Oct 112017
 
 October 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Georgia O’Keeffe New York night 1929

 

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)
Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)
Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)
Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)
China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)
Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)
Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)
51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)
Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)
Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)
10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)
The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)
How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)
I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)
Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

 

 

You don’t say.

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)

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.

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“The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong.”

Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)

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.

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An award for not understanding?! If you ask me, the very fact that someone gets an award for ‘finding out’ that human behavior affects economies, says all you need to know about economics.

Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)

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.”

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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.

Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)

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.”

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When equity is debt.

China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)

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.”

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Australia lives off its bubble. It’s all that’s left.

Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)

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.

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WHy would anyone still want to buy a car or plane made with Kobe metals? Imagine the lawsuits if accidents happen.

Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)

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.

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And that’s after all those trillions in support.

51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)

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.

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Crypto makes it too easy for money to leave a country.

Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)

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.

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$4 million? That’s the damage?

Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)

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.

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Incredible. You’d expect to see this in Bombay perhaps, or Lagos.

10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)

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.

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Not great title for interesting article.

The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)

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?

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Monbiot has some nice ideas, but underestimates the degree to which our societies profit from carbon. And why bring in Labour?

How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)

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.

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Featuring Dwayne Johnson? All we need then is a ferret to play Dijsselbloem.

I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)

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.

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Words fail.

Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

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.

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Oct 012017
 
 October 1, 2017  Posted by at 8:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 1 2017
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Edward Hopper Nighthawks 1942

 

US Military On Puerto Rico: “The Problem Is Distribution” (HP)
When Fascism Won’t Die: Why We Need to Support Catalonia (CP)
David Stockman: Stocks Are Heading For 40-70% Plunge (CNBC)
The Financialization of America… and Its Discontents
The US Economy is Failing (Paul Craig Roberts)
Debt-Slave Industry Frets over Impact of Mass Credit Freezes (WS)
Hong Kong Economy Most At Risk Of Financial Crisis – Nomura (BBG)
S&P Says China’s Debt Will Grow 77% by 2021 (BBG)
China Cuts Reserve Requirements To Boost Lending To Small Firms (R.)
Fukushima Potentially Leaking Radioactive Water For 5 Months (RT)

 

 

An appeal from Puerto Rico via Nicole:

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!

Mara Nieves
PO BOX 9020931
Old San Juan, PR
00901-0931

 

 

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.”

US Military On Puerto Rico: “The Problem Is Distribution” (HuffPo)

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.”

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The footage this morning from Catalonia is horrifying.

When Fascism Won’t Die: Why We Need to Support Catalonia (CP)

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.

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No tax reform, says Stockman.

David Stockman: Stocks Are Heading For 40-70% Plunge (CNBC)

David Stockman is warning about the Trump administration’s tax overhaul plan, Federal Reserve policy, saying they could play into a severe stock market sell-off. Stockman, the Reagan administration’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, isn’t stepping away from his thesis that the 8 1/2-year-old rally is in serious danger. “There is a correction every seven to eight years, and they tend to be anywhere from 40 to 70%,” Stockman said recently on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “If you have to work for a living, get out of the casino because it’s a dangerous place.” He’s made similar calls, but they haven’t materialized. In June, Stockman told CNBC the S&P 500 could easily fall to 1,600, which at the time represented a 34% drop. This week, the index was trading at record levels above 2,500. Stockman puts a big portion of the blame on the Federal Reserve, and its ultra-loose monetary policy.

“This is a bubble created by the Fed,” he said. “We’re heading for higher yields. We are heading for a huge reset of pricing in the risk markets that’s been based on ultra-cheap yields that the central banks of the world created that are now going to go away because they’re telling you that they’re done.” At the height of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, the S&P 500 Index plummeted as much as 58%. It happened in March 2009. “This market at 24 times GAAP earnings, 21 times operating earnings, 100 months into a business expansion with the kind of troubles you have in Washington, central banks [are] going to the sidelines,” he said. “There’s very little reward, and there’s a heck of a lot of risk.” Stockman argued that President Donald Trump’s business-friendly tax reform bill, which was unveiled Wednesday, won’t prevent a damaging sell-off.

He previously said Wall Street is “delusional” for believing it will even be passed. “This is a fiscal disaster that when they [Wall Street] begin to look at it, they’ll see it’s not even remotely paid for. This bill will go down for the count,” said Stockman. He said White House economic advisor Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin “totally failed to provide any detail, any leadership, any plan. Both of them ought to be fired because they let down the president in a major, major way.” And, it’s not just Washington dysfunction and Fed policy that could ultimately make Stockman’s long-held bearish prediction a reality. He says there will be a catalyst, but it’s unknown exactly what it will be. “You get a black swan in the old days, or maybe you get an orange swan now, the one in the Oval Office who can’t seem to stop tweeting and distracting the whole process from accomplishing anything,” Stockman said of President Donald Trump.

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Koyaanisqatsi. “..capital and profits flow to the scarcities created by asymmetric access to information, leverage and cheap credit — the engines of financialization.”

The Financialization of America… and Its Discontents

Labor’s share of the national income is in freefall as a direct result of the optimization of financialization. The Achilles Heel of our socio-economic system is the secular stagnation of earned income, i.e. wages and salaries. Stagnating wages undermine every aspect of our economy: consumption, credit, taxation and perhaps most importantly, the unspoken social contract that the benefits of productivity and increasing wealth will be distributed widely, if not fairly. This chart shows that labor’s declining share of the national income is not a recent problem, but a 45-year trend: despite occasional counter-trend blips, labor (earnings from labor/ employment) has seen its share of the economy plummet regardless of the political or economic environment.

Given the gravity of the consequences of this trend, mainstream economists have been struggling to explain it, as a means of eventually reversing it. The explanations include automation, globalization/offshoring, the high cost of housing, a decline of corporate competition (i.e. the dominance of cartels and quasi-monopolies), a failure of our educational complex to keep pace, stagnating gains in productivity, and so on. Each of these dynamics may well exacerbate the trend, but they all dodge the dominant driver of wage stagnation and rise income-wealth inequality: our economy is optimized for financialization, not labor/earned income. What does our economy is optimized for financialization mean? It means that capital and profits flow to the scarcities created by asymmetric access to information, leverage and cheap credit — the engines of financialization.

Financialization funnels the economy’s rewards to those with access to opaque financial processes and information flows, cheap central bank credit and private banking leverage. Together, these enable financiers and corporations to get the borrowed capital needed to acquire and consolidate the productive assets of the economy, and commoditize those productive assets, i.e. turn them into financial instruments that can be bought and sold on the global marketplace. Labor’s share of the national income is in freefall as a direct result of the optimization of financialization. Meanwhile, the official policy goal of the Federal Reserve and other central banks is to generate 3% inflation annually. Put another way: the central banks want to lower the purchasing power of their currencies by 33% every decade.

In other words, those with fixed incomes that don’t keep pace with inflation will have lost a third of their income after a decade of central bank-engineered inflation. But in an economy in which wages for 95% of households are stagnant for structural reasons, pushing inflation higher is destabilizing. There is a core structural problem with engineering 3% annual inflation. Those whose income doesn’t keep pace are gradually impoverished, while those who can notch gains above 3% gradually garner the lion’s share of the national income and wealth.

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“Unless Robots pay payroll taxes, the financing for Social Security and Medicare will collapse. And it goes on down from there.”

The US Economy is Failing (Paul Craig Roberts)

Americans carry on by accumulating debt and becoming debt slaves. Many can only make the minimum payment on their credit card and thus accumulate debt. The Federal Reserve’s policy has exploded the prices of financial assets. The result is that the bulk of the population lacks discretionary income, and those with financial assets are wealthy until values adjust to reality. As an economist I cannot identify in history any economy whose affairs have been so badly managed and prospects so severely damaged as the economy of the United States of America. In the short/intermediate run policies that damage the prospects for the American work force benefit what is called the One Percent as jobs offshoring reduces corporate costs and financialization transfers remaining discretionary income in interest and fees to the financial sector.

But as consumer discretionary incomes disappear and debt burdens rise, aggregate demand falters, and there is nothing left to drive the economy. What we are witnessing in the United States is the first country to reverse the development process and to go backward by giving up industry, manufacturing, and tradable professional skill jobs. The labor force is becoming Third World with lowly paid domestic service jobs taking the place of high-productivity, high-value added jobs. The initial response was to put wives and mothers into the work force, but now even many two-earner families experience stagnant or falling material living standards. New university graduates are faced with substantial debts without jobs capable of producing sufficient income to pay off the debts.

Now the US is on a course of travelling backward at a faster rate. Robots are to take over more and more jobs, displacing more people. Robots don’t buy houses, furniture, appliances, cars, clothes, food, entertainment, medical services, etc. Unless Robots pay payroll taxes, the financing for Social Security and Medicare will collapse. And it goes on down from there. Consumer spending simply dries up, so who purcheses the goods and services supplied by robots? To find such important considerations absent in public debate suggests that the United States will continue on the country’s de-industrialization, de-manufacturing trajectory.

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Tricks to keep credit flowing.

Debt-Slave Industry Frets over Impact of Mass Credit Freezes (WS)

“Let’s face it, 143 million frauds won’t be perpetrated right away; it will take some time to filter through,” Steve Bowman, chief credit and risk officer at GM Financial, the auto-lending subsidiary of General Motors, told Reuters. He was talking about the consequences of the Equifax hack during which the most crucial personal data, including Social Security numbers, of 143 million American consumers along with equivalent data of Canadian and British consumers, had been stolen. These consumers have all at once become very vulnerable to all kinds of fraud, including identity theft – where a fraudster borrows money in their name. The day Equifax disclosed the hack, I urged affected consumers to put a credit freeze on their credit data at the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian — to protect themselves against these frauds.

Soon, the largest media outlets and state attorneys general urged consumers to do the same thing. Financial advisors are recommending it. Even Wells Fargo jumped on the credit freeze bandwagon. As a result, consumers have flooded the websites of the three credit bureaus to request credit freezes in such numbers that the sites slowed down, timed out, or went down entirely for periods of time. This credit freeze frenzy is scaring the credit industry – not just the credit bureaus, but also lenders and companies that rely on easy credit to sell their wares, such as automakers and department stores with instant credit cards. With a credit freeze in place, those consumers cannot be approved for new credit until they lift the credit freeze, which can take up to three business days. The time and extra hoops to jump through before applying for a new loan might deter consumers from buying that car at the spur of the moment.

No one knows how this is going to turn out – and how it will impact the debt-based consumer economy. But fears are mounting. If just 10% of 324 million folks in the US put a credit freeze on their data, the credit industry will feel the impact painfully. Hence the efforts to contain the fallout. On Wednesday, an apology by the interim CEO of Equifax, Paulino do Rego Barros Jr. – he succeeded CEO Richard Smith, who’d been sacked – concluded with tidbits of a service Equifax is hoping to roll out by January 31. It would allow “all consumers the option of controlling access to their personal credit data.” It would allow them to “easily lock and unlock access to their Equifax credit files.” This is going to be “simple,” and “free for life.”

This “credit lock” or whatever Equifax wants to call it is not a “credit freeze.” TransUnion is offering a similar service. Credit freezes are covered by state law, and credit bureaus have to conform to state law. With these “credit locks” credit bureaus can do whatever they want to, and consumers will have to read the fine print to figure out what that is and how well a “credit lock” will protect them. But those credit locks offer the credit industry a huge advantage over a credit freeze: They can be designed to be lifted instantly. And this is a sign of how frazzled the credit industry, including the lenders, are becoming, about the credit freezes.

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Interesting methodology.

Hong Kong Economy Most At Risk Of Financial Crisis – Nomura (BBG)

Hong Kong is the economy most at risk of suffering a financial crisis, with China the second most vulnerable, according to the latest update of an early warning system devised by Nomura. The findings don’t mean there will be a crisis. “It’s not a purely scientific approach that is very precise,” Singapore-based analyst Rob Subbaraman said by phone on Friday. “It doesn’t mean that indicators are always accurate or that because they have worked in the past they will work in the future.” Subbaraman developed the system along with fellow analyst Michael Loo using data going back to the early 1990s. The findings show that emerging markets are more prone than developed markets, and that Asia ex-Japan is the region that is most at risk.

The analysts selected five indicators that flash a signal of a financial crisis happening in the next 12 quarters when they breach set thresholds:
* Corporate and household credit to GDP
* The corporate and household debt-service ratio
* The real effective exchange rate
* Real — or adjusted for inflation — property prices
* Real equity prices

The latest update covers the 12 quarters up to and including the first three months of this year. As there are five indicators, each of the countries studied can have a maximum of 60 signals. Hong Kong has the most signals, 52 — higher than during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. China’s total fell to 40 from 41 in the previous update that covered the period up to the fourth quarter of 2016. “Hong Kong looks to be well in the danger zone,” Subbaraman and Loo wrote in the note. They described the decline in China’s total — the first drop since its number of flashing indicators started a steep ascent from zero in the first quarter of 2013 — as encouraging. “Nonetheless, China is still in the danger zone and without further efforts to drain its credit and property excesses, it will be difficult to arrest the trend slowdown in growth.”

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Chinese reality. Shadow banks and local government financing vehicles.

S&P Says China’s Debt Will Grow 77% by 2021 (BBG)

China’s total debt could rise 77% to $46 trillion by 2021, and its push to rein in heavy corporate borrowing has had “only tentative results so far,” S&P Global Ratings said. While the pace of debt expansion is slowing, it still exceeds economic growth, implying that high credit risks could still “incrementally increase,” the rating company said in a report Friday. “Recent intensification of government efforts to rein in corporate leverage could stabilize the trend of financial risks over the next few years,” credit analyst Christopher Lee wrote. “But we still foresee that credit growth will remain at levels that will gradually increase financial stress.” S&P last week cut China’s sovereign credit rating for the first time since 1999, citing the risks from soaring debt, and revised its outlook to stable from negative.

The Finance Ministry responded that the analysis ignores the country’s sound economic fundamentals and that the government is fully capable of maintaining financial stability. In a separate report Friday, S&P said China’s push to rein in corporate borrowing likely hasn’t produced lasting results because it lacks specific targets and time frames for cuts. Corporate debt, including local government financing vehicles, rose 5% last year to $14.5 trillion and is the highest among large economies at 134% of GDP, S&P said. State-owned enterprises are the heaviest borrowers, S&P said, adding that a focus on maintaining stability contributes to cautious policy making and a bias toward a status quo that prioritizes economic growth.

SOEs produce a fifth of economic output while taking out 40% of the bank loans, and they’re less profitable than private counterparts with double the overall debt leverage ratio, S&P said. “Without bold actions, China’s corporate deleveraging aims won’t be met in the next one to two years,” Lee wrote. “China allows moral hazards to persist by providing implicit or even direct support to highly indebted SOEs.

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Caution to the wind!

China Cuts Reserve Requirements To Boost Lending To Small Firms (R.)

China’s central bank on Saturday cut the amount of cash that some banks must hold as reserves for the first time since February 2016 in a bid to encourage more lending to struggling smaller firms and energize its lackluster private sector. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said on its website that it would cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) for some banks that meet certain requirements for lending to small business and the agricultural sector. The PBOC said the move was made to support the development of “inclusive” financial services. The reserve requirement rate will be cut a further 50 bps to 150 bps from the benchmark RRR rate for banks that meet certain requirements for lending to the targeted sectors, the PBOC said. China’s cabinet had in late September flagged a possible move, saying the government will take a number of measures, including tax exemptions and targeted reserve requirement ratio cuts to encourage banks to support small businesses.

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Slow death.

Fukushima Potentially Leaking Radioactive Water For 5 Months (RT)

The Fukushima nuclear power plant may have been leaking radioactive water since April, its owner has admitted. Tokyo Electric Power Company said on Thursday that a problem with monitoring equipment means it can’t be sure if radiation-contaminated water leaked from the reactor buildings damaged in the 2011 nuclear disaster which was sparked by an earthquake and tsunami, the Japan Times reports. The company said there were errors on the settings of six indicators monitoring groundwater levels of wells around reactor buildings 1-4 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power station. The indicators weren’t showing accurate water levels, and the actual levels were about 70 centimeters lower than that which the equipment showed. In May, groundwater at one of the wells sank below the contaminated water inside, NHK reports, which possibly caused the radioactive water to leak into the soil.

The company said it is investigating, and that no abnormal increase of radioactivity has shown up in samples. The problem with the six wells in question was discovered this week when the company was preparing another well nearby. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred when three of the plant’s reactors experienced fuel meltdowns and three units were damaged by hydrogen explosions as a result of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. TEPCO has kept groundwater levels in wells higher than the contaminated water levels inside the plant, usually a meter higher. It also installed water-level indicators, which have now been revealed to be inaccurate. Last week, the company was ordered to pay damages of 376 million yen ($3.36 million) to 42 plaintiffs for the nuclear disaster in the second case a court has which has seen rulings against the company.

The suit, one of about 30 class actions brought against the plant, was brought by residents forced to flee their homes when three reactor cores melted, knocking off the cooling systems and sending radioactive material into the air. The case examined whether the government and TEPCO could have foreseen the tsunami. A government earthquake assessment made public in 2002 predicted a 20% chance of a magnitude 8 earthquake affecting the area within 30 years. The 2011 quake was a magnitude 9. The case argued that the disaster was preventable as emergency generators could have been placed at a location higher than the plant, which stands 10 meters above sea level. The court found the state wasn’t liable, but another case in March found both TEPCO and the government liable.

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Jul 232017
 
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Vincent van Gogh Women Picking Olives 1889

 

Lock Them Up! (David Stockman)
This Recovery Isn’t All That Resilient (DDMB)
Is Productivity Growth Becoming Irrelevant? (Adair Turner)
EU Sounds Alarm, Urges US To Coordinate On Russia Sanctions (R.)
EU Will Hit Poland With Deadline To Reverse Curbs On Judicial Freedom (G.)
EU’s Car Regulator Warns Against Car Diesel Ban In Cities (R.)
100 British Tenants A Day Lose Homes On Rising Rents And Benefit Freeze (G.)
Australia and Its Volatile Future as an LNG Superpower (Nikkei)
Fukushima Robot Images: Massive Deposits Thought To Be Melted Nuclear Fuel (G.)
US Continues Supporting Terrorists in Syria (Lendman)
Meow (Jim Kunstler)
Europe Seeks Long-Term Answer To Refugee Crisis That Needs Solution Now (G.)
Indigenous Australians Take Carbon Farming To Canada (G.)

 

 

Watch out. Stockman’s had enough.

Lock Them Up! (David Stockman)

We frequently hear people say they have nothing to hide—-so surrendering privacy and constitutional rights to the Surveillance State may not be such a big deal if it helps catch a terrorist or two. But with each passing day in the RussiaGate drama we are learning that this superficial exoneration is dangerously beside the point. We are referring here to the unrelenting witch hunt that has been unleashed by Imperial Washington against the legitimately elected President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. This campaign of lies, leaks and Russophobia is the handiwork of Obama’s top national security advisors, who blatantly misused Washington’s surveillance apparatus to discredit Trump and to effectively nullify America’s democratic process.

That is, constitutional protections and liberties were systematically breached, but not simply to intimidate, hush or lock up citizens one by one as per the standard totalitarian modus operandi. Instead, what has happened is that the entire public debate has been hijacked by the shadowy forces of the Deep State and their partisan and media collaborators. The enabling culprits are Obama’s last CIA director, John Brennan, his national security advisor Susan Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Power. There is now mounting evidence that it was they who illegally “unmasked” NSA intercepts from Trump Tower; they who confected the Russian meddling narrative from behind the protective moat of classified intelligence; and they who orchestrated a systematic campaign of leaks and phony intelligence reports during the presidential transition—-all designed to delegitimize Trump before he even took the oath of office.

So all three of them should be locked up -that’s for sure. But the more urgent solution would be to unlock and make public all the innuendo, surmises, assessments, half-truths and boilerplate intelligence chatter on which the entire false narrative about Russian meddling and collusion is based. Stated differently, without the nation’s massive intelligence apparatus and absurd system of secrecy and classified information to hide behind, the RussiaGate witch hunt would have never gotten off the ground. In truth, as we will essay below, there is no there, there. So what this new chapter in McCarthyite hysteria actually demonstrates is that the Imperial City’s far-flung, 17-agency, $75 billion Intelligence Behemoth is a plenary threat not just to individual liberty, but to the very constitutional democracy on which the latter depends.

To appreciate the severity of the threat, it is necessary to recognize that the post-9/11 Deep State has lowered a double whammy on our system. That is, it unconstitutionally collects the entirety of all internet based communications of America’s 325 million citizen, while at the same time it has effectively disenfranchised 98% of the 535 members of the House and Senate who have been elected to represent them. Accordingly, behind the Surveillance State’s vast wall of secrecy and so-called “classified” information, there operates a Dark Government that is unaccountable to the public and largely unconstrained by normal constitutional limits, which the Patriot Act and secret FISA courts have more or less suspended. [..] Unfortunately, the Donald doesn’t seem to recognize that he is actually President. If he did, he would have the Justice Department launch a prosecution against the faithless officials—-Brennan, Rice and Power—-who concocted the whole RussiaGate defamation in the first place.

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No, Danielle. It’s not about resilience. It’s simply not a recovery. No series of numbers, no matter how impressive looking can change that.

This Recovery Isn’t All That Resilient (DDMB)

Are Federal Reserve stress tests leading economic indicators? That certainly seems to be the case. Just ask Capital One. As of the first quarter, credit card loss provisions at Capital One were above 5%, a six-year high. The company recorded some improvement for the second quarter, yet Fed stress tests of the bank’s overall loan portfolio in a deep downturn show losses topping 12%. That explains Capital One’s “conditional” passing score, a black eye that prompted a reduced share buyback plan and no increase in its dividend. Most economists today applaud the resilience of the current recovery, which has stretched into its eighth year, the third-longest in postwar history. Resilience and rising household defaults, though, don’t tend to go hand in hand. Pressures have been building in the background for some time.

When adjusted for inflation, credit card usage has grown faster than incomes for 18 months. According to Fed data, that time frame coincides with the upturn in revolving credit, a proxy for credit card debt. In November 2015, outstanding revolving credit crossed above the $900-billion threshold for the first time since December 2009. By May of this year, annual growth was clocking 8.7%. Meanwhile, credit card balances hit $1.02 trillion, the highest level in almost eight years. Whether by choice or force, the aftermath of the financial crisis prompted households to ratchet back their usage of credit cards. As the recovery got underway, frugality prevailed, punctuated by an increase in debit card purchases. It is thus notable that Bank of America data find debit card usage has weakened in recent years as households grew more comfortable rebuilding their credit card balances.

“Confidence” is the term most associated with the rising credit card debt. But it’s fair to ask why confident households would choose to pay so dearly for the privilege. At 15.83%, the average rate on credit card balances is at a record high. It is more likely that households are increasingly tapping their credit cards to cover the cost of necessities, that they are less confident and more anxious about their future finances. The latest University of Michigan consumer confidence data suggest anxiety is indeed setting in. At 80.2, the expectations component is at the lowest since October and running below the 2016 average of 81.8.

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Productivity in a so-called service economy. A mirage.

Is Productivity Growth Becoming Irrelevant? (Adair Turner)

Our standard mental model of productivity growth reflects the transition from agriculture to industry. We start with 100 farmers producing 100 units of food: technological progress enables 50 to produce the same amount, and the other 50 to move to factories that produce washing machines or cars or whatever. Overall productivity doubles, and can double again, as both agriculture and manufacturing become still more productive, with some workers then shifting to restaurants or health-care services. We assume an endlessly repeatable process. But two other developments are possible. Suppose the more productive farmers have no desire for washing machines or cars, but instead employ the 50 surplus workers either as low-paid domestic servants or higher-paid artists, providing face-to-face and difficult-to-automate services.

Then, as the late William Baumol, a professor at Princeton University, argued in 1966, overall productivity growth will slowly decline to zero, even if productivity growth within agriculture never slows. Or suppose that 25 of the surplus farmers become criminals, and the other 25 police. Then the benefit to human welfare is nil, even though measured productivity rises if public services are valued, as per standard convention, at input cost. The growth of difficult-to-automate service activities may explain some of the productivity slowdown. Britain’s flat productivity reflects a combination of rapid automation in some sectors and rapid growth of low-productivity, low-wage jobs – such as Deliveroo drivers riding around on plain old-fashioned bicycles. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that eight of the ten fastest-growing job categories are low-wage services such as personal care and home health aides.

The growth of “zero-sum” activities may, however, be even more important. Look around the economy, and it’s striking how much high-talent manpower is devoted to activities that cannot possibly increase human welfare, but entail competition for the available economic pie. Such activities have become ubiquitous: legal services, policing, and prisons; cybercrime and the army of experts defending organizations against it; financial regulators trying to stop mis-selling and the growing ranks of compliance officers employed in response; the huge resources devoted to US election campaigns; real-estate services that facilitate the exchange of already-existing assets; and much financial trading. Much design, branding, and advertising activity is also essentially zero-sum. It is certainly good that new fashions can continually compete for our attention; choice and human creativity are valuable per se. But we have no reason to believe that 2050’s designs and brands will make us any happier than those of 2017.

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The new House sanctions under fire from Merkel AND Trump.

EU Sounds Alarm, Urges US To Coordinate On Russia Sanctions (R.)

The European Union sounded an alarm on Saturday about moves in the U.S. Congress to step up U.S. sanctions on Russia, urging Washington to keep coordinating with its G7 partners and warning of unintended consequences. In a statement by a spokeswoman after Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress reached a deal that could see new legislation pass, the European Commission warned of possibly “wide and indiscriminate” “unintended consequences”, notably on the EU’s efforts to diversify energy sources away from Russia. Germany has already warned of possible retaliation if the United States moves to sanction German firms involved with building a new Baltic pipeline for Russian gas.

EU diplomats are concerned that a German-U.S. row over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being built by Russia’s state-owned Gazprom could complicate efforts in Brussels to forge an EU consensus on negotiating with Russia over the project. “We highly value the unity that is prevailing among international partners in our approach towards Russia’s action in Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions. This unity is the guarantee of the efficiency and credibility of our measures,” the Commission said in its statement. “We understand that the Russia/Iran sanctions bill is driven primarily by domestic considerations,” it went on, referring to a bill passed in the U.S. Senate last month and to which lawmakers said on Saturday they had unblocked further obstacles.

“As we have said repeatedly, it is important that any possible new measures are coordinated between international partners to maintain unity among partners on the sanctions that has been underpinning the efforts for full implementation of the Minsk Agreements,” the Commission said, referring to an accord struck with Moscow to try to end the conflicts in Ukraine. “We are concerned the measures discussed in the U.S. Congress could have unintended consequences, not only when it comes to Transatlantic/G7 unity, but also on EU economic and energy security interests. This impact could be potentially wide and indiscriminate, including when it comes to energy sources diversification efforts.

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The heavy hand tactics will backfire at some point, it’s just a matter of time.

EU Will Hit Poland With Deadline To Reverse Curbs On Judicial Freedom (G.)

The EU is expected to give Poland’s rightwing government until September to reverse a controversial set of laws that give the country’s politicians control over its supreme court. The Polish senate defied international condemnation early on Saturday and mass demonstrations in Warsaw to approve a law that allows the firing of its current supreme court judges, except those chosen by the justice minister and approved by the president. Protests continued in Poland on Saturday. But despite increasing dismay at developments, the European commission knows it needs time to build support before moving towards what is regarded as the nuclear option – of suspending a country’s voting rights in the EU for the first time. Last week the first vice-president of the EU’s executive, Frans Timmermans, warned that Brussels was “very close” to triggering the sanction, which would spark a major confrontation with one of the EU’s most populous member states.

The legislation passed on Saturday is only one of a series of contentious legal reforms being pursued by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) which have prompted thousands to take to the streets in protest against what many claim is the death of Polish democracy. The new law gives the president the power to issue regulations for the supreme court’s work. It also introduces a disciplinary chamber that, on a motion from the justice minister, would handle suspected breaches of regulations or ethics. The law now requires only the signature of the president, Andrzej Duda, who was previously a member of PiS, to become binding. With Brexit negotiations in full flow, there is unease in Brussels at taking any action that could be seen as heavy-handed in relation to a member state.

With the EU engaged in a difficult balancing act, it is understood Timmermans will suggest at a meeting of commissioners on Wednesday that Poland be given until the next general affairs council of EU ministers, on 25 September, to respond to claims that its measures are a systemic threat to the rule of law. While Poland has ignored the commission when it has previously set deadlines on this issue, the move would at least give the commission the summer months to garner the support required to impose tough sanctions. The EU believes, however, that it will be in a position to launch two infringement proceedings against Poland as soon as this week, in an attempt to slow the country’s drift towards what Brussels regards as authoritarianism.

[..] The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said on Saturday that Budapest would fight to defend Poland. “The inquisition offensive against Poland can never succeed, because Hungary will use all legal options in the European Union to show solidarity with the Poles,” he said.

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So both Berlin and brussels are in bed with the automakers. Lovely.

I have a question: why are cities full of cars in the first place?

EU’s Car Regulator Warns Against Car Diesel Ban In Cities (R.)

Banning diesel cars in European cities could hamper automakers’ ability to invest in zero-emission vehicles, the European Union’s commissioner for industry has warned the bloc’s transport ministers. In a letter seen by Reuters, Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said there would be no benefit in a collapse of the market for diesel cars and that the short-term focus should be on forcing carmakers to bring dangerous nitrogen oxide emissions into line with EU regulations. “While I am convinced that we should rapidly head for zero-emission vehicles in Europe, policymakers and industry cannot have an interest in a rapid collapse of the diesel market in Europe as a result of local driving bans,” Bienkowska said. “It would only deprive the industry of necessary funds to invest in zero-emissions vehicles,” she said in the letter, dated July 17.

Germany’s three major carmakers have invested heavily in diesel technology, which offers more efficient fuel burn and lower carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline-powered cars. But since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating on U.S. emissions tests, worries about vehicle pollution have left the entire auto industry under scrutiny. A particular concern is emissions by diesel cars of nitrogen oxide, which is blamed for causing respiratory diseases. In the letter, Bienkowska told ministers she was concerned that the latest emissions violations at Audi and Porsche (PSHG_p.DE) were discovered by prosecutors and not Germany’s vehicle and transport authorities. Bienkowska’s letter also called for all cars with excessively high levels of nitrogen oxide emissions to be taken of European roads, but said carmakers should act on a voluntary basis. The commissioner did raise the prospect of an EU testing agency if national regulators failed to spot more emissions-test cheats.

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Once again: what a society. Makeover!

100 British Tenants A Day Lose Homes On Rising Rents And Benefit Freeze (G.)

A record number of renters are being evicted from their homes, with more than 100 tenants a day losing the roof over their head, according to a shocking analysis of the nation’s housing crisis. The spiralling costs of renting a property and a long-running freeze to housing benefit are being blamed for the rising number of evictions among Britain’s growing army of tenants. More than 40,000 tenants in England were evicted in 2015, according to a study by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). It is an increase of a third since 2003 and the highest level recorded. The research appears to confirm fears that a mixture of rising costs and falling state support would lead to a rise in people being forced out of their homes. It will raise concerns that even those in work are struggling to pay their rent.

High numbers of “no-fault” evictions by private landlords is driving the increase. More than 80% of the extra evictions had occurred under a Section 21 notice, which gives a tenant two months to leave. The landlord does not have to give a reason and there does not need to be any wrongdoing on the part of the tenant. The study found that changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to claimants in many areas. Housing benefit was no longer covering the cost of renting in some cases, with average shortfalls ranging from £22 to £70 a month outside of London, and between £124 and £1,036 in inner London. Housing benefit has not risen in line with private rents since 2010, and a current freeze means the rates paid will not increase until 2020. A series of interviews with private renters who are struggling to meet their bills exposed the pressure some low-paid tenants are now under.

One man said that the £50 shortfall he had suffered was “almost a week’s money in itself”. “And then you’ve got the other bills…I just couldn’t make it work. I had to choose, what do I pay this month – do I pay the rent? Do I pay the electricity? Do I buy some food? And it just snowballed.” A single mother in her 20s said: “I paid it as much as I could, but my youngest child has been quite sickly … If my kids are sick, I don’t get paid.” The problem is particularly acute in London and the south-east. Four out of every five repossessions using Section 21 orders are in London, the east of England and the south-east. Nearly two-thirds are in London. Within the city, Section 21 repossessions are concentrated in the boroughs of Newham, Enfield, Haringey, Brent and Croydon. Of the 40,000 evictions, there were 19,019 repossessions in the social housing sector, and 22,150 in the private rented sector.

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Burn baby burn! But not all of it. Maybe. Or not right now.

Australia and Its Volatile Future as an LNG Superpower (Nikkei)

Australia is expected to overtake Qatar to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas in 2019, but a political risk has emerged that is casting a dark cloud over the resource-rich nation’s future as an LNG export superpower. The government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull introduced a new energy policy this month to prioritize the domestic gas supply and regulate LNG exports. Australian oil and gas major Santos has seen its stock price decline as the company is expected to be subjected to the regulations as early as next year. Australia’s conservative ruling coalition, whose approval rating is languished since a narrow election win a year ago, is aiming to allay public discontent with rising electricity and gas bills. But the new energy policy has sparked confusion across corporate Australia.

On April 27, the Turnbull government announced the introduction of the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, or ADGSM. According to details released on June 20, the Australian resources minister every summer will discuss plans for the following year’s domestic g

as supplies by consulting gas companies, industry regulators and other parties. The resources minister is to then determine by Sept. 1 – or Nov. 1 at the latest – whether the country will face a gas shortage the following year. LNG export controls will be imposed in the event of a supply shortage at home. Three LNG projects in the eastern state of Queensland will be subject to the new regulations for the time being. They are the world’s first projects to extract coal bed methane, also known as coal seam gas in Australia, and export the gas in the form of LNG.

The three LNG projects, which include the Santos-operated Gladstone LNG, or GLNG, project, went on stream over 2014 and 2015 in anticipation of swelling Asian demand. They have a combined annual production capacity of 25.3 million tons. The resources minister is to take into account the volume of exports and that of domestic shipments from each project and determine whether each project is denting the domestic supply, including through emergency procurements for export purposes. If any of the projects is deemed to be harming domestic supplies, the project operator will be required to take measures, such as cutting exports and increasing domestic shipments.

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Fukushima. Where robots go to die.

Fukushima Robot Images: Massive Deposits Thought To Be Melted Nuclear Fuel (G.)

Images captured by an underwater robot on Saturday showed massive deposits believed to be melted nuclear fuel covering the floor of a damaged reactor at Japan’s destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant. The robot found large amounts of solidified lava-like rocks and lumps in layers as thick as 1m on the bottom inside a main structure called the pedestal that sits underneath the core inside the primary containment vessel of Fukushima’s Unit 3 reactor, said the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. On Friday, the robot spotted suspected debris of melted fuel for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused multiple meltdowns and destroyed the plant. The three-day investigation of Unit 3 ended on Saturday.

Locating and analysing the fuel debris and damage in each of the plant’s three wrecked reactors is crucial for decommissioning the plant. The search for melted fuel in the two other reactors has so far been unsuccessful because of damage and extremely high radiation levels. During this week’s probe, cameras mounted on the robot showed extensive damage caused by the core meltdown, with fuel debris mixed with broken reactor parts, suggesting the difficult challenges ahead in the decades-long decommissioning of the plant. TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said it would take time to analyse the debris in the images to figure out removal methods.

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Will the CIA destroy Trump and Putin’s ceasefire?

US Continues Supporting Terrorists in Syria (Lendman)

It’s naive to believe otherwise. It’s central to US strategy since launching war for regime change. Tactics alone changed from then to now, not Washington’s objective – allied with Israel and other rogue states to topple Syria’s legitimate government. In response to Trump’s announced end to covert CIA-arming and training of so-called “moderate rebels” (aka terrorists like all other anti-government groups), Russia’s Information and Press Department deputy director Artyom Kozhin said the following: “We have not heard anything regarding this decision from the official sources. Neither do we know about the status of other similar programs that could be implemented by other US agencies.” “(W)e have expressed how we feel when it comes to the US flirting with militants in Syria more than once. We have forewarned that this flirtation could have unpredictable military and political consequences.”

“We repeatedly pointed to the Americans’ unscrupulous actions taken in Syria in the pursuit of their self-seeking geopolitical interests.” “It is an open secret that a substantial number of militants who have been trained under the US Train and Equip program ultimately joined ISIS and al-Nusra.” “We regard this as a repetition of the tragic story of Afghanistan and Libya. The potential consequences of this should be obvious to everyone.” On Friday, Sergey Lavrov minced no words, saying Washington continues arming anti-government terrorist groups in Syria, euphemistically called the moderate opposition. It has illegal bases in the country, established without Security Council or Damascus authorization. According to CENTCOM commander General Joseph Votel, US forces will remain in Syria after the battle for Raqqa is over – on the phony pretext of stabilizing the region.

Washington wants northern Syrian territory occupied, along with other areas it’s able to gain control over – a scheme risking direct confrontation with Russia and Damascus. Trump wants increased funding for US military bases in Iraq and Syria, reflecting plans for permanent (illegal) US occupation. Saying it’s to continue combating ISIS is willful deception, concealing America’s support for the terrorist group and likeminded ones. On July 19, Russia’s upper house Federation Council ratified a January protocol agreed on in Damascus to establish the legal presence of Russian aerial forces and support personnel in Syria for 49 years – to be automatically extended for subsequent 25-year periods. The move aims to secure and protect Syrian sovereignty. It continues longstanding mutually cooperative bilateral relations. It signifies Russia’s intention to challenge US, NATO and Israeli imperial designs on the country.

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” And then the US Treasury will destroy the dollar trying (again) to save the banks. And the bank accounts will be frozen. And the loans will stop being paid.”

Meow (Jim Kunstler)

I’d actually go further now than the “soft coup d’état” scenario that has Trump run over by the 25th amendment. It will happen, of course, but it will not satisfy anybody. Mike Pence will prove to be as ineffectual and unpopular as Trump, and he will be drowning in financial and fiscal problems, and he will get no help from the legislature in resolving any of it, and before too long there may be a general in the White House – or attempting to run things from someplace else, if he can. The whole nauseating spectacle will be attended by violent popular revolt of region against region and tribe against tribe in a great civil explosion of long-suppressed angst. Too many nasty forces are vectoring in on the scene to overthrow the dream state America has been languishing in.

Most of them involve money (or “money”) and the questions of how can we possibly keep paying for the way we live in this country, and who exactly has been fobbing off with the former wealth of every rusted and busted community in the land? It’s going to start in the stock and bond markets and it will be soon. And then the US Treasury will destroy the dollar trying (again) to save the banks. And the bank accounts will be frozen. And the loans will stop being paid. And the SNAP cards are going to stop working, and pretty soon the just-in-time deliveries to the supermarkets, and the resupply to the gas stations, and there won’t be much that Mike Pence can do about it. He’ll be shoved aside and the military will have to try to restore order in the land. When they do, it will not be the same land we sang about back in the fifth grade. Up in a cloud somewhere over Ohio, maybe, Schrödinger’s Cat will be gazing down on us, grinning.

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Europe only seeks a way to not have to deal with it.

Europe Seeks Long-Term Answer To Refugee Crisis That Needs Solution Now (G.)

European efforts to deal with the influx, hastily enacted two years ago at the height of Syria’s civil war, are faltering. A burden-sharing deal agreed by all 28 EU states in 2015, when Germany took nearly 1 million people, has arguably never worked. Of 160,000 refugees due to be accepted under the scheme, fewer than 21,000 have been relocated. Europe is split down the middle. Poland and Hungary have refused to take anyone. The Czech Republic initially accepted 12 people but has since slammed the door. The European commission has begun legal action against all three. Italy and Greece, so-called “frontline states”, are at odds with their northern neighbours, notably France and Austria. Dashing hopes of a new approach, the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, is proving inflexible on the issue.

As we report today, hundreds of migrants are effectively kettled in Ventimiglia on the Italian side of the border with France. Paris is preventing vessels carrying rescued migrants docking in French ports. Nor has France met its share of the European Union relocation quota. Austria is paying refugees to leave, amid a rise in far right and neo-Nazi attacks. The Vienna government says it will close the Brenner Pass if Italy issues temporary travel visas for the migrants. The Italian government, facing elections in 2018 and under pressure from the populist Five Star movement opposition, is furious about perceived French hypocrisy. “After saying they understand our problem, it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely … we need more solidarity,” says Mario Giro, Italy’s deputy foreign minister.

The new refugee crisis is playing into a bigger, EU-wide battle about respect for national sovereignty. Hungary’s rightwing prime minister, Viktor Orbán, says he will “not give in to blackmail from Brussels”. Poland says the EU relocation scheme encourages more migrants, arguing most refugees do not genuinely fear persecution but are economic migrants seeking a better life. [..] Confusion and division also characterise Europe’s policy towards Libya, the main stepping-off point for migrants. Much of Libya is ungoverned following the US, British and French-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, and UN-led efforts to restore order are floundering. Overwhelmed by sheer numbers, Italy has been trying to limit its at-sea rescue efforts. But as elsewhere, political and humanitarian responses are in conflict.

About 3,000 people from Libya were picked up in one day in May in more than 20 rescue operations mounted by the Italian coastguard and navy, ships from the EU’s Mediterranean mission, its Frontex border agency, and merchant vessels. Merkel was widely praised for her open-door response in 2015 but public attitudes have hardened, and she faces a general election in September. Her focus now is her new “compact with Africa”, showcased at the Hamburg G20 summit, which seeks more state and private investment in Africa to combat poverty and the effects of climate change, and thereby deter mass migration to Europe. But Merkel’s solution is long-term. Europe’s new refugee crisis is happening now, as British beach-goers may soon testify.

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Love it. The wiser peoples of the world working together.

Indigenous Australians Take Carbon Farming To Canada (G.)

Australia’s world-leading Indigenous land management and carbon farming programs are spreading internationally, with a formal agreement signed to help build a similar program in Canada. A chance meeting between Rowen Foley from the Aboriginal Carbon Fund and a Candian carbon credit businessman at the 2015 Paris climate conference spawned a relationship that led to an agreement this week that will help Canadian First Nations peoples learn from the Australian Aboriginal carbon farming success. “Sometimes chance meetings are a form of karma or synchronicity at play,” Foley says. Foley set up the Aboriginal Carbon Fund in 2010 to help other Indigenous organisations make money by managing land in such a way that it sequesters carbon in the soil.

One of the most successful types of Indigenous carbon farming in Australia has been savannah burning, in which regular small fires are lit, replicating ancient Aboriginal practices and helping to prevent larger fires that release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The projects are often managed by workers in the Indigenous ranger program, which a recent government review concluded were enormously effective, increasing employment, building stronger communities and reducing violence, while also increasing income tax and reducing welfare payments. “Sustainable Indigenous land management, such as savannah burning, not only reduces carbon emissions but also builds communities by offering meaningful jobs for local traditional owners as rangers and an independent income,” Foley says.

One project – run by the Karlantijpa North Kurrawarra Nyura Mala Aboriginal Corporation – was awarded a contract for carbon credits under the Australian government’s Emissions Reduction Fund. By burning the savannah early in the season, it secured payments for sequestering 24,100 tonnes of carbon, in an auction where the average value for such abatement would have been $257,629. The Aboriginal Carbon Fund works with similar groups to produce carbon credits that can be bought by corporations as carbon offsets. Now the lessons learned in Australia are set to be taken to Canada, with an agreement between the Aboriginal Carbon Fund and the Canadian First Nations Energy and Mining Council. “It feels like the idea is coming of age,” Foley says.

Foley travelled to Vancouver to meet David Porter, the chief executive of the First Nations Energy and Mining Council, to sign the agreement. It notes the “strong similarities” between the First Peoples of Canada and the Indigenous people of Australia in relation to land management and climate mitigation.

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Jul 142017
 
 July 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Nude, Green Leaves and Bust 1932

 

Global Shares Rise To Record New Highs (R.)
Britain In Worse Shape To Withstand A Recession Than In 2007 (G.)
IMF Warns Canada On Housing, Trade, Rate Hikes (R.)
40% Of The Fed’s Interest On Excess Reserves Is Paid To Foreign Banks (ZH)
Will Corporate Bonds Cross Over? (DDMB)
Turkey Chooses Russia Over NATO for Missile Defense (BBG)
100,000 and Counting: No Letup in Turkey Coup Purges a Year On (BBG)
Philip Morris’ Anti-Anti-Smoking Campaign (R.)
Globalisation: The Rise And Fall Of An Idea That Swept The World (G.)
Tepco: Decision Already Been Made To Release Radioactive Tritium Into Sea (JT)
Italy’s Poor Almost Triple in a Decade Amid Economic Slumps

 

 

Nothing has value anymore.

Global Shares Rise To Record New Highs (R.)

Upbeat data helped send world shares to a fourth all-time high in less than a month on Thursday as Wall Street edged higher in anticipation of solid earnings, while crude oil gained on evidence of stronger demand in China. Stocks were buoyed in Asia and elsewhere a day after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signaled a rise in interest rates would be less aggressive than some investors had expected. Sentiment was boosted after China reported upbeat data on exports and imports for June, the latest sign that the global growth is picking up a bit. That offset reports of higher production by key members of OPEC in a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), lifting oil prices.

The data pushed Asian shares up more than 1% and lifted MSCI’s 47-country gauge of global equity markets to a fresh record high with a gain of 0.29%. “Yesterday’s move was in response to Yellen comments that should inflation remain below the 2% target rate, the central bank will be less aggressive in their tightening program,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. “Today, the market is saying that’s old news and let’s focus on the matter at hand, which is earnings that will be coming out in earnest this week,” Stovall said. U.S. shares rose in anticipation second-quarter earnings will grow 7.8% for S&P 500 companies, according to Thomson Reuters data.

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Don’t worry, everybody is.

Britain In Worse Shape To Withstand A Recession Than In 2007 (G.)

Britain’s public finances are in worse shape to withstand a recession than they were on the eve of the 2007 financial crash a decade ago and face the twin threat of a fresh downturn and Brexit, the Treasury’s independent forecaster has warned. The Office for Budget Responsibility – the UK’s fiscal watchdog – said another recession was inevitable at some point and that Theresa May’s failure to win a parliamentary majority in last month’s election left the public finances more vulnerable to being blown off course than they were in 2007. In its first in-depth analysis of the fiscal risks facing Britain, the OBR said its main message was clear: “Governments should expect nasty fiscal surprises from time to time – because policy can only reduce risks, not eliminate them – and plan accordingly.

“And they have to do so in the context of ongoing pressures that are likely to weigh on receipts and drive up spending and a variety of risks that governments choose to expose themselves to for policy reasons. This is true for any government, but this one also has to manage the uncertainties posed by Brexit, which could influence the likelihood or impact of other risks.” The OBR said the size of the UK’s Brexit divorce bill – currently a matter of dispute between London and Brussels – would have little impact on the public finances. But it noted that even a small fall in Britain’s underlying growth rate after departure from the EU would lead to a big increase in the country’s debt burden.

If a knock to trade with the rest of Europe caused productivity to slip by just 0.1 percentage points over the next 50 years, tax receipts would be £36bn lower. With spending growth left unchanged, the debt-to-GDP ratio would end up around 50 percentage points higher, the OBR added. The campaign group Open Britain said the OBR’s report showed “a hard Brexit poses a real threat to our economy. People voted for £350m a week for the NHS, not a £36bn black hole in the public finances that could mean severe cuts to the NHS”.

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Has Australia been warned yet?

IMF Warns Canada On Housing, Trade, Rate Hikes (R.)

The IMF said on Thursday that while Canada’s economy has regained momentum, housing imbalances have increased and uncertainty surrounding trade negotiations with the United States could hurt the recovery. The report, written before the central bank raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday to 0.75%, also said the Bank of Canada’s current monetary policy stance is appropriate, and it cautioned against tightening. “While the output gap has started to close, monetary policy should stay accommodative until signs of durable growth and higher inflation emerge,” it said, adding that rate hikes should be “approached cautiously.” Cheng Hoon Lim, IMF mission chief for Canada, later clarified that even with Wednesday’s rate hike, monetary policy remains “appropriately accommodative.”

“The Bank of Canada’s increase of the policy rate reflects encouraging economic data over the past few months. We welcome the good news on the economy,” Lim said in an emailed statement. “Given the considerable uncertainty around the growth and inflation outlook, the Bank should continue to take a cautious approach in further adjusting the monetary policy stance,” she added. In a statement following its annual policy review with Canada, the IMF cautioned that risks to Canada’s outlook are significant – particularly the danger of a sharp correction in the housing market, a further decline in oil prices, or U.S. protectionism. It said financial stability risks could emerge if the housing correction is accompanied by a recession, but said stress tests have shown Canadian banks could withstand a “significant loss” on their uninsured residential mortgage portfolio, in part because of high capital position.

House prices in Toronto and Vancouver have more than doubled since 2009 and the boom has fueled record household debt, a vulnerability that has also been noted by the Bank of Canada. “The main risk on the domestic side is a sharp correction in the housing market that impairs bank balance sheets, triggers negative feedback loops in the economy, and increases contingent claims on the government,” the Fund said. The Fund also warned U.S. protectionism could hurt Canada, laying out a scenario for higher tariffs that could come with the renegotiation of NAFTA. If the United States raises the average tariff on imports from Canada by 2.1 percentage points and there is no retaliation from Canada, there would be a short-term impact on real GDP of about 0.4%.

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Bankers have no more use for borders than birds do.

40% Of The Fed’s Interest On Excess Reserves Is Paid To Foreign Banks (ZH)

Recall that as we showed first all the way back in 2011, the total cash on the books of commercial banks with operations in the US tracks the Fed’s excess reserves almost dollar for dollar. More importantly, the number is broken down by small and large domestic banks, as well as international banks. It is the last number that is of biggest interest, because now that Congress is finally scrutinizing the $4.5 trillion elephant in the room, i.e., the Fed’s balance sheet, it may be interested to know that approximately 40%, or $838 billion as of the latest weekly data, in reserves parked at the Fed belongs to foreign banks.

While we will reserve judgment, and merely point out that of the $100 or so billion in dividends and buybacks announced by US banks after the latest stress test a substantial amount comes directly courtesy of the Fed – cash that ultimately ends up in shareholders’ pockets – we will note that the interest the Fed pays to foreign banks operating in the US who have parked reserves at the Fed, amounts to $10.4 billion annualized as of this moment. This is a subsidy from the Fed, supposedly an institution that exists for the benefit of the US population, going directly and without any frictions to foreign banks, who – just like in the US – then proceed to dividend and buybacks these funds, “returning” them to their own shareholders, most of whom are foreign individuals.

While the number appears modest, it is poised to grow substantially as the Fed Funds rate is expected to keep growing, ultimately hitting 3.0% according to the Fed. Indicatively, assuming excess reserves remain unchanged for the next 2-3 years and rates rise to 3.0%, that would imply a total annual subsidy to commercial banks amounting to $65 billion, of which $25 billion would go to foreign banks every year. We wonder if this is the main reason why the Fed is so desperate to trim its balance sheet as it hikes rates, as sooner or later, someone in Congress will figure this out.

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Unintended consequences? One of many?

Will Corporate Bonds Cross Over? (DDMB)

Unbeknownst to unassuming corporate bond holders, they too will soon be forced into the slow lane. For the moment, the vast majority fancy themselves that equally exasperating driver who won’t get out of the fast lane, determined to bully their way to their damned destination. As for the perils of tailgating, they’re for the other guy, the less agile driver with rubbery reflexes. That’s all good and well and has been for many years. Bond market fender benders are nearly nonexistent. The question is: Will central bankers worldwide turn placid parkways into highways to hell as they ‘remove accommodation,’ to borrow from their gently genteel jargon? That’s certainly one way to interpret Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s latest promise to shrink the balance sheet ‘appreciably.’

Care for a translation? How easily does “Aggressive Quantitative Tightening” roll off the tongue? Perhaps you’ve just bitten yours instead. Enter the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The Institute of International Finance (IIF), The Bank of International Settlements (BIS), and by the way, the Emerging Markets complex including and especially China. As a former central banker, it is with embarrassing ease yours truly can bandy about fantastic figures. No surprise that nary an eyebrow was raised at the latest figures out of the IIF that aggregate global debt is closing in on $220 trillion, as touched on last week. Consider that to be the broad backdrop. Now, narrow in on the IMF’s concerns that financial stability could be rocked by a rumble in US corporate debt markets.

Using firms’ capacity to service their debts from current earnings as a simple and elegant yard stick, the report warned that one in ten firms are failing outright. The last two years of levering up have exacted rapid damage: earnings have fallen to less than six times interest expense, this during an era of unprecedented low interest rates. And as record non-financial debt as a percentage of GDP quickly approaches 50%, the share of income required to service this mountain is at a seven-year high. Should financial conditions tighten (the report was published in April prior to the Fed’s June rate hike), one-in-five firms are likely to default, which rises to 22% if rates continue to rise.

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“..The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border..”

Turkey Chooses Russia Over NATO for Missile Defense (BBG)

Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six decades. The preliminary agreement sees Turkey receiving two S-400 missile batteries from Russia within the next year, and then producing another two inside Turkey, according to the Turkish official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokesman for Russia’s arms-export company Rosoboronexport OJSC said he couldn’t immediately comment on details of a deal with Turkey. Turkey has reached the point of an agreement on a missile defense system before, only to scupper the deal later amid protests and condemnation from NATO.

Under pressure from the U.S., Turkey gave up an earlier plan to buy a similar missile-defense system from a state-run Chinese company, which had been sanctioned by the U.S. for alleged missile sales to Iran. Turkey has been in NATO since the early years of the Cold War, playing a key role as a frontline state bordering the Soviet Union. But ties with fellow members have been strained in recent years, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pursuing a more assertive and independent foreign policy as conflict engulfed neighboring Iraq and Syria. Tensions with the U.S. mounted over U.S. support for Kurdish militants in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists, and the relationship with the European Union soured as the bloc pushed back against what it sees as Turkey’s increasingly autocratic turn.

Last month, Germany decided to withdraw from the main NATO base in Turkey, Incirlik, after Turkey refused to allow German lawmakers to visit troops there. The missile deal with Russia “is a clear sign that Turkey is disappointed in the U.S. and Europe,” said Konstantin Makienko, an analyst at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow think-tank. “But until the advance is paid and the assembly begins, we can’t be sure of anything.” The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border, the official said. The Russian deal would allow Turkey to deploy the missile defense systems anywhere in the country, the official said.

[..] The official said the systems delivered to Turkey would not have a friend-or-foe identification system, which means they could be deployed against any threat without restriction.

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That must have been one hell of a conspiracy.

100,000 and Counting: No Letup in Turkey Coup Purges a Year On (BBG)

The scale of Turkey’s crackdown on alleged government opponents following last year’s attempted coup was confirmed by a top official, as the nation prepares to mark the anniversary of the failed putsch amid deepening concern over the rule of law. Authorities have fired 103,824 state employees and suspended 33,483 more since the July 15 bid to seize power by a section of the military, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in an interview. The purge of suspected followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by the government of orchestrating the coup attempt, is necessary to ensure national security, he said. ustice Ministry data showed 50,546 suspected members of Gulen’s organization were in prison on July 3, and that arrest warrants had been issued for 8,000 others. The preacher denies involvement in the takeover attempt.

“There might be crypto members of Feto who walk on the snow without leaving tracks,” Kurtulmus said, using an abbreviation of Gulen’s first name that officials have adopted since the defeated military power grab to refer to his movement. “Related agencies are carefully conducting their work against this possibility.” Just this week, Erdogan rebuffed criticism over the detention of a group of international rights activists, including the director of Amnesty International Turkey, as they held a workshop on an island off Istanbul. “They gathered as if they were holding a meeting to continue July 15,” the president said. Amnesty criticized Turkey on Tuesday after the detentions were extended by seven days. “It is truly absurd that they are under investigation for membership of an armed terrorist organization,” Amnesty Europe Director John Dalhuisen said in an email. “For them to be entering a second week in police cells is a shocking indictment of the ruthless treatment of those who attempt to stand up for human rights in Turkey.”

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Dirty deeds.

Philip Morris’ Anti-Anti-Smoking Campaign (R.)

A group of cigarette company executives stood in the lobby of a drab convention center near New Delhi last November. They were waiting for credentials to enter the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty conference, one designed to curb smoking and combat the influence of the cigarette industry. Treaty officials didn’t want them there. But still, among those lined up hoping to get in were executives from Japan Tobacco International and British American Tobacco Plc. There was a big name missing from the group: Philip Morris International Inc. A Philip Morris representative later told Reuters its employees didn’t turn up because the company knew it wasn’t welcome. In fact, executives from the largest publicly traded tobacco firm had flown in from around the world to New Delhi for the anti-tobacco meeting.

Unknown to treaty organizers, they were staying at a hotel an hour from the convention center, working from an operations room there. Philip Morris International would soon be holding secret meetings with delegates from the government of Vietnam and other treaty members. The object of these clandestine activities: the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or FCTC, a treaty aimed at reducing smoking globally. Reuters has found that Philip Morris International is running a secretive campaign to block or weaken treaty provisions that save millions of lives by curbing tobacco use. [..] Confidential company documents and interviews with current and former Philip Morris employees reveal an offensive that stretches from the Americas to Africa to Asia, from hardscrabble tobacco fields to the halls of political power, in what may be one of the broadest corporate lobbying efforts in existence.

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It needs growth, and there ain’t none.

Globalisation: The Rise And Fall Of An Idea That Swept The World (G.)

It was only a few decades ago that globalisation was held by many, even by some critics, to be an inevitable, unstoppable force. “Rejecting globalisation,” the American journalist George Packer has written, “was like rejecting the sunrise.” Globalisation could take place in services, capital and ideas, making it a notoriously imprecise term; but what it meant most often was making it cheaper to trade across borders – something that seemed to many at the time to be an unquestionable good. In practice, this often meant that industry would move from rich countries, where labour was expensive, to poor countries, where labour was cheaper. People in the rich countries would either have to accept lower wages to compete, or lose their jobs. But no matter what, the goods they formerly produced would now be imported, and be even cheaper.

And the unemployed could get new, higher-skilled jobs (if they got the requisite training). Mainstream economists and politicians upheld the consensus about the merits of globalisation, with little concern that there might be political consequences. Back then, economists could calmly chalk up anti-globalisation sentiment to a marginal group of delusional protesters, or disgruntled stragglers still toiling uselessly in “sunset industries”. These days, as sizable constituencies have voted in country after country for anti-free-trade policies, or candidates that promise to limit them, the old self-assurance is gone. Millions have rejected, with uncertain results, the punishing logic that globalisation could not be stopped. The backlash has swelled a wave of soul-searching among economists, one that had already begun to roll ashore with the financial crisis. How did they fail to foresee the repercussions?

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The world should not allow the Fukushima secrecy any longer.

Tepco: Decision Already Been Made To Release Radioactive Tritium Into Sea (JT)

Radioactive tritium, said to pose little risk to human health, will be released from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power complex into the sea, according to a top official of the plant operator. “The decision has already been made,” Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company, said in a recent interview with media outlets, referring to the discharge of tritium, which remains in filtered water even after highly toxic radioactive materials are removed from water used to cool the damaged reactors at the plant. At other nuclear power plants, tritium-containing water has routinely been released into the sea after it is diluted. But the move by Tepco has prompted worries among local fishermen about the potential ramifications for their livelihood as public perceptions about fish and other marine products caught off Fukushima could worsen.

They are the first public remarks by the utility’s management on the matter, as Tepco continues its cleanup of toxic water and tanks containing it continue to fill the premises of the plant, where three reactors suffered meltdowns after tsunami flooded the complex in March 2011 following a massive earthquake. Kawamura’s comments came at a time when a government panel is still debating how to deal with tritium-containing water at the Fukushima plant, including whether to dump it into sea. Saying its next move is contingent on the panel’s decision, Kawamura indicated in the interview that Tepco will wait for a decision by the government before it actually starts releasing the water into sea. “We cannot keep going if we do not have the support of the state” as well as Fukushima Prefecture and other stakeholders, he said.

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The EU is one big success story.

Italy’s Poor Almost Triple in a Decade Amid Economic Slumps

Italians living below the level of absolute poverty almost tripled over the last decade as the country went through a double-dip, record-long recession. The absolute poor, or those unable to purchase a basket of necessary goods and services, reached 4.7 million last year, up from almost 1.7 million in 2006, national statistics agency Istat said Thursday. That is 7.9% of the population, with many of them concentrated in the nation’s southern regions. As Italy went through its deepest, and then its longest, recession since World War II between 2008 and 2013, more than a quarter of the nation’s industrial production was wiped out. Over the same period unemployment also rose, with the rate rising to as high as 13% in 2014 from a low of 5.7% in 2007. Joblessness was at 11.3% at last check in May.

For decades, Italy has grappled with a low fertility rate – just 1.35 children per woman compared with a 1.58 average across the 28-nation EU as of 2015, the last year for which comparable data are available. “The poverty report shows how it is pointless to wonder why there are fewer newborn in Italy,” said Gigi De Palo, head of Italy’s Forum of Family Associations. “Making a child means becoming poor, it seems like in Italy children are not seen as a common good.” The number of absolute poor rose last year in the younger-age classes, reaching 10% in the group of those between 18 and 34 years old. It fell among seniors to 3.8% in the age group of 65 and older, the Istat report also showed.

Earlier this year, the Rome-based parliament approved a new anti-poverty tool called inclusion income that is replacing existing income-support measures. It will benefit 400,000 households, for a total of 1.7 million people, Il Sole 24 Ore daily reported, citing parliamentary documents. The program will be funded with resources of around €2 billion ($2.3 billion) this year which should rise to nearly €2.2 billion in 2018, Sole also said

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 March 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 13 2017
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DPC The Mammoth Oak at Pass Christian, Mississippi 1900

 

The Ides of March Could Be A Critical Turning Point For The Stock Market (MW)
The US As The “Cleanest Dirty Shirt” (Snider)
A Third Of American Families Have ‘Roller Coaster’ Finances (MW)
US Interest Rate Rise To Deepen Developing Countries’ Debt Crisis (G.)
The Issue Is The Leverage And Instability Of The System (Rickards)
Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite? (CNBC)
When It Comes to Wall Street, Preet Bharara Is No Hero (PP)
China’s Economic Miracle Is Over (Friedman)
Iceland Exits Capital Controls Eight Years After Banking Crash (BBG)
Steve Keen Is In The House (YT)
We Will All Need A Stiff Drink To Swallow Hammond’s Austerity (G.)
No Proof Russia Disrupts UK Democracy, But They Can – Boris Johnson (RT)
Brussels Keeping 2015 Emergency Grexit Plan Locked Away (K.)
Fukushima Evacuees Face ‘Forced’ Return As Subsidies Withdrawn (G.)
Police Raid Athens Squats, Detain Dozens Of Refugees (K.)
What Would You Do To Keep Your Children Alive? (I’Cept)

 

 

The Fed, the debt ceiling and the Dutch election. All this Wednesday, March 15.

The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martiae, Late Latin: Idus Martii) is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to 15 March. It was marked by several religious observances and became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC..

The Ides of March Could Be A Critical Turning Point For The Stock Market (MW)

As much as Julius Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March signaled an inflection point in Roman history, March 15 may also mark a watershed moment for the U.S. stock market with the Federal Reserve poised to seek closure to its loose monetary policy regime. “The coming week has the potential to be huge for trading opportunities,” said Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, in a note. “Everything centers around the Ides of March…with a number of key developments coming out both on [March] 15 and 16.” The Fed’s monetary policy decision on Wednesday will take center stage with markets nearly 100% certain of a rate increase following solid February jobs data. The focus will be on the Fed’s statement rather than the decision itself.

“The commentary will help determine how many more hikes the market has to get used to and then when it has to start preparing,” said Bob Pavlik at Boston Private Wealth. If the central bank strikes a hawkish tone, it could trigger a selloff in the market although Pavlik expects Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to keep her comments positive to avoid upsetting the market. Still, investors should keep in mind is that this is the third hike in the current tightening cycle, and history is working against the market. Since 1971, stocks have fallen an average of 2.2% on the third hike over the following three months, said Tom Lee at Fundstrat Global Advisors. To be sure, there are always exceptions. Stocks rose sharply in the following three months after the Fed hiked for a third time in both June 1984 and September 2004, he said.

Most analysts agree that stocks have largely priced in a rate hike of 25 basis points. But there are still bargains to be found in automobile, semiconductors, consumer finance and insurance sectors, which are cheap but benefit from a hawkish Fed, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Aside from the Fed, eight other central banks are scheduled to meet next week, including the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England, providing a quick insight into whether other countries will adjust their policies in response to the Fed. Meanwhile, Trump is expected to present his preliminary budget request to the Congress on Thursday, outlining his administration’s priorities. It will serve as a critical test for whether the euphoria that propelled stocks to record territory in anticipation of tax reforms and ramped up fiscal spending under President Donald Trump is warranted.

The S&P 500 has risen 4.5% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA has gained 5.3% in the first 50 days since Trump took office, the best ever for a GOP president. However, if Trump’s budget proposal fails to meet the market’s expectations, it could spark a major unwinding in positions, leading to a sharp drop in prices. “Thursday could be the day the instant speed of markets crashes into the glacial speed of government,” said Cieszynski.

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Boy, what a bubble this is turning into.

The US As The “Cleanest Dirty Shirt” (Snider)

It is surely one of the primary reasons why many if not most people have so much trouble accepting the trouble the economy is in. With record high stock prices leading to record levels of household net worth, it seems utterly inconsistent to claim those facts against a US economic depression. Weakness might be more easily believed as some overseas problem, leading to only ideas of decoupling or the US as the “cleanest dirty shirt” – the US economy has problems, but how bad can they be? Yet, despite asset price levels and even record debt, all those prove is just how disconnected those places have become from what used to be an efficient way to redistribute financial resources.

According to the Fed’s Z1 report, Household net worth climbed by $2 trillion in Q4 alone to $92.8 trillion. That is a 69% increase from the low in Q1 2009, even though Final Sales to Domestic Purchasers have grown by just 30% in that same time. The wealth effect is dead, or, more specifically, it never was.

From the view of net worth, the increase to record debt levels seems manageable. From the more appropriate view of income and economy, it does not, even though US debt levels have grown more slowly post-crisis. That would mean debt is partway between assets and economy, sort of splitting the difference of what monetary policy believes and what it, at best, “achieved.”

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The Great Volatility.

A Third Of American Families Have ‘Roller Coaster’ Finances (MW)

When it comes to making money, consistency may be almost as important as quantity. Families that had large fluctuations in their incomes — even when it was a 25% gain — were more likely than those with stable incomes to say they wouldn’t be able to come up with $2,000 for an unexpected need, according to a study by Pew Charitable Trusts released this week. The study looked at “income volatility” among more than 5,600 families the term for a year-over-year change in annual income of 25% or more, between 2014 and 2015. “Volatility in general, regardless of the direction, is very disruptive to families,” said Erin Currier, the director of Pew’s financial security and mobility project, who called that volatility “a roller coaster” for many Americans. “It makes it harder for them to plan.”

More than a third of those households surveyed experienced these large changes in their incomes from 2014 to 2015, Pew found. That number has been fairly consistent over time, Currier said. Households of various incomes see major dips and drops, but since volatility is measured as a percentage change in income, those with lower incomes had the lowest threshold for qualifying as having volatile incomes, Pew’s report says. In fact, there were more households in the years Pew studied that saw a gain in their incomes than those who saw dips, which is probably less surprising given that the economy was growing in those years and many families were finally getting back on their feet after the Great Recession.

Roller coaster finances are more common than many people realize. A quarter of people saw their incomes rise or drop by 30% or more, according to an analysis of 27 million Chase bank accounts between 2013 and 2014 by the J.P. Morgan Chase Institute JPM, -0.32% a J.P. Morgan Chase think tank. Those fluctuations were about the same, regardless of account holders’ incomes. One problem: Although income and spending both change, they don’t always change in the same direction, which can create budgeting problems. Put bluntly, some people keep spending even when they and their families experience a reversal of fortune.

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Been warning about this for a long time. It could get completely out of hand. Much of it is private debt.

US Interest Rate Rise To Deepen Developing Countries’ Debt Crisis (G.)

Developing countries are struggling with steep rises in their debt payments after being hit by a double whammy of lower commodity prices and a stronger dollar, with more pain to come once the US central bank raises interest rates this week, campaigners warn. The Jubilee Debt Campaign said that some of the world’s poorest countries have seen the cost of repaying their debts – as a proportion of government revenue – hit the highest level for a decade. Government coffers have been depleted by lower revenues from commodity exports and the size of dollar-denominated debts has risen as the US currency has strengthened.

The dollar has risen more than 6% against a basket of other big currencies over the past six months as investors anticipate that big spending plans by President Donald Trump will boost US growth and that the US Federal Reserve will follow up December’s interest rate rise with more increases this year. After the latest US jobs numbers on Friday beat expectations, a rate rise from the Fed’s policymakers when they meet this Wednesday is seen as imminent among investors. That would further increase the cost of debt payments for poor countries, which have taken out big loans in recent years from western countries where interest rates have been low, said the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Tim Jones, economist at the campaign group, warned the rising cost of debt payments was putting developing countries under extra strain just when they needed to be spending more money at home to meet the UN sustainable development targets – a series of goals for human development intended to be achieved by 2030. “The rapid increase in debt payments in many countries comes after a boom in lending, a fall in commodity prices, the rising value of the US dollar and now increasing dollar interest rates,” said Jones. He warned there was a danger that loans from the IMF and other lenders would be used to bail out “reckless lenders” who were at risk of not getting repayments from crisis-hit countries. That would lead to year of economic stagnation, just as in debt-laden Greece, Jones added. “Instead, reckless lenders should be made to shoulder some of the costs of recent economic shocks by accepting lower payments,” he said.

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Has been for may years.

The Issue Is The Leverage And Instability Of The System (Rickards)

[..] expectations of a Fed rate hike March 15 are now near 100% based on surveys of economists and fed funds futures contracts. Markets are looking at things like business cycle indicators, but that’s not what the Fed is watching these days. The Fed is desperate to raise rates before the next recession (so they can cut them again) and will take every opportunity to do so. But as I’ve said before, the Fed is getting ready to raise into weakness. It may soon have to reverse course. My view is that the Fed will raise rates 0.25% every other meeting (March, June, September and December) until 2019 unless one of three events happens — a stock market crash, job losses or deflation. But right now the stock market is booming, job creation is strong and inflation is emerging. So none of the usual speed bumps is in place. The coast is clear for a rate hike this Wednesday.

But growth is being financed with debt, which has now reached epic proportions. A lot of money has been printed since 2007, but debt has expanded much faster. The debt bubble can be seen at the personal, corporate and sovereign levels. If the debt bubble bursts, things can get very messy. In a liquidity crisis, investors who think they have “money” (in the form of stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.) suddenly realize that those investments are not money at all — they’re just assets. When investors all sell their assets at once to get their money back, markets crash and the panic feeds on itself. What would it take to set off this kind of panic? In a super-highly leveraged system, the answer is: Not much. It could be anything: a high-profile bankruptcy, a failed deal, a bad headline, a geopolitical crisis, a natural disaster and so on. This issue is not the catalyst; the issue is the leverage and instability of the system.

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Bit curious coming from a judge, but good title.

Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite? (CNBC)

The question posed was, “Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite?” It’s the title of an evocative paper written by Leo Strine, the chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. By wolves, he means hedge funds, and his answer, found within a 113-page paper set to be published next month in the Yale Law Review, is that average American investors are the ones getting bit by the existing corporate-governance system. While little known in circles outside the highest ranks of corporate America, Strine’s voice is among one of the most powerful in the business community. That’s because two-thirds of American companies are legally based in Delaware, meaning corporate litigation often takes place in that state, so his opinions on such topics can hold tremendous sway.

Strine’s paper is one of the strongest repudiations to date of hedge-fund activism — or what critics of the industry describe as the practice of investors with major stock holdings aggressively forcing companies into changes that will quickly pump up stock prices, often without regard for those same companies’ long-term health. Strine looks at what he calls a “flesh and blood” perspective on how hedge funds, and specifically hedge-fund activists, are harmful to typical American investors. He calls regular Americans “human investors,” distinguishing from the “wolf packs” of hedge funds. Human investors are those who invest in the capital markets and save for events like retirement or college for their children, according to Strine. Strine’s main argument is that the “current corporate governance system … gives the most voice and the most power to those whose perspectives and incentives are least aligned with that of ordinary Americans.”

Strine’s critics — largely hedge funds and hedge fund advisers — privately criticized the paper, arguing that a justice should not be on the record condemning a group of people who tend to litigate in his court and the lower Delaware courts. Additionally, they say his paper does not offer much in the way of prescriptions for how to fix what he sees as a flawed system. They declined to be quoted, fearing retribution from Strine.

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A history lesson.

When It Comes to Wall Street, Preet Bharara Is No Hero (PP)

After his election in 1968, President Richard Nixon asked Robert Morgenthau, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to resign. Morgenthau refused to leave voluntarily, saying it degraded the office to treat it as a patronage position. Nixon’s move precipitated a political crisis. The president named a replacement. Powerful politicians lined up to support Morgenthau. Morgenthau had taken on mobsters and power brokers. He had repeatedly prosecuted Roy Cohn, the sleazy New York lawyer who had been Senator Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man. (One of Cohn’s clients and protégés was a young New York City real estate developer named Donald Trump.) When Cohn complained that Morgenthau had a vendetta against him, Morgenthau replied, “A man is not immune from prosecution merely because a United States Attorney happens not to like him.”

Morgenthau carried that confrontational attitude to the world of business. He pioneered the Southern District’s approach to corporate crime. When his prosecutors took on corporate fraud, they did not reach settlements that called for fines, the current fashion these days. They filed criminal charges against the executives responsible. Before Morgenthau, the Department of Justice focused on two-bit corporate misdeeds—Ponzi schemes and boiler room operations. Morgenthau changed that. His prosecutors went after CEOs and their enablers—the accountants and lawyers who abetted the frauds or looked the other way. “How do you justify prosecuting a nineteen-year old who sells drugs on a street corner when you say it’s too complicated to go after the people who move the money?” he once asked. Morgenthau’s years as United States Attorney were followed by political success. He was elected New York County District Attorney in 1974, the first of seven consecutive terms for that office.

There are parallels between Morgenthau, and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District who was fired by President Trump this weekend. Like Morgenthau, the 48-year old Bharara leaves the office of US Attorney for the Southern District celebrated for taking on corrupt and powerful politicians. Bharara prosecuted two of the infamous “three men in a room” who ran New York state: Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the assembly and Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader. He won convictions of a startling array of local politicians, carrying on the work of the Moreland Commission, an ethics inquiry created and then dismissed by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (This weekend, Bharara cryptically tweeted that “I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like,” a suggestion that he was fired as he was pursuing cases pointed at Trump or his allies.)

But the record shows that Bharara was much less aggressive when it came to confronting Wall Street’s misdeeds. President Obama appointed Bharara in 2009, amid the wreckage of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He inherited ongoing investigations into the collapse, including a probe against Lehman Brothers. He also inherited something he and his young charges found more alluring: insider-trading cases against hedge fund managers. His office focused obsessively on those. At one point, the Southern District racked up a record of 85-0 in those cases. (Appeals courts would later throw out two prominent convictions, infuriating him and dealing blows to several other cases.)

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I know it’s George Friedman, but he’s right.

China’s Economic Miracle Is Over (Friedman)

Sustained double-digit economic growth is possible when you begin with a wrecked economy. In Japan’s case, the country was recovering from World War II. China was recovering from Mao Zedong’s policies. Simply by getting back to work an economy will surge. If the damage from which the economy is recovering is great enough, that surge can last a generation. But extrapolating growth rates by a society that is merely fixing the obvious results of national catastrophes is irrational. The more mature an economy, the more the damage has been repaired and the harder it is to sustain extraordinary growth rates. The idea that China was going to economically dominate the world was as dubious as the idea in the 1980s that Japan would. Japan, however, could have dominated if its growth rate had continued. Since that was impossible, the fantasy evaporates — and with it, the overheated expectations of the world.

In 2008, China was hit by a double tsunami. First, the financial crisis plunged its customers into a recession followed by extended stagnation, and the appetite for Chinese goods contracted. Second, China’s competitive advantage was cost, and they now had lower-cost competitors. China’s deepest fear was unemployment, and the country’s interior remained impoverished. If exports plunged and unemployment rose, the Chinese would face both a social and political threat of massive inequality. It would face an army of the unemployed on the coast. This combination is precisely what gave rise to the Communist Party in the 1920s, which the Party today fully understands. So, a solution was proposed that entailed massive lending to keep non-competitive businesses operating and wages paid. That resulted in even greater inefficiency and made Chinese exports even less competitive.

The Chinese surge had another result. China’s success with boosting low-cost goods in advanced economies resulted in an investment boom by Westerners in China. Investors prospered during the surge, but it was at the cost of damaging the economies of China’s customers in two ways. First, low-cost goods undermined businesses in the consuming country. Second, investment capital flowed out of the consuming countries and into China. That inevitably had political repercussions. The combination of post-2008 stagnation and China’s urgent attempts to maintain exports by keeping its currency low and utilize irrational banking created a political backlash when China could least endure it — which is now.

China has a massive industrial system linked to the appetites of the United States and Europe. It is losing competitive advantage at the same time that political systems in some of these countries are generating new barriers to Chinese exports. There is talk of increasing China’s domestic demand, but China is a vast and poor country, and iPads are expensive. It will be a long time before the Chinese economy generates enough demand to consume what its industrial system can produce.

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Greece has had capital controls for only 18 months or so.

Iceland Exits Capital Controls Eight Years After Banking Crash (BBG)

Iceland is back. The government at a hastily called press conference on Sunday in Reykjavik announced that effective Tuesday it will lift almost all of the remaining capital controls, allowing its citizens, corporations and pension funds full access to the global capital markets. The move ends an eight-year struggle to clean up after the 2008 banking collapse, which triggered the worst recession in more than six decades and enveloped the north Atlantic island of 340,000 people in political turmoil. Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson said this final step will “create more trust in the Icelandic economy,” with the most significant move being the removal of a requirement for businesses to return foreign exchange. “That will make direct foreign investment easier,” he said in an interview after the press conference.

The controls are being lifted as Iceland is booming, helped by a record surge in tourism. The economy is even at risk of overheating with money flowing back into the economy as the controls have been eased in steps. The economy last year surged 7.2%, driven by household spending and investments. Unemployment is down at about 3% and inflation is under control. The krona has rallied about 18% against the euro over the past year, in part as traders have been attracted to the nation’s higher interest rates. The government hopes these next moves will ease pressure on the currency to appreciate, according to Benediktsson. “We don’t have any exact hints as to what comes next,” he said. While pension funds have taken full use of exemptions that were granted in the past years, the public hasn’t rushed to invest abroad after other controls were eased, he said.

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In Britain, at least Steve gets invited. What good it will do is another matter.

Steve Keen Is In The House (YT)

This talk on whether we can avoid another financial crisis, and what caused the last one, was arranged by New City Agenda and held in a committee room of the House of Commons. I cover what caused the crisis (credit), why mainstream economics erroneously ignores credit, and the empirical data showing which countries face continued stagnation, and which countries face a future private debt crisis.

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Alcohol and politics?!

We Will All Need A Stiff Drink To Swallow Hammond’s Austerity (G.)

Yes, the Conservative party that for a long time believed the state had no role to play in industrial policy is now rediscovering the wheel – but has dismissed Michael Heseltine, who did not need to rediscover it. And the Treasury is placing great emphasis on the importance of “productivity” – ie the supply side of the economy – to provide the future growth on which higher living standards and tax revenues ultimately depend.

For the uncomfortable truth, underlined by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation last week, is that, after a splurge of consumer spending largely financed by borrowing, the outlook for real incomes is pretty bleak – indeed, there are already signs of a slowdown, and the OECD is forecasting economic growth this year of a mere 1.6%. And the OBR’s post-Brexit forecasts are frightening. But austerity in the public sector is set to continue. Let no one be in doubt: this was a policy choice on the part of George Osborne in 2010, and it is a policy choice now. Underlying it all is the Conservative party’s obsession with shrinking the size of the state and minimising the so called “tax burden” – a “burden” which helps to ensure we have decent hospitals, schools and infrastructure generally.

There can be little doubt that, on his own terms, the decision of Chancellor Lawson in the 1988 budget to bring the top rate of income tax down from 60% to 40%, and the basic rate from 27% to 25%, was what is known in the trade as a “game changer”. Total taxation as a proportion of national income has been around 34% in recent years. But when the economy is operating close to capacity, as the OBR believes it now is, in a decent society the ratio of taxation to national income should be considerably higher – even close to 40% – in order to provide decent public services. For all their conciliatory talk, May and Hammond are pursuing Osborne’s austerity policies. Meanwhile, although for all his efforts Osborne failed to achieve anything like a budget surplus for the nation, he has managed – while capitalising on the lecture circuit upon his experience in office – to achieve a healthy budget surplus for himself. Some people are shameless.

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Lame and empty.

No Proof Russia Disrupts UK Democracy, But They Can – Boris Johnson (RT)

Russia is planning to use “all sorts of dirty tricks” to meddle in the political life of European countries, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned, though he admitted there is “no evidence” that Moscow is actually involved in anything of the kind. “We have no evidence the Russians are actually involved in trying to undermine our democratic processes,” Johnson told British ITV’s Peston on Sunday show. “But what we do have is plenty of evidence that the Russians are capable of doing that,” he insisted adding that Russians “have been up to all sorts of dirty tricks.” Remarkably, Johnson made these statements just weeks before his visit to Russia, during which he will meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. His visit would be the first made to Moscow by a British Foreign Minister in five years.

When asked what the UK’s approach to Russia should be now, he said that Britain needs to take “a twin-track approach” towards Russia. “As the prime minister has said, we’ve got to engage but we have to beware,” Johnson stated. Despite constantly saying there was solid proof that Russia had meddled in the affairs of other countries, such as by bringing down French TV stations and interfering in US elections, he failed to provide any concrete evidence to back his accusations. Johnson also implicated that Russia was involved in the situation in Montenegro, where a group of Serbian nationalists was arrested in October of 2016 suspected of planning to carry out armed attacks on the day of the country’s parliamentary elections.

The British Telegraph newspaper later reported that the group was sponsored and controlled by the Russian intelligence officers and had actually tried to stage a coup targeting its Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic with “the support and blessing” of Moscow. However, the paper’s report turned out to be based mostly on the assumptions of unidentified sources and Montenegrin Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, Milivoje Katnic, confirmed that, despite the participation of several suspected “nationalists from Russia,” there was no “evidence that the state of Russia is involved in any sense.”

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Democracy, Transparency, EU.

Brussels Keeping 2015 Emergency Grexit Plan Locked Away (K.)

European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has turned down a request from former Greek minister Anna Diamantopoulou for Brussels to make public the emergency plan it drafted in the summer of 2015 for the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone. Diamantopoulou, who also served as a European commissioner between 1999 and 2004, wrote to Moscovici earlier this year following a revival of Grexit speculation and asked for the plan to be published so Greeks could be aware of the dangers involved. However, Moscovici suggested in his response, which Diamantopoulou received a few days ago, that publishing the draft would simply fuel damaging speculation and would not be in the public interest as it would endanger financial, monetary and economic stability in Greece.

He also said that the document contains some highly sensitive issues. Parts of the plan, which is said to include emergency humanitarian aid for Greece, were discussed at the College of Commissioners in Brussels a few days before the July 5 referendum in 2015. “In our view, the public interest is best served when citizens know the whole truth about issues that affect their future,” Diamantopoulou, who now heads the Diktyo think tank, told Kathimerini. “When knowledge is absent, speculation, fear and populism flourish and we are left to watch the support for the euro wane day by day, while that for the drachma rises.”

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Japan’s leaders don’t admit failure easily.

Fukushima Evacuees Face ‘Forced’ Return As Subsidies Withdrawn (G.)

Thousands of people who fled the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant six years ago will soon lose their housing subsidies, forcing some to consider returning despite lingering concerns over radiation in their former neighbourhoods. The measure, condemned by campaigners as a violation of the evacuees’ right to live in a safe environment, will affect an estimated 27,000 people who were not living inside the mandatory evacuation zone imposed after Fukushima became the scene of the worst nuclear accident in Japanese history. The meltdown in three reactors occurred after a magnitude-9 earthquake on 11 March 2011 triggered a powerful tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people along Japan’s north-east coast and knocked out the plant’s backup cooling system.

As a “voluntary” evacuee, Noriko Matsumoto is among those who will have their subsidies withdrawn at the end of this month, forcing them to make a near-impossible choice: move back to homes they believe are unsafe, or face financial hardship as they struggle on living in nuclear limbo. “Many of the other evacuees I know are in the same position,” Matsumoto said at the launch of Unequal Impact, a Greenpeace Japan report on human rights abuses affecting women and children among the 160,000 people who initially fled from areas near the plant. As of last month, almost 80,000 were still displaced. Matsumoto said: “They would still have to contend with high radiation if they returned, but the government is forcing them to go back by withdrawing housing assistance – that’s tantamount to a crime.”

At the time of the incident, Matsumoto was living with her husband and their two daughters in the city of Koriyama, 43 miles (70km) west of the stricken facility, well outside the area where tens of thousands of people were ordered to leave. Matsumoto initially stayed put, but three months later, with her youngest daughter, then aged 12, having nosebleeds, stomach ache and diarrhoea, she left her husband behind and took their children to Kanagawa prefecture, more than 150 miles south of Fukushima. She said: “The government is playing down the effects of radiation exposure … Yet people who don’t return to places like Koriyama after this month will be left to fend for themselves. They will become internally displaced people. We feel like we’ve been abandoned by our government.”

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They should help them, not detain. For what purpose, send them to Turkey?

Police Raid Athens Squats, Detain Dozens Of Refugees (K.)

Police raided squats in central Athens early on Monday, reclaiming properties and detaining dozens of undocumented migrants. In the first raid, officers entered a building on Alkiviadou Street which has been occupied since February. They transferred 120 migrants from the premises to the Aliens Bureau on Petrou Ralli Street. Police subsequently raided a building in Zografou which has been occupied by members of anti-establishment groups since 2012. Noone was in the building at the time of the raid but they started returning while police were on the premises and seven people were taken to the Athens police headquarters. Riot police units were stationed outside the squat buildings to prevent their reoccupation.

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Refugee issues will keep growing until we help rebuild their countries, and work for stability instead of collateral damage control.

What Would You Do To Keep Your Children Alive? (I’Cept)

Women and children from Central America began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in unprecedented numbers during the summer of 2014. Referring to the “urgent humanitarian situation,” President Barack Obama called on Congress to build new detention centers, hire new immigration judges, and increase border surveillance as tens of thousands of unaccompanied children were detained by U.S. immigration officials. At the same time, the United States backed a Mexican government initiative to increase patrols, detentions, and deportations along Mexico’s southern border. The idea was to stop Central Americans from getting into Mexico, let alone the United States. But the gang violence, kidnappings, and extortion sending families fleeing from the “Northern Triangle” comprising El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala hasn’t stopped.


People illegally cross the Suchiate River on the Mexico-Guatemala border – Alice Proujansky

The area has the highest murder rate in the world outside a war zone, and people are still coming to Mexico. Only now, as photographer Alice Proujansky documents, they are taking new routes and facing new dangers. “Entire families arrive with little more than backpacks,” Proujansky said. “Women and children are particularly vulnerable: increased enforcement on freight trains has driven migrants to ride buses and walk on isolated routes where they face robbery, assault, and sexual violence.”

Proujansky spent time with families who were hoping to receive asylum from Mexico. There are no reliable figures on how many people cross the border with Guatemala each year, which is still porous despite increased patrols. But between 2014 and the summer of 2016, Mexico detained 425,000 migrants, according to an analysis of government statistics by the Washington Office on Latin America, or WOLA, a human rights advocacy group. In that same time, only 2,900 people received asylum. Last year, there were some 8,700 applicants, of whom 2,800 have so far received protection. (In 2014, Mexico’s refugee agency had just 15 people to screen thousands of applications.)


Alice Proujansky

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Mar 092017
 
 March 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Marjory Collins “Crowds at Pennsylvania Station, New York” 1942

 

WikiLeaks Says Just 1% Of #Vault7 Covert Documents Released So Far (RT)
US Private Sector Adds 298,000 Jobs In February – ADP (R.)
Trump Begins to Map Out $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan (WSJ)
US Oil Price Plunges Toward $50 As A Perfect Storm Brews (CNBC)
Professor Steve Keen On The Problem With Europe (DR)
Varoufakis Back In Brussels In Push For ECB Transparency (EUO)
Germans Really, Really Love the Euro (BBG)
The Meltdown in Politics (Martin Armstrong)
Macron Faces A Really Big Problem If He Becomes French President (Con.)
French Insurgents Thrust Establishment Aside in Crucial Election (BBG)
Iceland First Country In The World To Make Firms Prove Equal Pay (Ind.)
Fukushima Clean-Up Falters 6 Years After Tsunami (G.)
Eurostat: Greece Is The Only EU Country Still In Recession (NE)
Greek Farmers Clash With Riot Police In Athens Over Austerity (G.)
It Takes 10 Workers In Greece To Pay One Pension (K.)

 

 

How is this going to affect Apple and Microsoft sales in China?

WikiLeaks Says Just 1% Of #Vault7 Covert Documents Released So Far (RT)

WikiLeaks’ data dump on Tuesday accounted for less than 1% of ‘Vault 7’, a collection of leaked CIA documents which revealed the extent of its hacking capabilities, the whistleblowing organization has claimed on Twitter. ‘Year Zero’, comprising 8,761 documents and files, was released unexpectedly by WikiLeaks. The organization had initially announced that it was part of a larger series, known as ‘Vault 7.’ However, it did not give further information on when more leaks would occur or on how many series would comprise ‘Vault 7’. The leaks have revealed the CIA’s covert hacking targets, with smart TVs infiltrated for the purpose of collecting audio, even when the device is powered off. The Google Android Operating System, used in 85% of the world’s smartphones, was also exposed as having severe vulnerabilities, allowing the CIA to “weaponize” the devices.

The CIA would not confirm the authenticity of the leak. “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.” Jonathan Liu, a spokesman for the CIA, is cited as saying in The Washington Post. WikiLeaks claims the leak originated from within the CIA before being “lost” and circulated amongst “former U.S. government hackers and contractors.” From there the classified information was passed to WikiLeaks. End-to-end encryption used by applications such as WhatsApp was revealed to be futile against the CIA’s hacking techniques, dubbed ‘zero days’, which were capable of accessing messages before encryption was applied. The leak also revealed the CIA’s ability to hide its own hacking fingerprint and attribute it to others, including Russia. An archive of fingerprints – digital traces which give a clue about the hacker’s identity – was collected by the CIA and left behind to make others appear responsible.

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The Trump bull is alive for now.

US Private Sector Adds 298,000 Jobs In February – ADP (R.)

U.S. private employers added 298,000 jobs in February, well above economists’ expectations, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the ADP National Employment Report would show a gain of 190,000 jobs, with estimates ranging from 150,000 to 247,000. Private payroll gains in the month earlier were revised up to 261,000 from an originally reported 246,000 increase. The ADP figures come ahead of the U.S. Labor Department’s more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report on Friday, which includes both public and private-sector employment. Economists polled by Reuters are looking for U.S. private payroll employment to have grown by 193,000 jobs in February, down from 237,000 the month before. Total non-farm employment is expected to have changed by 190,000. The unemployment rate is forecast to tick down to 4.7% from the 4.8% recorded a month earlier.

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How much of it will be put to good use, and how much merely siphoned off?

Trump Begins to Map Out $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan (WSJ)

President Donald Trump pushed his White House team on Wednesday to craft a plan for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending that would pressure states to streamline local permitting, favor renovation of existing roads and highways over new construction and prioritize projects that can quickly begin construction. “We’re not going to give the money to states unless they can prove that they can be ready, willing and able to start the project,” Mr. Trump said at a private meeting with aides and executives that The WSJ was invited to. “We don’t want to give them money if they’re all tied up for seven years with state bureaucracy.” Mr. Trump said he would was inclined to give states 90 days to start projects, and asked Scott Pruitt, the new head of the EPA, to provide a recommendation.

He expressed interest in building new high-speed railroads, inquired about the possibility of auctioning the broadcast spectrum to wireless carriers, and asked for more details about the Hyperloop, a project envisioned by Tesla founder Elon Musk that would rapidly transport passengers in pods through low-pressure tubes. “America has always been a nation of great promise, because we dream big,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re going to really dream big now.” The president called for a $1 trillion infrastructure plan last month in his address to a joint session of Congress and added that the projects would be financed through public and private capital. The White House was considering a repatriation tax holiday to generate about $200 billion in funding, but other sources also were being considered, a senior administration aide said.

In the meeting, the president said he aimed to win approval for an infrastructure plan once Congress finishes deliberations on health care and a reform of tax laws. Mr. Trump suggested that an infrastructure plan may be part of the tax-reform debate. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. Vice President Mike Pence, who sat across from the president during the meeting, said that Congress is “committed to the president’s vision.” “There’s a great of interest in Congress in doing this,” Mr. Pence said. “But there’s also just as much interest in listening to leaders in the private sector to identify the capital and identify the needs to be able to finance this in a way that really captures the energy of the American economy.”

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Time to acknowledge demand isn’t coming back?

US Oil Price Plunges Toward $50 As A Perfect Storm Brews (CNBC)

Oil is on track to break through the key psychological level of $50 a barrel after a ninth straight rise in U.S. crude stockpiles came at exactly the wrong moment, analysts said Wednesday. The amount of crude oil in U.S. storage rose to another record high on Wednesday, jumping 8.2 million barrels from the previous week, the Energy Information Administration reported. The increase was more than four times what analysts expected. Weekly figures also showed U.S. oil production continuing to tick up toward 9.1 million barrels a day, the highest level in more than a year. That provided further evidence that rising American output is confounding efforts by OPEC, Russia and 10 other exporters to reduce global oil inventories by curbing their own output. The data sent U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude prices plunging more than 5% to a nearly three-month low.

The plunge through a number of lows on Wednesday puts oil on a path to test the December low of $49.95 a barrel, said John Kilduff at energy hedge fund Again Capital. “From there you could accelerate,” he told CNBC, adding that $50 “was the fail-safe.” Kilduff’s downside target, once oil breaks below $50 a barrel, is $42. For the last three months, oil has traded in a range between $49.61 and $55.24. According to Kilduff, all the elements are in place for oil to break below its three-month range: lack of cohesion among OPEC members, bearish statements from oil ministers at CERAWeek conference by IHS Markit and subdued refinery activity as operators perform seasonal maintenance in the United States. On Tuesday, Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih warned at CERAWeek that the kingdom would only support OPEC’s intervention in markets for a “restricted period of time” and would not “underwrite the investments of others at our own expense and long-term interests.”

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Snippets from an interview. The euro was doomed from the start because of conditions put on it.

Professor Steve Keen On The Problem With Europe (DR)

But the trouble is, you see, they didn’t have to have a single currency combined with the 60% limit on government debt and the 3% limit on government deficits. If they simply had a currency and made no rules whatsoever about that, then it would have been feasible, potentially, to say okay, well it’s not working as well as we would like it to, but not imposing austerity on economies in a downturn, which is what they ended up doing courtesy of those rules. Maybe we need a treasury to make it work better, but it wasn’t just the fact that it was only the central bank, it was also the rules on government spending.

[..] another part of it, which is quite intriguing, I heard in Berlin just recently, is that also, one of the other rules they agreed to, or one of the other objectives they agreed to, not a rule, was to target a 2% rate of inflation. Now what you actually had happen was that Germany hit about 1%, France actually hit about 2%, Italy hit about 3%, the three major trading partners of course on the block. Well, that means, as a result, over every year, German manufacturers were gaining a 2% cost advantage over Italian manufacturers. Which ultimately means of course that people don’t buy Lamborghinis and Fiats anymore, they buy Mercedes, because for the same features they’re cheaper.

It’s not about labour productivity alone, it’s about the rate of inflation, which comes down to the rate of wage change, because the Germans suppressed the rate of wage change, the rate of inflation was lower, and that was 1% below the level they agreed to. Now, if they’d agreed to 2%, and France did 2%, and Italy maybe suppressed its wage change and they hit 2%, you wouldn’t have these imbalances. But they’ve built up over 15 – going on close to 20 years now – and those level of imbalances mean that, fundamentally, Italian industry can’t compete with German industry, not because of productivity differences so much but wage costs combined with that.

[..] That’s why Trump’s complaining about Germany having an undervalued currency, and he’s bloody right on that front. If you can run a 9% of GDP trade surplus, which is the level Germany’s now hit, a lot of that is with the rest of the world, the EU itself overall is balanced, so there’s a huge imbalance – Germany’s got a huge trade surplus with the rest of Europe, but it’s also got it with the rest of the world, and on that scale I think Germany’s trade balance now is the same scale as China’s. Now that’s ludicrous.

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Perhaps the biggest problem with Europe is that transparency and the EU don’t mix. In this case it’s clear why: the ECB was used as a -very blunt- tool for political pressure. Their defense is basically: if we become transparent, we’re no longer independent. And people buy that?!

Varoufakis Back In Brussels In Push For ECB Transparency (EUO)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has joined forces with the German left-wing MEP Fabio De Masi in a bid to clarify whether the ECB had a legal right to limit the liquidity of Greece’s banks in 2015. The duo told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday (8 March) that they were collecting signatures for a petition to ECB president Mario Draghi, asking him to disclose two legal opinions commissioned by the bank. The first study was ordered in February, before the ECB decided to limit the access of Greek banks to ECB funding and opted instead to open access to the emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) – a fund with more restrictive access conditions. The decision was taken a few days after the radical left-wing Syriza party came to power, with Varoufakis as finance minister.

The second study, in June 2015, was about the ECB’s decision to freeze the amount of money available through the ELA after the Greek government’s decision to hold a referendum on the bailout conditions required by the country’s creditors. The measure was taken over concerns that Greek banks would become insolvent because of the deadlock in bailout talks. It also put more pressure on the Greek government to accept the lenders’ conditions. To avoid a bank run, where large numbers of people withdraw money from their deposit accounts at the same time, the government introduced capital controls. This meant that Greek people were only able to withdraw a maximum of €60 per day. The measure prevented a capital run, but also put pressure on Athens to agree to creditors’ terms for a third bailout.

Varoufakis, who was finance minister at the time, said this was a breach of the independence of the bank. “The ECB has the capacity to close down all the banks of a member state. At the same time, it has a charter which grants it – supposedly – complete independence from politics. And yet, there is no central bank, at least in the West, which has less independence of the political process,” Varoufakis said. He said Draghi was “completely reliant” on the decisions of an “informal group of finance ministers”, referring to the fact that the Eurogroup, which gathers the finance ministers of the 19 eurozone countries, isn’t enshrined in EU treaties. “It is apparent that Draghi didn’t feel that the was on solid legal ground when proceeding with the closing of Greek banks,” Varoufakis said.

[..] In September 2015, Fabio De Masi already asked Draghi for the opinions. But the ECB chief, in a letter made public by the MEP, said the bank does not plan to publish the legal opinions because this would “undermine the ECB’s ability to obtain uncensored, objective and comprehensive legal advice, which is essential for well-informed and comprehensive deliberations of its decision-making bodies”. “Legal opinions provided by external lawyers and related legal advice are protected by legal professional privilege (the so-called ‘attorney-client privilege’) in accordance with European Union case law,” Draghi said. “Those opinions were drafted in full independence, on the understanding that they can only be disclosed by the addressee and only shared with people who need to know in order to take reasoned decisions on the issues at stake,” he added.

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No cashless society there.

Germans Really, Really Love the Euro (BBG)

As worries over the future of the euro zone heat up, the union’s biggest member is doubling down on the single currency in an underappreciated way. Germany’s central bank is by far the biggest issuer of cash in the bloc, with the Bundesbank the source of more euro banknotes in circulation than all of its peers combined. The size of the imbalance is underscored by new data from the ECB, showing nations’ contributions towards the Eurosystem’s consolidated financial statement. Each national central bank, or NCB, has a notional banknote allocation that’s tied to its share of Eurosystem capital. At the end of last year, there were €1.1 trillion euros ($1.25 trillion) in circulation, breaking down like this:

That accounts for how euro cash would be distributed in theory. In order to find out how much cash is actually issued you have to make adjustments that take into account variations in demand, which push the number higher in some countries and lower in others. The adjustments look like this:

The Bundesbank has, since the introduction of the euro in 2002, put a net €327 billion into circulation above its on-paper allocation. By combining the figures in the two charts, we arrive at a true picture of the origin of banknotes in the European economy:

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“The mainstream media are not honorable independent people. They are big business not much different from the banks.”

The Meltdown in Politics (Martin Armstrong)

The bias of the press is getting so bad, they are undermining everything they were supposed to stand for. This is a critical aspect in the decline and fall of an empire, nation, or city state. Once the news is compromised, confidence not just in the press, but in everything crumbles. The mainstream media are not honorable independent people. They are big business not much different from the banks. They lobby for their special deals and the support the status quo. The New York Times at least admitted their coverage of the election was biased. They apologized, but nothing has really changed. “As we reflect on the momentous result, and the months of reporting and polling that preceded it, we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you. It is also to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly.”

Even if Trump met with Putin, exactly what does that infer? Did it alter the election? No. Even Obama admitted that no hack altered the vote count. So what is the issue? The press aids the Democrats in trying to blame Putin for Hillary’s loss. But there is not a single shred of evidence that ANY of the leaked emails from the Democrats was ever altered or was fake. The Democrats simply got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and blame Putin. So what is all this Russia thing about? It seems to be just a diversion to discredit Trump and stop the agenda of any reform. A simple technical analysis of Democrat v Republican shows that the former is in a major decline and their agenda has been dying. In fact, look out for 2018-2019. Sheer chaos is coming.

In Europe, political forces are also in a state of denial. The EU is collapsing and the politicians refuse to surrender their goals. Instead, they lash out at what they are calling “populism” as with the election of Trump, BREXIT, and the developments in France. The will of the people is not worth anything when it goes against their dreams. So in both cases, we are witnessing the demise of the West. All of this political fighting is setting the stage for the shift from the West to the East of financial power. The wheel of fortune spins. We lost. What is accomplished by overthrowing Trump? What is accomplished by forcing Europe to remain in the EU with unelected people controlling everything from Brussels? If the press succeeds in overturning Trump, what is accomplished? Do they really think everything can go back to the way it was before?

[..] the media in the USA has degenerated to fake news, but in Europe the very same trend has emerged. This is a serious nail in our coffin and mainstream media has indeed become the sword of our own destruction. Can we prevent this outcome? No. All we can do is hopefully learn from our mistakes and this time try to create a system that prevents such an oligarchy from rising. All Republics historically collapse into oligarchies. As we head into 2018, this is going to get really bad. This is going to be a turning point of great importance in the political world.

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A president without a party. Or a program. Doesn’t seem to add up.

Macron Faces A Really Big Problem If He Becomes French President (Con.)

Currently riding high in the polls, Emmanuel Macron, the self-styled “beyond left and right” candidate for the French election, has been tipped to become the next president in May. But if he does, will he actually run the country? This question might sound odd but the nuances of the French political system put Macron in a spot of bother. The president derives their power from the support of a majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly. Macron was a minister for the Socialist Party government but quit in 2016 to form his own political movement. Now he doesn’t even have a party, let alone a majority. Although the constitution of the French Fifth Republic, created by Charles De Gaulle in 1958, extended presidential powers, it did not enable the president to run the country.

There are only a few presidential powers that do not need the prime minister’s authorisation. The president can appoint a prime minister, dissolve the National Assembly, authorise a referendum and become a “temporary dictator” in exceptional circumstances imperilling the nation. They can also appoint three judges to the Constitutional Council and refer any law to this body. While all important tasks, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, amount to running a country. The president can’t suggest laws, pass them through parliament and then implement them without the prime minister. The role of a president is best defined as a “referee”. Presidential powers give the ability to oversee operations and act when the smooth running of institutions is impeded.

So a president is able to step in if a grave situation arises or to unlock a standoff between the prime minister and parliament, such as by announcing a referendum on a disputed issue or by dismissing the National Assembly. So, why does everyone see the president as the key figure? In a nutshell, it’s because the constitution has never been truly applied. There lies the devilish beauty of French politics. A country known since the 1789 revolution for its inability to foster strong majorities in parliament has succeeded, from 1962, in providing solid majorities.

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This is what happens everywhere, in varying ways. In France, both establishment blocks look to be cast aside.

French Insurgents Thrust Establishment Aside in Crucial Election (BBG)

The old order is fading in France. Every election since Charles de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic more than half a century ago has seen at least one of the major parties in the presidential runoff and most have featured both. With Republicans and Socialists consumed by infighting and voters thoroughly fed up, polls suggest that neither will make it this year. For the past month, survey after survey has projected a decider between Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old rookie who doesn’t even have a party behind him, and Marine Le Pen, who’s been ostracized throughout her career because of her party’s history of racism. “We’ve gone as far as we can go with a certain way of doing politics,” said Brice Teinturier, head of the Ipsos polling company and author of a book on voters’ disillusionment. “Everyone feels the system is blocked.”

Claude Bartolone, the Socialist president of the National Assembly, said in an interview with Le Monde Tuesday he may back Macron because he doesn’t “identify” with the more extreme platform put forward by his party’s candidate Benoit Hamon. De Gaulle’s latest standard-bearer Francois Fillon has spent the past week facing down rebellions in his party triggered by a criminal probe of his finances. Former Prime Minister Manuel Valls hasn’t campaigned for Hamon since losing to him in the primary and Socialist President Francois Hollande hasn’t even endorsed his party’s candidate either. Instead, senior figures from the Socialist camp are endorsing Macron, with former Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe the latest to offer his backing on Wednesday. “There’s a breakdown of parties in France,” Francois Bayrou, a two-time centrist candidate who is now backing Macron, said Tuesday on RMC Radio. “There are hostile battles between factions within each party, which has ruined the parties and ruined the image of politics.”

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Crazy that such differences still persist.

Iceland First Country In The World To Make Firms Prove Equal Pay (Ind.)

On International Women’s Day, Iceland became the first country in the world to force companies to prove they pay all employees the same regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality, The country’s government announced a new law that will require every company with 25 or more staff to gain a certificate demonstrating pay equality. Iceland is not the first country to introduce a scheme like this – Switzerland has one, as does the US state of Minnesota – but Iceland is thought to be the first to make it a mandatory requirement. Equality and Social Affairs Minister Thorsteinn Viglundsson said that “the time is right to do something radical about this issue.” “Equal rights are human rights. We need to make sure that men and women enjoy equal opportunity in the workplace. It is our responsibility to take every measure to achieve that,” he said.

The move comes as part of a drive by the Nordic nation to eradicate the gender pay gap by 2022. In October, thousands of female employees across Iceland walked out of workplaces at 2.38pm to protest against earning less than men. After this time in a typical eight-hour day, women are essentially working without pay, according to unions and women’s organisations. Iceland has been at the forefront of establishing pay equality, having already introduced a minimum 40% quota for women on boards of companies with more than 50 employees. The country has been ranked the best in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for eight years running, but despite this, Icelandic women still earn 14 to 18% less than men, on average.

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“Cleaning up the plant [..] is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn).” Uh, no, it will cost far more than $189 billion, and it’s to NOT clean up the plant. They have no idea how to do it. It’s all just fantasy.

Fukushima Clean-Up Falters 6 Years After Tsunami (G.)

Barely a fifth of the way into their mission, the engineers monitoring the Scorpion’s progress conceded defeat. With a remote-controlled snip of its cable, the latest robot sent into the bowels of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged reactors was cut loose, its progress stalled by lumps of fuel that overheated when the nuclear plant suffered a triple meltdown six years ago this week. As the 60cm-long Toshiba robot, equipped with a pair of cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels was left to its fate last month, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), attempted to play down the failure of yet another reconnaissance mission to determine the exact location and condition of the melted fuel. Even though its mission had been aborted, the utility said, “valuable information was obtained which will help us determine the methods to eventually remove fuel debris”.

The Scorpion mishap, two hours into an exploration that was supposed to last 10 hours, underlined the scale and difficulty of decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi – an unprecedented undertaking one expert has described as “almost beyond comprehension”. Cleaning up the plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after it was struck by a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on the afternoon of 11 March 2011, is expected to take 30 to 40 years, at a cost Japan’s trade and industry ministry recently estimated at 21.5tr yen ($189bn). The figure, which includes compensating tens of thousands of evacuees, is nearly double an estimate released three years ago. The tsunami killed almost 19,000 people, most of them in areas north of Fukushima, and forced 160,000 people living near the plant to flee their homes. Six years on, only a small number have returned to areas deemed safe by the authorities.

[..] Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany who is based in Japan, describes the challenge confronting the utility as “unprecedented and almost beyond comprehension”, adding that the decommissioning schedule was “never realistic or credible”. The latest aborted exploration of reactor No 2 “only reinforces that reality”, Burnie says. “Without a technical solution for dealing with unit one or three, unit two was seen as less challenging. So much of what is communicated to the public and media is speculation and wishful thinking on the part of industry and government. “The current schedule for the removal of hundreds of tons of molten nuclear fuel, the location and condition of which they still have no real understanding, was based on the timetable of prime minister [Shinzo] Abe in Tokyo and the nuclear industry – not the reality on the ground and based on sound engineering and science.”

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And it will remain in recession for a long time.

Eurostat: Greece Is The Only EU Country Still In Recession (NE)

Household consumption and a rebound in investment drove economic growth in the euro zone in the last three months of last year, the latest data from EU statistics office Eurostat shows. Eurostat confirmed its earlier estimate that the economy of the 19 countries sharing the euro grew 0.4% quarter-on-quarter and 1.7% year-on-year. It said household consumption added 0.2 % points to the final quarterly growth number and capital investment added another 0.1 points, rebounding from a 0.1 point negative contribution in the third quarter. Growing inventories added another 0.1 points and government spending another 0.1 points while net trade subtracted 0.1 points.

Greece was the only country that was in negative territory, with GDP declining by 1.1% compared with the last quarter of 2015 and by 1.2% compared to the third quarter of 2016. Combined, the eurozone continued steady recovery, with the economy growing by 1.7% year on year and 0.4% on a quarterly basis. Messages were positive in the eurozone core. Germany grew by 1.8% and France by 1.2%, while the third largest economy of the euro, Italy, increasing by 1%. Impressive was the growth of Spain as it reached 3%. Social protection spending in Greece represented 20.5 % of the country’s GDP in 2015.

This is slightly higher than both the Eurozone average ratio (20.1% of GDP) and the EU28 average ratio (19.2% of GDP). Social protection expenditure in EU member-states ranged from 9.6% of GDP in Ireland to 25.6% of GDP in Finland in that year. Eight member-states (Finland, France, Denmark, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Greece and Belgium) spent more than 20% of GDP on social protection while Ireland, the Baltic states, Romania, Cyprus, Malta and the Czech Republic spend less than 13%.

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“Tax rates are expected to reach 26%, while pensions are being cut by as much as 22% by 2022.”

Greek Farmers Clash With Riot Police In Athens Over Austerity (G.)

Farmers who travelled to Athens from Crete have clashed with riot police in the latest unrest on the streets of the Greek capital, prompted by the government’s austerity policies. The confrontation occurred outside the agriculture ministry, where farmers wielding staffs engaged with police firing teargas to prevent them from entering the building. More than 1,100 stockbreeders and farmers arrived on overnight ferries in the early hours of Wednesday, to protest against increases in tax and social security contributions demanded by the creditors keeping Greece afloat. Footage showed the farmers, many wearing black bandanas, smashing the windows of riot vans with shepherds’ staffs, setting fire to rubbish bins and hurling rocks and stones.

When the agriculture minister, Evangelos Apostolou, initially refused to meet a 45-member delegation representing protesters, anger peaked. “Dialogue is one thing, thuggery quite another,” the minister said, before attempts at further talks also foundered. Greek farmers, long perceived to be the privileged recipients of generous EU funds, have historically been exempt from taxation. However, the barrage of cuts and increases in the price of everything from fuel to fertilisers will hit them hard. Tax rates are expected to reach 26%, while pensions are being cut by as much as 22% by 2022. Prof George Pagoulatos, who teaches European politics and economy at the University of Athens, said: “Farmers, in many ways, are a classic example of one of Greece’s protected groups. “In certain rural constituencies, like Crete, they are also electorally very influential.”

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Wages have become too low to pay for pensions. 23% unemployment. Almost half of Greeks depend on pensions to stay alive. More cuts are inevitable. The only way is down.

It Takes 10 Workers In Greece To Pay One Pension (K.)

The constant decline in salaries and the rise of flexible forms of employment are undermining the sustainability of the country’s social security system despite the numerous interventions in terms of pensions. According to social security experts, the slide in the average salary means that it now takes the contributions of 10 workers to pay one pension; before the crisis it required the contributions of four workers. The deterioration of that ratio highlights the system’s viability problem. The main feature of that problem is that the contributions of today’s workers go in their entirety toward covering the pensions of today’s pensioners.

According to data from the new Single Social Security Entity (EFKA), the analysis of employers’ declarations from May 2016 showed that the average salary of 1.4 million workers with full employment amounted to €1,176 per month. The average monthly gross earnings of the 588,000 part-time workers amounted to just €394; their number increased by about 11% from a year earlier. The same data show that bigger enterprises pay higher salaries: Businesses with fewer than 10 employees have an average full-employment salary that amounts to just 58.9% of that paid to employees of companies with more than 10 workers.

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Feb 202017
 
 February 20, 2017  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Moscow Metro 1954

 

Seven Years of Demanding The Impossible in Greece (MP)
Cost Of Greece, Troika Impasse Over Numbers Is Adding Up (K.)
Pre-Departure Migrant Camps Planned For Greek Islands (K.)
Democrats Suggest Invoking The 25th Amendment Unless Trump “Gets A Grip” (ZH)
Greenspan Blames Productivity Decline For Political, Economic Crises (BI)
S&P 500 Earnings Stuck at 2011 Levels, Stocks up 87% Since (WS)
The Nasty Little Secret About Housing Affordability (ABC.au)
The Unthinkable Just Happened in Spain (DQ)
Kim Dotcom Loses New Zealand Extradition Case But Claims Major Victory (NZH)
UK Vegetable Shortage A Sign Of Things To Come (G.)
Fukushima Aborts Latest Robot Mission Radiation At “Unimaginable” Levels (ZH)
Tulsi Gabbard vs. ‘Regime Change’ Wars (Wright)
UN Envoy Questions US Engagement On Syria (AFP)
Kaziranga: The Park That Shoots People To Protect Rhinos (BBC)

 

 

A glimpse of the madness bestowed upon Greece. You might think this settles it, that the IMF is going to back off. You would be wrong.

Seven Years of Demanding The Impossible in Greece (MP)

In a recent presentation of his book, Laid Low, which examines the IMF’s role in the eurozone crisis, author and journalist Paul Blustein disclosed a memo dated May 4, 2010, from the IMF’s then head of research Olivier Blanchard, to Poul Thomsen, who headed the Greek mission at the time. In his missive, Blanchard warned that the cumulative fiscal adjustment of 16 %age points being demanded of Greece in such a short period of time and with such a high level of frontloading had never been achieved before. According to Blanchard, not only was the task unprecedented, but Greece was being asked to achieve the impossible in unfavourable external circumstances, when everyone was barely recovering from the 2008 global financial crisis and without any other policy levers (low interest rates or exchange rate adjustment).

Blanchard foresaw what became a reality only about a year later: Even with “perfect policy implementation” the programme will be thrown off track rather quickly and the recession will be deeper and longer than expected, he warned. Blanchard’s scepticism and warnings were ignored. Instead, political limitations took hold of the decision-making process and domestic-focussed calculations pushed Greece into trying to achieve the impossible. This week, the former IMF chief economist admitted on Twitter that although he was not the one that leaked the memo he was not unhappy that the truth has been revealed because “it is seven years and still there is no clear/realistic plan” for Greece.

Athens is currently under pressure to adopt another 2% of GDP in new fiscal measures, which relate to the tax-free threshold and pension spending. Since 2010, Greece has adopted revenue-raising measures and spending cuts that are equivalent to more than a third of its economy and more than double what Blanchard had described as unprecedented almost seven years ago.

The Greek economy has been burdened with €35.6 billion in all sorts of taxes on income, consumption, duties, stamps, corporate taxation and increases in social security contributions. When totting all this up, it is remarkable that the economy still manages to function. During the same period, the state has also found savings of €37.4 billion from cutting salaries, pensions, benefits and operational expenses. Discretionary spending is now so lean that even the IMF argues that in certain areas it needs to increase if Greece is to meet the minimum requirements in the provision of public services. When this misery started, Greece had to correct a primary deficit of €24 billion. But the painful fiscal adjustment Greeks have had to endure had turned out to be three times as much. The IMF’s Thomsen, now the director of its European Department, recently argued that Greece doesn’t need any more austerity but brave policy implementation. Somehow, though, the discussion has ended up being about finding another €3.5 billion in taxes and cuts to pension spending. Bravery is nowhere to be seen.

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The cuts have hit Greek consumer spending so severely that a recovery is no longer possible. And without a recovery, the Troika demands will get more severe, rinse and repeat.

Cost Of Greece, Troika Impasse Over Numbers Is Adding Up (K.)

Another week of back-and-forth between Greece and its lenders seems to have brought us no closer to an agreement between all the parties involved in the country’s bailout. Monday’s Eurogroup meeting may produce some progress, but the complexity of the situation facing Athens, the eurozone and the IMF means it is likely that any forward movement will involve inching, rather than hurtling, towards an agreement. One of the key areas of disagreement is Greece’s fiscal performance. The government insists that the primary surplus for 2016 provides all the evidence needed that there should be no concerns about Greece meeting its fiscal targets in the coming years. Finance Ministry estimates put the primary surplus for 2016 at 2% of gross domestic product, against a target of 0.5%.

In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper last week, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos suggested that last year’s primary surplus is actually 1.7 %age points above the target, ie 2.2% of GDP in total. On Friday, reports indicated that government officials believe the final figure, which is not due to be announced until April, will be around 3% of GDP. There is skepticism on the creditors’ side. Even before we get to debating how large last year’s primary surplus was, some of those who are lending Greece money are not convinced that enough of the overperformance is structural and that much of it may be driven by one-off occurrences. It will require further scrutiny of the final data to come up with a definitive answer to this question. The director of the IMF’s European Department, Poul Thomsen, told another German newspaper, Handelsblatt, last week that the Fund may revise its fiscal forecasts for Greece once it has last year’s statistics at its disposal.

This is crucial because the volume of measures being demanded of Greece by the institutions has been set at 3.6 billion euros largely due to the fact that the IMF believes Greece will fall short of the 3.5% of GDP primary surplus target it has been set for an, as yet, unspecified period after 2018. Athens hopes that if the IMF rethinks its figures, this may lead to a lower volume of measures being demanded and the first step in the grand bargain between the government and the institutions being taken. However, there are several added layers of complexity that have to be addressed. For example, the IMF does not only have doubts about the structural nature of Greece’s primary surplus, it also has lingering reservations about the reliability of the fiscal data coming out of Athens.

“Lack of fiscal transparency was clearly one of the factors that led to Greece finding itself in a difficult spot in 2010,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in response to a question when she spoke at the Atlantic Council on February 8. “A lot has been improved but I’m not sure that the job is entirely completed. We are still seeing frequent revisions of some of those numbers. Everybody revises, let’s face it… but it’s a fact that Greece revises quite often and with significant variations.”

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People or cattle?

Pre-Departure Migrant Camps Planned For Greek Islands (K.)

Greek authorities are planning the creation of pre-departure detention facilities on the eastern Aegean islands, where thousands of migrants and refugees remain stranded, so as to accelerate returns to Turkey. According to officials from the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, the biggest%age of new arrivals over the past few months are from countries without a refugee profile: Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Significant numbers also arrived from Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Tunisia, Nigeria and Libya. Officials say that the creation of closed-structure facilities, each with a capacity of 150-200 people, is key to taking some of the pressure off the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, which have borne the brunt of the influx.

The mayors of these five islands are expected to travel to Brussels in early March to meet with Europe’s Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to voice their concerns. During a tour of these islands last week, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, said that the aim was to cut current numbers by half by the end of April. According to official figures, some 14,600 migrants and refugees are currently accommodated at official facilities on the islands. In comments made during the visit, Verwey, who is also the coordinator for the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement to stem migrant flows, repeated that these detention facilities would be “temporary.”

Sources suggest that authorities have almost finalized plans for facilities on Samos, Lesvos and Kos, while looking for spaces on Leros and Chios. The plans have met with resistance from locals. Since the beginning of 2017, authorities have reportedly deported 160 individuals from Pakistan, 150 from Iraq, 70 from Algeria, 30 from Afghanistan, 25 from Morocco and 20 from Bangladesh. Police said 60 Syrians had left Greece voluntarily.

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Regime change. Who’s crazy now?

Democrats Suggest Invoking The 25th Amendment Unless Trump “Gets A Grip” (ZH)

After questioning President Trump’s sanity earlier in the week, it appears Democrats have found another narrative to cling to – invoke the 25th Amendment unless Trump “gets a grip.” With a growing number of Democrats openly questioning President Trump’s mental health. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in a floor speech this week called for a review of the Constitution’s procedures for removing a president. He warned the 25th Amendment of the Constitution falls short when it comes to mental or emotional fitness for office. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) during a weekend interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” said that “a few” Republican colleagues have expressed concern to him about Trump’s mental health. And Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation that would require the presence of a psychiatrist or psychologist in the White House.

[..] So, what’s Article 4 to the 25th Amendment? In the abstract, the amendment itself is about presidential succession, and includes language about the power of the office when a president is incapacitated. But Digby recently highlighted the specific text of growing relevance: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

What does that mean exactly? Well, it means Congress isn’t the only institution that can remove a president from office between elections. Under the 25th Amendment, a sitting vice president and a majority of the executive branch’s cabinet could, on their own, agree to transfer power out of the hands of a sitting president. At that point, those officials would notify Congress, and the vice president would assume the office as the acting president. And what if the challenged president wasn’t on board with the plan to remove him/her from the office? According to a recent explainer, “If the president wants to dispute this move, he can, but then it would be up to Congress to settle the matter with a vote. A two-thirds majority in both houses would be necessary to keep the vice president in charge. If that threshold isn’t reached, the president would regain his powers.”

All of this comes up in fiction from time to time, and in all likelihood, Americans will probably never see this political crisis play out in real life. And that’s probably a good thing: by all appearances, the intended purpose of the constitutional provision was to address a president with a serious ailment – say, a stroke, for example – in which he or she is alive, but unable to fulfill the duties of the office. In other words, for the first time, the concept of a “soft palace coup” has been officially brought up on public media; we expect such speculation will only get louder. The ball is now in Trump’s court.

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“Populism is not a philosophy or a concept, like socialism or capitalism, for example. Rather it is a cry of pain, where people are saying: Do something. Help!”

Greenspan Blames Productivity Decline For Political, Economic Crises (BI)

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve whose low-interest policies (some say) helped inflate the dot-com and mortgage bubbles of 2000 and 2008, did a fascinating interview with Gold Investor recently. In it, Greenspan produced an incredibly cogent explanation of the role that reduced long-term productivity has had in fuelling populism, Brexit and Trump. Before we deliver Greenspan’s quote, some background: “Productivity” is one of the least-sexy areas of macroeconomics, even though right now it is one of the biggest issues bedevilling it. Here’s a chart from the Resolution Foundation showing the phenomena:

The “productivity puzzle” is this: The amount investors get in return, in aggregate, for investing in new workers is in long-term decline. Productivity growth is in decline globally and heading toward zero. This is counterintuitive because new technology ought to make workers more productive and more efficient. A single employee with a laptop can do more today than a roomful of secretaries, mathematicians, and writers could in the 1960s. We ought to be getting more bang for our bucks. Fix productivity, and you fix everything, economists believe – including GDP growth, workers’ pay, investment returns, and so on. But instead we’ve got stagnating incomes, low growth, and low productivity for money invested. The productivity decline isn’t a complete mystery, of course. We know it is a mixture of deflationary forces, an aging population, excessive debt, and increased inequality. But putting that all together in a simple, elegant way is tough. That’s why this answer from Greenspan is so good. He was asked whether he was concerned about Stagflation.

“We have been through a protracted period of stagnant productivity growth, particularly in the developed world, driven largely by the aging of the ‘baby boom’ generation. Social benefits (entitlements in the US) are crowding out gross domestic savings, the primary source for funding investment, dollar for dollar. The decline in gross domestic savings as a share of GDP has suppressed gross non-residential capital investment. It is the lessened investment that has suppressed the growth in output per hour globally. Output per hour has been growing at approximately 0.5% annually in the US and other developed countries over the past five years, compared with an earlier growth rate closer to 2%.

That is a huge difference, which is reflected proportionately in GDP and in people’s standard of living. As productivity growth slows down, the whole economic system slows down. That has provoked despair and a consequent rise in economic populism from Brexit to Trump. Populism is not a philosophy or a concept, like socialism or capitalism, for example. Rather it is a cry of pain, where people are saying: Do something. Help!”

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Seek shelter.

S&P 500 Earnings Stuck at 2011 Levels, Stocks up 87% Since (WS)

The S&P 500 stock index edged up to an all-time high of 2,351 on Friday. Total market capitalization of the companies in the index exceeds $20 trillion. That’s 106% of US GDP, for just 500 companies! At the end of 2011, the S&P 500 index was at 1,257. Over the five-plus years since then, it has ballooned by 87%! These are superlative numbers, and you’d expect superlative earnings performance from these companies. Turns out, reality is not that cooperative. Instead, net income of the S&P 500 companies is now back where it first had been at the end of 2011. Hype, financial engineering, and central banks hell-bent on inflating asset prices make a powerful fuel for stock prices. And there has been plenty of all of it, including financial engineering.

Share buybacks, often funded with borrowed money, have soared in recent years. But even that is now on the decline. Share buybacks by the S&P 500 companies plunged 28% year-over-year to $115.6 billion in the three-month period from August through October, according to the Buyback Quarterly that FactSet just released. It was the second three-month period in a row of sharp year-over-year declines. And it was the smallest buyback total since Q1 2013. Apple with $7.2 billion in buybacks in the quarter, GE with $4.3 billion, and Microsoft with $3.6 billion topped the list again. Still, despite the plunge in buybacks, 119 companies spent more on buybacks than they’d earned in the quarter. On a trailing 12-month basis, 66% of net income was blown on buybacks.

Alas, net income has been a problem. By now, with 82% of the S&P 500 companies having reported their results for Q4 2016, earnings rose 4.6% year-over-year, according to FactSet. It’s the second quarter in a row of year-over-year earnings growth, after six quarters in a row of earnings declines. For the entire year 2016, earnings edged up 0.4% from 2015. And revenue inched up 2.4% – in a year when inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, rose 2.8%.

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“..Australians are in hock to the tune of more than $1.4 trillion on housing. That’s a hell of a lot of debt just to keep the wind and rain out.”

The Nasty Little Secret About Housing Affordability (ABC.au)

There’s a nasty little secret about housing affordability. For all the furrowed brows, the sombre looks and the public handwringing from policy makers, no-one is actually serious about fixing the problem because they all fear the potential fallout. The Government is running in circles on the issue while the Reserve Bank is praying the mess will slowly evaporate over time. It’s become a regular event; a politician conjures up an outlandish idea to again make housing affordable to the masses. If it’s not a cash splash to first home buyers, it’s a harebrained scheme to allow younger Australians to dip into their superannuation. Last week, it was a plan to force banks to lower lending standards. In each case, the net effect would be to lift demand and raise the cost of housing. Unfortunately, at this point in the economic cycle, there are only two mechanisms that could solve the social and political issue of our time.

The first is for housing prices to experience a dramatic fall. And the second is for wages to rise substantially. The first comes with a nasty side-effect: it would create economic chaos and send many of our banks to the wall. Achieving, or at least promising, the second might get you elected but ultimately would prove disastrous with spiralling inflation and, you guessed it, a probable spike in housing prices. Both are unthinkable. A crash could be catastrophic because our banks essentially have morphed into glorified building societies, with the bulk of their earnings geared towards residential mortgages. The two biggest lenders, Commonwealth and Westpac, have around 60% of their loan books devoted to housing.

Real estate is baked into the Australian psyche. We talk about it ad nauseam, owners obsess over upgrades and renovations and those outside the owners’ club fret about how to enter. All up, Australians are in hock to the tune of more than $1.4 trillion on housing. That’s a hell of a lot of debt just to keep the wind and rain out. Of that, more than half a trillion is on loan to property investors.

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Bankers going to court.

The Unthinkable Just Happened in Spain (DQ)

Untouchable. Inviolable. Immunity. Impunity. These are the sort of words and expressions that are often associated with senior central bankers, who are, by law, able to operate more or less above the law of the jurisdictions in which they operate. Rarely heard in association with senior central bankers are words or expressions like “accused”, “charged” or “under investigation.” But in Spain this week a court broke with that tradition, in emphatic style. As part of the epic, multi-year criminal investigation into the doomed IPO of Spain’s frankenbank Bankia – which had been assembled from the festering corpses of seven already defunct saving banks – Spain’s national court called to testify six current and former directors of the Bank of Spain, including its former governor, Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, and its former deputy governor (and current head of the Bank of International Settlements’ Financial Stability Institute), Fernando Restoy.

It also summoned for questioning Julio Segura, the former president of Spain’s financial markets regulator, the CNMV (the Spanish equivalent of the SEC in the US). The six central bankers and one financial regulator stand accused of authorizing the public launch of Bankia in 2011 despite repeated warnings from the Bank of Spain’s own team of inspectors that the banking group was “unviable.” Though they have so far only been called to testify, the evidence against the seven former public “servants” looks pretty conclusive. Testifying against them are two of Banco de España’s own inspectors who have spent the last two years investigating Bankia’s collapse on behalf of the trial’s presiding judge, Fernando Andreu.

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“We have won. We have won the major legal argument. This is the last five years of my life and it’s an embarrassment for New Zealand.”

Kim Dotcom Loses New Zealand Extradition Case But Claims Major Victory (NZH)

The evidence of the case has not been argued in New Zealand courts with the legal debate here being one of trying to match the crimes Dotcom and others are charged with to the crimes listed in the Extradition Act. In an interview with the Herald, Dotcom said the ruling was a “major victory” because it ruled that there was no New Zealand equivalent to the US criminal charges of copyright violation. “The major part of this litigation has been won by this judgment – that copyright is not extraditable. “They destroyed my family, destroyed my business, spied on me and raided my home and they did all of this on a civil copyright case. “We have won. We have won the major legal argument. This is the last five years of my life and it’s an embarrassment for New Zealand.”

He said it was effectively a statement from the court that neither he, his co-accused or Megaupload had broken any New Zealand laws. “Now they’re trying through the back door to say this was a fraud case. I’m confident going with this judgment to the Court of Appeal. The ruling today has created an unusual bureaucratic contradiction – the warrant which was served on Dotcom when he was arrested on January 20, 2012, stated he was being charged with “copyright” offences. Likewise, the charges Dotcom will face in the US are founded in an alleged act of criminal copyright violation. Dotcom said there were plans to take a separate court action over the arrest warrant, given it showed he had been arrested for a crime which effectively did not exist in New Zealand. “My arrest warrant, the document that kicked everything off in New Zealand, is not for fraud. In my arrest warrant, there is nothing about fraud.”

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Recognize this? “The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell.”

UK Vegetable Shortage A Sign Of Things To Come (G.)

The UK’s clock has been set to Permanent Global Summer Time once more after a temporary blip. Courgettes, spinach and iceberg lettuce are back on the shelves, and the panic over the lack of imported fruit and vegetables has been contained. “As you were, everyone,” appears to be the message. But why would supermarkets – which are said to have lost sales worth as much as £8m in January thanks to record-breaking, crop-wrecking snow and rainfall in the usually mild winter regions of Spain and Italy – be so keen to fly in substitutes from the US at exorbitant cost? Why would they sell at a loss rather than let us go without, or put up prices to reflect the changing market? Why indeed would anyone air-freight watery lettuce across the whole of the American continent and the Atlantic when it takes 127 calories of fuel energy to fly just 1 food calorie of that lettuce to the UK from California?

The answer is that, in the past 40 years, a whole supermarket system has been built on the seductive illusion of this Permanent Global Summer Time. As a result, a cornucopia of perpetual harvest is one of the key selling points that big stores have over rival retailers. If the enticing fresh produce section placed near the front of each store to draw you in starts looking a bit empty, we might not bother to shop there at all. But when you take into account climate change, the shortages of early 2017 look more like a taste of things to come than just a blip, and that is almost impossible for supermarkets to admit. Add the impact of this winter’s weather on Mediterranean production, the inflationary pressures from a post-Brexit fall in the value of sterling against the euro, and the threat of tariffs as we exit the single market, and suddenly the model begins to look extraordinarily vulnerable.

I can remember the precise moment I first understood that we had been taken into this fantastical, nature-defying system without most of us really noticing. It was 1990 and I had been living and working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province for a long period. The bazaars where we bought our food were seasonal, and stocked from the immediate region. Back home on leave in the UK, I had that sense of dislocation that enables you to see your own culture as if from the outside. It was winter, but the supermarkets were full of fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world. The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell. It was vaguely troubling in a way I couldn’t identify at the time.

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Excellent overview of the very scary latest on Fukushima from multiple sources at Zero Hedge.

Fukushima Aborts Latest Robot Mission Radiation At “Unimaginable” Levels (ZH)

Two years after sacrificing one robot, TEPCO officials have aborted their latest robot mission inside the Fukushima reactor after the ‘scorpion’ became unresponsive as it investigated the previously discovered hole where the core is believed to have melted. A “scorpion” robot sent into a Japanese nuclear reactor to learn about the damage suffered in a tsunami-induced meltdown had its mission aborted after the probe ran into trouble, Tokyo Electric Power company said Thursday. As Phys.org reports, TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, sent the remote-controlled device into the No. 2 reactor where radiation levels have recently hit record highs.

The “scorpion” robot, so-called because it can lift up its camera-mounted tail to achieve better viewing angles, is also designed to crawl over rubble inside the damaged facility. But it could not reach its target destination beneath a pressure vessel through which nuclear fuel is believed to have melted because the robot had difficulty moving, a company spokeswoman said. “It’s not immediately clear if that’s because of radiation or obstacles,” she said, adding that TEPCO is checking what data the robot was able to obtain, including images.

[..] The robot, 60 centimetres (24 inches) long, is made by Toshiba and equipped with two cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels and temperatures. Scorpion’s mission is to take images of the situation and collect data inside the containment vessel,” TEPCO spokesman Shinichi Nakakuki said earlier. “Challenges include enduring high levels of radiation and moving on the rough surface,” he said. Radiation levels inside the reactor were estimated last week at 650 sieverts per hour at one spot, which can effectively shut down robots in hours.

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Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. She also was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war in Iraq. She has lived in Honolulu since 2003.

Tulsi Gabbard vs. ‘Regime Change’ Wars (Wright)

I support Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, going to Syria and meeting with President Bashar al-Assad because the congresswoman is a brave person willing to take criticism for challenging U.S. policies that she believes are wrong. It is important that we have representatives in our government who will go to countries where the United States is either killing citizens directly by U.S. intervention or indirectly by support of militia groups or by sanctions. We need representatives to sift through what the U.S. government says and what the media reports to find out for themselves the truth, the shades of truth and the untruths. We need representatives willing to take the heat from both their fellow members of Congress and from the media pundits who will not go to those areas and talk with those directly affected by U.S. actions.

We need representatives who will be our eyes and ears to go to places where most citizens cannot go. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who has seen first-hand the chaos that can come from misguided “regime change” projects, is not the first international observer to come back with an assessment about the tragic effects of U.S. support for lethal “regime change” in Syria. Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire began traveling to Syria three years ago and now having made three trips to Syria. She has come back hearing many of the same comments from Syrians that Rep. Gabbard heard — that U.S. support for “regime change” against the secular government of Syria is contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and – if the “regime change” succeeded – might result in the takeover by armed religious-driven fanatics who would slaughter many more Syrians and cause a mass migration of millions fleeing the carnage.

[..] During the Obama administration, Rep. Gabbard spoke critically of the U.S. propensity to attempt “regime change” in countries and thus provoking chaos and loss of civilian life. On Dec. 8, 2016, she introduced a bill entitled the “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” which would prohibit the U.S. government from using U.S. funds to provide funding, weapons, training, and intelligence support to extremists groups, such as the ones fighting in Syria – or to countries that are providing direct or indirect support to those groups. In the first days of the Trump administration, Rep. Gabbard traveled to Syria to see the effects of the attempted “regime change” and to offer a solution to reduce the deaths of civilians and the end of the war in Syria. A national organization Veterans For Peace, to which I belong, has endorsed her trip as a step toward resolution to the Syrian conflict.

Not surprisingly, back in Washington, Rep. Gabbard came under attack for the trip and for her meeting with President Assad, similar to criticism that I have faced because of visits that I have made to countries where the U.S. government did not want me to go — to Cuba, Iran, Gaza, Yemen, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and back to Afghanistan, where I was assigned as a U.S. diplomat.

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“How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington..”

UN Envoy Questions US Engagement On Syria (AFP)

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura on Sunday questioned US President Donald Trump’s engagement in solving the Syrian war, just days ahead of a new round of peace talks in Geneva. “Where is the US in all this? I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” he said, adding that the new administration was still trying to work out its priorities on the conflict. The top three US priorities include fighting Islamic State jihadists, “how to limit the influence of some major regional players and how to not to damage one of their major allies in the region,” de Mistura told the Munich Security Conference. “How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington,” he said. He did not say who the regional player or major ally were but the first reference appeared to be to Iran, with the second likely to be either Turkey or Saudi Arabia.

Mistura stressed that what was ultimately key was an inclusive political solution to end the six-year conflict. “Even a ceasefire with two guarantors can’t hold too long if there is no political horizon,” he said, referring to a fragile truce brokered by Russia and Turkey in December. Any political solution has to be inclusive to be credible, he said, stressing that peace talks in Astana last week organised by Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the ceasefire deal provided an opening that should be explored. The US envoy for the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, acknowledged that Trump’s administration is “re-looking at everything, which is a very healthy process from top to bottom.” “We will be very selfish about protecting and advancing our interests,” he told the same forum.

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This will always remain controversial. But it’s the only way.

Kaziranga: The Park That Shoots People To Protect Rhinos (BBC)

Kaziranga National Park is an incredible story of conservation success. There were just a handful of Indian one-horned rhinoceros left when the park was set up a century ago in Assam, in India’s far east. Now there are more than 2,400 – two-thirds of the entire world population. This is where David Attenborough’s team came to film for Planet Earth II. William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, came here last year. But the way the park protects the animals is controversial. Its rangers have been given the kind of powers to shoot and kill normally only conferred on armed forces policing civil unrest. At one stage the park rangers were killing an average of two people every month – more than 20 people a year. Indeed, in 2015 more people were shot dead by park guards than rhinos were killed by poachers. Innocent villagers, mostly tribal people, have been caught up in the conflict.

Rhinos need protection. Rhino horn can fetch very high prices in Vietnam and China where it is sold as a miracle cure for everything from cancer to erectile dysfunction. Street vendors charge as much as $6,000 for 100g – making it considerably more expensive than gold. Indian rhinos have smaller horns than those of African rhinos, but reportedly they are marketed as being far more potent. But how far should we go to protect these endangered animals? I ask two guards what they were told to do if they encountered poachers in the park. “The instruction is whenever you see the poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them,” Avdesh explains without hesitation. “You shoot them?” I ask. “Yah, yah. Fully ordered to shoot them. Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.” Avdesh says he has shot at people twice in the four years he has been a guard, but has never killed anybody. He knows, however, there are unlikely to be any consequences for him if he did.

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Feb 102017
 
 February 10, 2017  Posted by at 10:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Al Capone’s free soup kitchen, Chicago, 1931

 

US Appeals Court Upholds Suspension Of Trump Travel Ban (AP)
The Crash Will Be Violent (David Stockman)
Foreign Governments Dump US Treasuries as Never Before; Who is Buying? (WS)
Impediments to Growth (Lacy Hunt)
A Game Of Chess (BP)
Biography of President Donald Trump, a.k.a. “Wayne Newton” (Jim Kunstler)
What Would it Cost a Country to Leave the Euro? (WS)
Varoufakis Accuses Creditors Of Going After Greece’s ‘Little People’ (Ind.)
Greece Hopeful Of Imminent EU Debt Deal Despite German Warning (G.)
Greek Crisis Descends Into Blame Game (Tel.)
China Bitcoin Exchanges Halt Withdrawals After PBOC Talks (BBG)
Where US Immigrants Have Come From Over Time (BI)
The World According to a Free-Range Short Seller (BBG)
Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels (Fox)
Ground-Breaking Research Uncovers New Risks of GMOs, Glyphosate (NGR)
‘No One Accepts Responsibility’: Thirteen Refugees Dead In Greece (IRR)

 

 

It is crucial for the US political system to be tested this way. So far, it seems to work, but we’re in very early innings. Important to recognize that Trump and Bannon merely attempt to use the broader executive powers developed under Clinton, Bush and Obama. A major problem can be that the judiciary has alredy become very politicized, with presidents getting to pick judges.

US Appeals Court Upholds Suspension Of Trump Travel Ban (AP)

Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, dealing another legal setback to the new administration’s immigration policy. In a unanimous decision, the panel of three judges from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to block a lower-court ruling that suspended the ban and allowed previously barred travelers to enter the U.S. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible. The court rejected the administration’s claim that it did not have the authority to review the president’s executive order. “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy,” the court said. The judges noted that the states had raised serious allegations about religious discrimination.

Following news of the ruling, Trump tweeted, “See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!” U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order halting the ban last week after Washington state and Minnesota sued. The ban temporarily suspended the nation’s refugee program and immigration from countries that have raised terrorism concerns. Justice Department lawyers appealed to the 9th Circuit, arguing that the president has the constitutional power to restrict entry to the United States and that the courts cannot second-guess his determination that such a step was needed to prevent terrorism. The states said Trump’s travel ban harmed individuals, businesses and universities. Citing Trump’s campaign promise to stop Muslims from entering the U.S., they said the ban unconstitutionally blocked entry to people based on religion.

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“..the first half of the year will be consumed in nasty partisan battles over cabinet appointments, the Gorsuch nomination, interminable maneuvers over the travel ban and follow-on measures of extreme vetting and the Obamacare repeal/replace battle.”

The Crash Will Be Violent (David Stockman)

[..] What will be coming soon, however, is the mother of all debt ceiling crises — an eruption of beltway dysfunction that will finally demolish the notion that Trump is good for the economy and the stock market. The debt ceiling holiday ends on March 15, and it appears that the rudderless Treasury Department — Mnuchin has not yet been approved as Treasury Secretary and there are no Trump deputies, either — may be engaging in a bit of sabotage. That is, the cash balance has run down from a peak of about $450 billion to just $304 billion as of last Friday. Unless reversed soon, this means that the Treasury will run out of cash by perhaps July 4th rather than Labor Day. After that, all hell will break loose.

Washington has been obviously dysfunctional for years, but the virtue of the Great Disrupter is that his tweets, tangents, inconsistencies and unpredictabilities guarantee that the system will soon shut down entirely. Consequently, the first half of the year will be consumed in nasty partisan battles over cabinet appointments, the Gorsuch nomination, interminable maneuvers over the travel ban and follow-on measures of extreme vetting and the Obamacare repeal/replace battle. Then, the second half of 2017 will degenerate into a non-stop battle over raising the debt ceiling and continuing resolutions for fiscal year (FY) 2018 which begins October 1. That will mean, in turn, that there is no budget resolution embodying the Trump/GOP fiscal agenda, and therefore no basis for filibuster-proof “reconciliation instructions” on the tax cut.

This latter point, in fact, needs special emphasis. The frail GOP majorities now in place will be too battered and fractured by the interim battles to coalesce around a ten-year budget resolution that embodies the $10 trillion of incremental deficits already built into the CBO baseline — plus trillions more for defense, veterans, border control, the Mexican Wall, an infrastructure bonanza and big tax cuts, too. It will never happen. There is not remotely a GOP majority for such a resolution. But without an FY 2018 budget resolution, inertia and the K-Street lobbies will rule. Without a 51-vote majority rule in the Senate, a material, deficit-neutral cut in the corporate tax rate would be absolutely impossible to pass. Yet that’s exactly what the casino is currently pricing-in.

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Foreign investors.

Foreign Governments Dump US Treasuries as Never Before; Who is Buying? (WS)

It started with a whimper a couple of years ago and has turned into a roar: foreign governments are dumping US Treasuries. The signs are coming from all sides. The data from the US Treasury Department points at it. The People’s Bank of China points at it in its data releases on its foreign exchange reserves. Japan too has started selling Treasuries, as have other governments and central banks. Some, like China and Saudi Arabia, are unloading their foreign exchange reserves to counteract capital flight, prop up their own currencies, or defend a currency peg. Others might sell US Treasuries because QE is over and yields are rising as the Fed has embarked on ending its eight years of zero-interest-rate policy with what looks like years of wild flip-flopping, while some of the Fed heads are talking out loud about unwinding QE and shedding some of the Treasuries on its balance sheet.

Inflation has picked up too, and Treasury yields have begun to rise, and when yields rise, bond prices fall, and so unloading US Treasuries at what might be seen as the peak may just be an investment decision by some official institutions. The chart below from Goldman Sachs, via Christine Hughes at Otterwood Capital, shows the net transactions of US Treasury bonds and notes in billions of dollars by foreign official institutions (central banks, government funds, and the like) on a 12-month moving average. Note how it started with a whimper, bounced back a little, before turning into wholesale dumping, hitting record after record (red marks added):

The People’s Bank of China reported two days ago that foreign exchange reserves fell by another $12.3 billion in January, to $2.998 trillion, the seventh month in a row of declines, and the lowest in six years. They’re down 25%, or almost exactly $1 trillion, from their peak in June 2014 of nearly $4 trillion (via Trading Economics, red line added):

China’s foreign exchange reserves are composed of assets that are denominated in different currencies, but China does not provide details. So of the $1 trillion in reserves that it shed since 2014, not all were denominated in dollars. The US Treasury Department provides another partial view, based on data collected primarily from US-based custodians and broker-dealers that are holding these securities for China and other countries. But the US Treasury cannot determine which country owns the Treasuries held in custodial accounts overseas. Based on this limited data, China’s holdings of US Treasuries have plunged by $215.2 billion, or 17%, over the most recent 12 reporting months through November, to just above $1 trillion.

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From a Mish article quoting an unpublished report. I wonder when all these people will begin to understand my point that growth is gone. Only then will the pieces fall into place. Note: calling Weak Global Growth and Impediment to Growth sounds a bit silly.

Impediments to Growth (Lacy Hunt)

1. Unproductive Debt At the end of the third quarter, domestic nonfinancial debt and total debt reached $47.0 and $69.4 trillion, respectively. Neither of these figures includes a sizeable volume of vehicle and other leases that will come due in the next few years nor unfunded pension liabilities that will eventually be due. The total figure is much larger as it includes debt of financial institutions as well as foreign debt owed. The broader series points to the complexity of the debt overhang. Netting out the financial institutions and foreign debt is certainly appropriate for closed economies, but it is not appropriate for the current economy.

Total debt gained $3.1 trillion in the past four quarters, or $5.70 dollars for each $1.00 of GDP growth. From 1870 to 2015, $1.90 of total debt generated $1.00 dollar of GDP. We estimate that approximately $20 trillion of debt in the U.S. will reset within the next two years. Interest rates across the curve are up approximately 100 basis points from the lows of last year. Unless rates reverse, the annual interest costs will jump $200 billion within two years and move steadily higher thereafter as more debt obligations mature. This sum is equivalent to almost two-fifths of the $533 billion in nominal GDP in the past four quarters. This situation is the same problem that has constantly dogged highly indebted economies like the U.S., Japan and the Eurozone.

2. Record Global Debt The IMF calculated that the gross debt in the global non-financial sector was $217 trillion, or 325% of GDP, at the end of the third quarter of 2016. Total debt at the end of the third quarter 2016 was more than triple its level at the end of 1999. Debt in China surged by $3 trillion in just the first three quarters of 2016. Chinese debt at the end of the third quarter soared to 390% of GDP, an estimated 20% higher than U.S. debt-to-GDP. This debt surge explains the shortfall in the Chinese growth target for 2016, a major capital flight, a precipitous fall of the Yuan against the dollar and a large hike in their overnight lending rate. Such policies lose their effectiveness over time. [As stated by] Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek (1933):“To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about.”

3. Weak Global Growth Based on figures from the World Bank and the IMF through 2016, growth in a 60-country composite was just 1.1%, a fraction of the 7.2% average since 1961. Even with the small gain for 2016, the three-year average growth was -0.8%. As such, the last three years have provided more evidence that the benefits of a massive debt surge are elusive. World trade volume also confirms the fragile state of economic conditions. Trade peaked at 115.4 in February 2016, with September 2016 1.7% below that peak, according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis. Over the last 12 months, world trade volume fell 0.7%, compared to the 5.1% average growth since 1992.

4. Eroding Demographics World trade volume also confirms the fragile state of economic conditions. Trade peaked at 115.4 in February 2016, with September 2016 1.7% below that peak, according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis. Over the last 12 months, world trade volume fell 0.7%, compared to the 5.1% average growth since 1992.

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Absolutely delightful.

A Game Of Chess (BP)

Chess is a game where the number of possible positions rises at an astronomical rate. By the 2nd move of the game there are already 400 possible positions and after each person moves twice, that number rises to 8902. My coach explained to me that I was not trained enough to even begin to keep track of those things and that my only chance of ever winning was to take the initiative and never give it up. “You must know what your opponent will do next by playing his game for him.” was the advice I received. Now, I won’t bore you with the particulars but it boiled down to throwing punches each and every turn without exception. In other words, if my opponent must always waste his turn responding to what I am doing then he never gets an opportunity to come at me in the millions of possibilities that reside in the game. Again, if I throw the punch – even one that can be easily blocked, then I only have to worry about one combination and not millions.

My Russian chess coach next taught me that I should Proudly Announce what exactly I am doing and why I am doing it. He explained to me that bad chess players believe that they can hide their strategy even though all the pieces are right there in plain sight for anyone to see. A good chess player has no fear of this because they will choose positions that are unassailable so why not announce them? As a coach, I made all of my students tell each other why they were making the moves that they made as well as what they were planning next. It entirely removed luck from the game and quickly made them into superior players.

My Russian coach next stressed Time as something I should focus on to round out my game. He said that I shouldn’t move the same piece twice in a row and that my “wild punches” should focus on getting my pieces on to the board and into play as quickly as possible. So, if I do everything correctly, I have an opponent that will have a disorganized defense, no offense and few pieces even in play and this will work 9 out of 10 times. The only time it doesn’t work for me is when I go against players that have memorized hundreds of games and have memorized how to get out of these traps.

With all that said, let’s see if President Trump is playing chess. First, we can all agree that Trump, if nothing else, throws a lot of punches. We really saw this in the primaries where barely a day could go by without some scandal that would supposedly end his presidential bid. His opponents and the press erroneously thought that responding to each and every “outrage” was the correct thing to do without ever taking the time to think whether or not they had just walked into a trap. They would use their turn to block his Twitter attack but he wouldn’t move that piece again once that was in play but, instead, brought on the next outrage – just like my coach instructed me to do.

Second, Trump is very vocal in what he is going to do. Just like I had my students announced to each other their plans, Trump has been nothing but transparent about what he intends to do. After all, announcing your plans only works if your position is unassailable. It demoralizes your opponent. You rub their face in it. Another benefit to being vocal is that it encourages your opponent to bring out his favorite piece to deal with said announced plans. This is a big mistake as any good chess player will quickly recognize which piece his opponent favors and then go take them.

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“Fraid Jim lost it.

Biography of President Donald Trump, a.k.a. “Wayne Newton” (Jim Kunstler)

And so it happened years ago on the Trump family’s annual Christmas pilgrimage to Paraguay that Papa Fred and Mama Mary Anne fell in socially with the circle around Klaus Furtwänkler, Waffen-SS Gruppenführer (ret.) in the little resort village of Nueva Bavaria. The former commandant of the Flossenbürg work camp (granite quarries) introduced young Donald to the song “Danke Schoen” popularized by the vocalist Eva Braun at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Since earliest childhood, with his love for the “spotlight,” Donald had entertained the family with renditions of Disney’s beloved hits, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “When I See an Elephant Fly,” and “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (an Actor’s Life for Me).” The next evening, on Furtwänkler’s 3,000-hectare estancia, before an audience of fifty “special guests” at the Heiliger Abend buffet (Arapaima snapper with red cabbage and potato salad), Donald performed “Danke Schoen” to wild applause, propelling him into a career in show business. Not a few of the frauleins present fainted.


Young Donald or someone else?

To protect Papa’s real estate business interests in Queens, New York, Donald adopted the professional name “Wayne Newton” and was withdrawn from military school to perform on the county fair circuit across the states that would later self- identify by the color “red” — but which, given our adversarial relations with the USSR at the time, styled themselves red, white, and blue. Six month’s later, “Wayne” caught the eye of Las Vegas promoter Sal “Cukarach” Vaselino while playing the Refrigeration Engineers annual meet-up at the Sands Hotel, and then after a six-week smash engagement at the Golden Nugget in 1963, “Wayne” was inducted into the notorious Frank Sinatra / Dean Martin Rat-pack as its first underage member. (Rat-pack consigliere Peter Lawford introduced the talented lad to the concept of “sloppy seconds”).

[..] Back on the convention circuit with Jules the Singing Jackrabbit, Wayne played the 1983 National Realtors Association Pump-and-Dump Expo and was influenced to get his first real estate license. “Why pay for milk when you can own the cash cow,” keynote speaker Ivan Boesky advised “Wayne,” prompting him to return to his New York City “roots” and resume his identity as “The Donald,” son of “The Fred” Trump. A carefully orchestrated life of public appearances at Gotham charity events and a lavish wedding to model Ivana Zelníková reestablished Donald Trump as a fixture on the glittering Manhattan scene – meanwhile, a Greyhound Bus mechanic and aspiring country crooner named Bud Gorch, a “dead-ringer” look-alike for the erstwhile “Wayne Newton,” was recruited by the Trump Organization to impersonate the once-again in-demand Las Vegas star. Gorch-as-Wayne successfully premiered his new act at the National Colorectal Surgeons Association Chron’s and Colitis Congress and the “great switch” was achieved. The rest, as they say, is history!


Who actually was it onstage at the National Organ Transplant Association Convention, 1967?

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The door is ajar.

What Would it Cost a Country to Leave the Euro? (WS)

[Le Pen] is campaigning on taking France out of the euro (after holding a referendum) and re-denominating the entire €2.4 trillion pile of French government debt into new franc. Then the government can just print the money it wants to spend. There are some complications with her plan, including that the diverse and bickering French political class will unite into a slick monolithic bloc against her during the second round. And if she still wins, her government will face that bloc in parliament. But hey. And now people are seriously thinking about it. Greece was on the verge of leaving the euro, but then within a millimeter of actually taking the step, it blinked and inched back from the precipice in the hot summer of 2015. And so for now still no one knows what the cost would be to leave…

[..] Now ECB President Mario Draghi is stumbling into the fray. “The euro is irrevocable,” he told the European Parliament on Monday, to counter the populist rejection of the euro. “This is the treaty,” he said. Which evoked memories of the good ol’ days of the sovereign debt crisis, when, to put an end to it in July 2012, Draghi said that the euro was “irreversible” and that the ECB was “ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro.” At the time, the Spanish 10-year yield was above 7% and the Italian 10-year yield was above 6%. So now, same tune, different scenario. It’s not a debt crisis. It’s just a question of whether or not it’s possible to leave the euro, and if yes, how much it would cost. And that question has already been raised officially.

On January 18, Draghi had sent a letter to European Union lawmakers Marco Valli and Marco Zanni, telling them: “If a country were to leave the Eurosystem, its national central bank’s claims on or liabilities to the ECB would need to be settled in full.” That was the opening – the IF. “If a country were to leave…” It meant that a country could leave! It was the first official admission that this was actually possible. It was just a matter of cost. That’s how Zani saw Draghi’s response. Bloomberg: “I wanted to bring up the issue of exit from the euro and how it can happen,” he said in an interview before the testimony. “Draghi has now clearly admitted that such an exit is possible and now there is need to have more clarity about the cost. I’m sure that in case of Italy’s exit from the euro, benefits exceed costs.”

Alas, in his testimony before the European Parliament, Draghi refused to put a price tag on leaving the euro. Valli asked him whether the “liabilities” Draghi had referred to that would “need to be settled in full” were the so-called Target2 imbalances. These are a result of payment settlements within the European System of Central Banks. They’d soared during the debt crisis to hundreds of billions of euros, a sign of the underlying financial tensions between debtor and creditor countries. But Draghi dodged the question: “I cannot answer a question that is based on hypotheses, on assumptions which are not foreseen” by the European treaties, he said. “What I could do is send you a written answer which compares our Target2 system with the Federal Reserve-based system.” Which was very helpful.

But even though he refused to put a price tag on leaving the euro, the whole exchange confirmed that it’s possible to leave the euro, though there is nothing in the treaties that mentions leaving the euro.

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Yanis is spot on right. The Greeks are now being sacrificed on the altar of incumbents afraid to lose elections. The insane narrative that Germans and Dutch ‘give’ billions to Greece persists. That says a lot about the press in these countries.

Varoufakis Accuses Creditors Of Going After Greece’s ‘Little People’ (Ind.)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has said that everyday life in Greece is unsustainable and that the country’s European creditors are going after the “little people” rather than “corrupt oligarchs”. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the 55-year old economist said that the country has been put on a fiscal path which makes everyday life “unsustainable” in Greece. “The German finance minister agrees that no Greek government, however reformist it might be, can sustain the current debt obligations of Greece,” he said. Earlier in the day, Wolfgang Schäuble told German broadcaster ARD that Greece must reform or quit the euro. “A country in desperate need of reform has been made unreformable by unsustainable macroeconomic policies,” Mr Varoufakis said.

He said that “instead of attacking the worst cases of corruption, for six years now the creditors have been after the little people, the small pharmacists, the very poor pensioners instead of going for the oligarchies”. Greece in 2010 was given a huge loan that Mr Varoufakis said was not designed to save the bankrupt country but to “cynically transfer huge banking losses from the books of the Franco German banks onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers in Europe”. Earlier this week, the IMF warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path, despite years of economic reform. The IMF has insisted on additional debt relief and reduced fiscal targets before it participates financially in Greece’s current bailout program. Germany, which faces national elections, has resisted such moves. Statistics agency ELSTAT said on Thursday that Greece’s jobless rate came in at 23% in November, unchanged from the previous month. But although the jobless rate has come down from record highs, it remains more than double the euro zone’s average of 9.8% in November.

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Why try anymore?

Greece Hopeful Of Imminent EU Debt Deal Despite German Warning (G.)

The Greek government has expressed hope of an imminent deal with its EU creditors, despite a warning from the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, that the country could cut its debts only by leaving the single currency. Athens is in a familiar stand-off with the German finance ministry as it seeks easier repayment terms on its €330bn debt pile, which the IMF has described as unsustainable and explosive. The IMF has so far declined to get involved in the latest Greek rescue effort, a three-year EU bailout worth €86bn set to run until August 2018. The fund says it will only join if Greece gets significant debt relief, although its board is split. Germany and the Netherlands, which both face elections this year, think the IMF’s involvement is crucial for the bailout plan to continue.

Tensions – and Greek borrowing costs – have risen in recent weeks, ahead of a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on 20 February, which is widely seen as the last moment to reach agreement before the eurozone election cycle. The Dutch go to the polls in March; French presidential elections follow in April-May and German elections in the autumn. George Katrougalos, Greece’s Europe minister, voiced confidence that a deal was within reach: “I am optimistic that we can have such an agreement before the Eurogroup of 20 February.” He told journalists in Brussels that Europe was not the problem. “If we had just to deal with the Europeans we would have already completed this review in December. All the delay is due to the ambivalence of the IMF to participate or not to participate.”

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“Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, argued that “Greece’s debt situation does not have to be cause for alarm”…

Greek Crisis Descends Into Blame Game (Tel.)

Greece is under mounting pressure to embark on a new wave of economic reforms, as its international creditors demand extra efforts to drag the country out of its latest crisis. At the same time Germany is facing fresh demands from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to write off some of the money it loaned to Greece in the most recent €86bn (£73bn) bailout. And the IMF has been forced to defend its dire predictions of permanent economic gloom as the Greek government rejects the IMF’s assessment of its reforms, public finances and economic performance. On top of that, the IMF itself is split, with a minority of directors pushing for extra spending cuts and tax hikes in Greece to try to improve its public finances. The IMF tried to address its internal splits, stressing that it wants debt relief for Greece combined with economic reforms, not austerity. It does still demand serious action, though – unless the economy picks up and debts are slashed, it has warned Greece’s debts are on an “explosive” path.

“Our strong preference is for a primary [Greek budget] surplus target of 1.5pc and that this should be accompanied by significant debt relief. We’ve referred to this as the ‘two legs’ of the programme that we think is required,” said Gerry RIce, the IMF’s spokesman. “We think this target, the 1.5, can be obtained by the policies envisaged by the current European Stability Mechanism programme – in short, the IMF is not asking for any more austerity for Greece.” That passes much of the pressure on to Germany and the other nations which have loaned Greece money, but are unwilling to write off the debt. Germany renewed the pressure on Greece to press ahead with more economic reforms. Its finance minister Wolfgang Schauble told a German TV station that the Lisbon Treaty prevents governments from writing off these debts.

Instead, he argued, Greece must continue reforming to make its economy more competitive. Meanwhile Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism, argued that “Greece’s debt situation does not have to be cause for alarm”. Writing in the Financial Times, he said that the IMF has failed to fully appreciate the amount of support on offer from other eurozone countries to Greece, largely in the form of very generous loans. “It is hard to overestimate the significance of this pledge, made by the finance ministers of the eurozone. Solidarity with Greece will continue,” he said. “We would not have lent this amount if we did not think we would get our money back,” he said, ruling out debt relief and backing more economic reforms.

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Beijing decides what bitcoin is.

China Bitcoin Exchanges Halt Withdrawals After PBOC Talks (BBG)

China’s three biggest bitcoin exchanges took steps to prevent withdrawals of the cryptocurrency amid pressure from the nation’s central bank to clamp down on capital outflows. BTC China subjected all bitcoin withdrawals to a 72-hour review, while Huobi and OKCoin suspended them completely, the three venues said in separate statements on Thursday. They all said the measures were in response to central bank requirements. Conversion to and from the yuan is not affected and the curbs will be dropped after updates to compliance systems, the exchanges said. The People’s Bank of China told nine bitcoin venues at a meeting in Beijing on Wednesday that it will close exchanges that violate rules on foreign exchange management, money laundering, and payment and settlement.

Chinese authorities are scrutinizing the cryptocurrency amid concerns it’s being used to spirit money out of the country, undermining official efforts to clamp down on capital outflows and prop up the yuan. Demand from investors in Asia’s largest economy, home to most of the world’s bitcoin trades, has fueled a 160% rally versus the dollar over the past year. Huobi and OKCoin said it will take about a month to upgrade systems in line with new PBOC guidelines. BTC China did not give a timing for when any upgrade would be completed. “The Chinese government is worried about capital flight,” said Arthur Hayes, a former market maker at Citigroup who now runs BitMEX, a bitcoin derivatives venue in Hong Kong. “Bitcoin is seen as another way to move money out of China, even though most people trade it for onshore capital appreciation and as another asset in their portfolio.”

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A long history of immgrant bans.

Where US Immigrants Have Come From Over Time (BI)

President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration may have reignited public debate, but Americans have long harbored anti-immigrant sentiments. One-third of Americans said in a 2016 Pew Research Center survey that immigrants are a “burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care,” and 38% say immigration should be decreased. On the flip side, 59% of Americans say immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” and either think immigration should stay at its present level or increase. Today, immigrants make up 13.5% of the US population — on par with the share in 1860, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The overall number of immigrants coming to the US peaked from 2000-05 at 5 million, and has been declining since then. Here are the major regions where immigrants entering the US have come from since 1820:

US immigrants were largely of European descent in the 1800s, and started coming from the Americas (largely Mexico) in the 1960s. The sharp decrease in the 1920s is due to Congress passing the Exclusion Act, which set limits on the number of immigrants who could enter the US, based on a quota system of the percentage of nationalities already in the country. Barely anyone from Asia could enter at all. Congress revised the law in 1952, and immigration started to tick up again.

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Wonderful story.

The World According to a Free-Range Short Seller (BBG)

Some of the most respected people in the investing industry say that, dating back to the 1980s, nobody has had a better nose for sniffing out fraud than the 56-year-old Cohodes. He’s exposed suspect accounting at a number of high-profile companies, including the Belgian speech-recognition software developer Lernout & Hauspie, which went bankrupt in 2001 after being valued at about $10 billion, and mortgage lender NovaStar Financial, where his efforts earned him a Harvard Business School case study published in 2013. “I would not want to be his adversary if I was still a criminal today,” says Sam Antar, who was sentenced to six months of house arrest and 1,200 hours of community service for cooking the books at New York consumer-electronics chain Crazy Eddie in one of the largest securities frauds unearthed in the 1980s. “A character like Marc”—the two crossed paths later in his life when both were focused on detecting fraud—“you stay away from.”

And that’s been relatively easy for at least part of the past eight years. In 2008 the hedge fund Cohodes worked at for more than two decades went out of business under controversial circumstances. He maintains that Goldman Sachs, its prime broker, closed it too hastily by making needless margin calls, a claim Goldman disputes. The fallout spurred a bout of what Cohodes likens to post-traumatic stress disorder. “What happened to me would put the average person under,” he says. He retreated to his farm, where he recuperated by spending his days delivering eggs to San Francisco, cheering on the Oakland Raiders, and traveling to see a friend’s rock band, Collective Soul. Besides, the vast majority of stocks were rising because of central bank stimulus, depriving him of ideal opportunities as a short seller.

Now Cohodes is back. His time among the horses and chickens—outside the money management industry—may even have helped him return to the top of his game. Slimmed down and fighting fit, he’s been winning big on a series of short bets against Canadian companies since he made his comeback. Cohodes says he’s been betting against embattled Valeant Pharmaceuticals International since the summer of 2015. Around the same time, he began shorting another debt-laden Canadian drugmaker, Concordia International, which he calls “the poor man’s Valeant.” Both stocks lost most of their value last year. Cohodes says he’s committed to exposing companies that he believes may be ripping off ordinary, unwary investors—“Joe Six-pack,” as he puts it. “Legitimate companies don’t know who the f— I am. And they don’t care,” Cohodes says. “The bad guys? They know. And they do care.”

And he’ll go to great lengths to chase them down: dumpster-diving to find clues of wrongdoing, lambasting enemies on Twitter (where his rambunctious character is on full display), and hotfooting it across Las Vegas to check whether new business offices reported by NovaStar were real. (They weren’t, according to Cohodes; one was a private home, another a massage parlor.) “I’m a pretty driven guy,” he says.

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Still trying to find a good report on this, it’s frustrating. One detail: radiation levels are measured at a certain distance from the source, having some suggest real levels at that source could be 5000 sievert.

Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels (Fox)

The radiation levels at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are now at “unimaginable” levels. Adam Housley, who reported from the area in 2011 following the catastrophic triple-meltdown, said this morning that new fuel leaks have been discovered. He said the radiation levels – as high as 530 sieverts per hour – are now the highest they’ve been since 2011 when a tsunami hit the coastal reactor. “To put this in very simple terms. Four sieverts can kill a handful of people,” he explained.

He said that critics, including the U.S. military in 2011, have long questioned whether Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and officials have been providing accurate information on the severity of the radiation. TEPCO maintains that the radiation is confined to the site and not a risk to the public. It’s expected to take at least $300 billion and four decades to fix it. Housley said small levels of radiation are still being detected off the coasts of California and Oregon and scientists fear it could get worse. “The worry is with 300 tons of radioactive water going into the Pacific every day, what is that doing to the Pacific Ocean?” said Housley. He added that critics are now questioning whether the radiation has been this severe all along.

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Keep paying attention.

Ground-Breaking Research Uncovers New Risks of GMOs, Glyphosate (NGR)

Within just a few weeks, two studies were published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports that cast new doubts on the safety of genetically modified foods and glyphosate herbicide. The first found that a genetically modified corn, NK 603, was not substantially equivalent to a non-GMO counterpart, which is contrary to claims of GMO proponents. The second study found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, can cause a serious liver disease at doses thousands of times lower than that allowed by law. Dr. Michael Antoniou, Head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King’s College London in the United Kingdom, led the ground-breaking research.

The main focus of research within Dr. Antoniou’s group is the study of the molecular mechanisms of the regulation of gene function. He has used these discoveries to develop efficient gene expression systems for efficacious and safe biotechnological applications, including gene therapy. More recently, Dr. Antoniou has expanded his research program to include using molecular profiling “omics” methods in evaluating the safety of foods derived from GMO crops, low dose exposure from their associated pesticides, and other chemical pollutants. Dr. Antoniou is also a co-author of GMO Myths and Truths, an evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety of genetically modified crops and foods.

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Too many parties involved see misery as being a positive for their goals. Very few aim at actually solving the problems.

‘No One Accepts Responsibility’: Thirteen Refugees Dead In Greece (IRR)

The IRR has been trying to ascertain the circumstances in which thirteen refugees and migrants died since April 2016 in Greece, with six of these deaths occurring in hotspots. In only one of these cases are we in a position to provide the full name of the deceased; the only available identifier is nationality. At least six of the dead were refugees from Syria, including Syrian Kurds, three were from Afghanistan. Five of the dead were living at the hotspot at Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos where over 3,000 refugees are accommodated, well above stated capacity. Those who died here did so because the heaters and gas canisters they had obtained in order to keep warm or cook food were faulty, or used in dangerous situations. An Iraqi man died of a cardiac arrest at a hotspot in Samos (refugee population around 1,800 in a place designed for less than half that number).

Since the Idomeni makeshift migrant camp close to the Macedonian border was cleared by police in May 2016, sub-standard government refugee camps lacking basic amenities have been set up, with three of the dead living in such facilities around Thessaloniki. The oldest to die was a grandmother of 66, the youngest a two-month-old baby. There are three children amongst the dead. The remaining two deaths we have recorded were of men who died of hypothermia after having crossed from Turkey via the river Evros. It’s likely that they made the perilous crossing in order to avoid being detained in the hotspots on the Greek islands. Autopsy results are shrouded in secrecy. Nevertheless, the facts speak for themselves. Overcrowded, unprotected and dangerous conditions are all symptoms of institutional neglect. The simple truth is that the securitisation of asylum policy has come at the expense of refugee protection, as well as basic human rights.

[..] The deaths that have occurred over the winter have at least been reported in the media, partly because human rights defenders, wary of the positive communication strategy of the UNHCR and the EU, issued a number of press releases. Even so, officialdom does not appear over- anxious to investigate. What is particularly worrying is the secrecy shrouding autopsy results, which, if left unchallenged, will ensure that completely avoidable deaths such as these become the new normal. Philippa Kempson, of the Eftalou/ Molovos refugee support group on Lesbos, told IRR News of her fear that the ‘deaths could be subject to cover ups’, and her particular concern that ‘the “accidental” deaths in Moria still do not have a conclusive cause of death’. She also drew attention to the escalation in suicide attempts, particularly amongst unaccompanied minors, at Moria. ‘No one accepts responsibility for what is going on, just a circle of blame,’ she said.

In fact, evading accountability is hard-wired into the way refugee reception is organised in Greece, as there is no central authority responsible for the camps’ administration but a number of actors – a mixture of EU officials, the Greek army and other Greek institutions, the Red Cross and the UNHCR. This means that when anything goes wrong, the various actors end up blaming each other – something academics refer to as a process of distanciation, in which complex chains of responsibility make it difficult to connect cause (ie, government policies) with effect (ie, border-related deaths). Guardian journalist Patrick Kingsley made a similar point in his recent exposé of how a multi-million pound fund administered by the EU’s aid department ECHO, implemented in Greece by UNHCR and aimed at creating adequate facilities to protect refugees from the winter, has been mishandled. Kingsley points out that as ‘no single actor has overall control of all funding and management decisions in the camps, this has allowed most parties to distance themselves from blame’.

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Oct 032016
 
 October 3, 2016  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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NPC Congressman John C. Schafer of Wisconsin 1924

Is the U.S. Dollar Set to Soar? (CH Smith)
Pound Nears Three-Decade Low as May Sets Date for Brexit Trigger (BBG)
China Seeking To Succeed Where Japan Failed In Reserve Currency Push (BBG)
Deutsche Bank Races Against Time To Reach US Settlement (R.)
German Economy Minister Accuses Deutsche Bank Of Hypocrisy (Pol.)
It’s Not Just Deutsche. European Banking is Utterly Broken (Tel.)
Kuroda Blamed For Abenomics Failure, Ruins Chance Of Second Term (BBG)
BOJ Deploys US World War II Tactics That Failed to Spur Prices (BBG)
Canada’s Big Bet on Stimulus Draws Global Attention (WSJ)
Jail Wells Fargo CEO and Chairman John Stumpf! (Nomi Prins)
The Government Is Turning the Entire United States into a Debtors Prison (TAM)
Fukushima Has Contaminated The Entire Pacific Ocean, Going To Get Worse (TA)
Hungary’s Refugee Referendum Not Valid After Voters Stay Away (G.)
Vulnerable Refugees To Be Moved From ‘Squalid’ Camps On Greek Islands (G.)
Germany Wants Migrants Sent Back To Greece, Turkey (AFP)

 

 

As the Automatic Earth has said for many years, he USD won’t be the first to go. It’s about dollar-denominated debt.

Is the U.S. Dollar Set to Soar? (CH Smith)

Which blocs/nations are most likely to face banking/liquidity crises in the next year? Hating the U.S. dollar offers the same rewards as hating a dominant sports team: it feels righteous to root for the underdogs, but it’s generally unwise to let that enthusiasm become the basis of one’s bets. Personally, I favor the emergence of non-state reserve currencies, for example, blockchain crypto-currencies or precious-metal-backed private currencies – currencies which can’t be devalued by self-serving central banks or the private elites that control them. But if we set aside our personal preferences and look at fundamentals and charts, odds seem to favor the U.S. dollar making a major move higher in the next few months. Let’s start with a national index of finance-power which combines GDP, military spending, banking, foreign direct investment (FDI) and foreign exchange:

The key take-away is the preponderance of the U.S. and the Anglo-American alliance, a.k.a. the special relationship of Great Britain and the U.S. The U.S. exceeds Germany, China, Japan and France combined, and the U.S.-Great Britain alliance is roughly equal to the next 10 nations: the four listed above plus The Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Canada and the Russian Federation. We don’t have to like it, but as investors it’s highly risky to act like it isn’t reality.

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If the whining about Beautiful Brexit would finally stop in the UK, maybe they could do something constructive.

Pound Nears Three-Decade Low as May Sets Date for Brexit Trigger (BBG)

The pound approached the three-decade low set in the days following the Brexit referendum after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said she’ll begin the process of withdrawal from the European Union in the first quarter of 2017. Sterling dropped to the weakest level since July 6, the day it reached its 31-year low of $1.2798, and slipped against all of its 31 major peers. Hedge-fund data showed speculators raised bets that the currency would fall. May told delegates at her Conservative Party’s annual conference that she’ll curb immigration, stoking speculation the nation is headed toward a so-called hard Brexit. Stocks of U.K. exporters rose, boosted by the weaker currency. “We’re back to the Brexit risks,” said Vishnu Varathan, a senior economist at Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore. “Sterling has taken a bit of a knock.”

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Let’s see large-scale global issuance of debt in yuan. Then we talk.

China Seeking To Succeed Where Japan Failed In Reserve Currency Push (BBG)

Like the yuan, the yen’s march toward liberalization was gradual and marked with ambivalence. Under the Bretton Woods system after World War II, the Japanese currency was fixed at 360 a dollar, before a trading band was introduced in 1959 to make it slightly more flexible. For three decades, all capital flows except those explicitly permitted were banned, making it easier for the government to achieve policy goals. It wasn’t until 1998 that approval or notification requirements for financial transactions and outward direct investments were abolished. The push to internationalize the yen initially came from the U.S., which wanted greater global use to fuel appreciation and reduce Japan’s trade surplus with America. China’s situation now isn’t dissimilar.

Having thrived on an economic model of closed borders and accumulation of reserves for decades, its capital account is still closed, individuals’ foreign-exchange conversions are capped and inter-country money flows occur mainly through specific programs. Policy makers have tightened controls on outflows in the past year after the yuan’s August 2015 devaluation exacerbated depreciation pressures. The currency was little changed Friday at 6.68 per dollar. Lowering the hurdles to create a true freely traded currency might risk a flight of capital during times of weakness, a concept China doesn’t always seem comfortable with. “Everyone wants this thing called ‘exorbitant privilege,’ but if you try to give it to them, they get furious and they tell you to stop,” said Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University.

“Countries like China that are running huge surpluses because of insufficient domestic demand – basically they are creating the role of the dollar as the dominant reserve currency.” The term “exorbitant privilege,” coined by former French finance minister Valery Giscard D’Estaing in 1965, referred to the benefits the U.S. received for the dollar’s status. Daniel McDowell, a Syracuse University political science assistant professor who studies international finance, made the point that the appeal of a nation’s sovereign debt market plays a key role in a currency’s internationalization. The yen never became a major reserve currency because its government bonds weren’t as attractive or as plentiful as the U.S., he said.

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Everyone’s just trying to save face by now. Merkel, Obama, DOJ.

Deutsche Bank Races Against Time To Reach US Settlement (R.)

Deutsche Bank is throwing its energies into reaching a settlement before next month’s presidential election with U.S. authorities demanding a fine of up to $14 billion for mis-selling mortgage-backed securities. The threat of such a large fine has pushed Deutsche shares to record lows, and a cut-price settlement is urgently needed to reverse the trend and help to restore confidence in Germany’s largest lender. Its shares won’t trade in Germany on Monday because of a public holiday, but they will resume trading on the U.S. market later on Monday. A media report late on Friday that Deutsche and the U.S. Department of Justice were close to agreeing on a settlement of $5.4 billion lifted the stock 6% higher, but that report has not been confirmed.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the bank’s talks with the DOJ were continuing. Details are in flux, with no deal yet presented to senior decision makers for approval on either side, the paper said, citing people familiar with the matter. “Clearly, so long as a fine of this order of magnitude ($14 billion) is an even remote possibility, markets worry,” UniCredit Chief Economist Erik F. Nielsen wrote in a note on Sunday. Ratings agency Moody’s said it would be positive for bondholders if the lender could settle for around $3.1 billion, while a fine as high as $5.7 billion would dent 2016 profitability but not significantly impair the bank’s capital position.

[..] The Bild am Sonntag newspaper wrote on Sunday that Deutsche’s chairman had informed Berlin just before it disclosed the potential $14 billion fine but had not asked for help. The same newspaper quoted the president of the Bavarian Finance Centre, Wolfgang Gerke, as saying that the German government should step in and buy a 20% stake in the bank before its value fell any further. The group represents financial services companies in the southern German state. “Fundamentally, I’m against state interventions,” he told the newspaper, but added that in this case a government stake would be “a signal that could turn the whole market”.

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Making Merkel’s day, no doubt. It wasn’t nearly hard enough for her yet.

German Economy Minister Accuses Deutsche Bank Of Hypocrisy (Pol.)

Germany’s economy minister has highlighted the irony of Deutsche Bank blaming speculators for its falling share price when the bank itself has built its business on speculation. “I did not know if I should laugh or get angry that the bank that made speculation a business model is now saying it is a victim of speculators,” Sigmar Gabriel told journalists on a plane to Tehran on Sunday, Der Spiegel reported. The threat of a $14 billion fine by U.S. authorities over the sales of mortgage-backed securities before the financial crisis sent Deutsche Bank’s shares to new lows this month. Gabriel was responding to a letter sent by Deutsche Bank CEO John Cryan to staff Friday blaming “new rumors” for causing the plunge in share prices and saying “forces” wanted to weaken trust in Germany’s largest bank.

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“US banks won’t be nearly as badly hit by the measure as their European counterparts, which is no doubt why their regulators are gunning so hard for it.”

It’s Not Just Deutsche. European Banking is Utterly Broken (Tel.)

[..] as is evident from the events of the last week, the banking crisis itself is far from over. Nine years after the initial eruption, it still rumbles on, with the epicentre now moved from the US to Europe. Only it’s not the same crisis; in large measure, it is completely different. Today’s mayhem is not so much the result of reckless bankers and asleep at the wheel regulators, but rather of the public policy response to the last crisis itself – that is to say, regulatory over-reach and central bank money printing. All eyes are naturally focused on the specific problems of Deutsche Bank, but Deutsche is in truth no more than the canary in the coal mine. As Tidjane Thiam, chief executive of Credit Suisse, observed last week, as an entire sector, European banks are still “not really investable”.

Much the same disease as afflicts Continental banks also applies to British counterparts, including RBS, Barclays and even Lloyds. All are fast being enveloped by a perfect storm of negatives, and this time around, it is substantially the policymakers and law enforcers who are to blame. There are essentially four factors at work here. First, it’s virtually impossible to make money out of banking in a zero interest rate environment, frustrating attempts to rebuild capital buffers after the bad debt write-downs of recent years. In circumstances where central banks have bought right along the yield curve, flattening it down to virtually nothing, the margin from maturity transformation all but disappears. Much the same thing has happened to the once lucrative returns of investment banking.

Even Goldman Sachs has been forced to admit that it is struggling to cover its cost of capital. Second is ever tougher international capital requirements, the latest instalment of which is dubbed Basel IV. The renewed crackdown is understandable, given what occurred nine years ago, but also ill-conceived and discriminatory, unfairly penalising European banks against their American counterparts. The technical details need not concern us too much here, suffice it to say that in order to stop banks gaming the system, regulators are attempting to impose a so-called “output floor”, tightly limiting the scope for easier capital requirements on risk weighted assets. US banks won’t be nearly as badly hit by the measure as their European counterparts, which is no doubt why their regulators are gunning so hard for it.

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That is so convenient for Abe…

Kuroda Blamed For Abenomics Failure, Ruins Chance Of Second Term (BBG)

Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has ruined his chances of getting a second full term, according to Nobuyuki Nakahara, who has advised the prime minister on the economy and was an intellectual father of the Bank of Japan’s first run at quantitative easing in 2001. The central bank’s switch to yield-curve targeting compounds its earlier error of adopting negative interest rates and is a disappointing move away from monetary-base expansion, Nakahara, 81, said in an interview on Sept. 30. In a stinging attack on the BOJ’s recent actions, he said the decision to conduct a comprehensive review of monetary policy had invited defeat on reflationist efforts and would raise questions about Abenomics as a whole.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic program consists of three so-called arrows: the first being aggressive monetary policy, the second fiscal spending and the third structural reform. The central bank’s program, which began when Abe tapped Kuroda for the BOJ role in early 2013, has been the most prominent and highly debated aspect of Abenomics. “They are trying to clean up the mess of negative rates. It’s impossible to do a stupid thing like keeping the yield curve under government control,” said Nakahara. “They changed the regime to rates from quantity, meaning those who support quantitative easing were defeated. Reflationists on the BOJ policy board lost. An exit from deflation is going to be far away.”

After being greeted with fanfare when he took the helm, Kuroda, 71, now faces a reversal of fortunes on multiple fronts. Markets have moved against him and critics are growing more vocal. The extended honeymoon he enjoyed with a rising stock market and falling yen are long gone and his 2% inflation goal is nowhere in sight. Kuroda has less than 19 months to go in his term. While no BOJ governor has been tapped for a second five-year term since the 1960s, Kuroda’s central role in Abenomics has led to speculation that he may be different.

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If you don’t know what deflation is, you can’t fight it.

BOJ Deploys US World War II Tactics That Failed to Spur Prices (BBG)

In deciding to target bond yields, Japan is deploying a monetary strategy to combat deflation used by its former enemy in World War II. The trouble is that America’s experience back then suggests that the tactics probably won’t work on their own. Economists who have studied that period say that it was increased government spending, along with heightened inflation expectations, that eventually led to a stepped-up pace of U.S. price increases more than a half century ago. Once inflation was humming along, the Federal Reserve’s strategy of pegging long-term interest rates did nothing to put a lid on it, which is why the central bank pushed for a 1951 agreement with the Treasury to abandon the long-term yield fix.

If inflation expectations are contained, simply targeting yields won’t necessarily spur price pressures, according to Barry Eichengreen, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who co-wrote a paper on U.S. monetary and financial policy from 1945 to 1951. But if people already expect faster inflation, then the tool can help promote it. That’s not a helpful conclusion for Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and his colleagues, who last month switched the focus of their monetary stimulus to controlling yields across a range of maturities, after simply expanding the monetary base through debt purchases. It set the target for the yield on the 10-year Japanese government bond at around 0%.

Another piece of their new framework: trying to shock inflation expectations higher by pledging to keep stimulus in place until prices are rising even faster than their 2% target. Their struggle is to overturn subdued household and corporate expectations that have been set hard by decades of deflation. For the Fed in World War II and its aftermath, capping long-term yields at 2.5% had nothing to do with inflation per se. Its goal was to limit the government’s borrowing costs and so support the war effort. Inflation was held down by price controls during the war, then spiked higher after hostilities ended, hitting a high of 19.7% in 1947. The surge proved short-lived, as an economic recession that began late the following year produced a return of the deflation that had plagued the country during the Great Depression.

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And if successful, they’re all going to do it? Oops, too late.

Canada’s Big Bet on Stimulus Draws Global Attention (WSJ)

In the global struggle to boost growth, a Canadian experiment in fiscal spending is providing a test case for some of the world’s biggest economies. PM Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government unveiled a plan last spring to spend heavily on tax benefits and infrastructure, with $120 billion CAD (US$91.39 billion) going into infrastructure over the next decade, including about one-tenth of that on short-term projects. It’s a bold bet to inject life into an economy struggling with a rout in commodity prices, especially crude oil, which was once Canada’s top export. It also highlights the limits of monetary stimulus, since the country’s central bank cut rates twice in 2015, to 0.5%, and has acknowledged—as its counterparts around the world have—that monetary policy becomes a less powerful tool when interest rates are already low.

Mr. Trudeau’s big infrastructure spend will be largely financed by a bigger deficit, which is projected to reach C$29.4 billion this fiscal year, or about 1.5% of GDP. That’s a sharp turn from the balanced-budget promise of his Conservative predecessor, who hewed the austerity path Mr. Trudeau is now shunning. Canada’s efforts stand in contrast to many of the world’s economies, whose finance ministers and central bankers meet this week in Washington for semiannual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Some—like Australia, also hit by the commodity rout—are trying to use coordinated fiscal and monetary policy. But larger advanced economies are holding firm to tight budgets, making Canada’s embrace of debt-fueled stimulus unusual.

“The eyes of the world—the economists—will be watching to see how Canada performs,” said Martin Eichenbaum, a Northwestern University economist who is also an international fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute, a Canadian think tank. “We’re all watching to see: Will they get it right?”

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Yeah. Not going to happen….

Jail Wells Fargo CEO and Chairman John Stumpf! (Nomi Prins)

Consider this. You’re a mob boss. You run a $1.8 trillion network of businesses across state lines and continents. Many of these are legit, but a select subset of them – not so much. Every so often the illegal components flare up; some Washington commission launches an investigation, someone blows a whistle, people lose their homes, a pack of investors sheds a ton of money and lawsuits fly. You get reprimanded and have to pay lawyers and accountants overtime to deal with the paperwork. You settle on fines with the government — $10 billion worth. Then you keep going with no one the wiser, no wings clipped, no hard time. After all of that — you say you’re sorry, forfeit some money you didn’t even make yet, and (maybe) resign with boatloads more of it.

This is what we’re dealing with regarding Wells Fargo CEO and Chairman John Stumpf. He could be a really nice guy and wears some lovely tailored attire. (Hell, even Al Capone cared about proper milk expiration date labels.) But he’s also a crook, plain and simple. He’s cheated shareholders and taxpayers and customers, and used a stockpile of FDIC-backed deposits as fodder for illicit activities that have been repeatedly investigated and fined. And he made hundreds of millions of dollars doing it. This is not conjecture, nor sour grapes from the nonmillionaire swath of the population. It’s based on documented facts. But by no means is Wells the only guilty bank on the street, or Stumpf the only “apologetic” CEO. Apologies are cheap, and so is money when it’s a small piece of a much larger pie.

Somewhere, Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein are sighing in relief that this time it was Stumpf and not one of them, the other two of the three (of the Big Six bank) CEOs left standing since the crisis. These are just some highlights of those nearly $10 billion in total fines Wells agreed to, rather than take matters to court, since 2009. The sheer sum of those fines reveal a recidivist attitude toward ethics, regulations and the law. The associated transgressions were all committed under Stumpf’s leadership. There’s no way a regular citizen committing a fraction of a fraction of anything like these wouldn’t be in jail. Complexity is no excuse for criminal behavior. Nor is calling these practices “abuses” rather than felony fraud for misleading, at the very least, investors and shareholders in a publicly traded mega-company that violates securities laws.

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… but if not the Wells Fargo CEO, at least some people will go to jail…

The Government Is Turning the Entire United States into a Debtors Prison (TAM)

Since the United States was founded, citizenship has represented a safe haven from oppressive regimes around the world. By preserving the principles of small government and free markets, those who were willing to work hard found success, and America became a magnet for innovation. But as the U.S. continues to erode personal and economic freedom, more people than ever before are handing over their U.S. passports to seek better opportunities abroad. The staggering amount of debt held by the American empire ensures the public will be working it off for generations to come. The government has already begun its campaign to make it more difficult to leave the country, and it has also begun to crack down on the finances of the eight million Americans living abroad.

Regardless of whether you’re a millionaire with multiple foreign bank accounts or a recent college graduate with a boatload of debt, the status of being a United States citizen brings with it a burden that will only grow heavier over time. Since 2008, the number of individuals giving up their citizenship has increased by almost 560%, setting new records each of the past three years. Some of these expats are motivated by the extra tax load paid when working abroad, while others are trying to avoid student loan debt. Others have just had enough of the encroaching police state. Every taxpayer left in the country now owes more than $149,000 of the national debt, so it’s no surprise the tide is beginning to turn. By hook or by crook, in the coming years, citizens will be fleeced of that money through higher taxes, savings that are inflated away, and an overall drop in their standard of living.

Many can see the writing on the wall and have become determined to protect themselves from the years of economic repression coming down the pipe. Draconian steps have already been taken to slow the rate of expatriation. For one, the IRS has broadened its reach into foreign bank accounts through the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Through agreements with over 100 nations, the law is able to require all financial institutions abroad to report the account details of any American customers they have. With access to this new information, the IRS can revoke the passports of potential tax evaders and hinder their ability to travel using yet another additional power the agency was granted last year.

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The gift that keeps on contaminating.

Fukushima Has Contaminated The Entire Pacific Ocean, Going To Get Worse (TA)

What was the most dangerous nuclear disaster in world history? Most people would say the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, but they’d be wrong. In 2011, an earthquake, believed to be an aftershock of the 2010 earthquake in Chile, created a tsunami that caused a meltdown at the TEPCO nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. Three nuclear reactors melted down and what happened next was the largest release of radiation into the water in the history of the world. Over the next three months, radioactive chemicals, some in even greater quantities than Chernobyl, leaked into the Pacific Ocean. However, the numbers may actually be much higher as Japanese official estimates have been proven by several scientists to be flawed in recent years.

If that weren’t bad enough, Fukushima continues to leak an astounding 300 tons of radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean every day. It will continue do so indefinitely as the source of the leak cannot be sealed as it is inaccessible to both humans and robots due to extremely high temperatures. It should come as no surprise, then, that Fukushima has contaminated the entire Pacific Ocean in just five years. This could easily be the worst environmental disaster in human history and it is almost never talked about by politicians, establishment scientists, or the news. It is interesting to note that TEPCO is a subsidiary partner with General Electric (also known as GE), one of the largest companies in the world, which has considerable control over numerous news corporations and politicians alike.

Could this possibly explain the lack of news coverage Fukushima has received in the last five years? There is also evidence that GE knew about the poor condition of the Fukushima reactors for decades and did nothing. This led 1,400 Japanese citizens to sue GE for their role in the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Even if we can’t see the radiation itself, some parts of North America’s western coast have been feeling the effects for years. Not long after Fukushima, fish in Canada began bleeding from their gills, mouths, and eyeballs. This “disease” has been ignored by the government and has decimated native fish populations, including the North Pacific herring. Elsewhere in Western Canada, independent scientists have measured a 300% increase in the level of radiation.

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It won’t stop Orban.

Hungary’s Refugee Referendum Not Valid After Voters Stay Away (G.)

The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has failed to convince a majority of his population to vote in a referendum on closing the door to refugees, rendering the result invalid and undermining his campaign for a cultural counter-revolution within the European Union. More than 98% of participants in Sunday’s referendum sided with Orbán by voting against the admission of refugees to Hungary, allowing him to claim an “outstanding” victory. But more than half of the electorate stayed at home, rendering the process constitutionally null and void.

Orbán himself put a positive spin on the low turnout. He argued that while “a valid [referendum] is always better than an invalid [referendum]” the extremely high proportion of no-voters still gave him a mandate to go to Brussels next week “to ensure that we should not be forced to accept in Hungary people we don’t want to live with”. He argued that the poll would encourage a wave of similar votes across the EU. “We are proud that we are the first,” he said.

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NOTE: Less than 2 weeks ago, the EU refused Greece permission to move the refugees to the mainland, because they might try to travel north.

“Athens will be overwhelmed, [as will] the mainland, people will be forced to live in fields, there will be scenes we’ll never have imagined.”

Vulnerable Refugees To Be Moved From ‘Squalid’ Camps On Greek Islands (G.)

Greece is poised to transfer thousands of refugees from overcrowded camps on its Aegean islands to the mainland amid escalating tensions in the facilities and protests from irate locals. The government said unaccompanied minors, the elderly and infirm would be among the first to be moved as concerns mounted over the future of a landmark EU-Turkey deal to stem migrant flows. “The situation on the islands is difficult and needs to be relieved,” said deputy minister for European affairs Nikos Xydakis. “Accommodation on the mainland will be more suitable. We will start with transfers of those who are most vulnerable, always in the sphere of implementing and protecting the EU-Turkey agreement.”

The operation, expected to be put into motion this week, came as Ankara warned the pact would not hold if Brussels failed to honour its pledge to allow Turks visa-free travel to the bloc. In a fiery speech before the newly reconvened parliament at the weekend, Turkish president Erdogan gave his clearest signal yet that the six-month-old agreement was in danger of collapse because of slow progress over visa liberalisation. [..] Refugee flows, although rising again, have dropped by 90% since the deal was signed. [..] Western diplomats in the Greek capital raised the spectre of chaos if the agreement collapsed. “If it does, there will be an influx of a million or more and this country is totally unprepared,” one European ambassador confided. “Athens will be overwhelmed, [as will] the mainland, people will be forced to live in fields, there will be scenes we’ll never have imagined.”

[..] Acknowledging that camp conditions were far from ideal, Xydakis blamed the backlog in asylum applications on the EU’s failure to dispatch promised staff and push ahead with an agreed relocation scheme to other parts of the continent. “We were promised 400 experts in asylum procedures but so far only have around 29 on the islands. We are continuing to recruit and look for more staff but it is not easy,” he said. “The deal is not only in the hands of Turkey but Europe … some EU states are not respecting but neglecting their responsibilities.”

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To reiterate what I said yesterday on this topic:

“It was Germany that last year declared Dublin null and void. They will say that was only temporaray, but regulations like this are not light switches that selected parties can flick on and off when it suits them.

What happens now is quite simply that both the refugees and Greece are the victims of Angela Merkel’s falling poll numbers. And that is insane. It’s cattle trade. Athens should take Berlin to court over this.

Greece is already little more than a greatly impoverished holding pen for the unwanted, and it threatens to fall much deeper into the trap. That’s why the Automatic Earth effort to support the poorest people is not just still needed, but more now than ever. We will soon start a new campaign to that end. In the meantime, please do continue to donate through our Paypal widget in amounts ending in $.99 or $.37.”

Germany Wants Migrants Sent Back To Greece, Turkey (AFP)

Germany called Sunday for asylum seekers who entered the European Union via Greece to be forced to return there, while also urging Athens to send more migrants back to Turkey. In an interview with a Greek daily, German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said he wants to reinstate EU rules which oblige asylum seekers to be sent back to Greece as the first EU country they reached. “I would like the Dublin convention to be applied again… we will take up discussions on this in a meeting with (EU) interior ministers” later in October, he told the Greek daily Kathimerini. The Dublin accord gives responsibility for asylum seekers’ application to the first country they reach – which put Greece on the frontline of more than a million migrants who arrived in the EU last year.

The accord also says asylum seekers should be sent back to the first country they arrived in if they subsequently reach another EU state before their case is examined. A huge proportion of the migrants ended up in Germany. But this clause was suspended for Greece in 2011 after the country lost an EU legal complaint which condemned the mistreatment of migrants seeking international protection. “Since then, the EU has provided substantial support, not only financially,” to Greece to improve its asylum seeker procedures, the German minister said. In an interview on German television Sunday evening, De Maiziere also criticised Athens for failing to fully implement an EU agreement with Turkey to return migrants there.

The EU reached a deal with Turkey in March to stop the influx to the Greek islands in return for financial aid and eased visa conditions for its citizens. But the deal has looked shaky in the wake of a coup attempt in Turkey in July. “Greece must carry out more expulsions,” he told the ARD television station.

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Sep 082016
 
 September 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 8 2016
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Harris&Ewing The Post Office building in Washington DC 1911

US Recession Jitters Stoke Fears of Impotent Fed and Fiscal Paralysis (AEP)
One In Six Prime-Age American Men Has No Job (NPR)
GDP – Even Less Than Meets The Eye (720 Global)
It Won’t Be Long Now – The End Game Of Central Banking Is Nigh (Stockman)
China’s $1 Trillion Makeover Of Bloated SOEs Attracts Skeptics (BBG)
China’s Massive Infrastructure Investment Is A Model To Avoid (MW)
P2P Lenders Push Chinese Students To Borrow At Exorbitant Rates (BBG)
Collapse Of Hanjin Leaves $14 Billion Worth Of Goods Adrift (BBG)
EU Regulators: Bad Loans Are Systemic Challenge for European Banks (BBG)
America’s Quiet War on Cash (TAM)
FBI Records on Financial Crisis Requested by U.S. Lawmaker (BBG)
Clinton Foundation: False Philanthropy (Ortel)
Former Japan PM Accuses Abe Of Lying Over Fukushima (G.)

 

 

Picture of failure.

US Recession Jitters Stoke Fears of Impotent Fed and Fiscal Paralysis (AEP)

An ominous paper by the US Federal Reserve has become the hottest document in high finance. It was intended to reassure us that the world’s hegemonic central bank still has ample firepower to overcome the next downturn. But the author was too honest. He has instead set off an agitated debate, and rattled a lot of nerves. David Reifschneider’s analysis – ‘Gauging the Ability of the FOMC to Respond to Future Recessions’ – more or less concedes that the Fed has run out of heavy ammunition. The Federal Open Market Committee had to cut interest rates by an average of 550 basis points over the last nine recessions in order to break the fall and stabilize the economy. It could not possibly do so right now, or next year, or the year after.

QE in its current form cannot compensate, and nor can forward guidance. They are largely exhausted in any case. “One cannot rule out the possibility that there could be circumstances in the future in which the ability of the FOMC to provide the desired degree of accommodation using these tools would be strained,” he wrote. This admission is painfully topical as a plethora of data suggest that the US economy may have hit a brick wall in August. The ISM gauge of manufacturing plunged below the boom-bust line to 49.4, and the services index dropped to a six-year low, with new orders crashing nine points. My own tentative view is that these ISM readings are rogue surveys. The Atlanta Fed’s ‘GDPNow’ tracker points to robust US growth of 3.6pc in the third quarter. The New York Fed version is coming in at 2.8pc. 

Yet the US expansion is already long in the tooth after 87 months, and late-cycle chemistry is notoriously unpredictable. Warning signs certainly abound. Corporate profits have been slipping for six quarters, the typical precursor to an abrupt slump in business spending. “The only thing keeping the US out of recession is the US consumer. If consumption stalls then we really are in trouble,” says Albert Edwards from Societe Generale. I am willing to bet against him for now. The M1 money supply – often a good leading indicator – has picked up after a weak patch earlier this year and is now surging at a rate of 10.1pc. This pace would normally signal burst of torrid growth a few months later. It is in stark contrast to the monetary contraction before the Lehman crisis.

My presumption is that the day of reckoning has been pushed well into 2017, but in the dead of the night I have a horrible sweaty feeling that Mr Edwards may be right. It is not a time to be chasing stock markets already at vertiginous levels. The Reifschneider paper argues that the Fed can probably muddle through, so long as it succeeds in pushing interest rates back up to 3pc or so before the next recession hits. Even then it might have to launch a further $4 trillion of QE and stretch its balance sheet to a once unthinkable $8.5 trillion.

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” In the 1960s, nearly 100% of men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked..”

One In Six Prime-Age American Men Has No Job (NPR)

At 4.9%, the nation’s unemployment rate is half of what it was at the height of the Great Recession. But that number hides a big problem: Millions of men in their prime working years have dropped out of the workforce — meaning they aren’t working or even looking for a job. It’s a trend that’s held true for decades and has economists puzzled. In the 1960s, nearly 100% of men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. That’s fallen over the decades. In a recent report, President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers said 83% of men in the prime working ages of 25-54 who were not in the labor force had not worked in the previous year. So, essentially, 10 million men are missing from the workforce.

“One in six prime-age guys has no job; it’s kind of worse than it was in the depression in 1940,” says Nicholas Eberstadt, an economic and demographic researcher at American Enterprise Institute who wrote the book Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis. He says these men aren’t even counted among the jobless, because they aren’t seeking work. Eberstadt says little is known about the missing men. But there are factors that make men less likely to be in the labor force — a lack of college degree, being single, or being black. So, why are men leaving? And what are they doing instead?

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“GDP as most commonly used can be a flawed measurement if one tries to infer that the size or growth of economic activity is well correlated to the prosperity of its people..”

GDP – Even Less Than Meets The Eye (720 Global)

The most common statistic used to measure the size and growth rate of a nation’s economy is Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, GDP as most commonly used can be a flawed measurement if one tries to infer that the size or growth of economic activity is well correlated to the prosperity of its people. Consider China and the United States for example. The U.S. has a GDP of approximately $16.5 trillion and a population of roughly 325 million while China has a GDP of nearly $11 trillion and a population of approximately 1.4 billion.

One could say that China’s economy is about two-thirds the size of the U.S. economy, however when one considers how that activity is spread amongst the citizens, China’s economy is only one-seventh that of the U.S. Accordingly, Chinese citizens are clearly less productive and prosperous than U.S. citizens GDP per capita (per citizen), as demonstrated above, is a valid way to measure the efficiency of one nation’s economic output versus another and is also an important statistic to gauge the productivity and prosperity trends in one country. We have frequently shown the declining trend in secular GDP growth in charts like those shown below.

Above, GDP is plotted on an absolute basis and does not take into account the amount of economic activity or economic growth per person. Below, we show the ten-year growth rate of GDP per capita.

As one easily notices GDP on a per capita basis is more worrisome than when viewed on a total basis as in the first two graphs. The economic growth rate per person is currently below one half of one%. More concerning, it is below levels seen during the great financial crisis in 2008 and it is still trending lower. This graph confirms our macroeconomic concerns and helps explain, in part, why so many U.S. citizens feel like they are being left behind. Factor in that many of the economic spoils are not evenly distributed, as assumed in this analysis, but are largely accruing to the wealthy, and the problem only worsens. As such, the growing social anxiety and trend towards populism, be it conservative or liberal leaning, will not likely dissipate if the aforementioned economic trends continue.

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Centralization as a whole is going the way of the dodo.

It Won’t Be Long Now – The End Game Of Central Banking Is Nigh (Stockman)

As Contra Corner readers recognize the only consistent way forward for America at this late stage of the game is a return to free markets, fiscal rectitude, sound money, constitutional liberty, non-intervention abroad, minimalist government at home and decentralized political rule. Unfortunately, that is not about to happen any time soon—–even if by some miracle Donald Trump is elected President. But what the book does claim is that the tide is turning against the failed Wall Street/Washington bipartisan consensus. I call this insurrection the “revolt of the rubes” in Flyover America. This uprising against the rule of the financial and political elites has counterparts abroad among those who voted for Brexit in the UK, against Merkel in the recent German elections in her home state, and among the growing tide of anti-Brussels sentiment reflected in polls throughout the EC.

Needless to say, the political upheaval now underway is largely an inchoate reaction to the policy failures and arrogant pretensions of the establishment rulers. Like Donald Trump himself, it does not reflect a coherent programmatic alternative. But my contention is that liberation from our current ruinous policy regime has to start somewhere—and that’s why the Trump candidacy is so important. He represents a raw insurgency of attack, derision, impertinence and repudiation. If that leads to throwing out the beltway careerists, pettifoggers, hypocrites, ideologues, racketeers, power seekers and snobs who have brought about the current ruin then at least the decks will be cleared.

So doing, the Trump candidacy—win or lose—is paving the way for an honest debate about the Fed’s war on savers and wage earners, the phony Bubble Finance prosperity it has bestowed on the bicoastal elites and Imperial Washington’s delusionary addiction to debt, war and special interest racketeering. In addition to the political revolt of the rubes, the establishment regime is now imperiled by another existential threat. To wit, the world’s central bankers have finally painted themselves into the mother of all corners. Literally, they dare not stop their printing presses because the front-runners and robo-traders have taken them hostage. Recent developments at all three major central banks, in fact, provide powerful evidence that the end of the current Bubble Finance regime is near.

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Beijing control trumps efficiency, and that’s not going to change.

China’s $1 Trillion Makeover Of Bloated SOEs Attracts Skeptics (BBG)

To grasp the scale of the challenges facing Chinese leaders in revamping their sprawling and inefficient state-owned enterprises, consider this: The combined revenue of 100-plus government-owned firms, spanning from train makers to banks and power companies, rivals Japan’s entire $4.1 trillion economy. China’s SOE sector, traditionally a source of political patronage and economic power for the Communist Party, accounts for about 40% of China’s industrial assets and 18% of total employment, according to Bloomberg Intelligence economists Fielding Chen and Tom Orlik. These government creations are also dragging down growth, with their return on assets in 2015 estimated to be at 2.8%, versus 10.6% for private sector-firms.

Cutting SOEs down to size and improving their profitability is critical to President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang’s signature economic policy of rebalancing the $10 trillion economy away from an over-reliance on debt-fueled infrastructure investment and exports to one powered more by services and consumer spending. One strategy has been to embrace mergers – about $1 trillion of asset combinations have been announced since late 2014. The broad government sector overhaul adds up to a major triage effort, keeping healthy or strategic state firms like banks, energy and telecoms under tight control while orchestrating supersized consolidation among ailing giants in shipping, cement and metals to improve efficiency and slash over-capacity. Without a major overhaul, China’s low labor productivity growth – now less than a tenth of European, Japanese and U.S. levels – isn’t likely to improve.

[..] Despite the pressure to turn around, there are about 50 or so “too-big-to-fail” state enterprises in energy, technology and defense that are deemed to be so strategic that they will continue to receive generous government support, according to Lin Boqiang, director of Xiamen University’s energy economics research center. For the rest, Xi’s SOE makeover will be a gradual process with progress coming in fits and starts. Combing two inefficient firms doesn’t necessarily create a healthy one without some forceful leadership to eliminate overlap and excess capacity, as could be the case in the steel industry. “When you combine BaoSteel and Wuhan Steel, two companies thousands of kilometers apart, I’m not sure what they could do together that they couldn’t do separately,” according to Lardy.

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Too much wasted.

China’s Massive Infrastructure Investment Is A Model To Avoid (MW)

Some leading U.S. politicians and economists including President Obama have admired China’s massive investment in new transportation projects and wished America could do the same. Yet a new research paper suggests China’s approach is “a model to avoid” and one that could trigger a global crisis unless dramatically altered. In a paper, four professors at Oxford University assert that a majority of large Chinese investment projects over the past three decades have underestimated costs, failed to deliver the promised benefits and played a smaller role than conventional wisdom suggests in making the country more prosperous.

“China is not a model to follow for other economies – emerging or developed – as regards infrastructure investing, but a model to avoid,” wrote professors Atif Ansar, Bent Flyvbjerg, Alexander Budzier and Daniel Lunn. Many Western lawmakers and economists have long praised China’s investment in new roads, rail, bridges and airports as means to improve the nation’s growth and reduce unemployment. Some have also suggested authoritarian governments are better able than democracies to get projects off the ground. “How do we sit back and watch China and Europe build the best bridges and high-speed railroads and gleaming new airports, and we’re doing nothing?” Obama complained in a speech several years ago urging Congress to spend more on infrastructure.

Jim Millstein, a former Treasury Department official from 2009-2011, makes a similar argument Wednesday, in a Washington Post column. “A well-designed program of new infrastructure spending can be just the catalyst the U.S. economy needs to get out of its rut,” he argued. Yet the Chinese approach is much costlier and less beneficial than it appears, the researchers contend. In many cases projects are subject to special-interest manipulation, poorly designed or shoddily implemented to meet political edicts. Quality, safety and environmental issues are not uncommon and the Chinese government is heavy-handed when obtaining land, even displacing masses of citizens from seized homes and property.

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The power of shadow banks.

P2P Lenders Push Chinese Students To Borrow At Exorbitant Rates (BBG)

Across college campuses in China, a small army of marketers is recruiting students to borrow money at interest rates many times that charged by the nation’s banks. Those without a credit history or parental approval can borrow money to buy a smartphone, pay for holidays, or get the latest sneakers through a raft of apps such as Fenqile. The market leader, whose name literally means Happy Installment Payments, has 50,000 part-time marketers across more than 3,000 universities and proudly touts the slogan “Wait no more; love what I love.” Welcome to the regulatory gray area where peer-to-peer lending meets e-commerce in China.

In the last three years, tens of millions of students have taken out micro-loans with the tap of a button to buy things. Once just the realm of startups, the sector has attracted heavy hitters in China’s online industry, including Alibaba’s finance affiliate and JD.com, which are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the lending model. In a nation with 37 million college students, the market is expected to reach $15 billion, according to the Beijing-based market research firm Analysys. While traditional banks, the biggest of which are state-owned, have long been regulated, such peer-to-peer lenders have not, though Fenqile at least says it welcomes more oversight.

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Sounds like a huge global overcapacity. Which of course is in line with shrinking global trade.

Collapse Of Hanjin Leaves $14 Billion Worth Of Goods Adrift (BBG)

Suppliers to companies such as Nike Inc. and Hugo Boss AG are scrambling to ensure their T-shirts and sneakers reach buyers in time for the year-end holiday season after the collapse of Hanjin Shipping Co. left an estimated $14 billion worth of goods adrift. Esquel Group, a Hong Kong-based manufacturer for fashion brands including Nike, Hugo Boss and Ralph Lauren, is hiring truckers to move four stranded containers of raw materials to its factories near Ho Chi Minh City as soon as they can be retrieved from ports in China. Liaoning Shidai Wanheng, a Chinese fabrics importer and a supplier to Marks & Spencer, has made alternative arrangements for shipments that were scheduled with Hanjin.

“Our production lines are waiting,” said Kent Teh, who runs Esquel’s Vietnam business. “We potentially have to take airfreight to deliver the garment items to clients in the U.S. and U.K.” Apparel, handbags, televisions and microwave ovens are among goods stranded at sea after Korea’s largest shipping company filed for bankruptcy protection last week, setting off a series of events that roiled the global supply chain. A U.S. Court on Tuesday provided a temporary reprieve, which may help vessels call on ports such as Los Angeles without the fear of getting impounded. Any major bottlenecks ahead of Thanksgiving and Christmas could put a dent in the two-month shopping season, which netted some $626 billion of sales last year in the U.S.

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“The ratio varies widely, from close to 50% in Cyprus to around 1% in Sweden.” Italy is the big fish here.

EU Regulators: Bad Loans Are Systemic Challenge for European Banks (BBG)

European regulators are sounding the alarm about the persistence of bad loans weighing on the balance sheets of banks in the region. In a report Wednesday on financial risks, the European Union agencies that set rules and technical standards for banks, insurers and markets called for a joint effort to tackle non-performing loans. “Insufficiently addressed asset quality concerns and persistent high level of NPLs are a significant driver of uncertainty in the EU banking sector,” they said. “Given the widespread, and thus systemic, nature of the significant challenges related to NPL, European supervisors, regulators and legislators should consider pursuing a coordinated, articulated and more decisive approach to this matter.”

Supervisors such as the European Central Bank need to raise pressure on banks to account for and reduce NPLs “in a more proactive and bold fashion,” the report says. Banks should adopt “a conservative provisioning policy, a prudent valuation of loans and collateral” and commit “to a NPL resolution plan with time-bound targets.” [..] European banks have the highest ratio of bad loans among developed countries, and progress to lower the share has been slow. According to the report, 5.7% of all loans were overdue on average in the first quarter, more than three times the ratio in the U.S. or Japan. The ratio varies widely, from close to 50% in Cyprus to around 1% in Sweden. High NPL levels are a capital constraint, hurt profits and limit new lending, according to the agencies.

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In line with Nicole’s article series we’re currently running.

America’s Quiet War on Cash (TAM)

Government campaigns of intimidation – like the wars on drugs, terror, and poverty – have been used to extort the public for decades. Despite the previous failures of institutional “wars,” a new war on cash is being waged that threatens freedom in a more subversive way than ever before. Banks and governments around the world are cracking down on the use of paper money, and in turn, eliminating any anonymity left in the current system. Through strict rules on cash transactions and civil asset forfeiture laws, for example, the system has already instituted penalties for using cash. But as payments evolve into a purely digital network, the consequences of this new paradigm are being brought into the spotlight.

The ability to track, record, and mediate transactions of all individuals is a power dictators throughout history could have only dreamed of. Those who value privacy are turning to alternatives like cash, cryptocurrencies, and precious metals, but these directly threaten central bank dominance. This ongoing tug-of-war in financial innovation will determine whether we enter an age of individual empowerment or centralized enslavement. As mundane as it may seem, the main reason for this push to go cashless is directly tied to what world central banks are doing to prop up their economies. The manipulation of interests rates to zero or even negative has left central banks no ammunition to fight off the next recession. Without the ability to cut interest rates even further, stimulating economic growth is nearly impossible.

The decisions made in response to the 2008 crisis have led to a perverted environment in which customers could be charged just for holding money in their accounts. As long as individuals have the ability to move their funds into paper currency and escape the losses, banks are still limited to how far they can push the envelope. Regardless, the federal government continues to pressure banks into issuing “Suspicious Activity Reports” for withdrawals of even as little as $5,000. That amount will undoubtedly decrease if and when more people resort to stuffing cash under their mattresses.

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Perhaps a little late?

FBI Records on Financial Crisis Requested by U.S. Lawmaker (BBG)

FBI files on the firms that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis should be released to help the public understand why no senior executives were charged, a U.S. congressman from New Jersey said. Democrat Bill Pascrell asked FBI Director James Comey for witness interview transcripts, notes, reports and memos from the agency’s probes into the crisis, according to a letter dated Tuesday. Pascrell said the FBI initiated criminal inquiries into at least 14 companies as part of its investigation into the origins of the crisis, which was ignited when prices of subprime-mortgage bonds plummeted after home-loan defaults soared. “Here we are eight years later – do you think the public knows how this happened? Do you think the public knows all of the recommendations made to the Justice Department?” Pascrell said Wednesday in an interview.

“Why are Hillary Clinton’s e-mails any more important?” The FBI earlier this month released a summary investigation and interview with Clinton to provide context on its recommendation that the Justice Department not prosecute Clinton or her aides for using a private e-mail system. The Democratic presidential nominee was interviewed by FBI agents and federal prosecutors for 3 1/2 hours on July 2 in Washington. Pascrell, who sits on both the budget and ways and means committees, said in many cases it would be too late to bring legal actions. Releasing the information would increase transparency and provide a public service, he said.

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“..it is a case study in international charity fraud, of mammoth proportions…”

Clinton Foundation: False Philanthropy (Ortel)

To informed analysts, the Clinton Foundation appears to be a rogue charity that has neither been organized nor operated lawfully from inception in October 1997 to date–as you will grow to realize, it is a case study in international charity fraud, of mammoth proportions. In particular, the Clinton Foundation has never been validly authorized to pursue tax-exempt purposes other than as a presidential archive and research facility based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Moreover, its operations have never been controlled by independent trustees and its financial results have never been properly audited by independent accountants.

In contrast to this stark reality, Bill Clinton recently continued a long pattern of dissembling, likening himself to Robin Hood and dismissing critics of his “philanthropic” post-presidency, despite mounting concerns over perceived conflicts of interest and irregularities. Normally, evaluating the efficacy of a charity objectively is performed looking closely into hard facts only -specifically, determining whether monies spent upon “program service expenditures” actually have furthered the limited, authorized “tax-exempt purposes” of entities such as the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, its subsidiaries, its joint ventures, and its affiliates (together, the “Clinton Charity Network”).

But, popular former presidents of the United States retain “bully pulpits” from which they certainly can spin sweet-sounding themes to a general audience and media that is not sufficiently acquainted with the strict laws and regulations that do, in fact , tether trustees of a tax-exempt organization to following only a mission that has been validly pre-approved by the Internal Revenue Service, on the basis of a complete and truthful application. This Executive Summary carries forward a process of demonstrating that the Clinton Foundation illegally veered from its IRS-authorized mission within days of Bill Clinton’s departure from the White House in January 2001, using publicly available information which, in certain cases, has been purposefully omitted or obscured in disclosures offered through the Clinton Foundation website, its principal public portal.

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Fukushima is too big to be papered over. But that’s all that happens.

Former Japan PM Accuses Abe Of Lying Over Fukushima (G.)

Japan’s former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi has labelled the country’s current leader, Shinzo Abe, a “liar” for telling the international community that the situation at the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is under control. Koizumi, who became one of Japan’s most popular postwar leaders during his 2001-06 premiership, has used his retirement from frontline politics to become a leading campaigner against nuclear restarts in Japan in defiance of Abe, a fellow conservative Liberal Democratic party (LDP) politician who was once regarded as his natural successor. Abe told members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Buenos Aires in September 2013 that the situation at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was “under control”, shortly before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Games.

IOC officials were concerned by reports about the huge build-up of contaminated water at the Fukushima site, more than two years after the disaster forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents. “When [Abe] said the situation was under control, he was lying,” Koizumi told reporters in Tokyo. “It is not under control,” he added, noting the problems the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), has experienced with a costly subterranean ice wall that is supposed to prevent groundwater from flowing into the basements of the damaged reactors, where it becomes highly contaminated. “They keep saying they can do it, but they can’t,” Koizumi said. He went on to claim that Abe had been fooled by industry experts who claim that nuclear is the safest, cleanest and cheapest form of energy for resource-poor Japan.

“He believes what he’s being told by nuclear experts,” Koizumi said. “I believed them, too, when I was prime minister. I think Abe understands the arguments on both sides of the debate, but he has chosen to believe the pro-nuclear lobby.” After the Fukushima crisis, Koizumi said he had “studied the process, reality and history of the introduction of nuclear power, and became ashamed of myself for believing such lies”. [..] Koizumi, 74, has also thrown his support behind hundreds of US sailors and marines who claim they developed leukaemia and other serious health problems after being exposed to Fukushima radiation plumes while helping with relief operations

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