco Franco (1892-1975), the military leader who initiated the Civil War, won it, and then went on to rule as Head of State and dictator in Spain for almost forty years. Franco is a major figure of twentieth-century fascism in Europe. A purge of Francoist government officials never took place when the dictatorship ended in the 1970s, and this leadership has had a lasting impact on how Spain’s government makes its decisions about Catalonia, a region traumatized during and after the war due to its resistance to Franco’s regime.
The lingering effects of Franco’s legacy are at this point well-documented and need to be a part of the discourse that surrounds what is quickly unraveling in Barcelona. Over the past week, Spain’s military body, the Guardia Civil, has forcibly taken control of the Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s own police force. It has also detained government officials, closed multiple websites, and ordered seven hundred Catalan mayors to appear in court. Ominously, Spanish police from all over the country have traveled up to Barcelona or are en route to the Catalan capital, holing up in three giant cruise ships, two anchored in the city’s port, one in the port of nearby Tarragona. They are doing this at a time when Spain is on high alert for terrorist attacks, removing their police forces from numerous regions that could be in danger of attack, including Madrid, in preparation to stop Catalan people from putting pieces of paper into voting boxes.
Like the Spanish government, the Spanish police force was never purged of its Francoist ties following the dictatorship. It is a deeply corrupt institution [..] Manuel Fraga Iribarne, one of Franco’s ministers during the dictatorship, founded Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The party is currently enmeshed in a corruption scandal of its own. Spain’s royal family is similarly linked to Franco and has also been brought to trial for its own set of corruption charges. It is impossible to ignore the fascist bedrock upon which modern Spain is founded, or to ignore the reality that this foundation has to do with the way Spain treats Catalonia.