Sep 192019
 
 September 19, 2019  Posted by at 9:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Cafe Royan [The Coffee] 1940

 

Foreign Exchange Trading Soars to $6.6 Trillion a Day, US Dollar is King (WS)
Repo Chaos Tests Wall Street Confidence In NY Fed’s Williams (R.)
Prosecutors, Regulators Broaden JPMorgan Precious Metals Desk Probe (CNBC)
Rothschild Emerges From Shadows For Centenary Of London Gold Fixing (Manly)
Debt-Wracked Chinese Companies Dump US & Other Foreign Assets (WS)
UK Has 12 Days To Set Out Brexit Plans – Finnish PM (BBC)
Purdue Pharma Seeks To Halt Opioid Suits Against Company, Sacklers (R.)
NYT’s 14,000 Words That Whitewash Boeing Of 737 MAX Failure (MoA)
Japan Court Acquits TEPCO Bosses Over Fukushima Disaster (AFP)
Scientists Set Out How To Halve Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 2030 (G.)
Why Can’t We Agree On What’s True Anymore? (G.)

 

 

How much of this has any use to society?

Foreign Exchange Trading Soars to $6.6 Trillion a Day, US Dollar is King (WS)

It happens every three years: The Bank for International Settlements released its Triennial Central Bank Survey about the global foreign exchange (FX) and over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets, as it occurred in April. The numbers are ginormous, and get more ginormous with every survey, with trading volume measured in trillions of dollars per day. This is a huge data trove, and I will focus here on global FX trading. To start with, there are the amounts. Currencies are traded in pairs, such as the US dollar against the euro. In April 2019, trading in FX markets reached $6.59 trillion per day, up 30% from the prior survey period, April 2016. Trades with the USD on one side of the trade averaged $5.82 trillion per day in April 2019. This was up 31% from the daily average in April 2016 and was over five times the daily average in April 2001:

The sudden appearance of the euro in 2001 as the second largest currency out of nowhere indicates that at that time, it had just replaced five currencies, including the biggie, the Deutsche Mark. The chart above shows the top 16 most traded currencies. Four have a significant share – USD, EUR, Japanese yen (JPY), and British Pound (GBP). The remaining 12 of the top 16 currencies are the limp spaghetti at the bottom of the chart, including the Chinese renminbi (CNY). In terms of the share that a currency is on one side of a trade, the US dollar remains total King, at 88.3%.

Read more …

Ohm get real: “..Williams has the unique task of overseeing regulation of Wall Street and execution of monetary policy.”

Repo Chaos Tests Wall Street Confidence In NY Fed’s Williams (R.)

Wild swings this week in U.S. money markets have raised fresh concerns about whether the New York Federal Reserve under John Williams has lost its deft touch with markets. The New York Fed had to intervene in cash markets this week when the repo rate, a key measure of liquidity in the global banking system, sky-rocketed, forcing the Fed to make an emergency injection of more than $125 billion on Tuesday and Wednesday. A key interest rate the Fed aims to influence also broke above the central bank’s target range on Tuesday for the first time since the financial crisis. “What has happened in the repo market is far from a minor problem,” said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist for Jefferies. “That’s a financial crisis waiting to happen if they don’t get that under control.”


As the head of the New York Fed, Williams has the unique task of overseeing regulation of Wall Street and execution of monetary policy. [..] Fed Chair Jerome Powell defended the central bank’s response to the liquidity crunch on Wednesday, saying officials saw the cash shortage coming and “took appropriate actions” to address the issue. “We don’t see this as having any implications for the broader economy,” Powell told reporters after the Fed announced at the close of a two-day policy meeting that it would reduce its benchmark overnight lending rate to a range of 1.75% to 2.00%. “We took appropriate actions to address those pressures and those measures were successful. If we experience another episode in money markets we have the tools to address those pressures.”

Read more …

Is this one of those things that will continue into 2050?

Prosecutors, Regulators Broaden JPMorgan Precious Metals Desk Probe (CNBC)

Federal prosecutors and regulators are expanding their already aggressive investigations of allegedly fraudulent precious metals trades at J.P. Morgan Chase to other U.S. markets and financial firms, CNBC has learned. The broader inquiry into market manipulation of all kinds comes amid a spike in criminal prosecutions and civil actions in the past year involving so-called “spoofing” in the precious metals markets. Prosecutors have broadened their investigation in part due to information received from traders questioned for spoofing-related charges. Information from those traders has led to criminal charges against other individuals, according to people familiar with the probes who spoke with CNBC on the condition of anonymity due to the nature of the ongoing investigations.


The widening inquiry is being led by the Justice Department and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission as they continue their pursuit of individuals and firms for manipulating U.S. markets. The scope of the investigations has grown to the point where the criminal fraud division of the Justice Department expects to add personnel to the existing team to assist with the investigations and prosecutions of cases.Spoofing is the practice of a trader placing a buy or sell order for a commodity or stock with the intent to cancel the order before it can be executed. The goal of the tactic is to affect the price of the futures contract or share to benefit a preexisting trading position.

Read more …

At least JPMorgan isn’t doing anything new…

Rothschild Emerges From Shadows For Centenary Of London Gold Fixing (Manly)

This month in London marks the 100th anniversary of the first “London Gold Fixing”, the infamous daily meeting of a secretive cartel of bullion banks which has met since 1919 to set benchmark gold prices used throughout the international gold market, a meeting which continues to this day through its thinly disguised successor, the LBMA Gold Price auction. London gold price benchmarks are critically important to the global gold market because they are used as a valuation source for everything from ISDA gold interest rate swap contracts to gold-backed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), and everything from OTC gold contracts to transaction reference prices used by physical bullion dealers when purchasing gold bars and gold coins from refineries and suppliers.

Since 2015, the London Gold Fixing has been known as the LBMA Gold Price following a rush by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) bullion banks to patch over the then scandalized ‘Fixing’ in a smoke and mirrors and circle the wagons relaunch and renaming exercise. The collusive Gold Fixing first formally came into existence on 12 September 1919 when the Bank of England tapped its favorite bankers N.M. Rothschild & Sons to be the daily Fixing’s permanent chairman. Rothschild and the Bank of England had been joined at the hip since the early 1800s and would continue to be so in the Gold Fixing throughout the next century.

[..] For the next 85 years from its inception in September 1919, the Gold Fixing occurred daily at Rothschild’s headquarters in New Court, St. Swithins Lane, across the road from the Bank of England, with five men from five bullion banks religiously meeting at 10:30 am each morning. After the collapse of the London Gold Pool in 1968, the Gold Fixing moved to a twice per day pricing with an extra 3:00 pm meeting added by the fixers to ‘watch over’ the US morning hours gold market.

Read more …

Beijinng needs dollars, guys.

Debt-Wracked Chinese Companies Dump US & Other Foreign Assets (WS)

Chinese conglomerates that had gone on a debt-fueled buying binge over the past decade but have come under heavy pressure from the government to sell their overseas holdings in order to reduce their astronomical debts – well, they’re doing it. In the US, Chinese conglomerates have dumped $26 billion in assets so far in 2019, up from $8 billion in the full year of 2018. Globally, Chinese companies have agreed to sell about $40 billion in overseas assets so far this year. This now exceeds the already heavy pace of selling for the full year of 2018, which totaled $32 billion, according to data from Dealogic cited by the Financial Times. But the buying hasn’t totally stopped: So far this year, Chinese companies have acquired $35 billion in assets globally.


This made Chinese companies a net seller of overseas assets for the first time in the data going back to 2009. In 2015, Chinese conglomerates sold only $10 billion of overseas assets but acquired $100 billion of assets, for a net increase of $90 billion. In 2016, the peak of China’s debt-fueled, haphazard, glory-driven acquisition binge, these conglomerates acquired over $200 billion in assets overseas, as observers scratched their heads, while sellers laughed all the way to the bank.

Read more …

Johnson says he wants to keep plans secret, EU says that’s because he has no plans. They haven’t seen any.

UK Has 12 Days To Set Out Brexit Plans – Finnish PM (BBC)

Boris Johnson has 12 days to set out his Brexit plans to the EU, according to Finland’s prime minister. Antti Rinne said he and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed the UK needed to produce the proposals in writing by the end of September, adding if not, “then it’s over”. Finland currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency. A Downing Street source said: “We will continue negotiating and put forward proposals at the appropriate time.” Mr Johnson has said a deal is possible at a crucial summit of EU leaders on 17 October, but he has insisted Brexit will happen by the 31 October deadline, even if a deal is not agreed.


The UK government said talks with the EU have been making progress since Mr Johnson came into No 10 in July. It said it had put forward “a number of proposals” as alternatives to the Irish border backstop – the policy aimed at preventing the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland and a key sticking point in former PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal. But Mr Johnson has repeatedly refused to reveal details of the proposals in interviews, saying he did not want to negotiate in public. The EU has continued to criticise the UK for not putting any plans in writing.

Read more …

From CBS: “Sixteen states have sued family members by name, alleging they steered Purdue while draining more than $4 billion from the company since 2007.”

Purdue Pharma Seeks To Halt Opioid Suits Against Company, Sacklers (R.)

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP on Wednesday asked a U.S. bankruptcy judge to halt for roughly nine months more than 2,600 lawsuits alleging the company and its controlling Sackler family helped fuel the U.S. opioid crisis, according to court documents. In addition to seeking a pause in widespread litigation against it, Purdue also asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain to shield the wealthy Sacklers from related opioid lawsuits they face. Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sunday after reaching an outline of a deal it estimated to be valued at more than $10 billion with states and local governments that brought the bulk of the cases. They allege the company deceptively marketed opioids by overstating benefits and downplaying risks.


Purdue has been accused of contributing to a public health crisis that has been marked by nearly 400,000 overdose deaths between 1999 and 2017, according to the latest U.S. data. Purdue and the Sacklers have denied they are liable for the opioid epidemic. Purdue said in Wednesday’s court filing that an injunction halting litigation would preserve money that would otherwise be drained through prolonged legal battles. Purdue is spending more than $5 million a week in legal and professional fees, and other related expenses, the company said in court papers. [..] In Wednesday’s court filing, Purdue said allowing litigation against the Sacklers to continue would threaten billions of dollars they have pledged toward settling lawsuits and increase expenses for the company as it is drawn into the cases.

Read more …

Picked apart.

NYT’s 14,000 Words That Whitewash Boeing Of 737 MAX Failure (MoA)

The New York Times Magazine just published a 14,000 words piece about the Boeing 737 MAX accidents. It is headlined: “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max?” But the piece does not really say what brought the Boeing 737 MAX down. It does not explain the basic engineering errors Boeing made. It does not explain its lack of safety analysis. It does not mention the irresponsible delegation of certification authority from the Federal Aviation Administration to Boeing. There is no mention of the corporate greed that is the root cause of those failures. Instead the piece is full of slandering accusations against the foreign pilots of the two 737 MAX planes that crashed. It bashes the airlines and the safety authorities of Indonesia and Ethiopia.

It only mildly criticizes Boeing for designing the MCAS system that brought the planes down. The author of the piece, William Langewiesche, was a professional pilot before he turned to journalism. But there is so much slander in the text that it might as well have been written by Boeing’s public relations department. The piece is also riddled with technical mistakes. We will pick on the most obvious ones below. The following is thus a bit technical and maybe too boring for our regular readers. Langewiesche describes the 737 MAX trim system and its failure mode:

“That’s a runaway trim. Such failures are easily countered by the pilot — first by using the control column to give opposing elevator, then by flipping a couple of switches to shut off the electrics before reverting to a perfectly capable parallel system of manual trim. But it seemed that for some reason, the Lion Air crew might not have resorted to the simple solution.” Wrong: The manual trim system does not work at all when the stabilizer is widely out of trim (i.e. after MCAS intervened) and/or if the plane is flying faster than usual. That is why the European regulator EASA sees it as a major concern and wants it fixed.

Read more …

They blame the government.

Japan Court Acquits TEPCO Bosses Over Fukushima Disaster (AFP)

A Japanese court on Thursday cleared three energy firm bosses of professional negligence in the only criminal trial stemming from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown. The three men were senior officials at the TEPCO firm operating the Fukushima Daiichi plant and had faced up to five years in prison if convicted. “All defendants are not guilty,” the presiding judge said, ruling that the executives could not have predicted the scale of the tsunami that overwhelmed the plant and triggered the accident. The decision is likely to be appealed, extending the legal wrangling over responsibility for the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, more than eight years after the disaster. Outside the courtroom, dozens of people staged a rally, including some who had travelled from the Fukushima region to hear the verdict.


“It is absolutely an unjust ruling. We absolutely cannot accept this,” one woman said angrily, addressing the crowd. “We will appeal this and continue our fight,” shouted a man nearby. The three former executives were accused of professional negligence resulting in death and injury for failing to act on information about the risks from a major tsunami, but they argued the data available to them at the time was unreliable. Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi said the verdict turned on the “predictability” of the massive tsunami that swamped the nuclear plant in March 2011 after a 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake. He pointed out there had been no proposal from the government’s nuclear watchdog “that TEPCO should suspend operations until (safety) measures are taken.”

Read more …

Any and all of such proposals that doesn’t focus on using much less energy, but instead on ‘transition’, is not worth reading.

Scientists Set Out How To Halve Greenhouse Gas Emissions By 2030 (G.)

Greenhouse gas emissions could be halved in the next decade if a small number of current technologies and behavioural trends are ramped up and adopted more widely, researchers have found, saying strong civil society movements are needed to drive such change. Solar and wind power, now cheaper than fossil fuels in many regions, must be scaled up rapidly to replace coal-fired generation, and this alone could halve emissions from electricity generation by 2030, according to the Exponential Roadmap report from an international group of experts. If the rapid uptake of electric vehicles in some parts of the world could be sustained, the vehicles could make up 90% of the market by 2030, vastly reducing emissions from transport, it said.

Avoiding deforestation and improving land management could reduce emissions by the equivalent of about 9bn tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, according to the report, but contradictory subsidies, poor planning and vested interests could stop this from happening. Key to any transition will be the growing social movements that are pressing for urgent action on climate breakdown. By driving behavioural change, such as moving away from the overconsumption of meat and putting pressure on governments and companies, civil movements have the power to drive the transformation needed in the next decade, say the report’s authors.

Christiana Figueres, a former top climate official at the UN, said: “I see all evidence that social and economic tipping points are aligning. We can now say the next decade has the potential to see the fastest economic transition in history.” The experts identified 36 developments that would produce the emission cuts needed, from renewable energy to changes in food production, the design of cities, and international transport, such as shipping. All of them are judged possible to achieve by 2030.

Read more …

A wild guess: because the Guardian, which published this piece, has published so many things that are not true?

Why Can’t We Agree On What’s True Anymore? (G.)

We live in a time of political fury and hardening cultural divides. But if there is one thing on which virtually everyone is agreed, it is that the news and information we receive is biased. Every second of every day, someone is complaining about bias, in everything from the latest movie reviews to sports commentary to the BBC’s coverage of Brexit. These complaints and controversies take up a growing share of public discussion. Much of the outrage that floods social media, occasionally leaking into opinion columns and broadcast interviews, is not simply a reaction to events themselves, but to the way in which they are reported and framed. The “mainstream media” is the principle focal point for this anger. Journalists and broadcasters who purport to be neutral are a constant object of scrutiny and derision, whenever they appear to let their personal views slip.


The work of journalists involves an increasing amount of unscripted, real-time discussion, which provides an occasionally troubling window into their thinking. But this is not simply an anti-journalist sentiment. A similar fury can just as easily descend on a civil servant or independent expert whenever their veneer of neutrality seems to crack, apparently revealing prejudices underneath. Sometimes a report or claim is dismissed as biased or inaccurate for the simple reason that it is unwelcome: to a Brexiter, every bad economic forecast is just another case of the so-called project fear. A sense that the game is rigged now fuels public debate.

Read more …

 

An orphaned baby reticulated giraffe embraces wildlife keeper. Photo: Amy Vitale

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 132018
 
 August 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh The yellow house (The Street), Arles 1888

 

Turkey Central Bank To Take ‘All Necessary Measures’ For Stability (AFP)
Turkey Pledges Action To Calm Markets (BBC)
Euro Drops To One-Year Low On Lira Crisis Contagion Fears (G.)
Beware the Dog Days of August (Pettifor)
Trump Gives Mueller Three Weeks For Sitdown (ZH)
Trump ‘Will Deny Under Oath’ Asking Comey For Flynn Leniency (AT)
Why Trump Cancelled the Iran Deal (Zuesse)
China Slashes Support For Solar Industry (R.)
Greek Bailout Drama ‘In Last Throes’ But The Hardship Is Not Over Yet (G.)
Those Who Think That They Will Break Julian Assange Are Mistaken (P.)

 

 

“Whatever it takes” is still popular. But there are limits. They’re cutting off FX trade and injecting liquidity. But what if they’re called on this? It’s only Monday… As I write this the lira has lost another 6.6% so far for the day.

Turkey Central Bank To Take ‘All Necessary Measures’ For Stability (AFP)

Turkey’s central bank on Monday announced it was ready to take “all necessary measures” to ensure financial stability after the collapse of the lira, promising to provide banks with liquidity. “The central bank will closely monitor the market depth and price formations, and take all necessary measures to maintain financial stability, if deemed necessary,” the bank said in a statement, vowing to provide “all the liquidity the banks need”. The statement came after the Turkish lira hit record lows against the dollar amid a widening diplomatic spat with the United States. The detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson since October 2016 on terrorism charges has sparked the most severe crisis in ties between the two NATO allies in years.

The central bank announced the series of measures on Monday, a day after Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is treasury and finance minister, announced an action plan was in the pipeline. “In the framework of intraday and overnight standing facilities, the Central Bank will provide all the liquidity the banks need,” the bank said. The bank also revised reserve requirement ratios for banks, in a move also aimed at staving off any liquidity issues. It said with the latest revision, approximately 10 billion lira, $6 billion, and $3 billion equivalent of gold liquidity will be provided to the financial system. The nominally independent central bank has defied pressure to hike interest rates which economists said would curb the fall of the lira.

Read more …

“I am specifically addressing our manufacturers: Do not rush to the banks to buy dollars… You should know that to keep this nation standing is… also the manufacturers’ duty..”

Turkey Pledges Action To Calm Markets (BBC)

Turkey has pledged it will take action to calm markets after the lira plunged to a new record low in Asian trading. The details would be unveiled shortly, the country’s finance minister told Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. “From Monday morning onwards our institutions will take the necessary steps and will share the announcements with the market,” Berat Albayrak said. The lira lost 20% of its value versus the dollar on Friday. It had already fallen more than 40% in the past year. The latest blow came on Friday, when US President Donald Trump said he had approved the doubling of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium. Concerns about contagion prompted investors to sell riskier assets on Monday including emerging market currencies and stocks in Asia.

Mr Albayrak said the country would “act in a speedy manner” and its plan included help for the banks and small and medium-sized businesses most affected by the dramatic volatility in the lira. His assurance came after Turkey’s president blamed the lira’s plunge on a plot against the country. “What is the reason for all this storm in a tea cup? There is no economic reason… This is called carrying out an operation against Turkey,” he said. Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again urged Turks to sell dollars and buy liras to help boost the currency. “I am specifically addressing our manufacturers: Do not rush to the banks to buy dollars… You should know that to keep this nation standing is… also the manufacturers’ duty,” he said.

Read more …

It’s starting to spread. And hurt.

Euro Drops To One-Year Low On Lira Crisis Contagion Fears (G.)

The Turkish lira fell almost 9% in early trading on Monday and the euro hit a one-year low as investors feared that the country’s financial crisis could spread to European markets. Despite defiant words by the Turkish president Erdogan over the weekend pledging as yet unspecified action to reverse the slide, the currency slipped alarmingly against the US dollar on Monday. In early trading it reached an all-time low of 7.24 before bouncing back after the country’s banking regulator announced late on Sunday night that it would limit the ability of Turkish banks to swap the battered lira for foreign currency. Asian stock markets were also down on Monday. The Nikkei in Japan lost 1.7%, Hong Kong was off 1.8%, Shanghai -1.7%, Sydney -0.5% and the Taiwanese bourse fell 3%.

The FTSE100 was expected to open down 0.4% later on Monday morning while Germany’s Dax 30 was set for a 0.65% fall. The euro dropped 0.3% to a one-year low against the US dollar on Monday as the falling lira fuelled demand for safe havens, including the greenback, Swiss franc and yen. The Vix volatility index measuring turbulence in financial markets – also known as the fear index – jumped 16% on Monday. There was also concern that other emerging market currencies – already under pressure from the rising US dollar – could be dragged into the lira’s downward spiral. The South African rand hit a low level not seen since mid-2016, the Russian rouble slumped again and the Indian rupee slid to an all-time trough. The lira has tumbled more than 40% this year on worries about Erdogan’s increasing control over the economy and deteriorating relations with the United States ..

Read more …

The Fed is to blame for Turkey.

Beware the Dog Days of August (Pettifor)

Today’s financial turbulence can be traced back to Fed decisions in June 2017 to begin the “normalisation” of its balance sheet, gradually shedding its bond holdings in monthly stages. This monthly “runoff” of $10bn of maturing assets on to capital markets causes bond prices to fall, and yields to rise. On some estimates the Fed’s bond portfolio is expected to shrink by $315bn in 2018 and $437bn in 2019. This process of “normalisation” is no simple and stable matter. In the words of market analyst Kristina Hooper, it’s like “defusing a bomb”. To add to the strains caused by the “runoff” of assets, in June 2018, the Fed raised rates for the seventh time in three years and Libor followed suit.

These rising rates of interest have led to the strengthening of the dollar and capital flight from emerging markets. But above all, interest rate rises pose a threat to the heavily indebted global economy. In 2000, the stock of global private and public debt amounted to $142 trillion – 260% of global GDP or income. Today, 10 years after, the credit bubble at the heart of the GFC has nearly doubled to $247 trillion, or 318% of global GDP. Much of that debt is a result of the Federal Reserve’s largesse. Thanks to capital mobility, quantitative easing enabled companies, like many based in Turkey, to borrow in dollars on the international capital markets at low rates of interest.

Now, as Turkey’s currency and those of other emerging markets fall, the cost of servicing debt denominated in dollars rises dramatically, threatening default. But while it is necessary to point to the Fed’s actions to understand tremors in world markets, and to warn of the threat of another financial crisis, the fact is that central bankers should never have alone been held responsible for the restoration of macroeconomic stability.

[..] After the 1929 financial crisis, Keynes in 1931 and Roosevelt in 1933 got a grip, and as Erich Rauchway explains in his book The Money Makers, jointly began the process of ending the gold standard, and radically restructuring the global financial system to restore not just macroeconomic stability but, after 1945, a “golden age” in economics. Today, we are once again threatened by global financial turmoil. This may be the time to ditch economic orthodoxy, and revive the radical and revolutionary monetary theory and policies of John Maynard Keynes. Or do we have to endure another global crisis before economists come to their senses?

Read more …

“..we’re not going to be the ones to interfere with the election..”

Trump Gives Mueller Three Weeks For Sitdown (ZH)

President Trump is giving special counsel Robert Mueller until September 1st for a sit-down interview under limited conditions, as an interview beyond that window “could interfere with the midterm elections,” reports the Wall Street Journal, citing Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Trump’s attorneys sent Mueller’s team a proposal indicating that the president would be willing to take questions on collusion with Russia in the 2016 elections, but not obstruction of justice alleged to have occurred after he took office – as Giuliani has previously said it could become a perjury trap. “We certainly won’t do [an interview] after Sept. 1, because we’re not going to be the ones to interfere with the election,” Mr. Giuliani told the Journal.

“Let him [Mr. Mueller] get all the bad publicity and the attacks for that.” “I think we made the offer we can live with,” said Giuliani. “Based on a prior meeting with Mr. Mueller, Mr. Giuliani said he had believed prosecutors wanted to wrap up the inquiry by September. “Now they’re not really rushing us,” he said. Mr. Mueller has made some moves that suggest the inquiry itself could stretch beyond the midterm elections and certainly past the September timeline Mr. Giuliani laid out.” -WSJ Last week the special counsel subpoenaed Roger Credico, comedian and radio host that former Trump adviser Roger Stone claims was a back channel to Wikileaks. Credico has denied this – instead calling himself a “confirming source” due to his contacts with WikiLeaks attorneys. He is set to testify in front of Mueller’s grand jury on September 7.

Read more …

Can we get Comey under oath too?

Trump ‘Will Deny Under Oath’ Asking Comey For Flynn Leniency (AT)

If he has to testify under oath, US President Donald Trump will deny he ever asked former FBI director James Comey to treat former national security adviser Michael Flynn leniently, his lawyer said on Sunday. “There was no conversation about Michael Flynn,” Rudy Giuliani said on CNN’s State of the Union program regarding the February 14, 2017, meeting in the Oval Office. The private chat figures prominently in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible obstruction of justice in the Russia election interference case.

Comey testified in Congress last year that Trump tried to persuade him to go easy on Flynn the day after the president sacked his national security adviser for lying about his contact with the Russian ambassador. “I hope you can see your way to letting Flynn go. He’s a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Comey quoted Trump as saying. Trump sacked Comey in May 2017, later admitting on TV that the FBI’s Russia investigation was on his mind when he made the decision.

Read more …

Nice analysis by Eric Zuesse. h/t ZH

Why Trump Cancelled the Iran Deal (Zuesse)

[..] whereas Fox News, Forbes, National Review, The Weekly Standard, American Spectator, Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Breitbart News, InfoWars, Reuters, and AP, are propagandists for the Republican Party; NPR, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, The New Republic, New Yorker, New York Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Salon, are propagandists for the Democratic Party; but, they all draw their chief sponsors from the same small list of donors who are America’s billionaires, since these few people control the top advertisers, investors, and charities, and thus control nearly all of the nation’s propaganda. The same people who control the Government control the public; but, America isn’t a one-Party dictatorship. America is, instead, a multi-Party dictatorship. And this is how it functions.

Trump cancelled the Iran deal because a different group of billionaires are now in control of the White House, and of the rest of the US Government. Trump’s group demonize especially Iran; Obama’s group demonize especially Russia. That’s it, short. That’s America’s aristocratic tug-of-war; but both sides of it are for invasion, and for war. Thus, we’re in the condition of ‘permanent war for permanent peace’ — to satisfy the military contractors and the billionaires who control them. Any US President who would resist that, would invite assassination; but, perhaps in Trump’s case, impeachment, or other removal-from-office, would be likelier. In any case, the sponsors need to be satisfied — or else — and Trump knows this.

Trump is doing what he thinks he has to be doing, for his own safety. He’s just a figurehead for a different faction of the US aristocracy, than Obama was. He’s doing what he thinks he needs to be doing, for his survival. Political leadership is an extremely dangerous business. Trump is playing a slightly different game of it than Obama did, because he represents a different faction than Obama did. These two factions of the US aristocracy are also now battling each other for political control over Europe.

Read more …

Too much debt.

China Slashes Support For Solar Industry (R.)

China’s solar stress could burn more dealmakers. The industry faces a glut of raw materials and panels after the Chinese government slashed support for the heavily indebted sector. The first victim of the switch is industry giant GCL-Poly Energy, which scrapped plans to flog assets to state-backed Shanghai Electric. It won’t be the last. The loss of official support has cast a shadow over the business. After Beijing in June limited the number of new projects and cut tariffs it pays to solar generators, analysts lowered their forecasts for new installations of solar capacity this year by as much as a third. That signals dark days ahead, as new projects drive growth for both power plant operators and manufacturers.

The industry’s dependence on hefty leverage – a legacy of hasty expansion and delayed subsidy payouts – makes its position more precarious. Some solar companies, such as Panda Green Energy, were already struggling with net borrowing of more than 10 times EBITDA. The squeeze is especially hard on manufacturers of solar materials and equipment, which must splash cash on research to stay competitive. Meanwhile, overcapacity has depressed prices: Chinese solar modules now trade at a 15% discount to the global average, according to Macquarie. Distress should spur consolidation. The Solactive China Solar Index has fallen nearly 20% since the policy shift. As valuations sink, less indebted players like LONGi Green Energy Technology can go bargain-hunting.

Read more …

Stop trying to make it look like a recovery. It is not possible under present conditions.

Greek Bailout Drama ‘In Last Throes’ But The Hardship Is Not Over Yet (G.)

In an economy that has contracted by 26%, a fifth of the working population – two-fifths of young people – have been left unemployed, while about 500,000 people have fled, mostly to EU member states in Europe’s wealthier north. And the hardship isn’t over. The leftist-led government has signed up to a staggering array of ambitious targets. Post–bailout Greece has committed to produce primary surpluses of 3.5 % of GDP until 2022, a feat achieved by only a handful of countries since the 1970s, and 2.2 % until 2060. For Kevin Featherstone, who heads the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics, such obligations amount to perpetual purgatory.

“No other government in Europe would choose to follow this path,” he said. “Greece has been saved in the sense of avoiding the armageddon of euro exit but how it has been saved is so disadvantageous that one can’t talk of a rescue or exit from crisis.” Although Tsipras is at pains to play down outside supervision, Greece will still be subject to a regime of enhanced surveillance initially. Further pension cuts are in store. In May he had unveiled a 106-page post-bailout growth plan. But no amount of preparation can conceal the country’s acute vulnerability to turbulence beyond its borders. Only days before the programme’s end, global market jitters saw yields on Greek bonds soared.

It is accepted that Greece has enough resources to meet funding needs for the next two years, but the IMF is far from persuaded that Athens will be able to sustain market access “over the longer run without further debt relief”. If so, the fund is likely to clamour ever more loudly that the landmark deal, reached in June, easing Greek debt repayments (extending maturities on some loans and improving interest rates on others) just does not go far enough. The crisis has lasted so long that many Greeks can no longer recall their country being “normal” or their pockets full. The middle class has been hardest hit with taxes as high as 70% of income earned. Controversial property levies have added to the toll. “In reality this exit will be a formality because in truth it isn’t going to change a thing,” said Stratos Paradias, who leads the Hellenic Property Federation.

Read more …

Great interview with Ecuador’s former consul to the UK, who became a close friend of Assange.

Those Who Think That They Will Break Julian Assange Are Mistaken (P.)

[..] conditions in the Latin American country’s embassy in Knightsbridge are now very different to those that Assange experienced during the six years beginning 19 June 2012, when he arrived seeking political asylum. Ecuador’s government at the time, and its president Rafael Correa, openly accepted his request, believing Assange’s life to be in danger and admiring his fight to defend freedom of information and expression. At that time the Consul of Ecuador in the UK was Fidel Narváez, who was tasked with accompanying Assange from the day he first set foot in the embassy. Narváez had contacted Julian and Wikileaks in April 2011 to request that the organisation publish all the cables relating to Ecuador.

At that moment an amicable relationship was born, one which has continued to grow throughout the years. Fidel is no longer Consul. He was relieved of his duties for issuing a letter of safe-conduct for Edward Snowden without consulting his government. It was, he states, a completely personal decision, and one for which he feels absolutely no regret. “If I found myself in the same situation now, I would do the same thing again. It was the correct decision, the just decision. I knew who Snowden was, what he had done, why he was being pursued, and I knew how important it was to protect him. I do not regret it. I am proud of what I did.”

Read more …

May 212016
 
 May 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


NPC National Service Co. front, 1610 14th Street N.W., Washington DC 1920

One-Third Of Chinese Real Estate Companies Are “Zombies” (Nikkei)
Defaults Throw Wrench in China’s $3 Trillion Company Bond Engine (BBG)
Easy Money = Overcapacity = Deflation (Rubino)
Cash-Stuffed US Balance Sheets No Match for Even Bigger Debt Loads (BBG)
US, Japan FX Row Overshadows G7 Meeting (R.)
Crude Tanker Storage Fleet Off Singapore Points To Stubborn Oil Glut (R.)
How Freddie and Fannie Are Held Captive (Morgenson)
TTIP: The Most Toxic Acronym In Europe (G.)
Monsanto Weedkiller Faces Recall From Europe After EU Fail To Agree Deal (G.)
Turkey Faces United EU Front in Row Over Visa-Free Travel (BBG)
EU Ministers Press Greece to Send More Syrians Back to Turkey (WSJ)
Syrian Refugee Wins Appeal Against Forced Return To Turkey (G.)

“..on the brink of default but still taking on more debt.”

One-Third Of Chinese Real Estate Companies Are “Zombies” (Nikkei)

As China’s economy continues to sputter, many local companies are having difficulty servicing their debts. A look at 3,000 listed Chinese businesses by French investment bank Natixis found that interest costs exceeded cash flow for 18.5% of them last year, compared with 8% in 2010. Real estate, the most debt-ridden sector, saw its leverage level reach 197% last year, nearly double the figure for 2008, according to Natixis. The investment bank estimates that almost one-third of listed companies in the sector are “zombies” – businesses that are on the brink of default but still taking on more debt.

“The share of zombies in the real estate sector literally doubles the average in [corporate] China,” said Iris Pang, senior economist for greater China at Natixis. Evergrande Real Estate, for example, saw its ratio of total liabilities to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization – or EBITDA – leap to 15.4% at the end of 2015 from 8.5% a year earlier. The figure climbed to 28.6% from 14.9% at Greenland Holdings, 26.8% from 9.7% at Sunac China Holdings, and 58.5% from 20% at Shui On Land. A study released in May by brokerage CLSA of China’s property, mining, manufacturing, utilities, construction, and wholesale and retail sectors counted potential problem debts of 14 trillion yuan ($2.14 trillion) as of the end of 2015.

The property sector represented over half the total, at 54.1%, with industries plagued by excess capacity, such as utilities, steel and coal, accounting for much of the rest. Notably, most of the recent corporate bond defaults have come from these loss-making sectors too, including state-owned power equipment manufacturer Baoding Tianwei and Dongbei Special Steel. Worries about large-scale layoffs, especially in the steel and coal industries, have held the government back from pushing strongly on necessary capacity cutbacks. Instead, state banks have continued to extend more loans, said Francis Cheung at CLSA. Cheung estimates that the actual proportion of questionable debts on the books of China’s banks stands at 15-20%, compared with the 5.76% total reported by the central bank at the end of the first quarter for nonperforming loans and so-called special mention loans.

Read more …

Needing new debt to pay off the old. 72% of new debt is one year or less. Hmm..

Defaults Throw Wrench in China’s $3 Trillion Company Bond Engine (BBG)

Defaults and pulled sales are starting to gum up China’s bond refinancing machine. Chinese companies issued 382.7 billion yuan ($58.5 billion) of notes onshore this month, down 11% from the same period in April and 57% March, data compiled by Bloomberg show. With just eight trading days to go, fundraising may fall short of the record 547.3 billion yuan of debt due. That would mark a shift after sales were 83% more than maturities in April and almost three times higher in March. The faltering $3 trillion corporate bond market will test Premier Li Keqiang’s determination to weed out zombie companies dragging on growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. At least 10 issuers have reneged on onshore debt obligations this year, while 153 Chinese firms have pulled 175 billion yuan of domestic sales this quarter.

Shandong Iron & Steel, which canceled a 3 billion yuan bond offering on May 4, has 3 billion yuan of securities due this month and 30 billion yuan to repay this year. “Many Chinese companies are relying on new borrowings to repay their old debt,” said Liu Dongliang, a senior analyst at China Merchants Bank in Shenzhen. “If they can’t get the money they need, more will default.” Debt-laden companies are struggling to lock in stable, longer-term financing. Sales of onshore bonds maturing in one year or less accounted for 72% of issuance by Chinese coal and steel producers from May 2015 to April 2016, as many were unable to sell longer debt, according to Fitch Ratings. Most of the proceeds were used to refinance maturing notes, Fitch wrote in a May 13 report. “Only the best companies, which have strong profitability or trustworthy credit profiles, are able to sell bonds,” said Qiu Xinhong at First State Cinda Fund Management. “Confidence won’t rebound in the short term.”

Read more …

It really is that easy.

Easy Money = Overcapacity = Deflation (Rubino)

Somewhere back in the depths of time the world got the idea that easy money — that is, low interest rates and high levels of government spending — would produce sustainable growth with modest but positive inflation. And for a while it seemed to work. But that was an illusion. What actually happened was textbook, long-term, surreally-vast misallocation of capital in which individuals, companies and governments were fooled into thinking that adding new factories, stores and infrastructure at a rate several times that of population growth would somehow work out for the best.

China, as with so many other things, was the epicenter of this delusion. In response to the 2008-2009 financial crisis it borrowed more money than any other country ever, and spent most of the proceeds on infrastructure and basic industry. It’s steel-making capacity, already huge by 2008, kept growing right through the Great Recession, and now dwarfs that of any other country.

China steel produciton

The result was indeed higher prices for iron ore and finished steel up front (that is, the inflation the architects of the easy money era expected and desired). But this was soon followed by falling prices as the rest of the world’s steel makers tried to stay in the game.

Steel price

It’s the same story pretty much everywhere. Miners that produced the raw materials for the infrastructure/industrial build-out started projects based on inflated price projections and now have no choice but to keep producing to cover variable costs and avoid bankruptcy. Prices of virtually every commodity have as a result plunged. In the US, retailers built new stores at a pace that vastly exceeded population growth, apparently on the assumption that consumers would keep borrowing in order to buy ever-greater amounts of semi-useless stuff. And now bricks and mortar retailing is suffering a mass-die-off.

Retail space per capita

Read more …

Something’s got to give at some point.

Cash-Stuffed US Balance Sheets No Match for Even Bigger Debt Loads (BBG)

There’s more cash sitting on company balance sheets than ever before. For the first time since 2012, that’s not enough. Combining all of the corporate cash in the U.S. wouldn’t cover the $1.8 trillion of corporate debt that’s coming due in the next five years, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service on Friday. That’s because U.S. companies have been borrowing more quickly than they’ve built up the record $1.68 trillion of cash on their balance sheets. And more of that debt comes due sooner. “You’re seeing more and more borrowing,” Richard Lane, a senior vice president at Moody’s, said by phone. “The increase in leverage has been notable. Cash coverage of near-term maturities hasn’t fallen below 100% since 2012, and hasn’t been as low as its current 93% since the year before that, according to Moody’s.

One reason may be that companies are making less money from merely running their businesses. Cash flow from operations declined 0.2% to $1.54 trillion in the 12 months ended in December 2015, the first time the metric declined in Moody’s data going back to 2007. To cope with sluggish global growth, companies went to the bond market to raise cash at rock-bottom rates. They issued a record $1.4 trillion of bonds last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That helped lead to a 17% increase in the amount of company debt outstanding that matures in the next five years. In contrast, cash holdings only increased by 1.8% among U.S. non-financial companies at the end of 2015, according to Moody’s. The credit rater’s definition of cash includes short-term investments and liquid long-term investments.

Read more …

Was always inevitable.

US, Japan FX Row Overshadows G7 Meeting (R.)

The United States issued a fresh warning to Japan against competitive currency devaluation on Saturday, exposing a rift on exchange-rate policy that overshadowed a Group of 7 finance leaders gathering hosted by the Asian nation. Japan and the United States are at logger-heads over currency policy with Washington saying Tokyo has no justification to intervene in the market to stem yen gains, given the currency’s moves remain “orderly”. In bilateral talks ahead of the second day of G7 talks in Sendai, Japan on Saturday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso that it was important to refrain from competitive currency devaluation.

“Secretary Lew underscored that the commitments made by the G-20 in Shanghai to use all policy tools to promote growth – fiscal policy, monetary policy and structural reforms – and to refrain from competitive devaluation and communicate closely have helped to contribute to confidence in the global economy in recent months,” according to a statement by the Treasury Department.

“He noted the importance of countries continuing to adhere to those commitments,” the statement said. As years of aggressive money printing stretch the limits of monetary policy, the G7 policy response to anemic inflation and subdued growth has become increasingly splintered. Germany has shown no signs of responding to calls from Japan and the United States to boost fiscal spending. Washington also warned Tokyo against relying too much on monetary policy with a senior U.S. Treasury official saying structural reforms are being put in place in Japan “but slowly.”

Read more …

“..traders fully aware that they will not make a profit from storing the oil. This isn’t a trade play, it’s the oil market looking for places to store unsold fuel..”

Crude Tanker Storage Fleet Off Singapore Points To Stubborn Oil Glut (R.)

Prices for oil futures have jumped by almost a quarter since April, lifted by severe supply disruptions caused by triggers such as Canadian wildfires, acts of sabotage in Nigeria, and civil war in Libya. Yet flying into Singapore, the oil trading hub for the world’s biggest consumer region, Asia, reveals another picture: that a global glut that pulled down prices by over 70% between 2014 and early 2016 is nowhere near over, and that financial traders betting on higher crude oil futures may be in for a surprise from the physical market. “I’ve been coming to Singapore once a year for the last 15 years, and flying in I have never seen the waters so full of idle tankers,” said a senior European oil trader a day after arriving in the city-state.


Red dots are ships at anchor or barely moving, oil tankers or cargo (ZH)

As Asia’s main physical oil trading hub, the number of parked tankers sitting off Singapore’s coast or in nearby Malaysian waters is seen by many as a gauge of the industry’s health. Judging by this, oil markets are still sickly: a fleet of 40 supertankers is currently anchored in the region’s coastal waters for use as floating storage facilities. The tankers are filled with 47.7 million barrels of oil, mostly crude, up 10% from the previous week, according to newly collected freight data in Thomson Reuters Eikon. That’s enough oil to satisfy five working days of Chinese demand, suggesting recent supply disruptions – which have mostly occurred in the Americas, Africa and Europe – have done little to tighten supply in Asia as Middle East producers keep output near record volumes in a bid to win market share.

[..] the need to store oil is so strong that traders are calling up banks to finance storage charters despite there being no profit in keeping fuel in tankers at current rates. “We are receiving unusually high amounts of queries to finance storage charters,” said a senior oil trade financier with a major bank in Asia. “These queries come from traders fully aware that they will not make a profit from storing the oil. This isn’t a trade play, it’s the oil market looking for places to store unsold fuel,” he added.

Read more …

This story is getting very strange. The level of secrecy is off the charts.

How Freddie and Fannie Are Held Captive (Morgenson)

When Washington took over the beleaguered mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the collapse of the housing market and the financial crisis of 2008, it was with the implicit promise that they would be returned to shareholders after being nursed back to health. But now, with the unsealing of documents this week that were produced as part of a lawsuit filed against the government, new evidence is coming to light on how intimately the White House was involved in the Treasury’s decision in August 2012 to divert all the companies’ profits to the Treasury Department. That move effectively maintained Fannie and Freddie’s status as wards of the state.

An email from Jim Parrott, then a top White House official on housing finance, was sent the day the so-called profit sweep was announced. It said that the change was structured to ensure that the companies couldn’t “repay their debt and escape as it were.” The documents also show Treasury moving to modify the terms of the mortgage finance giants’ $187.5 billion bailout shortly after a July 2012 meeting when the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie’s and Freddie’s regulator, learned that they were about to enter “the golden years” of profitability. Since then, Fannie and Freddie have returned to the Treasury over $50 billion more than they received in the bailout. The amount they owe to the government remains outstanding.

The new materials cast further doubt on arguments made in court by government lawyers that the profit sweep came about because Fannie and Freddie were in a death spiral and taxpayers needed protection from future losses. Documents unsealed last month also served to undermine that legal stance. The trickle of documents comes years after Fannie and Freddie shareholders filed suits against the government, contending that its decision regarding the companies’ profits was illegal. Defending against an array of these suits, lawyers for the Justice Department have requested confidential treatment for thousands of pages of materials. In a case brought in Federal Claims Court, the government’s lawyers asserted presidential privilege in 45 documents.

Read more …

Falling apart pretty fast.

TTIP: The Most Toxic Acronym In Europe (G.)

David Cameron narrowly avoided the parliamentary defeat of his Queen’s speech this week – an event that, theoretically, triggers the fall of a government and hasn’t happened since 1924. That was only achieved through an embarrassing U-turn on TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which he ardently supports. One of the primary concerns about TTIP is that it could pave the way to further privatisation of the NHS. Yesterday, a group of MPs gave notice that they would table an amendment to the Queen’s speech, lamenting the fact that the government had not included a bill to protect the NHS from TTIP in its programme. The cross-party group was led by Peter Lilley, a long-time supporter of free trade and a former minister under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and was supported by at least 25 Tory MPs – easily enough to overturn the government’s majority.

Though many were Brexiters, by no means all were, and some, such as Sarah Wollaston, appear to have changed their position on TTIP. Realising he faced one of the most embarrassing defeats of his premiership – one not suffered since a similar motion removed Stanley Baldwin from office in 1924 – Cameron quickly said he’d support the amendment. Make no bones about it, this is a humiliation. The prime minister has repeatedly told MPs that TTIP poses no threat to the NHS. Yet to avoid the abyss, his government has supported an amendment contrary to these assertions. We must be under no illusions that he has any intention of moving to protect the NHS in TTIP. How did it come to this? The obvious answer is the EU referendum, which has brought into the open fundamental divisions within the Tory party.

But this only provided the opportunity for parliamentary defeat. If this had gone to a vote, the vast majority of MPs opposing the government in fact support remaining in the EU, and wouldn’t take part in anything that would make Brexit more likely. The reasons go deeper – and they mirror what is happening all over the EU and US. TTIP started out as an obscure trade agreement that would create the world’s biggest “free trade zone” between the US and EU, and received little media coverage or parliamentary debate. Two years ago very few politicians or journalists had even heard of it. Yet a movement has built against this deal, one that has stunned the negotiators and forced the EU trade commissioner to call TTIP “the most toxic acronym in Europe”.

Read more …

“More than 99% of people in one recent German survey were found to have traces of the compound in their urine, 75% of them at levels five times the safe limit for water or above.”

Monsanto Weedkiller Faces Recall From Europe After EU Fail To Agree Deal (G.)

Bestselling weedkillers by Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta could be removed from shops across Europe by July, after an EU committee failed for a second time to agree on a new license for its core ingredient, glyphosate. The issue has divided EU nations, academics and the WHO itself. One WHO agency found it to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” while another ruled that glyphosate was unlikely to pose any health risk to humans, in an assessment shaded by conflict of interests allegations earlier this week. EU officials say that while there could be a voluntary grace period of six-12 months, unless a compromise can be found, the product’s license will be allowed to expire on 30 June. One told the Guardian that after its proposal to cutting the authorisation to nine years was rejected, the bloc was now in “uncharted territory” with no clear path to a deal that could reach consensus.

“Our position is clear,” he said. “If we can reach a qualified majority on a text we will go ahead. Otherwise, we have to leave the authorisation to expire and on 30 June member states will need to start withdrawing products containing glyphosate from the market.” Glyphosate is Europe’s most widely used weedkiller, and its parent RoundUp herbicide accounts for a third of Monsanto’s total earnings. The compound is routinely – but not exclusively – used on crops that have been genetically engineered to resist it. Several studies have linked blanket spraying with damage to surrounding flora, fauna and the entire food chain. But the commission moved to relicense it last November, after a crucial European food safety authority (Efsa) report declared it unlikely to cause cancer, although that paper sparked controversy.

Philip Miller, Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory affairs, condemned the EU’s failure to reapprove glyphosate as “scientifically unwarranted” and “an unprecedented deviation from the EU’s legislative framework”. Writing in a blog post, he said: “This delay undermines the credibility of the European regulatory process and threatens to put European farmers and the European agriculture and chemical industries at a competitive disadvantage.” Richard Garnett, the head of Monsanto’s regulatory affairs unit said that the situation was “discriminatory, disproportionate and wholly unjustified”. The US agri-giant is currently the subject of a takeover bid by the German chemicals multinational, Bayer. Under bloc rules, the commission could now go to an appeals committee but this would have the same balance of countries as the standing committee that has now twice failed to take a decision.

It could also go over the heads of the EU states and independently reauthorise glyphosate as a draft measure. EU president Jean-Claude Juncker has said that he opposes doing this and officials doubt it will happen, although the procedure has been used to approve GM crops for import. A short-term license might also be possible. Glyphosate is so ubiquitous that its residues are commonly found in breads, beers and human bodies. More than 99% of people in one recent German survey were found to have traces of the compound in their urine, 75% of them at levels five times the safe limit for water or above. But the very definition of a safe limit for chemicals such as glyphosate is contested, and linked to a broader regulatory divide between the US’s risk-based approach which errs towards product approvals where doubt cannot be quantified, and the EU’s hazard-based approach, which leans towards a precautionary principle in such situations.

Read more …

“.. If not, well, then not. It’s as simple as that.”

Turkey Faces United EU Front in Row Over Visa-Free Travel (BBG)

EU governments showed Turkey a united front in the battle over visa-free travel, insisting Ankara narrow its terrorism legislation to qualify for the perk. The stance by European home-affairs ministers underscores a threat to an EU-Turkey agreement that has stemmed Europe’s biggest refugee wave since World War II and eased domestic political pressure on leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Turkey sought EU visa-free status in return for signing up to the mid-March deal, under which irregular migrants who enter the EU in Greece are sent back to Turkey and Syrian refugees in Turkish camps are resettled in Europe. The EU has said Turks can win visa-free status by mid-year as long as the Turkish government fulfills five remaining criteria – including on the terrorism law – out of a total of 72.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled he won’t bow to the European demand over terrorism legislation, citing terror risks in Turkey that his critics say are being used as cover to jail political opponents. “We have a clear statement and a clear agreement on visa liberalization: it goes through if you meet the criteria,” Klaas Dijkhoff, migration minister of the Netherlands, current holder of the 28-nation EU’s rotating presidency, told reporters on Friday in Brussels after chairing a meeting with his counterparts from the bloc. “We will see if, over the next few weeks, the criteria are met. If so, we will go ahead. If not, well, then not. It’s as simple as that.” The standoff pits EU political principles against Turkish geopolitical power. Migrant flows into Europe via Turkey during the past year have handed Erdogan leverage over the EU, which has lambasted him for cracking down on domestic dissenters and kept Turkey’s longstanding bid for membership of the bloc largely on hold.

Along with the reintroduction of internal European border checks that shut a migratory route north from Greece, the March 18 EU agreement with Ankara has caused a slump in refugee sea crossings from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands. Arrivals in Greece fell to 3,650 last month from 26,971 in March and 57,066 in February, according to the UN refugee agency. On May 6, when commenting on the EU call for Turkish terrorism-rule changes, Erdogan said “we are going our way and you go yours.” He also dared the bloc to “go make a deal with whoever you can.” Erdogan’s position poses a “problem,” said Theo Francken, Belgium’s state secretary for asylum and migration. “It’s clear that all the conditions have to be fulfilled,” Francken told reporters at Friday’s EU meeting. “To get visa liberalization, it’s important that they change their terrorism law.”

Read more …

Europe speaks with forked tongue.

EU Ministers Press Greece to Send More Syrians Back to Turkey (WSJ)

European interior ministers on Friday pressured Greece to speed up asylum procedures and send more Syrians back to Turkey. Under a deal signed in March between the EU and Turkey, all migrants, including Syrian refugees are to be sent back to Turkey once they have their asylum applications assessed and rejected by Greek judges. But the first decisions—coming nearly two months after the deal went into effect—ruled mostly in favor of the Syrians applying for asylum. These early figures are raising concerns among EU officials that the intent of the plant to serve as a deterrent will be lost. Austrian minister Wolfgang Sobotka said if the trend continues, it would “at least undermine, if not annul the Turkey agreement.”

Germany, which championed the EU-Turkey deal, in particular pressed Greece for an acceleration in returning migrants to Turkey. German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere said that while Turkey is sticking to its part of the deal and arrivals in Greece have dropped, “on the Greek side, procedures take too long and the returns to Turkey are not happening with enough determination.” Mr. De Maiziere said he spoke to his Greek counterpart about the first appeal case won by a Syrian on Friday against a ruling to send him back to Turkey. He said “it was up to Greek authorities to establish what happened,” while insisting that Turkey is a safe country for Syrian refugees.

“Turkey has sheltered 2.5 million refugees, this is a tremendous performance. Despite all political debates that we can have and which are justified. we can’t doubt Turkey’s safe country status,” Mr. De Maiziere said, in reference to a decision Friday by Turkey’s parliament to strip lawmakers critical of the government of their immunity. Given that the Greek appeals body isn’t controlled by the government, the Greek minister asked for support from the EU to state that Turkey is a safe country where Syrian refugees can be sent back, according to one participant in the debate. “Member states today made it clear that they support Greece in considering Turkey a safe country for the return of migrants,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

Read more …

Can’t very well ignore your own judges. But the pressure will be relentless.

Syrian Refugee Wins Appeal Against Forced Return To Turkey (G.)

The EU-Turkey migration deal has been thrown further into chaos after an independent authority examining appeals claims in Greece ruled against sending a Syrian refugee back to Turkey, potentially creating a precedent for thousands of other similar cases. In a landmark case, the appeals committee upheld the appeal of an asylum seeker who had been one of the first Syrians listed for deportation under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal. In a document seen by the Guardian, a three-person appeals committee said Turkey would not give Syrian refugees the rights they were owed under international treaties and therefore overturned the applicant’s deportation order by a verdict of two to one. The case will now be re-assessed from scratch.

The committee’s conclusion stated: “The committee has judged that the temporary protection which could be offered by Turkey to the applicant, as a Syrian citizen, does not offer him rights equivalent to those required by the Geneva convention.” The decision undermines the legal and practical basis for the EU-Turkey deal, which European leaders had hoped would deter refugees from sailing to Europe by ensuring the swift deportation of most people landing on the Greek islands. After signing the deal on 18 March, EU officials claimed these deportations would be legally justified on the basis that Turkey respects refugee rights. But the EU’s executive has little control over Greek asylum protocols. The committee rejected the logic of the EU-Turkey deal, citing some of the EU’s own previous directives as explanations for their decision.

While nearly 400 other asylum seekers have been returned to Turkey under the terms of the deal, no one of Syrian nationality had been sent back against their will – making Friday’s decision a watershed moment. “At its very first test, the EU-Turkey deal crumbles,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director. The Greek government, which played no part in the independent decision, admitted the judgment had created “a very difficult situation”. Greece’s deputy minister in charge of migration policy, Yannis Mouzalas, said by phone from Brussels: “I have only just learned of the decision by the appeals committee and I have to be in Greece to study it. They are, as you know, independent committees so it is very difficult for me to say anything – but if they think this way, we will have a very difficult situation.” Such a decision goes against all the directives of the UN and UNHCR, Mouzalas claimed. “Really I don’t know how they arrived at it.”

Read more …

May 052016
 


Lewis Wickes Hine Boys working in Phoenix American Cob Pipe Factory 1910

FX Market Truce Looks Increasingly Fragile (BBG)
The ‘Ostrich Approach’ Ignores Real Global and National Debt Figures (SM)
Easy Money Isn’t the Answer for Japan (BBG)
Japan’s Coma Economy Is A Preview For The World (GS)
Eurozone Retail Sales Fall More Than Expected In March (R.)
Kyle Bass Sees 30% To 40% Losses On Chinese Investments (BBG)
Hong Kong Cracks Down On Fake Trade Invoices From China (R.)
Regulators Want to Slow Runs on Derivatives (BBG)
Brexit, Like Grexit, Is Not About Economics (WSJ)
Even ‘Small Crisis’ Enough To Tear EU Apart, Moody’s Warns (Tel.)
Let The TTIP Die If It Threatens Parliamentary Democracy (AEP)
Turkey In Political Freefall As Erdogan Grabs More Power, PM To Resign (MEE)
Study: Bailouts Went To Banks, Only 5% To Greeks (Hand.)
The Terrible News From Fort McMurray, And The Hope That Remains (G&M)
‘Omega Block’ Behind Searing Heat Inflaming Fort McMurray Wildfire (WaPo)
UN Envoy Warns of New Wave of 400,000 Refugees From Syria (WSJ)

A truce that never stood a chance. Some may have believed in it, though.

Foreign-Exchange Market Truce Looks Increasingly Fragile (BBG)

The foreign exchange market is notorious for overshooting. A currency that starts moving in a particular direction as economic fundamentals change will often end up at a rate that can’t be justified by the data. So trying to nudge the matrix of currency values is akin to policy makers attempting to steer a Ouija board pointer – which is exactly what seems to have happened since their February Group of 20 meeting in Shanghai produced a tacit truce in the currency war. Suspicions that finance ministers had agreed in February to stop talking their currencies down seemed confirmed by the dollar’s decline of more than 6% from its Jan. 20 peak.

China’s recent moves to boost the yuan’s reference rate to its highest levels this year also backed the impression of a suspension of hostilities. But while U.S. manufacturers worried that a too-strong dollar would threaten their exports and profits, the recent reversal, and gains for the euro and the yen, pose bigger risks to the struggling economies of Europe, and Japan. The euro, for example, pierced $1.16 on Tuesday, reaching its highest level since August:

The yen, meanwhile, has breached 106 to the dollar, down from as weak as 122 in January:

Those are the kinds of moves that make central banks uncomfortable – especially when, like the ECB and the BOJ, they’re already struggling to avert deflation. Australia’s surprise decision to cut interest rates overnight, driving its currency lower against all 31 of its major trading peers, is a sign that skirmishes might be breaking out again. Marcus Ashworth, a strategist at Haitong Securities in London, said in a research note: The rumor mill has been incessant (despite official denials) that the so-called Shanghai G-20 accord to pacify markets and quell unrest between the members has actually served to make international relations as toxic as they have been for many years.

The Shanghai deal was to stop the negative feedback loop and thereby prevent a sharp devaluation of the yuan; however, it was meant to curtail the rise of the dollar, not sharply reverse it. [..] It’s clear the Treasury doesn’t want the dollar to resume its ascent. But it’s also clear that trying to steer the currency market into stasis has failed, and that the inflation outlooks in both the euro zone and Japan are deteriorating. The environment looks ripe for hostilities to break out again, providing yet another reason to be pessimistic about the prospects for a global economic recovery.

Read more …

Much more in the article.

The ‘Ostrich Approach’ Ignores Real Global and National Debt Figures (SM)

According to Hoisington and Hunt, the ratio of nonfinancial debt-to-GDP rose to 248.6% at the end of 2015, higher than the previous record of 245.5% set in 2009 and well above the average of 167.5% since this figure started to be tracked in 1952. They also point out that since 2000 it has taken $3.30 of debt to generate $1.00 of GDP compared with $1.70 in the 45 years prior to 2000. This points to the fact that a greater proportion of new debt is devoted to unproductive uses. Debt drains away vital resources from economic growth. Fighting a debt crisis with more debt is doomed to failure, yet that is not only what global central banks did during the crisis but long after markets stabilized (though the crisis never truly ended, just slowed). This was an epic policy failure that continues today.

U.S. government debt is growing to unsustainable levels. Gross debt (excluding off-balance sheet items) reached $18.9 trillion at the end of 2015, equal to 104% of GDP (considerably higher than the 63-year average of 55.2%). Government debt increased by $780.7 billion in 2015, or $230 billion more than the nominal or dollar rise in GDP. This actual debt increase is considerably larger than the budget deficit of $478 billion reported by the government because many spending items were shifted off-budget. Readers should remember this the next time The WSJ editorial page trumpets that the deficit dropped significantly from the four consecutive years of $1 trillion+ deficits between 2009 and 2012. And these figures don’t even touch upon the $60 trillion of unfunded liabilities (calculated on a net present value basis) for Social Security and other entitlement programs.

Globally, the debt picture is more disturbing. Total public and private debt/GDP is 350% in China, 370% in the U.S., 457% in Europe and 615% in Japan, respectively. Those numbers should speak for themselves.

Read more …

It isn’t the answer for anyone, certainly not today when everyone’s debts are through the roof.

Easy Money Isn’t the Answer for Japan (BBG)

Strolling through Tokyo on a Sunday afternoon, it’s hard to tell Japan’s economy is a mess. Deflation has returned, while growth hasn’t. But Shibuya Crossing remains as packed with diners, bag-toting shoppers and gawking tourists as ever. Nearby, a line of more than 50 people stretches outside a restaurant selling overpriced burgers. Lost decades be damned! Japan had the good fortune to have become wealthy before entering its years of stagnation. Some Japanese are now suffering in an economy that’s endured four recessions in eight years; the poverty rate has reached 16%, its highest level on record. But for many, especially in big cities such as Tokyo, life hasn’t so much deteriorated as frozen in time. GDP per capita, on a nominal basis, is little different now than in 1992.

And though the quality of many jobs has waned due to the increase of temporary work, joblessness remains a rarity. The unemployment rate is an enviable 3.2%. The Shibuya crowds raise serious and uncomfortable questions about the direction of Tokyo’s economic policy. Even as some analysts urge the Bank of Japan to double down on its monetary easing program and the government to ramp up its own spending in an effort to boost inflation, there’s a good argument to be made that the approach of Japan’s policymakers has been dead wrong, and for a very long time. The thrust of Japanese policies since the bursting of its gargantuan asset-price bubble in the early 1990s has been to spur growth with lots and lots of cash, whether from the government or the BOJ.

Since 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has dramatically pumped up that strategy – running large budget deficits, delaying taxes and encouraging the BOJ to print money on an ever grander scale. Arguably, however, Japan’s main focus should be to preserve the wealth it’s already accumulated. With a population that’s aging and shrinking, Japan can get richer on a per capita basis even if GDP remains perfectly flat. In that sense, deflation – long considered the scourge of Japan’s economy – is actually a boon: Falling prices raise the future value of savings, helping the elderly and others on fixed incomes. In constant terms, Japan’s GDP per capita is 17% higher than in 1992, thanks to deflation.

Read more …

“When you fly to Australia, you land in 2000, to China you land in 2016, Japan you land in 1989.”

Japan’s Coma Economy Is A Preview For The World (GS)

The 1980s were the apex of Japanese culture and economic might. Back then, Japan’s economy was growing so fast, it was thought they would overtake the US. But that all came to a screeching halt. Truth is, Japan’s meteoric rise was fueled by an epic lending bubble. Similar to the Roaring 20s in America. And when the bubble popped, the government launched massive and misguided measures that set Japan back decades. Their economy hasn’t expanded since. They are stuck in the 1980s. There’s been no growth for 30 years. And as you’ll hear about this in this special bonus video, the United States could be going down the same path. Imagine, if we are stuck in the 2000s for the next couple decades. How will you ever be able to retire?

Read more …

Deflation.

Eurozone Retail Sales Fall More Than Expected In March (R.)

Euro zone retail sales fell more than expected in March against February as consumers cut purchases of food, drinks and tobacco, the EU’s statistics office said on Wednesday. Retail sales, a proxy for household spending, decreased 0.5% in March month-on-month in the 19-country currency union, Eurostat said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a much smaller decrease of 0.1%. Yearly figures were also lower than expected, with sales up 2.1%, below market forecasts of a 2.5% rise. The fall in March sales was partly offset by an upward revision of data for February.

Eurostat said on Wednesday that in February sales rose 0.3% on a monthly basis and 2.7% year-on-year. It had previously estimated an increase of 0.2% monthly and 2.4% yearly. On a monthly basis, retail sales of food, drinks and tobacco products dropped 1.3% in March, the biggest fall among all the categories. Sales of non-food products, excluding automotive fuels, went down 0.5% month-on-month. Purchases of fuel for cars also dropped 0.4% on a monthly basis. Among the largest euro zone economies, Germany posted a 1.1% monthly drop of retail sales and France recorded a decrease of 0.7%. In Spain, sales increased 0.4% on a monthly basis in March.

Read more …

Conservative.

Kyle Bass Sees 30% To 40% Losses On Chinese Investments (BBG)

Kyle Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, said investors wouldn’t be investing in China if they realized how vulnerable its banking system is. “Common sense will tell you that they are going to have a loss cycle,” he said at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on Wednesday. “So if you think about how precarious that system is, you wouldn’t be allocating money to China.” Bass, a hedge fund manager famed for betting against U.S. subprime mortgages, is predicting losses for China’s banks and raising money to start a dedicated fund for bets in the nation. Bass said investors putting money in Asia should ask if they can handle 30 to 40% writedowns in Chinese investments.

Read more …

Or so we’re supposed to think.

Hong Kong Cracks Down On Fake Trade Invoices From China (R.)

Hong Kong is conducting a multi-pronged customs, shipping and financial sector crackdown against so-called fake trade invoicing that allows billions of dollars of capital to leave China illegally. Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters it has beefed up its scrutiny of banks’ trade financing operations, while customs officials are doing more random checks on shipments crossing border posts and conducting raids on warehouses to ensure the authenticity of goods, senior officials working in shipping, logistics and banking said. The head of a logistics company said surprise customs inspections at Hong Kong border posts had doubled. The sources[..] said the increased efforts began this year and reflected concerns about billions of dollars in illicit cash authorities suspect are being channeled through Hong Kong following a stock market crash in China last year.

“Examinations and investigations reflect one of the strongest trends we are seeing now in the financial sector,” said Urszula McCormack, a partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, which helped co-author a report published by The Hong Kong Association of Banks in February that highlighted shipping as a sector where fake invoicing can thrive. “(Hong Kong) regulators are now in enforcement mode.” China has become increasingly concerned about capital outflows since the middle of last year when Chinese rushed to get money offshore for safekeeping or to invest following the stock market slump and unexpected yuan devaluation. Hong Kong is the most popular route, analysts say, because of its proximity to China.

Read more …

Until counterparties start raising their voices?!

Regulators Want to Slow Runs on Derivatives (BBG)

Nobody quite knows what it means for a bank to be “too big to fail,” so the regulators in charge of solving the problem have an understandable focus on tidiness. A bank that fails tidily, sensibly, in neat little compartments, probably won’t do much damage to anyone else. A bank whose failure is sprawling and incomprehensible might well turn out to be catastrophic. So the preferred mechanism for winding up a possibly too-big-to-fail bank these days is largely about compartmentalization. You put all of the important, messy stuff into subsidiaries – put the deposits in a bank subsidiary, the repurchase agreements and derivatives in a broker-dealer subsidiary, etc. – and put those subsidiaries under a “clean” bank holding company with a fairly large amount of capital and long-term debt.

Then if things go horribly wrong, the holding company’s shareholders and bondholders are the ones who lose money, shielding the people who have messier and more systemic claims on the subsidiaries. The regulators swoop in and recapitalize the holding company, or just sell the subsidiaries to other, healthier banks, in any case without ever interrupting service at the systemic subsidiaries. All the bad stuff happens at the holding company, all the important stuff happens at the subsidiaries, and you try to avoid mixing the two. Then all you have to do is make sure that the holding company has enough equity and long-term debt to shield the subsidiaries against any plausible bad outcome. But to make this work you really need to keep things in their boxes. Derivatives have a tendency to want to jump out of their boxes.

In particular, if bad things are happening at a large and systemically important bank holding company, there isn’t a lot of reason for the bank’s derivatives counterparties and repo creditors to stick around. Repo is meant to be a super-safe place to park your money overnight; if it looks like a repo counterparty might default, then you look for a different counterparty. And derivatives are just supposed to work: If Bank A owes you money under an interest-rate swap, and you owe Bank B money under an offsetting swap, and Bank A defaults, then all of a sudden you have an unanticipated unhedged risk. So if your derivatives or repo counterparty gets in trouble, you bail immediately to protect yourself. (Also there is always the possibility of making a lot of money on the unwind.) But while this is individually rational, it is systemically bad. As Janet Yellen put it yesterday:

“The crisis underscored that when a large financial institution gets into trouble, its failure can destabilize other firms. This is because large banking organizations are connected with each other by the business they do together and through the contracts that result from that business. Indeed, in the 21st century, a run on a failing banking organization may begin with the mass cancellation of the derivatives and repo contracts that govern the everyday course of financial transactions. When these contracts, known collectively as Qualified Financial Contracts or QFCs, unravel all at once at a failed large banking organization, an orderly resolution of the bank may become far more difficult, sparking asset firesales that may consume many firms.”

So yesterday U.S. banking regulators proposed new rules to prevent that from happening. The rules basically say that a bank subsidiary’s derivatives and repo contracts can’t be cancelled for 48 hours after the bank’s holding company files for bankruptcy or otherwise enters resolution proceedings. This gives the regulators two days to swoop in and conduct the neat resolution of the bank before its derivatives spill out everywhere and create a mess.

Read more …

Not only about economics. But if the economy were growing like crazy, the Brexit risk would be much more subdued.

Brexit, Like Grexit, Is Not About Economics (WSJ)

Britain’s flirtation with leaving the European Union is as puzzling as Greece’s stubborn desire to stay. After all, Britain’s economy has done quite well inside the bloc while Greece’s has been decimated. What explains both sentiments is that the European project has always been about more than economics. It also seeks “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe,” as the Treaty of Rome, its founding charter, declared in 1957. “Closer union” with Europe deeply appeals to Greeks, whose own state has failed them so badly. But it repels many Britons, whose state works just fine and who want no part of a European political union. For them, the quagmire of the euro, which Britain hasn’t adopted, is a cautionary tale of what such a union could bring.

How they decide between the economic benefits and political risks of staying could determine whether Britain votes to leave the EU in a June 23 referendum. Greece joined the European Economic Community, the EU’s predecessor, in 1981, in search of shelter from foreign invaders, domestic coups, and its own dysfunctional government. Economics actually argued against membership: EEC technocrats said Greece wasn’t ready, but were overruled by political leaders worried about geopolitical instability on the Continent’s southern flank. The same logic brought Greece into the euro in 2001 when its debts and deficits should have disqualified it. Greece’s underdeveloped, overprotected economy was poorly prepared for life inside the EU.

A study led by Nauro Campos of Brunel University concluded only Greece was poorer in 2008 for having joined the EU; Britain, they reckon, was 24% richer. Eurozone membership initially brought down Greek interest rates and unleashed a borrowing binge but resulted in crisis and a six-year depression. Yet Greeks still don’t want to give up the euro. “Anglo Saxons think the euro is only an economic and financial project,” said Yannis Stournaras, governor of the Greek central bank, in an interview. “It’s political as well. It’s a means to an identity. We feel safer in the euro.” British considerations were just the opposite. A Conservative government took Britain into the EEC in 1973 largely for its trade benefits, a decision voters overwhelmingly approved in a 1975 referendum.

Read more …

You don’t say.

Even ‘Small Crisis’ Enough To Tear EU Apart, Moody’s Warns (Tel.)

Fresh turmoil in the EU risks triggering the disintegration of the entire bloc, according to Moody’s. In a stark warning, the rating agency said the “painful adjustment” faced by some countries in the eurozone meant the collapse of the single currency area and wider EU was believed by some to be a question of “when” not “if”. Moody’s said that even a “small crisis” threatened to set off an uncontrollable chain of events that would “threaten the sustainability” of the EU and its institutions. The rating agency praised the “significant political progress” made since the crisis in putting the foundations in place for a banking union and creating a eurozone rescue fund. However, it said endless austerity demands in return for bail-outs had fuelled deep resentment across the region, especially in countries weighed down by sky-high unemployment.

“Significant vulnerabilities” facing the bloc such as a British exit from the EU also remained, which would fuel support for “anti-establishment and anti-EU parties elsewhere”, it warned in a report. Colin Ellis, Moody’s chief credit officer for Europe, said a British exit could spark an “existential moment” for the bloc. “Even if the EU survives its current challenges largely unscathed, even a ‘small’ future crisis could threaten the sustainability of current institutional frameworks, if it coincided with negative public sentiment and populist political developments,” the report said. “This can create the impression that the question is when the system breaks, rather than if.”

It came as Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, warned that the eurozone faced four “unpalatable choices” as policymakers struggle to lift the bloc out of its economic malaise. Lord King said the single currency area would have to choose between an economic “depression” in the south, higher inflation in northern states like Germany, permanent fiscal transfers or a “change of composition of the euro area”. However, he told an audience in Frankfurt that there was “a limit to the economic pain that can be imposed in pursuit of a federal Europe without risking a political reaction. “There are no empires in Europe any more and our leaders would do well not to try to recreate one.”

Read more …

Ambrose votes Brexit?!

Let The TTIP Die If It Threatens Parliamentary Democracy (AEP)

Unloved, untimely, and unnecessary, the putative free trade pact between Europe and America is dying a slow death. The Dutch people have amassed 100,000 signatures calling for a referendum on this Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. The number is likely to soar after Greenpeace leaked 248 pages of negotiation papers over the weekend. The documents do not exactly show a “race to the bottom in environmental, consumer protection and public health standards” – as Greenpeace alleges – but they do raise red flags over who sets our laws and who holds the whip hand over our eviscerated parliaments. Dutch voters have already rebuked Brussels once this year, throwing out an association agreement with Ukraine in what was really a protest against the wider conduct of European affairs by an EU priesthood that long ago lost touch with economic and political reality.

French president François Hollande cannot hide from that reality. Faced with approval ratings of 13pc in the latest TNS-Sofres poll, a TTIP mutiny within his own Socialist Party, and electoral annihilation in 2017, he is retreating. “We don’t want unbridled free trade. We will never accept that basic principles are threatened,” he said. In Germany, just 17pc now back the project, and barely half even accept that free trade itself a “good thing”, an astonishing turn for a mercantilist country that has geared its industrial system to exports. The criticisms have struck home. The Dutch, Germans, and French, have come to suspect that TTIP is a secretive stitch-up by corporate lawyers, yet another backroom deal that allows the owners of capital to game the international system at the expense of common people.

Weighty principles are at stake. The Greenpeace documents show that the EU’s ‘precautionary principle’ is omitted from the texts, while the rival “risk based” doctrine of the US earns a frequent mention. Clearly, the two approaches are fundamentally incompatible. It is a heresy in our liberal age – a sin against Davos orthodoxies – to question to the premises of free trade, but this tissue rejection of the TTIP project in Europe may be a blessing in disguise. You can push societies too far. [..] The European Commission’s Spring forecast this week has an eye-opening section on the rise of inequality. Without succumbing to the fallacy of ‘post hoc, propter hoc’, it is an inescapable fact that the pauperisation of Europe’s blue collar classes corresponds exactly with the advent of globalisation.

Read more …

Let’s sign another set of deals with them.

Turkey In Political Freefall As Erdogan Grabs More Power, PM To Resign (MEE)

News that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, after meeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is to announce the holding of a party congress on Thursday, effectively signifying his resignation, has sent shockwaves through the country. The value of the Turkish Lira dropped from 2.79 to the dollar earlier in the day to 2.94. Davutoglu is expected to make the announcement at 1100am local time. After 14 years in power, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) may be coming apart at the seams. But far more threatening than the unravelling of a political party are fears about the direction in which the country is headed. Both domestic and international critics have for years pointed to the growing authoritarianism and strong-man tactics employed by Erdogan. The fact that he can so easily dismiss the prime minister, a man he rapidly promoted through the ranks, is sending shivers down the spines of many.

“This is a palace coup,” said Yusuf Kanli, a veteran commentator on Turkish politics. “The president wanted the prime minister to step down and that’s it. Now we will have a party convention in May or early June,” Kanli told Middle East Eye. Rumours of tensions within the party have been rife for almost a year, but not even the AKP’s worst enemies had imagined a split could occur on such a scale. Unconfirmed reports suggest the AKP will convene a party congress within 60 days and that Davutoglu will not stand as a candidate. “Events today show that the AKP will move to consolidate Erdogan’s aspirations of becoming a super president. Whether they will succeed remains to be seen. These are very fine political calculations,” Kanli said. The party congress elects the party chairman, who automatically becomes their choice for prime minister.

Read more …

Now confirmed by another study.

Study: Bailouts Went To Banks, Only 5% To Greeks (Hand.)

After six years of ongoing bailouts amounting to more than €220 billion, or $253 billion in loans, Greece just cannot get out of crisis mode. It is tempting to blame those who refused to reform the country’s pensions and labor markets for the latest calamity. But a study by the European School of Management and Technology, a copy of which Handelsblatt has obtained exclusively, gives another perspective. The aid programs were badly designed by Greece’s lenders, the ECB, the EU and the IMF. Their priority, the report says, was to save not the Greek people, but its banks and private creditors. This accusation has been around for a long time. But now, for the first time, the Berlin-based ESMT has compiled a detailed calculation over 24 pages.

Their economists looked at every individual loan instalment and examined where the money from the first two aid packages, amounting to €215.9 billion, actually went. Researchers found that only €9.7 billion, or less than 5% of the total, ended up in the Greek state budget, where it could benefit citizens directly. The rest was used to service old debts and interest payments. The report comes as the EU and the Greek government prepare to hold negotiations about further debt relief. E.U. Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said he hoped all sides could reach an agreement at a special meeting of the Eurogroup of euro-zone finance ministers next Monday. Extensions of credit repayment periods, deferments and freezing interest rates are all being discussed. This “debt relief light” would not affect private investors – just the loans from Europeans.

At the moment, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her colleagues are not inclined to listen to the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, as he asks for a new multi-billion euro aid package. It is easy to understand why. The chancellor must feel she has seen it all before. She has experienced many near state bankruptcies since early 2010 when she put together the first bailout for Greece. But Jörg Rocholl, president of the European School of Management and Technology said that his institute’s research shows that the biggest problem lies with the way the bailout packages were designed in the first place. “The aid packages served primarily to rescue European banks,” he said. For example, €86.9 billion were used to pay off old debts, €52.3 billion went on interest payments and €37.3 billion were used to recapitalize Greek banks.

Of course, the servicing of debts and interest payments is a major source of expenditure in any state budget – so the Greek state did benefit from it indirectly, as it had also spent the loan money beforehand. But the new calculations do throw doubts on whether the aid programs were sensibly constructed: The loans were used to service debt, although Greece has been de facto bankrupt since 2010.

Read more …

Apart form the obvious human tragedy, I don’t know why, but nobody talks about this being the end of the tar sands industry. That’s a real possibility, though. Nearly all workers live in the town. And so oil prices are up a bit for the moment.

The Terrible News From Fort McMurray, And The Hope That Remains (G&M)

On Monday, residents of Fort McMurray watched anxiously as wildfires burned southwest of the northern Alberta city. Fort Mac’s streets are carved out of the boreal forest at the spot where the Clearwater River flows into the Athabasca. Backyards in the residential neighbourhoods in the west and northwest run up against walls of pine and spruce. Forest fire is always a threat, but on Monday the smoke and flames appeared to be far enough away to allow for hope that the city was safe. On Tuesday, the worst happened. The winds came up and the wildfires flanked the city. The two oldest residential developments, Abasands and Beacon Hill, have been decimated. Thickwood, Timberlea and Parsons Creek, the newest and by far the largest residential developments, where there are modern schools and shopping malls and a beautiful ravine park, were on the verge of being overrun by the flames.

The destruction by fire of an entire Canadian city of more than 80,000 people is suddenly a possibility. Fort McMurray is a remarkable place. People from across Canada and the world have built lives there. In grocery stores, you’ll find halal meats displayed alongside cod tongues. Muslim and Christian children mix easily at the new Roman Catholic high school. Fort Mac is often maligned as a transient, wild west town and a symbol of oil extraction at all costs, but it is in fact a tolerant, diverse and progressive city – a very Canadian boomtown. Not perfect, but doing its best to be a durable home for oil sands workers in spite of the capriciousness of oil prices, the isolation and the long winters.

The focus now is on the logistics of caring for 89,000 evacuees – a staggering challenge. Government officials at all levels and in all provinces, along with private industry and the many native bands around Fort McMurray, are offering aid. Residents are safe and, miraculously, no one has been reported killed or injured. But many, or even perhaps all, may not have homes to return to.

Read more …

Temperature anomalies keep spreading.

‘Omega Block’ Behind Searing Heat Inflaming Fort McMurray Wildfire (WaPo)

Unseasonably hot weather in Alberta, Canada, is fueling the worst wildfire disaster in the country’s history. An extreme weather pattern, known as an omega block, is the source of the heat. An omega block is essentially a stoppage in the atmosphere’s flow in which a sprawling area of high pressure forms. This clog impedes the typical west-to-east progress of storms. The jet stream, along which storms track, is forced to flow around the blockage. At the heart of the block in Canadian’s western provinces, the air is sinking and much warmer than normal. Such a clog can persist for days until the atmosphere’s flow is able to break it down and flush it out.

Centers of storminess form on both sides of the block, and the resulting jet stream configuration takes on the likeness of the Greek letter omega. In this case, cool and unsettled weather is affecting the eastern Pacific Ocean and eastern North America, including much of the U.S. East Coast. As the Fort McMurray wildfire rapidly spread Tuesday, temperatures surged to 90 degrees (32 Celsius), shattering the daily record of 82 degrees set May 3, 1945. Dozens of other locations in Alberta also had record high temperatures. More records are likely to fall today. Temperatures are forecast to climb well into the 80s today at Fort McMurray, about 30 degrees warmer than normal. The average high is in the upper 50s.

Read more …

This is very far from over.

UN Envoy Warns of New Wave of 400,000 Refugees From Syria (WSJ)

A top United Nations official warned of a new tide of refugees from Syria if world powers didn’t succeed in calming an outbreak of hostilities in and around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.’s special envoy for Syria, said after meeting with European diplomats and Syrian opposition officials Wednesday that the priority in moving forward with a peace process for Syria was to stop the fighting around what was once Syria’s most populous city. “The alternative is truly quite catastrophic,” Mr. de Mistura said. “We could see 400,000 people moving toward the Turkish border.” The talks in Berlin centered on ways to return to talks in Geneva on Syria’s political future. The opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, headed by Riad Hijab, pulled out of those talks on April 18 as a cessation of hostilities agreed to in February disintegrated.

Read more …

Mar 072016
 
 March 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


DPC Launch of freighter Howard L. Shaw, Wyandotte, Michigan 1900

Debtor Days Are Over As BIS Calls Time On World Credit Binge (Tel.)
‘Gathering Storm’ For Global Economy As Markets Lose Faith (AFP)
The Bank Of Japan Has Turned Economics On Its Head (BBG)
China Growth Addiction Leaves Deleveraging, Reform in Back Seat (BBG)
China Defends Veracity Of Foreign Exchange Reserves Data (FT)
China’s Leaders Put the Economy on Bubble Watch (WSJ)
China Plans Crackdown on Loans for Home Down-Payments (BBG)
Hong Kong Homes Sales Tumble 70% (BBG)
Grexit Back On The Agenda Again As Greek Economy Unravels (Guardian)
Zombie Banks Are Stalking Europe (BBG)
Threat Of A Synchronised Downturn (Pettifor)
Why The House Price Bubble Still Hasn’t Burst (Steve Keen)
Turkey Steps Up Crackdown on Erdogan Foes on Eve of EU Meetings (BBG)
Turkey Disputes Greek Sovereignty Via NATO Patrols (Kath.)
EU To Focus On Greek Aid, Closing Balkan Migrant Route At Summit (AP)
Tsipras: “We Will Continue To Save Lives” (Reuters) (Reuters)
Surge Of 100,000 Refugees Building In Greece (AFP/L)
Refugee Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Western Coast, 25 Dead, 15 Rescued (DS)

All we have left is debtors though.

Debtor Days Are Over As BIS Calls Time On World Credit Binge (Tel.)

The world’s credit boom is beginning to show dangerous signs of unraveling, ushering in a period of fresh turmoil for the over-indebted global economy, the Bank of International Settlements has warned. The globe’s top financial watchdog called time on the world’s debt binge, noting that debt issuance and cross border flows in emerging economies slowed for the first time since the aftermath of the global credit crunch at the end of last year. With financial markets thrown into fresh paroxysms in 2016, oscillating between extremes of “hope and fear”, the over-leveraged world was finally approaching a day of reckoning, said Claudio Borio, the bank’s chief economist. “We may not be seeing isolated bolts from the blue, but the signs of a gathering storm that has been building for a long time”, he said.

The Swiss authority – known as the “central bank of central banks” – has long rang the alarm bell over the state of global indebtedness, warning that unprecedented monetary policy was storing up problems in a world which still lumbers under weak productivity, insipid growth, and has no appetite for major reforms. In its latest quarterly review, the BIS said some of its starkest warnings were now coming into fruition. It noted that international securities issuance turned negative at the end of last year to the tune of -$47bn – the sharpest contraction since the third quarter of 2012. The retrenchment was largely driven by the financial sector, said the BIS. Meanwhile emerging market debtors – who have embarked on a $3.3 trillion dollar denominated debt spree in the wake of the financial crisis – saw issuance ground to a halt in the second half of the year.

This provided a “telltale” sign that the financial conditions were reaching an inflection point, accompanied by large depreciations in emerging market currencies and slowing domestic growth. “It is as if two waves with different frequencies came together to form a bigger and more destructive one”, said Mr Borio. Global debt now stands at over 200pc of GDP, exceeding levels seen before the financial crash in 2007. Any turning in the credit cycle risks imperiling debtor companies and governments, raising the chances of default and corporate bankruptcies, said the BIS. “If they persist, tighter global liquidity conditions may raise stability risks in some countries, especially those where other indicators already point to a heightened risk of financial stress”, they said.

Ahead of the US Federal Reserve’s landmark decision to raise interest rates for the first time in eight years last December, the BIS had forewarned of an “uneasy market calm” that could quickly turn to debtor distress. This prophecy is seemingly playing out in the first three months of 2016. “The tension between the markets’ tranquility and the underlying economic vulnerabilities had to be resolved at some point,” said Mr Borio. “In the recent quarter, we may have been witnessing the beginning of its resolution.” Debt binges have also been exacerbated by a historic collapse in oil prices. Energy companies from Brazil to Russia are scrambling to service $3 trillion of dollar debt as prices languish at around $30 a barrel – a 70pc decline since late 2014.

Read more …

More BIS.

‘Gathering Storm’ For Global Economy As Markets Lose Faith (AFP)

A fragile calm in global financial markets has given way to all-out turbulence, the Bank of International Settlements has said, warning of a “gathering storm” which has long been brewing. In its latest quarterly report, watched closely by investors, the BIS – which is known as the central bank of central banks – also warned that investors were concerned governments around the world were running out of policy options. BIS chief Claudio Borio said the “uneasy calm” of previous months had given way to turbulence and a “gathering storm”. “The tension between the markets’ tranquillity and the underlying economic vulnerabilities had to be resolved at some point. In the recent quarter, we may have been witnessing the beginning of its resolution,” he added.

“We may not be seeing isolated bolts from the blue, but the signs of a gathering storm that has been building for a long time,” he warned. Although Asian markets enjoyed another strong day on Monday and continued to claw back the losses of January, the report said said that investors were concerned about what central banks could do in the event of another crisis. “Underlying some of the turbulence was market participants’ growing concern over the dwindling options for policy support in the face of the weakening growth outlook,” the report said. “With fiscal space tight and structural policies largely dormant, central bank measures were seen to be approaching their limits.”

Borio surveyed the major disruptions over the last three months, from the first post-crisis interest rate hike by the US Federal Reserve in December, to accumulating signs of China’s slowdown. In what he termed the second phase of turbulence in the last quarter, Borio said markets were plagued by fears about the health of global banks and the Bank of Japan’s shock decision to impose negative policy rates.

Read more …

Japan deserves a lot more scrutiny.

The Bank Of Japan Has Turned Economics On Its Head (BBG)

Call me old fashioned, but I still think prices matter. I vividly recall the first time I studied those simple supply-and-demand graphs as a college freshman, and today, far too many years later, their basic logic remains undeniable. When prices are right, money flows to the most productive endeavors and economies work efficiently. When prices are wrong, crazy things eventually happen, with potentially dire consequences. That’s why we should be very worried about Japan, where things are getting crazy. On March 1, the Japanese government sold benchmark, 10-year bonds at a negative yield for the first time ever. Think about that for a minute. The investors who bought these bonds not only loaned the Japanese government their money. They’re paying for the privilege of doing so.

Why would any sane person do such a thing? A government with debt equivalent to more than 240% of national output – the largest load in the developed world – should surely have to pay investors a tidy sum to convince them to part with their money, not the other way around. But the bond market in Japan has become so distorted that investors believe it’s in their interests to lend money at a cost to themselves. The only explanation is that prices in Japan have gone horribly, horribly awry, and that has made the illogical logical. The culprit is the Bank of Japan. The entire purpose of its unorthodox stimulus programs – QE, negative interest rates – is, in effect, to get prices wrong: to press down interest rates below where they would normally go and force banks to lend money in ways they normally wouldn’t.

The BOJ, in other words, is trying to alter prices to change the incentive structure in the economy in order to engineer certain results – to increase inflation, encourage investment and spark growth. The problem is that the BOJ hasn’t achieved any of those objectives. Inflation in January, by one commonly used measure, was a pathetic zero. GDP has contracted in two of the past three quarters. Instead, the BOJ is creating new problems by undermining the price mechanism. The central bank is buying up so many government bonds that it has effectively stripped them of risk to the investor and cost to the borrower. Investors probably bought up the bonds with negative yields speculating that they could flip them to the BOJ. Meanwhile, since the government can now earn money while borrowing it, the BOJ is removing any urgency for Japan’s politicians to control debt and reduce budget deficits.

Worse, the central bank is undercutting the very goals it’s trying to achieve. By wiping out returns to investors on safe investments like government bonds – the yield curve on them is as flat as a pancake – the BOJ is straining the incomes of savers and dampening the consumption that might help the economy revive. If debt pressures finally do push the government to hike taxes again, spending will take another hit.

Read more …

“Li signaled the prospect for more debt days after Moody’s Investors Service lowered its outlook on China’s credit rating to negative from stable because of a surge in borrowing.”

China Growth Addiction Leaves Deleveraging, Reform in Back Seat (BBG)

Rule No.1 in China’s blueprint for the next five years: “give top priority to development.” That’s the word from Premier Li Keqiang’s work report delivered Saturday at the start of the annual National People’s Congress in Beijing. Li acknowledged there would be some difficult battles ahead as he outlined plans to clean up the environment, boost innovation, further urbanize and cut excess capacity in industries like coal and steel. Yet the firmest target remains on the one thing he has the least control over – the nation’s economic growth rate. For 2016, a 6.5% to 7% growth range was outlined, with 6.5% pegged as the baseline through 2020. That would be less than last year’s 6.9% rate, the slowest growth in a quarter century. To reach the new target, the government will permit a record high deficit and has raised its money supply expansion target.

The upshot: debt grows even as growth slows. “The risk is that if stimulus is accelerated but reform continues to lag, the government could end the year with growth on target but even bigger structural problems to deal with,” Bloomberg Intelligence economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen wrote in a note. The report “confirms that the focus is firmly on supporting short-term growth, with the deleveraging can kicked further down the road.” Li’s plan suggests debt may rise to 258% of GDP this year, from 247% at the end of 2015, they estimate. Li signaled the prospect for more debt days after Moody’s Investors Service lowered its outlook on China’s credit rating to negative from stable because of a surge in borrowing. “Development is of primary importance to China and is the key to solving every problem we face,” Li said in the work report. “Pursuing development is like sailing against the current: you either forge ahead or you drift downstream.”

Read more …

Sorry, boys, confidence is in the gutter.

China Defends Veracity Of Foreign Exchange Reserves Data (FT)

China’s official foreign exchange reserves only include highly liquid assets, a top central banker said on Sunday, seeking to reassure investors that authorities have enough ammunition to prevent a sharp fall in the renminbi. Investor sentiment towards China’s currency has turned sharply negative since a surprise devaluation in August, amid unprecedented capital outflows and concern about the health of the economy. Concern over China’s currency policy sparked a global market sell-off early this year. The People’s Bank of China has drawn on its foreign exchange reserves to curb renminbi weakness, but analysts believe the central bank may soon be forced to abandon this policy to prevent reserves dropping below dangerous levels.

Some bearish investors have also expressed skepticism about the reliability of China’s official foreign exchange reserves data, which showed reserves at $3.2tn at the end of January — still the world’s largest despite declining for 19 months. Skeptics say the headline total of reserves exaggerates the resources available to support the renminbi since they suspect it includes illiquid assets such as foreign real estate and private-equity investments that cannot be readily deployed in currency markets. Kyle Bass, the US hedge fund manager who has wagered billions that the renminbi and other Asian currencies will fall, believes China’s true reserves are more than $1tn below the government’s official total. Veteran investor George Soros has also suggested the renminbi may fall further.

Yi Gang, PBoC deputy governor who until January was also head of the foreign exchange regulator, said on Sunday that only highly liquid assets are included in the closely watched headline reserves figure. “I can clearly tell everyone here, those assets that don’t meet liquidity standards are entirely deducted from official foreign exchange reserves,” Mr Yi said. “For example, some illiquid equity investments, some capital injections and some other assets where liquidity isn’t good are entirely outside our foreign exchange reserves.” Beyond foreign real estate and private equity, analysts have questioned whether PBoC’s recent use of foreign currency to inject capital into state-owned policy banks, including at least $93bn injected into China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China last year. There is also uncertainty about whether China’s capital contributions to two newly launched multilateral development banks, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Brics bank, have been deducted.

Read more …

While continuing to inflate history’s biggest bubble even further.

China’s Leaders Put the Economy on Bubble Watch (WSJ)

China’s leaders made clear they are emphasizing growth over restructuring this year, but suggested they are trying to avoid inflating debt or asset bubbles as they send massive amounts of money coursing through the economy. The government’s announcement of a 6.5% to 7% growth target for 2016 at the start of the National People’s Congress over the weekend came with subtle acknowledgment that some of its efforts to jump-start a persistently decelerating economy have misfired, failing to steer stimulus to the most productive sectors. In his report to the annual legislative session, which opened Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang promised tax cuts that could leave companies with more money to invest.

And for the first time, the Chinese government specified total social financing—a broad measure of credit that includes both bank loans and nonbank lending—as a metric for helping determine monetary policy. In the past, leaders have just said total social financing should be kept at an appropriate level, while they have set clear targets for M2 money supply, which covers all cash in circulation and most bank deposits. Both measures have increased sharply in recent months. But the money-supply measure fails to capture how banks and financial institutions use the funds. For instance, M2 jumped 13.3% last year while total social financing grew 12.4%, according to official data. The discrepancy indicates not all deposits were used by banks to make loans to companies; instead, some of the funds were tapped for such purposes as margin loans for stock-market speculation.

This year, the two targets are paired, with both set to rise 13%. “The government seeks to more accurately show where the money is going, and whether credit is being used to support the real economy,” said Sheng Songcheng, head of the central bank’s survey and statistics department, in an interview. China’s past efforts to direct credit to entrepreneurs and other desired sectors of the economy have fallen short. And its loose monetary policy risks giving inefficient companies more room to avoid shutting down or retooling. Much of China’s breakneck growth over the past two decades has been fueled by state-led investment and debt. Concerns about a credit buildup have grown as the economy has slowed.

Read more …

Prices in Shanghai and Shenzhen are totally crazy. And that’s the government’s doing.

China Plans Crackdown on Loans for Home Down-Payments (BBG)

Chinese regulators plan to impose new rules to end the practice of homebuyers taking out loans to cover down-payments, as they step up scrutiny of financing risk in the property market, according to people familiar with the matter. The rules will bar lenders including developers, housing agencies, small-loan companies and peer-to-peer networks from offering loans for down-payments, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter isn’t yet public. Regulators including the central bank and the China Banking Regulatory Commission will also ask commercial banks to scrutinize mortgage applications and reject those where down-payments come from loans offered by such institutions, the people said.

China is planning the crackdown amid concerns about rising risks in the loan markets and warnings from officials that home prices in some top-tier cities are rising too fast. Shanghai’s most-senior official said the city’s property market has “overheated” and should be more tightly controlled after a recent surge in residential housing prices. As part of the latest moves, regulators will also strengthen the stress tests of property loans, the people said, without offering details. Representatives at the People’s Bank of China and the CBRC didn’t immediately respond to faxed requests for comment. China in November 2014 started easing property curbs amid efforts to revive the world’s second-largest economy. The measures – intended to ease a glut of unsold homes in smaller cities – have instead lifted prices in the country’s biggest population centers.

Prices in Shenzhen jumped 4% in January from a month earlier and have gained 52% over the past year. Values in the financial center of Shanghai have increased 18% in the last 12 months, while those in Beijing advanced about 10%. Regulators last month allowed commercial banks to cut the minimum mortgage down-payment for first-home purchases to 20% from 25% and to 30% from 40% for second homes, except in five big cities with home-buying restrictions. Demand for real estate is also getting a boost from monetary stimulus after the PBOC cut benchmark lending rates six times since 2014, lowered banks’ reserve requirements and flooded the financial system with cash to keep borrowing costs low.

Read more …

“Home prices in the city surged 370% from their 2003 trough through the September peak..”

Hong Kong Homes Sales Tumble 70% (BBG)

Hong Kong residential home sales plunged 70% in February from a year earlier to a 25-year low, as falling prices and economic uncertainty deterred buyers. In February, 1,807 homes were sold in Hong Kong, compared with 6,027 a year earlier, according to government statistics. Home sales fell from 2,045 in January, the data show. “The newspapers keep on saying the market is going down and buyers think they can get a cheaper house half-a-year later or one year later so are waiting,” said Thomas Fok, a property agent at Centaline Property Agency in Hong Kong’s upscale Mid-levels West district where he hasn’t made one sale this year.

Property prices have declined 10% from their September highs amid uncertainty over the economy at home and in China, possible interest-rate increases and plans by the government to boost housing supply in the next five years. Senior Hong Kong government officials have ruled out relaxing property curbs, which include extra stamp duties and caps on mortgage levels. [..] Home prices in the city surged 370% from their 2003 trough through the September peak, spurred by low mortgage rates, tight supply of new units and buying from mainland Chinese. This year, BOCOM International Holdings Co. property analyst Alfred Lau has said prices could fall 30% amid a slowdown.

Read more …

“I think the situation right now is more dangerous than it was last summer..”: former finance minister Gikas Hardouvelis.

Grexit Back On The Agenda Again As Greek Economy Unravels (Guardian)

European finance ministers will once again deliberate over how to treat Greece’s ongoing debt crisis this week despite the country desperately grappling with refugees pouring across its borders. A meeting on Monday of finance ministers from the eurozone will determine whether creditors are to be given the green light to complete a long-delayed review of Greek economic recovery plans. The review has been held up by disagreement among lenders over how much more Athens needs to cut from public spending. It is seen as key to reviving Greece’s banking sector and restoring business and consumer confidence. “I think the situation right now is more dangerous than it was last summer,” the former finance minister Gikas Hardouvelis told the Guardian.

“Then it was a question of the political will of a few people,” he said, referring to the tumultuous negotiations that paved the way to Athens receiving a third bailout in August. “Now it’s a question of implementing reforms and working hard and if a government doesn’t believe in them and implements them begrudgingly, progress becomes very difficult.” Monday’s meeting comes at an especially sensitive time. Greek unemployment remains the highest in Europe at almost 25% – and just under 50% among the young. Many companies are relocating to Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and Cyprus as a result of over-taxation. Meanwhile, the once booming tourism trade has taken a hit as bookings to Aegean isles have collapsed because of refugee arrivals. Last week, it was announced by Greece’s official statistics agency, Elstat, that the debt-stricken nation had dipped back into recession.

After three emergency bailouts and the biggest debt restructuring in history, talk once again has turned to the country dropping out of the single currency. Businessmen and bankers in private concede that as the economy disintegrates the possibility of a parallel currency is now openly being discussed. “The probability of Grexit is still there,” added Hardouvelis. “It has not gone away. Just look at the yield investors are required to pay on Greek bonds.” Everyone agrees that time is of the essence. Further delays make potentially explosive reforms – starting with the overhaul of the pension system – harder to sell for a leftist-led government that in recent months has faced protest on the streets. “We have no time,” finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos told the European parliament’s economics committee last week. “We hope the IMF will become more reasonable.”

Read more …

Europe’s a zombie financially and politically.

Zombie Banks Are Stalking Europe (BBG)

Zombies are stalking Europe — zombie banks that are solvent in name only. The phenomenon is not new. Zombies weighed down Japan for almost 20 years after a real estate bust. They are usually born of financial panics, when loans go bad, capital flees and the value of assets tumbles. There are no good choices when zombie banks are on the march. Shutting them down can cause further panic. Restoring them to health can require hundreds of billions of dollars. But letting them fester can cripple an economy for years, because zombies don’t make the loans healthy businesses need to grow and consumers need to spend. No place has been cozier for zombies since the 2008 global financial crisis than Europe, and no economy has been slower to recover.

Europe has been slow and piecemeal in its approach to the region’s troubled banks. Lenders in Greece received their third cash infusion from the government in 2015. In Italy, the government developed a plan in early 2016 to relieve banks of their soured loans, though it’s expected to have only a limited impact because the program is voluntary. Investors are concerned that Europe’s banks are so weak that they still pose a risk to the economy and financial stability, after crippled banks in Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain threatened to pull down their indebted governments between 2010 and 2012. Even after multiple rescues and capital injections, almost a fifth of 130 banks failed a ECB stress test in October 2014, with a total capital shortfall of €25 billion. In an effort to coordinate the response, the ECB was given the job of the central banking regulator at the end of 2014. But even the ECB wasn’t bold enough to put a bullet to zombies’ heads, only requiring banks to be more aggressive on provisioning for bad loans.

One thing about old-fashioned bank runs — when they killed banks they stayed dead. The panics that followed, however, could bring down healthy banks as well, so tools for supporting banks grew up, most notably deposit insurance. Those developments brought with them a thorny question — when to pull the plug. The term “zombie banks” was coined by Edward J. Kane of Boston College in 1987 to refer to U.S. savings and loans institutions that had essentially been wiped out by commercial-mortgage losses but were allowed to stay in business, as regulators put off the pain of shutting them down in the hope that a market rebound would make them whole. By the time they gave up and cleaned up the mess, the losses of the zombies had tripled.

In Japan, zombie banks propped up zombie companies rather than write down their loans, while the banks themselves were kept alive through “regulatory forbearance” — a tacit agreement by the government to pretend that their bad loans were still worth something, an approach that kept the markets calm but contributed to a “lost decade” of economic stagnation. The prime example of a tough approach is Sweden, which in the 1990s responded to a financial crisis by nationalizing its ailing banks — and quickly rebounded.

After the 2008 crisis, the U.S. pumped $300 billion into its banks, but it also conducted stress tests that were more rigorous than Europe’s and forced low-scoring banks to raise private capital. In Europe, countries from Germany to Spain plugged holes in their banks and failed year after year to force losses and recapitalizations as the U.S. had. As a result, European lenders still sit on more than $1 trillion of dud loans, which don’t earn them any money and prevent them from making new loans that the region’s economy needs desperately to grow.

Read more …

QE in a nutshell: “..the benefits from these wealth effects will accrue to those households holding most financial assets.”

Threat Of A Synchronised Downturn (Pettifor)

“For the proposition that supply creates its own demand, I shall substitute the proposition that expenditure creates its own income” JM Keynes Collected Writings, Volume XXIX, p. 81

G20 Finance Ministers met in Huangzhou, China recently and refused appeals from both the IMF and the OECD for “urgent collective policy action” that focussed “fiscal policies on investment-led spending”. Instead the world’s finance ministers concluded that “it’s every country for themselves”. Keynes’s simple proposition is compelling: that expenditure will expand national (and international) income (including tax income) and thereby reduce the deficit. But it is a proposition that is anathema to OECD politicians, their friends in the finance sector and their advisers. Instead they adhere stubbornly to the antiquated classical economics embodied in Say’s Law.

Rather than relying on expenditure or investment, the British 2010-2015 Coalition government and then the 2015 Conservative government placed excessive reliance on monetary policy to revive aggregate demand for goods and services. The consequences were predictable. Loose monetary policy enriched those that owned assets – stocks and shares, bonds or property. The evidence of this grotesque enrichment is clearest in London. According to the FT (20 Feb 2016) the owners of South Kensington residential properties have seen “substantial capital appreciation – 45 % over the past five years and a remarkable 155% since 2006.” And as the Bank of England concluded back in 2012 in its paper on the Distributional Effects of Asset Purchases” (i.e. QE): “the benefits from these wealth effects will accrue to those households holding most financial assets.”

By contrast fiscal consolidation (austerity) has since 2010 hurt those that do not own assets – i.e. those who live by hand or by brain, or who are dependent on welfare, and do not benefit from the rent generated by the ownership of assets. Now, the British government is set to impose the largest fiscal consolidation of all OECD countries. Worryingly, it proposes to do so at a time of global economic and financial fragility. But the British government has not been alone in pursuing policies that enrich the already rich, while contracting wider economic activity. Over-reliance on central bankers and monetary policy, coupled with deflationary and contractionary fiscal policy is the cause both of ongoing weakness in OECD countries and of the slow but inexorable decline in world trade since 2011.

Read more …

“The problem is that nothing — not even Donald Trump’s popularity — accelerates forever.”

Why The House Price Bubble Still Hasn’t Burst (Steve Keen)

The standard retort to those who claim that Australia has a housing bubble is that it’s all just supply and demand. I can happily agree that it is indeed all just supply and demand and still prove that there is a bubble. Understanding my argument might force you to think more than you normally have to, in which case, tough: it’s about time Australians did some thinking. Fundamentally, the demand for housing comes from the flow of new mortgages. Only the super-rich or the well-heeled offshore buyer can afford to buy property without a mortgage, and the importance of mortgage debt has increased dramatically over time. In the 1970s, you couldn’t get a mortgage without a 30% deposit, so cash made up 30% of the purchase price; now it’s closer to 10%.

So, on the demand side of the supply and demand equation, we have the flow of new mortgage debt. On the supply side, we have two factors: the number of properties for sale and their prices. There is, therefore, a “dynamic tension” (to quote Rocky Horror) between the rate of change of mortgage debt, and the level of house prices: if the monetary value of the flow of new mortgage debt equals the monetary value of the flow of supply, then there’s no pressure forcing prices to change. It follows that there is a relationship between the acceleration of mortgage debt and the rate of change of house prices. So for house prices to rise, the flow of new mortgage debt needs to be not merely positive, but accelerating — growing faster over time.

Lest that sound like standard economic mumbo-jumbo — as Ross Gittins pointed out very well recently, most so-called economic modelling is no more than fantasy (“Tax modelling falls down at the household level”)—Figure 1 shows the empirical evidence for America, where not even Alan Greenspan disputes that there was a bubble. Similar relationships apply for all countries — and for the econometrically minded, the causal relation (as tested on US data) is from accelerating mortgage debt to house prices, not vice-versa.

Is Australia different? No. The same relationship applies here and now: though foreign buyers have certainly played a part, the key factor driving rising Australian house prices in the last three years has been accelerating mortgage debt.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that nothing — not even Donald Trump’s popularity — accelerates forever. At some point, the level of mortgage debt relative to income will stabilise; well before that happens, the acceleration of mortgage debt will decline, and prices will fall. This has already happened twice in recent history in Australia: in 2008 and in 2010. On both occasions, deliberate government policy stopped the fall in prices by encouraging Australians back into mortgage debt — firstly via the First Home Vendors Boost under Rudd and secondly via the RBA’s rate cuts from 2012 which were undertaken with the hope they would encourage more household borrowing. In both cases the acceleration of mortgage debt resumed, as did the bubble in prices.

Read more …

Europe’ disgrace.

Turkey Steps Up Crackdown on Erdogan Foes on Eve of EU Meetings (BBG)

Turkish authorities are escalating a crackdown on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents, undeterred by possible risks to the nation’s renewed attempts to join the EU. In two days, authorities seized control of the company that owns a leading newspaper, and signaled the possibility of stripping prominent Kurdish lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity. The moves come on the eve of talks on Monday in Brussels between Turkish and EU officials to discuss ways to handle the influx of refugees from Syria. With the EU increasingly seeking Turkey’s help to contain Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II, and Ankara’s membership talks at an early stage, Erdogan’s allies are betting that the escalation won’t damage Turkey’s ties with the bloc.

The president expects EU leaders “to turn a blind eye” in return for his “cooperation in curbing Syrian refugee flows to the continent,” said Aykan Erdemir at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute. On Friday, Turkey seized control of the Zaman newspaper, the latest twist in a 2 1/2-year campaign against Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan accused of running a “parallel state” to undermine the government. The move sparked clashes between police and anti-government protesters. EU governments revived the entry talks, dormant since November 2013, as part of a package of economic and political incentives to encourage Erdogan to host refugees in Turkey instead of pointing them to Europe.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview recorded last week and broadcast on Sunday on BBC’s Andrew Marr show that “it will be a long time before we reach the end of negotiations with Turkey about accession to the EU.” “Actually, the German government has major doubts about whether Turkey should be a full member of the EU, but this is a question for the coming years,” said Schaeuble. “It is not a worry at the present time.” [..] Erdogan knows that the “EU can’t really stop him from eradicating followers of Gulen to putting Kurdish lawmakers on trial for ties to the PKK,” Nihat Ali Ozcan at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara said. “The EU’s criticism of Erdogan’s policies is not very meaningful at a time when the country’s membership bid is not high on the public’s agenda, and the reliance of the EU on Turkey to handle the refugee crisis and protect Europe against terrorism leaves more room for Erdogan to pursue his own agenda at home.”

Read more …

Simmering tensions flare up. Better be careful.

Turkey Disputes Greek Sovereignty Via NATO Patrols (Kath.)

Turkey is disputing Greece’s territorial sovereignty over a string of tiny islands and a part of its air space over the Aegean Sea, according to a confidential document, obtained by Kathimerini, that was submitted to NATO’s Military Committee last month. The 17-point document, which is expected to further strain relations between the neighboring countries, was submitted on February 15, during heated discussions between Greece and Turkey over the terms of deployment of a German-led NATO patrol in the Aegean to stem the flow of refugees. It was the first time that had Turkey disputed Greek sovereignty via an official NATO document.

Turkey’s demands from the Alliance included replacing the term “Aegean air space” with “NATO air space” and refraining from using the Greek names of several tiny islands “that may been seen as the promotion of national interest” – an apparent reference to 16 small islets whose Greek sovereignty has been repeatedly disputed by Ankara. Turkey also disputed Greece’s 10-mile national air space and demanded permission to enter the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) without submitting flight plans. It further requested that NATO ships do not dock at ports of the Dodecanese islands in the southeast Aegean and claimed supervision of almost half the Aegean Sea for search and rescue operations.

The terms of the NATO patrol in the Aegean were agreed on February 25 after overcoming territorial sensitivities of the two neighbors. The agreement stipulated that the two countries would not operate in each other’s territorial waters and air space. According to several NATO diplomats, one of the stumbling blocks had been where Greek and Turkish ships should patrol and whether that would set a precedent for claims over disputed territorial waters. EU leaders will hold a special meeting Monday in a bid to hammer out a deal that would help contain the number of refugees entering Greece and the rest of the EU.

Read more …

They’re really planning to do it: turn Greece into a concentration camp. This will not go well.

EU To Focus On Greek Aid, Closing Balkan Migrant Route At Summit (AP)

European Union leaders will be looking to boost aid to Greece as the Balkan migrant route is effectively sealed, using Monday’s summit as an attempt to restore unity among the 28 member nations after months of increasing bickering and go-it-alone policies, according to a draft statement Sunday. The leaders will also try to persuade Turkey’s prime minister to slow the flow of migrants travelling to Europe and take back thousands who don’t qualify for asylum. In a draft summit statement produced Sunday and seen by The Associated Press, the EU leaders will conclude that “irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route are coming to an end; this route is now closed.”

Because of this, the statement added that “the EU will stand by Greece in this difficult moment and will do its utmost to help manage the situation.” “This is a collective EU responsibility requiring fast and efficient mobilization,” it said in a clear commitment to end the bickering. It said that aid to Greece should centre on urgent humanitarian aid as well as managing its borders and making sure that migrants not in need of international protections are quickly returned to Turkey. The statement will be assessed by the 28 leaders after they have met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Late Sunday evening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Premier Mark Rutte met with Davutoglu to prepare for the summit.

[..] The EU summit, the second of three in Brussels in just over a month, comes just days after a Turkish court ordered the seizure of the opposition Zaman newspaper. The move has heightened fears over deteriorating media freedom in the country and led to calls for action from the international community, but they will most likely be brushed aside at the high-stakes talks. “In other words, we are accepting a deal to return migrants to a country which imprisons journalists, attacks civil liberties, and with a highly worrying human rights situation,” said Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE liberal group in the European Parliament on Sunday.

Read more …

“We will continue to save lives … and defend the human face of Europe.”

Tsipras: “We Will Continue To Save Lives” (Reuters)

Greece will press for solidarity with refugees and fair burden-sharing among European Union states at Monday’s emergency EU summit with Turkey, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday, lashing out at border restrictions that led to logjams. Tsipras has accused Austria and Balkan countries of “ruining Europe” by slowing the flow of migrants and refugees heading north from Greece, where some 30,000 are now trapped, waiting for Macedonia to reopen its border so they can head to Germany. With more arriving in the mainland from Greek islands close to Turkish shores, the numbers could swell by 100,000 by the end of this month, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos projected on Saturday. “Europe is in a nervous crisis,” Tsipras told his leftist Syriza party’s central committee. “Will a Europe of fear and racism overtake a Europe of solidarity?”

He said central European countries with serious demographic problems and low unemployment could benefit in the long term by taking in millions of refugees, but austerity policies have fed a far-right “monster” opposing the inflows. “Europe today is crushed amidst austerity and closed borders. It keeps its border open to austerity but closed for people fleeing war,” Tsipras said. “Countries, with Austria in the front, want to impose the logic of fortress Europe.” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has urged Germany to set a clear limit on the number of asylum seekers it will accept to help stem a mass influx of refugees that is severely testing European cohesion in the midst of the worst refugee crisis in generations. Tsipras told his party “unilateral” actions to close borders to refugees were condemned by all European institutions. “We are not pointing the finger to any other peoples or countries of Europe. We are against those who succumb to xenophobia and racism,” Tsipras said. “We will continue to save lives … and defend the human face of Europe.”

Read more …

Merkel is losing her wits: “Greece should have created 50,000 accommodation places for refugees by the end of 2015..” Why Greece, Angela?

Surge Of 100,000 Refugees Building In Greece (AFP/L)

As EU members continued to bicker, Dimitris Avramopoulos, in charge of migration at the powerful Brussels executive, pointed to upcoming measures, including an overhaul of asylum rules, to help ease tensions. “Hundreds are arriving on a daily basis and Greece is expected to receive another 100,000 by the end of the month,” Avramopoulos told a conference in Athens. Greece lies at the heart of Europe’s greatest migration crisis in six decades after a series of border restrictions on the migrant trail from Austria to Macedonia caused a bottleneck on its soil. Over 30,000 refugees and migrants are now trapped in the country, desperate to head northwards, especially to Germany and Scandinavia. “In a few weeks,” the EU will announce a revision of its asylum regulations to ensure a “fairer distribution of the burden and the responsibility,” Avramopoulous told the conference.

The huge influx of refugees and migrants has caused major divisions within the EU, although European President Donald Tusk on Friday struck an upbeat note about Monday’s summit in Brussels, which will include Turkey. European leaders are expected to use the summit to press Ankara to take back more economic migrants from Greece and reduce the flow of people across the Aegean Sea. Finger-pointing continued within the 28-nation EU bloc on Saturday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel – a key player in the drama – said Greece should have been quicker in preparing to host 50,000 people under an agreement with the European Union in October. “Greece should have created 50,000 accommodation places for refugees by the end of 2015,” Merkel told Bild newspaper in an interview to appear Sunday. “This delay must be addressed as soon as possible as the Greek government must provide decent lodgings to asylum claimants”, she said.

Read more …

Safe passage is very possible. But we prefer to let them drown.

Refugee Boat Sinks Off Turkey’s Western Coast, 25 Dead, 15 Rescued (DS)

25 refugees drowned off Turkey’s Aegean coast on Sunday after their boat sank off the western province of Aydin’s district of Didim, Anadolu Agency reported. The Turkish Coast Guard has rescued 15 of the refugees and launched a search and rescue operation to find the other missing refugees with three boats and one helicopter. The total number of refugees is not yet known. The refugees’ nationalities were not immediately released, but they are likely to be Syrians, who comprise the majority of refugees attempting to sneak to the Greek islands from Turkey. Media outlets said three children were among the casualties. It is not known what caused the boat to sink, although a mix of strong winds and boats carrying passengers over their capacities are often the causes of similar tragedies. The local Ihlas News Agency reported that passenger overload was the cause of the disaster.

Read more …

Feb 272016
 
 February 27, 2016  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Ben Shahn “Scene in Jackson Square, New Orleans” 1935

World Trade Falls 13.8% In Dollar Terms (FT)
Scepticism Rife Over G20 Move To Calm FX (FT)
G20 To Say World Needs To Look Beyond Ultra-Easy Policy For Growth (Reuters)
As China’s Economic Picture Turns Uglier, Beijing Applies Airbrush (NY Times)
Chinese Accounting Is ‘Highly Questionable’ (CNBC)
China Commodities Industry Resists Cuts Despite Production Glut (BBG)
Yuan Uncertainty Scares Funds Away From China Bond Market (BBG)
Germany Lays the Foundations for a New Eurozone Debt/Banking Crisis (Fazi)
Societe Generale Slashes Forecast For European Stocks (BBG)
Japan Builds $124 Billion Cash Hoard Even as It Cuts Treasuries (BBG)
“Peak Stupidity” – Where We Go From Here (Beversdorf)
Bankers Have Not Learnt The Lessons Of The Great Crash (Tel.)
Bank Of America Preparing Big Layoffs In Investment Banking And Trading (BI)
UBS Accused of Money Laundering in Belgian Tax Case (BBG)
With No Unified Refugee Strategy, Europeans Return to Old Alliances (NY Times)
More Migrants Trapped In Greece As Balkan Countries Enforce Limits (Kath.)
EU Med Countries Oppose Unilateral Actions On Refugee Crisis (AP)

Reality.

World Trade Falls 13.8% In Dollar Terms (FT)

Weaker demand from emerging markets made 2015 the worst year for world trade since the aftermath of the global financial crisis, highlighting rising fears about the health of the global economy. The value of goods that crossed international borders last year fell 13.8% in dollar terms — the first contraction since 2009 — according to the Netherlands Bureau of Economic Policy Analysis’s World Trade Monitor. Much of the slump was due to a slowdown in China and other emerging economies. The new data released on Thursday represent the first snapshot of global trade for 2015. But the figures also come amid growing concerns that 2016 is already shaping up to be more fraught with dangers for the global economy than previously expected.

Those concerns are casting a shadow over a two-day meeting of G20 central bank governors and finance ministers due to start on Friday. Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, was set to warn the gathering that the global economy risked “becoming trapped in a low growth, low inflation, low interest rate equilibrium”. His comments will echo the IMF, which this week warned it was poised to downgrade its forecast for global growth this year, saying the world’s leading economies needed to do more to boost growth. The Baltic Dry index, a measure of global trade in bulk commodities, has been touching historic lows. China, which in 2014 overtook the US as the world’s biggest trading nation, this month reported double-digit falls in both exports and imports in January.

In Brazil, which is now experiencing its worst recession in more than a century, imports from China have collapsed. Exports from China to Brazil of everything from cars to textiles shipped in containers fell 60% in January from a year earlier while the total volume of imports via containers into Latin America’s biggest economy halved, according to Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping company. “What we are seeing right now from China is not only a phenomenon for Brazil; we are seeing the same all over Latin America, declining [Chinese export] volumes into all the markets,” said Antonio Dominguez, managing director for Maersk Line in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. “It has been going on for several quarters but is getting more evident as we move into the year [2016].”

Read more …

Currency war Mexican standoff.

Scepticism Rife Over G20 Move To Calm FX (FT)

Scepticism is rife that the G20 gathering of finance ministers will agree to co-ordinate currency policy but there is some belief it could provide a short-term boost to risk appetite. Japan has led calls for the two-day meeting in Shanghai to bring calmness to an unstable market with a broad-based FX strategy, seen by some market commentators as a reprise of the 1985 Plaza Accord that succeeded in weakening a rampant dollar. But those hopes have been knocked back by China and the US, and market expectations have been subdued in the run-up to the G20 meeting that ends with a communique on Saturday. “A grand solution like the Plaza Accord feels far-fetched”, said Peter Rosenstrich at the online bank Swissquote.

“G20 members were ‘too unique’ to agree which currencies were mispriced, while to decide who wins and who loses would be ‘far too complex'” , he said. Some FX strategists are braced for a negative market reaction to the G20 meeting, basing their fears on the experience of previous gatherings. “Our fear is that…there may yet be a sense of despondency, an ‘is that it’ moment, should the G20 be seen to be papering over some rather large cracks in an all too familiar fashion“, said Neil Mellor at BNY Mellon. Market turmoil has driven a sharp rise in the value of the yen against the dollar, causing alarm at the Bank of Japan and jeopardising the government’s Abenomics growth strategy.

Japan’s negative interest rates policy, which came under attack as the G20 meeting began, has failed to reverse the yen’s rise, leading to heightened expectation of unilateral FX intervention by the BoJ. David Bloom, head of FX research at HSBC, said that possibility had been put on hold in the build-up to the G20 meeting, given the potential backlash from other G20 members. “But once that peer pressure passes after the meeting, FX intervention could be back on the table, he warned”. “Any push in USD-JPY towards 110 could be enough to trigger the green light on direct intervention”, said Mr Bloom. The best that can be hoped for from the meeting, said Steven Englander at Citigroup, was a communique that convinced investors that global policymakers are ‘sufficiently on the same page to add to global confidence’.

Read more …

A whole lot of nothing. They -make that we- are going to regret this. But the political climate is not there to act.

G20 To Say World Needs To Look Beyond Ultra-Easy Policy For Growth (Reuters)

The world’s top economies are set to declare on Saturday that they need to look beyond ultra-low interest rates and printing money if the global economy is to shake off its torpor, while promising a new focus on structural reform to spark activity. A draft of the communique to be issued by the Group of 20 (G20) finance ministers and central bankers at the end of a two-day meeting in Shanghai reflected myriad concerns and policy frictions that have been exacerbated by economic uncertainty and market turbulence in recent months. “The global recovery continues, but it remains uneven and falls short of our ambition for strong, sustainable and balanced growth,” the leaders said in a draft seen by Reuters. “Monetary policies will continue to support economic activity and ensure price stability … but monetary policy alone cannot lead to balanced growth.”

Geopolitics figured prominently, with the draft noting risks and vulnerabilities had risen against a backdrop that includes the shock of a potential British exit from the European Union, which will be decided in a June 23 referendum, rising numbers of refugees and migrants, and downgraded global growth prospects. But there was no sign of coordinated stimulus spending to spark activity, as some investors had been hoping after the market turmoil that began 2016. Divisions have emerged among major economies over the reliance on debt to drive growth and the use of negative interest rates by some central banks, such as in Japan. Germany had made it clear it was not keen on new stimulus, with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble saying on Friday the debt-financed growth model had reached its limits.

“It is even causing new problems, raising debt, causing bubbles and excessive risk taking, zombifying the economy,” he said. The G20, which spans major industrialized economies such as the United States and Japan to the emerging giants of China and Brazil and smaller economies such as Indonesia and Turkey, reiterated in the communique a commitment to refrain from targeting exchange rates for competitive purposes, including through devaluations. While G20 host China has ruled out another devaluation of the yuan after surprising markets by lowering its exchange rate last August, there still appeared to be concerns that some members may seek a quick fix to domestic woes through a weaker currency.

Japanese finance minister Taro Aso said late on Friday he had urged China to carry out currency reform and map out a mid-term structural reform plan with a timeframe. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also encouraged China on Friday to shift to a more market-oriented exchange rate in “an orderly way” and “refrain from policies that would be destabilizing and create an unfair advantage”.

Read more …

“Data disappears when it becomes negative..”

As China’s Economic Picture Turns Uglier, Beijing Applies Airbrush (NY Times)

This month, Chinese banking officials omitted currency data from closely watched economic reports. Weeks earlier, Chinese regulators fined a journalist $23,000 for reposting a message that said a big securities firm had told elite clients to sell stock. Before that, officials pressed two companies to stop releasing early results from a survey of Chinese factories that often moved markets. Chinese leaders are taking increasingly bold steps to stop rising pessimism about turbulent markets and the slowing of the country’s growth. As financial and economic troubles threaten to undermine confidence in the Communist Party, Beijing is tightening the flow of economic information and even criminalizing commentary that officials believe could hurt stocks or the currency.

The effort to control the economic narrative plays into a wide-reaching strategy by President Xi Jinping to solidify support at a time when doubts are swirling about his ability to manage the tumult. The persistence of that tumult was underscored on Thursday by a 6.4% drop in Chinese stocks, which are now down more than a fifth since the beginning of this year alone. The government moved to bolster confidence on Saturday by ousting its top securities regulator, who had been widely accused of contributing to the stock market turmoil. Mr. Xi is also putting pressure on the Chinese media to focus on positive news that reflects well on the party. But the tightly scripted story makes it ever more difficult to get information needed to gauge the extent of the country’s slowdown, analysts say. “Data disappears when it becomes negative,” said Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder of J Capital Research, which analyzes the Chinese economy.

The party’s attitude has raised further questions among executives and economists over whether Chinese policy makers know how to manage a quasi-market economy, the second-largest economy in the world, after that of the United States. Economists have long cast some doubt on Chinese official figures, which show a huge economy that somehow manages to avoid the peaks and valleys that other countries regularly report. In recent years, China made efforts to improve that data by releasing more information more frequently, among other measures. It also gave its financial media greater freedom, even as censors kept a tight leash on political discourse. But the party now sees reports of economic turbulence as a potential threat. The same goes for data. “Many economic indicators are on a downward trend in China, and economic data has become quite sensitive nowadays,” said Yuan Gangming, a researcher at the Center for China in the World Economy at Tsinghua University.

Read more …

Analysts are not ging to leave this alone anymore.

Chinese Accounting Is ‘Highly Questionable’ (CNBC)

Financial reporting in China was back in the spotlight again Friday, with one strategist claiming Chinese businesses were using “accounting trickery” to mask underlying credit problems. China looks like it’s heading towards a credit bust, Chris Watling, CEO and chief market strategist at Longview Economics told CNBC on Friday, explaining that cash borrowed by mainland firms is primarily being used to service debts. “We’ve been looking a lot at Chinese accounting recently and it is highly questionable,” he said. The corporate sector is increasing borrowing to pay interest, while instances of fraud and default are on the rise, he added in a note published Thursday. He said there were many examples where operating profit has been high, while cash flow has been negative — a “classic sign” that firms aren’t generating a profit, he added.

Watling highlighted that the balance sheets of commercial banks were particularly worrying. “In an economy which has undergone a credit boom, all of the lending is not necessarily readily apparent from the top level data,” he said. “Accounting trickery is often at work,” Watling claimed. Chinese corporates would reject the accusations, but this isn’t the first time there has been speculation over the accuracy of Chinese figures. Back in September, the state’s statistics bureau announced it would officially change the way it calculated gross domestic product amid skepticism over the credibility of the numbers as the government sought to sooth reaction to China’s economic slowdown. Watling now claims lenders are using tricks like labelling loan collateral as revenue in their balance sheets, rather than as a creditor.

And it may be helping inflate banks’ balance sheets, which in aggregate have increased tenfold in 10 years to over three times gross domestic product at $30 trillion, he said. However, whether this will help lead to a devastating credit bust isn’t clear, Watling explained, saying that while the cracks are starting to show, the economy is managed so differently that normal market rules don’t necessarily apply. A current slowdown in Chinese growth comes at a time when the country’s leadership is stepping up regulation, curbing an overheated credit market and switching an export-focused economy into a consumer-driven one. After double-digit growth for the last decade, investors and officials in China are coming to terms with growth that has fallen below 7%, hitting a 25- year low.

Read more …

“China produces more than double the steel of Japan, India, the U.S., and Russia—the four next-largest producers—combined..”

China Commodities Industry Resists Cuts Despite Production Glut (BBG)

China has had an overcapacity problem in its aluminum, chemical, cement, and steel industries for years. Now it’s reaching crisis levels. “The situation has gone so dramatically bad that action has to happen very soon,” said Jörg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, at a press conference in Beijing on Feb. 22, where a chamber report on excess capacity was released. That report’s conclusion: “The Chinese government’s current role in the economy is part of the problem,” while overcapacity has become “an impediment to the party’s reform agenda.” Many of the unneeded mills, smelters, and plants were built or expanded after China’s policymakers unleashed cheap credit during the global financial crisis in 2009. The situation in steel is especially dire.

China produces more than double the steel of Japan, India, the U.S., and Russia—the four next-largest producers—combined, according to the EU Chamber of Commerce. That’s causing trade frictions as China cuts prices. On Feb. 12 the EU announced it would charge antidumping duties of as much as 26.2% on imports of Chinese non-stainless steel. Steel mills are running at about 70% capacity, well below the 80% needed to make the operations profitable. Roughly half of China’s 500 or so steel producers lost money last year as prices fell about 30%, according to Fitch Ratings. Even so, capacity reached 1.17 billion tons, up from 1.15 billion tons the year before. With about one-quarter of China’s steel production coming from Beijing’s neighboring province of Hebei, excess production is a major contributor to the capital’s smoggy skies.

And with average steel prices likely to fall an additional 10% in 2016, fears of spiraling bad debts are growing. A survey released in January by the China Banking Association and consulting firm PwC China found that more than four-fifths of Chinese banks see a heightened risk that loans to industries with overcapacity may sour. [..] China will “actively and steadily push forward industry and resolve excess capacity and inventory,” the People’s Bank of China said on Feb. 16 after a meeting with the National Development and Reform Commission, the banking regulatory commission, and other agencies.

The government may find it hard to achieve that goal. The steel industry will lose as many as 400,000 jobs as excess production is shuttered, Li Xinchuang, head of the China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute, predicted in January. Hebei and the industrial northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning, home to much of China’s steel production, don’t have lots of job-creating companies to absorb unemployed steelworkers. “They are concerned about the possibility of social unrest with workers’ layoffs,” says Peter Markey at consultants Ernst & Young. “As you can see around the world, steelworkers are pretty feisty people when it comes to protests.”

Read more …

The big kahuna that should dominate the G20.

Yuan Uncertainty Scares Funds Away From China Bond Market (BBG)

Yield versus yuan. That’s the crux of the investment decision now facing the global funds given more access to China’s bond market. While it offers the highest yields among the world’s major economies, PIMCO and Schroder Investment say exchange-rate risk is damping global demand for Chinese assets. Barclays said this week there’s a growing chance China will announce a sharp, one-time devaluation to change sentiment toward the currency and suggested such a move would need to be in the region of 25% to be effective. “Uncertainty around currency policy remains one of the larger hurdles for foreign investors,” said Rajeev De Mello at Schroder Investment in Singapore. “This should be resolved as the year progresses and would then be a signal to increase investments in Chinese government bonds.”

The People’s Bank of China said Wednesday that most types of overseas financial institutions will no longer require approvals or quotas to invest in the 35 trillion yuan ($5.4 trillion) interbank bond market, which had foreign ownership of less than 2% at the end of January. The nation’s 10-year sovereign yield of 2.87% compares with 1.74% in the U.S., which offers the highest rate among Group of 10 countries, and sub-zero in Japan and Switzerland. The yuan has weakened 5% versus the dollar since a surprise devaluation in August, even as the central bank burnt through more than $400 billion of the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves over the last six months trying to support the exchange rate amid record capital outflows.

China is opening its capital markets to foreign investors to try and draw money as the slowest economic growth in a quarter century drives funds abroad, pressuring the yuan. Freer access will help the nation’s bonds gain entry to global benchmarks, bolstering appetite for the securities as a restructuring of local-government debt spurs record issuance. Uncertainty on the currency is preventing investors from buying onshore assets now, according to Luke Spajic, an emerging markets money manager at Pimco, whose developing-nation currency fund has outperformed 82% of peers during the past five years. “If you buy these bonds, collect coupons, make some profits, how can you take the money out, are there any issues.” Spajic said in an interview in Shanghai on Thursday. “What we want to clarify is how this process works now, given the capital control environment.”

Read more …

“.. in the case of a country like Italy, where the banks own around €400 billion of government debt and are already severely undercapitalised, the effects on the banking system would be catastrophic.”

Germany Lays the Foundations for a New Eurozone Debt/Banking Crisis (Fazi)

In recent weeks, Germany has put forward two proposals for the future viability of the EMU that, if approved, would radically alter the nature of the currency union. For the worse. The first proposal, already at the centre of high-level intergovernmental discussions, comes from the German Council of Economic Experts, the country s most influential economic advisory group (sometimes referred to as the ‘five wise men’). It has the backing of the Bundesbank, of the German finance minister Wolfgang Sch‰uble and, it would appear, even of Mario Draghi.

Ostensibly aimed at severing the link between banks and government (just like the banking union) and ensuring long-term debt sustainability , it calls for: (i) removing the exemption from risk-weighting for sovereign exposures, which( essentially means that government bonds would longer be considered a risk-free asset for banks (as they are now under Basel rules), but would be ‘weighted’ according to the ‘sovereign default risk’ of the country in question (as determined by the fraud-prone rating agencies depicted in The Big Short); (ii) putting a cap on the overall risk-weighted sovereign exposure of banks; and (iii) introducing an automatic sovereign insolvency mechanism that would essentially extend to sovereigns the bail-in rule introduced for banks by the banking union, meaning that if a country requires financial assistance from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), for whichever reason, it will have to lengthen sovereign bond maturities (reducing the market value of those bonds and causing severe losses for all bondholders) and, if necessary, impose a nominal ‘haircut’ on private creditors.

The second proposal, initially put forward by Schaeuble and fellow high-ranking member of the CDU party Karl Lamers and revived in recent weeks by the governors of the German and French central banks, Jens Weidmann (Bundesbank) and François Villeroy de Galhau (Banque de France), calls for the creation of a eurozone finance ministry , in connection with an independent fiscal council . At first, both proposals might appear reasonable – even progressive! Isn’t an EU- or EMU-level sovereign debt restructuring mechanism and fiscal authority precisely what many progressives have been advocating for years? As always, the devil is in the detail.

As for the proposed ‘sovereign bail-in’ scheme, it s not hard to see why it would result in the exact opposite of its stated aims. The first effect of it coming into force would be to open up huge holes in the balance sheets of the banks of the riskier countries (at the time of writing, all periphery countries except Ireland have an S&P rating of BBB+ or less), since banks tend to hold a large percentage of their country’s public debt; in the case of a country like Italy, where the banks own around €400 billion of government debt and are already severely undercapitalised, the effects on the banking system would be catastrophic.

Read more …

“..in light of the downgraded U.S. economic outlook,..”

Societe Generale Slashes Forecast For European Stocks (BBG)

The biggest bull on European stocks just buckled. Societe Generale, among the few firms that hadn’t cut 2016 estimates in response to global-growth concerns, now has the most bearish forecast. The bank sees the Euro Stoxx 50 Index ending 2016 at 3,000, up just 4.3% from Thursday’s close. It’s a far cry from only two weeks ago. Europe’s equities were at a 2 1/2-year low, yet the bank’s call for an year-end level of 4,000 translated to an almost 50% advance. Societe Generale also cut its estimate for the Stoxx Europe 600 Index to 340, indicating a 4.1% rise from the last close. “We trim our equity market forecasts in light of the downgraded U.S. economic outlook,” strategists led by Roland Kaloyan wrote in a report.

“We nevertheless maintain a positive stance on equities, as the recent correction already prices in this scenario to a certain extent. Equity indices should recover in the second quarter from oversold levels, followed by low single-digit quarterly declines in the second half of the year.” Societe Generale favors French and Italian stocks, citing “improving economic momentum,” while saying weakness in China will likely pressure the DAX Index. Along with the Swiss Market Index, the German benchmark is among the bank’s least-preferred markets in Europe. European equity funds had a third straight week of outflows, according to a Bank of America note on Friday citing EPFR Global data. Societe Generale analysts also expect the U.K. equity market to benefit from “rising Brexit fever.” It now expects the FTSE 100 Index to end the year at 6,400, up 6.4% from yesterday’s closing level.

Read more …

The power of the dollar.

Japan Builds $124 Billion Cash Hoard Even as It Cuts Treasuries (BBG)

Japan has stockpiled a record amount of cash at central banks as part of its currency reserves, after selling Treasuries, as policy makers around the world adjust to rising U.S. interest rates and falling bond-market liquidity. Foreign-exchange deposits in the vaults of overseas institutions ballooned to $124.1 billion as of Jan. 31, from $14 billion at the end of 2014, according to data from Japan’s Ministry of Finance. That’s the most based on figures going back to 2000, and accounts for about 10% of the nation’s total reserves. While the figure isn’t broken down, it coincides with a surge in greenbacks held by global central banks at the Fed. Any shift away from Treasuries would protect Japan’s reserves from potential losses as the Fed extends monetary policy tightening and concerns rise over bond-market liquidity.

Dollar holdings kept in cash stand to benefit from higher U.S. interest rates and a stronger currency, even as monetary authorities in Japan and across Europe start charging banks for some deposits. “Everybody’s devaluing their currencies, everywhere across the planet, except the U.S. dollar,” said John Gorman at Nomura, the nation’s biggest brokerage. “People are more comfortable putting their reserves in a currency that’s appreciating rather than a currency that’s depreciating. An official in the office of foreign exchange reserve management in the Ministry of Finance declined to comment on the matter, saying it can affect markets. The increase in Japan’s cash at foreign institutions is a change in the composition of the country’s foreign-exchange reserves. The overall stockpile, the world’s largest after China’s, has fallen almost 3% to $1.19 trillion since it reached a record at the start of 2012.

Japan, America’s largest overseas creditor after China, is cutting its Treasuries position. The stake among both government and private investors dropped 8.8% in 2015, the first sales since 2007, based on the most recent Treasury Department data. The reduction dovetails with a decline in foreign securities in Japan’s foreign exchange reserves. Since November 2014, bond holdings fell $126.4 billion, while deposits rose $116.9 billion. The strategy of selling Treasuries and holding dollars would allow investors to get out of older U.S. government securities that can be difficult to trade and may get even tougher to transact if the Fed raises rates further. Declining liquidity in the Treasury market is driving demand for the newest, easiest-to-sell securities. When policy makers increased benchmark borrowing costs in December, they indicated they will act four more times in 2016. Even so, the Bloomberg U.S. Treasury Bond Index has advanced 3.4% so far in 2016 in a flight from riskier assets.

Read more …

Something tells me we can always get stupider.

“Peak Stupidity” – Where We Go From Here (Beversdorf)

A reminder of what the market actually represents is a good place to start.  The stock market is simply an asset with some intrinsic value based on an expectation of future free cash flows to equity holders.  Those cash flows are generated from revenues less costs of the underlying companies that make up the market.  Let’s use the Wilshire 5000 Full Price Cap Index as the proxy market for this discussion as it is the broadest measure of total market cap for US corporations.  It’s level actually represents market capital in billions.

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 8.29.51 PM

So the market has put a valuation on those expected future cash flows to equity holders (as of today) at around $19.7T (a 55% increase from Jan of 2012) down from around $22.5T (a 77% increase from Jan of 2012) at the market peak last summer.  So let’s take a look at the growth in cash flows of US corporations over that same period.  We should expect to find a growth pattern in free cash flows similar to the above growth pattern in the overall market valuation (the Wilshire is a statistically large enough sample to be representative of total US corporations).  Let’s have a look…
Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 11.53.09 AM

The above chart depicts corporate free cash flows (blue line) indexed to 100 in Jan 2012.  It is obtained by taking the BEA’s Net Cash Flow with IVA and CCAdj adding back depreciation and net dividends and subtracting net capex.  (The actual definitions of these can be found here.) What we find is that while the current valuation of expected future free cash flows to equity holders (i.e. market cap of Wilshire) has increased by some 55% since the end of 2011, the actual free cash flows of US corporations have only increased by 4%.

This becomes a very difficult fact to reconcile inside the classroom.  Why would market participants be baking in so much growth when the actual data simply doesn’t support it?

Well there are plenty of potential explanations.  For instance, rarely are investors rational.  While buy low and sell high is rational investing behaviour, often market euphoria comes at the market top right before a major sell off, leading to a buy high and sell low strategy.  Another reason is that the Fed has been providing a free put to all investors for the past 7 years essentially significantly reducing naturally occurring risk factors.  But whatever the reason this dislocation between expected and realized growth begs the question, how long can it last?  So let’s explore this issue.

Below is a longer term growth chart of the Wilshire vs US corporate free cash flows to equity holders both indexed to 1995 (i.e. 1995 = 100).

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 7.31.21 PM

And so over the past 20 years we’ve seen this same type of dislocation three times.  That is, we see expectations of growth far exceeding actual growth of free cash flows to equity holders.  In the previous two dislocations we reached a peak dislocation (peak stupidity) followed by a reversion to reality (epiphany) where expected growth moves back in line with actual growth.

Read more …

“Whereas US banking sector assets were worth only 80% of its GDP, Britain’s were worth 500%..”

Bankers Have Not Learnt The Lessons Of The Great Crash (Tel.)

Barack Obama used to talk about the audacity of hope. Mervyn King was Governor of the Bank of England during ‘the biggest financial crisis this country has faced since 1914’. Its lesson, he says, is that we now need ‘the audacity of pessimism’. Only when we fully understand how badly things went wrong – and why they are still wrong today – can we start to put them right. His new book suggests how. I meet Lord King in his modest office at the London School of Economics. Typically, he is just off to the West Midlands for a dinner for famous sons of Wolverhampton. He is a proud provincial boy, not a City slicker. I ask him to recall the moment he first understood the depth of the problem facing the world. Back in September 2007, when he ‘it was already clear that Northern Rock would need support’, King recalls, he was in Basel for a conference.

There was alarm in the United States because ‘sub-prime’ mortgages were collapsing. The central bank supervisors at the conference insisted that sub-prime failure could not bring down the system. But King talked to his friend Stan Fischer, then Governor of the Bank of Israel. They shared their fears: ‘If the only thing that goes wrong is sub-prime, ok. But what else could go wrong? What if the unimaginable happens?’ It did. Over the next two months, says King, he became obsessed with the need for more equity capital in the banking system. The banks resisted at first and ‘The politicians [Gordon Brown’s government] were susceptible to pressure from the banks’. But ‘we limped along till the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers’ in September 2008. Then ‘the banking of the entire industrial world was at risk of collapse’.

Britain – without a proper ‘bank resolution regime’ which, says King, ‘could have solved the problem of Northern Rock in a weekend, without fuss’ – was enormously vulnerable. Whereas US banking sector assets were worth only 80% of its GDP, Britain’s were worth 500%, a terrifying ratio. New Labour, having turned its back on nationalisation, had to revert to it: ‘It must have been galling for them.’ In Mervyn King’s mind, the credit crunch was brought about by something profoundly wrong. Bankers had been encouraged to take enormous risks with the customers’ money, enrich themselves and then dump the losses on the taxpayer. Huge pay increases for senior executives had produced a ‘very unattractive culture when clever people started to say to themselves: “I’m smart, I can make money out of people who don’t understand this”.’

Read more …

One by one they fall: “..the firm’s investment-banking revenues are forecast to be down 25% in the first quarter. Markets revenues are down 20% year-on-year..”

Bank Of America Preparing Big Layoffs In Investment Banking And Trading (BI)

Bank of America is preparing for significant job cuts across its global banking and markets business, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Senior executives in the division were tasked with identifying potential job cuts a few weeks ago, and this week were asked to increase their size, according to people familiar with the situation. The cuts are likely to be over 5% of staff, the people said. Some business lines will face deeper cuts than others, and the details haven’t been finalized. Employees could be told of the cuts as soon as March 8, one of the people said, which is weeks sooner than managers were initially expecting. The people didn’t know the reasons the cuts had been pushed forward.

BofA is joining firms across Wall Street in paring back staff amid one of the worst quarters for investment-banking and trading revenues. Business Insider reported on Monday that Deutsche Bank was cutting 75 staff in fixed income, while Morgan Stanley and Barclays have also recently cut staff. Daniel Pinto, CEO of JPMorgan’s corporate and investment bank, said on Tuesday that the firm’s investment-banking revenues are forecast to be down 25% in the first quarter. Markets revenues are down 20% year-on-year, Pinto said, speaking at JPMorgan’s Investor Day conference.

Read more …

Their shareholders will pay the fine.

UBS Accused of Money Laundering in Belgian Tax Case (BBG)

Belgian authorities accused UBS of money laundering and fiscal fraud over allegations it helped clients evade taxes, citing help from France where the Swiss bank is fighting similar accusations. The investigating judge also accused UBS of illegally approaching Belgian clients directly rather than through its Belgian unit, according to an e-mailed statement Friday from the Brussels prosecutor’s office. UBS said it will continue to defend itself against any unfounded allegations. The probe is continuing and the investigating judge will present his findings to prosecutors at a later date. The accusations are based on strong evidence of guilt uncovered by the investigative magistrate, said Jennifer Vanderputten, a spokeswoman at the prosecutor’s office. UBS will be given the right to access evidence supporting the allegations, she said.

The Belgian prosecutor cited “excellent collaboration” with authorities in France, where UBS is awaiting a decision on whether it will face trial for allegedly helping clients evade taxes. UBS is also accused in France of laundering proceeds from tax evasion. Investigating judges in France wrapped up their formal investigation earlier this month, turning the case over to the national financial prosecutor who will make a recommendation on whether it goes to trial. The bank, which has called the French allegations “unfounded,” was forced to post a bail of 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion). Friday’s decision came after the head of UBS’s Belgium unit was similarly accused in 2014 of money laundering and fiscal fraud as part of the probe. Marcel Bruehwiler was questioned for several hours before being released in June 2014.

Read more …

Yeah, like Middle Ages.

With No Unified Refugee Strategy, Europeans Return to Old Alliances (NY Times)

Roughly five weeks ago, Donald Tusk, one of the EU’s most powerful political figures, issued a blunt warning to its 28 countries: Come up with a coherent plan to tackle the refugee crisis within two months, or risk chaos. Surprisingly, given the plodding pace of European Union policy making, three weeks before Mr. Tusk’s deadline, many of Europe’s national leaders are now moving swiftly, announcing tough new border policies and guidelines on asylum — even with three weeks remaining on the deadline set by Mr. Tusk, president of the European Council. The problem is that the leaders are not always adhering to European rules, possibly not sticking to international law and not acting with the unity envisioned by Mr. Tusk. In some cases, they instead seem to be reverting to historical alliances rather than maintaining the EU’s mantra of solidarity.

This week, Austria joined with many of the Balkan countries to approve a tough border policy in what some are wryly calling the return of the Hapsburg Empire. Four former Soviet satellites, led by Poland and Hungary, have become another opposition power bloc. All the while, a call for unity by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is increasingly being ignored, even as she struggles to tamp down on a political revolt at home while searching for a formula to reduce the number of refugees still trying to reach Germany. “We are now entering a situation in which everybody is trying to stop the refugees before they reach their borders,” said Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies, a research institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. Mr. Krastev added, “The basic question is, which country turns into a parking lot for refugees?”

For many months, European Union officials, joined by Ms. Merkel, have tried to share the burden by distributing quotas of the refugees already in Greece and Italy to different member states. Many states have balked, and the program is largely paralyzed. European Union leaders also agreed to pay 3 billion euros, roughly $3.3 billion, to aid organizations in Turkey to help stanch the flow of migrants departing the Turkish coast for the Greek islands. But record numbers of migrants keep coming.

Read more …

What will this lead to?

More Migrants Trapped In Greece As Balkan Countries Enforce Limits (Kath.)

The European Commission said Friday that it is putting together a humanitarian aid plan for Greece as Balkan countries placed further restrictions on the numbers of refugees and migrants that could cross their territories. As of last night, authorities in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) had not allowed any refugees to pass from Greece. Earlier, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia said they would each restrict the number of migrants allowed to enter their territories to 580 per day. The clampdown comes in the wake of Austria last week introducing a daily cap of 80 asylum seekers and saying it would only let 3,200 migrants pass through each day. As border restrictions north of Greece have been stepped up, the number of migrants and refugees stuck in the country has increased.

The government is attempting to stem the flow of migrants to mainland Greece by asking ferry companies to delay crossings from the Aegean islands, but between 2,000 and 3,000 people are arriving in Greece each day. It is estimated that there are currently 20,000 to 25,000 in the country. Some of them are out in the open, having chosen not to remain in transit centers or other temporary shelters provided by Greek authorities. Several thousand have reached the village of Idomeni at the border with FYROM, where conditions were said to be deteriorating last night as a result of bad weather.

The government launched a hotline for people or companies who want to donate items that are in need at the moment, such as non-perishable food, sneakers, towels and plastic cutlery. European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud admitted Friday that due to the changing situation in Greece, Brussels is putting together an “emergency plan” to avert a humanitarian crisis in Greece. Speaking at an economic forum in Delphi yesterday, Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned that the upcoming summit between EU members and Turkey on March 7 would be crucial to addressing the growing crisis. “If there is no convergence and agreement on March 7, we will be led to disaster,” the former Greek minister said.

Read more …

Is this the bombshell?!: UN’s Peter Sutherland says: “Any country that unilaterally rejects an EU law duly enacted on migration or otherwise cannot remain a member of the Union”

EU Med Countries Oppose Unilateral Actions On Refugee Crisis (AP)

The rift over how to handle Europe’s immigration crisis ripped wide open Friday. As nations along the Balkans migrant route took more unilateral actions to shut down their borders, diplomats from EU nations bordering the Mediterranean rallied around Greece, the epicenter of the crisis. Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides — speaking on behalf of colleagues from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Malta and Greece — said decisions on how to deal with the migrant influx that have already been made by the 28-nation bloc cannot be implemented selectively by some countries. “This issue is testing our unity and ability to handle it,” Kasoulides told a news conference after an EU Mediterranean Group meeting. “The EU Med Group are the front-line states and we all share the view that unilateral actions cannot be a solution to this crisis.”

Kasoulides urged EU countries to enact all EU decisions on immigration so there “will be no unfairness to anybody.” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias blasted some European nations for imposing border restrictions on arriving migrants, saying that police chiefs are not allowed to decide to overturn EU decisions. He said Mediterranean colleagues were “unanimous” in their support for Greece’s position on the refugee crisis and that there was “clear criticism to all those who are seeking individual solutions at the expense of other member states.” The Greek government is blaming Austria — a fellow member of Europe’s Schengen Area — for the flare-up in the crisis. Austria imposed strict border restrictions last week, creating a domino effect as those controls were also implemented by Balkan countries further south along the Balkans migration route.

Greece recalled its ambassador to Austria on Thursday and rejected a request to visit Athens by Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner. The United Nations secretary-general expressed “great concern” Friday at the growing number of border restrictions along the migrant trail through Europe. Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman said the U.N. chief is calling on all countries to keep their borders open and says he is “fully aware of the pressures felt by many European countries.” The statement noted in particular the new restrictions in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia. Thousands of migrants are pouring into Greece every day and officials fear the country could turn into “a giant refugee camp” if they are unable to move north due to borders closures.

In Munich, German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed the Mediterranean EU ministers in calling for a unified European approach to tackle the migrant crisis. Merkel, who has said that those fleeing violence deserve protection, said she was encouraged by the recent deployment of NATO ships to the Aegean Sea alongside vessels from the European Union border agency Frontex. “NATO has started to work in collaboration with the Turkish coast guard and Frontex. It is too early to see the effects of this measure. All 28 (EU) member states want to stop illegal immigration,” she said. But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the ships would only be providing a support role. “NATO ships will not do the job of national coastguards in the Aegean. Their mission is not to stop or turn back those trying to cross into Europe,” he wrote.

Read more …

Feb 202016
 
 February 20, 2016  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Russell Lee “Yreka, California. Magazine stand” 1942

Commodities’ $3.6 Trillion Black Hole (BBG)
‘It’s Going To Be Much Worse Than 2008’ (FS)
Has The Market Crash Only Just Begun? (ZH)
The US Economy Has Not Recovered and Will Not Recover (PCR)
Worldwide M&A Activity Falls 23% (Reuters)
US Shale Faces March Madness With $1.2 Billion in Interest Due (BBG)
Moody’s Tallies 28 Downgrades In The Energy Sector Since December (MW)
Why Oil Rout Is Hurting The Global Economy Instead Of Helping (MW)
China’s Foreign Exchange Reserves Dwindling Rapidly (NY Times)
China ‘Removes’ Top Securities Regulator (Reuters)
Fannie Mae At Risk Of Needing A Bailout (FT)
Independent Modelling May Show Way Out Of Oz Housing Bubble (SMH)
Brexit!? France And Germany Can Not Wait (Gefira)
Tsipras, Merkel, Hollande Agree On Open Borders Until March 6 Summit (Kath.)
EU Summit On Refugee Crisis Ends In Disarray (FT)
Two Children Drown Every Day On Average Trying To Reach Europe (UNHCR)

” If the remaining $1.5 trillion is indeed on the balance sheets of financial institutions, that would represent about 1.5% of the total assets of all the world’s publicly traded banks. [..] U.S. subprime mortgages represented less than 1% of listed banks’ assets at the end of 2007.

Commodities’ $3.6 Trillion Black Hole (BBG)

Markets rallied this week after it became clear that some of the world’s biggest oil producers were going to curb production to stop prices from dropping any further. The news also buoyed other commodities, from coal to iron ore. Then everything dropped on Thursday with oil. Before the global financial crisis, a rise in raw-materials prices used to be bad news for the economy and stocks in general. Since central bank easy-money policies took off, that’s become a thing of the past:

One possible explanation is the level of exposure that banks and investors have to the industry. The 5,000 biggest publicly traded companies tracked by Bloomberg in the iron and steel, metals and mining, and energy sectors have a combined $3.6 trillion in debt, according to their most recent financial reports, double what they had at the end of 2008. Much of the increase is due to money that was borrowed to dig mines and wells whose output, at previous prices, would have easily repaid most maturing bonds and loans. But as commodity prices have tumbled, so has the ability of companies to meet their obligations. The Bloomberg Commodity Index is still only 3.9% higher than a 25-year low hit on Jan. 20. Five years ago, those companies tracked by Bloomberg had more operating income than debt, on average. Now, it would take them more than eight years’ worth of current earnings, without provisioning for interest, taxes, depreciation or amortization, to clear their combined net obligations.

Yield-hungry bond investors sucked up a lot of the debt that was issued and now hold about $2.1 trillion of outstanding notes. They’ll be first to feel the pain considering Standard & Poor’s has already downgraded securities equivalent to 47% of that amount and made some 400 negative-ratings moves in the basic materials and energy sectors over the past 12 months alone. Such scale and depth is reminiscent of the way banks were slaughtered by ratings companies during the 2008 financial crisis. It’s unclear where the other portion of the $3.6 trillion in liabilities lies but probably, most of it is owed to banks. If the remaining $1.5 trillion is indeed on the balance sheets of financial institutions, that would represent about 1.5% of the total assets of all the world’s publicly traded banks. That doesn’t seem very significant, or any cause for concern. But to put it in some context, U.S. subprime mortgages represented less than 1% of listed banks’ assets at the end of 2007.

Read more …

“You have every major economic zone in the world in big, big trouble including the US and that is why I say this crisis has the potential of becoming much, much worse than the last one.” (h/t Stockman)

‘It’s Going To Be Much Worse Than 2008’ (FS)

Bert Dohmen, founder of Dohmen Capital Research, is uber-bearish and believes that it is time for investors to panic (before everyone else does) given a potential collapse of the stock market greater than what we saw in 2008. Here’s what he had to say on Thursday’s podcast: “Over a year ago we said that we are now in a transition year from a bull market to a bear market and from a growing economy to a recession—and this could be a very deep recession… now we see that we are finally there and more and more people are starting to realize it. But I raise the question here, ‘Is it too late to panic?’ Because…the advice given by so many analysts is ‘Don’t panic, don’t sell, don’t panic.’ And I say, ‘Yes, panic!’ And it’s not too late to panic. Panicking at the right time can save you a lot of money…

I predict in this bear market you will see the majority of stocks—majority meaning over 50% of the stocks—selling at $5 or less. Okay, just put that into your portfolio and see if you should be selling some stocks… We here other analysts say, ‘Oh, this is nothing like 2008’ and I agree with that, but I say that because I think it’s going to be much worse. 2008 was really a crisis triggered by the subprime mortgage market and the confetti that the Wall Street firms distributed around the world. They took those subprime mortgages, put them into pools, they sold participations in these pools, in these CDOs…they got a triple-AAA rating on all this garbage and sold it around the world and then they started defaulting. That caused ripples throughout the financial system and a global financial crisis, okay; but it was basically a mortgage crisis—that’s how it started.

Now, look at what we have currently. We have every major economic zone in the world in financial trouble. You have Japan with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 280%. You have China at 300% debt-to-GDP. China has over $34 trillion of debt and the banking system is flooded with bad loans. The best estimate—and this was two years ago I wrote a book called The Coming China Crisis—and I said the best estimate is that they have $11 trillion of bad loans in the banking system. $11 trillion is the annual GDP of China—this is huge! You have Europe, you have Latin America in trouble, you have Russia in big trouble, you have Saudi Arabia even thinking about doing an IPO on their big oil company in order to make up for the shortfall of oil revenues. You have every major economic zone in the world in big, big trouble including the US and that is why I say this crisis has the potential of becoming much, much worse than the last one.”

Read more …

“..it can’t be done in a non-messy way.”

Has The Market Crash Only Just Begun? (ZH)

Having successfully called the market’s retreat in the fall of 2015, Universa’s Mark Spitznagel is not taking a victory lap as he warns Bloomberg TV that “the crash has only just begun.” Investors are facing the most binary “let’s make a deal” market in history in Spitznagel’s view: choose Door #1 to bet on Keynesianism, central planners, and monetary interventionism; or Door #2 to bet on free markets and natural price discovery. “There is massive cognitive dissonance here,” Spitznagel explains as history teaches us that door #2 is the right choice… but it’s not possible to do that today as investors have been coerced to choose door #1, but when door #1 is slammed open “we will see that dreaded black swan monster.” That is what is going on right now:

“Investors want to go with The Fed when it’s working – like David Zervos… the problem is, when do you know that it is not working?” “At some point this stops working…” “the market is going through a resolution process, transitioning from the cognitive dissonance of Door #1 to the harsh reality of Door #2… if everyone were to change doors at the same time, that is a market crash… it can’t be done in a non-messy way.”

Must watch reality check behind the smoke and mirrors we call markets… (we note Mark’s excellent analogy starting at around 3:10)

Read more …

Amen Paul Craig Roberts.

The US Economy Has Not Recovered and Will Not Recover (PCR)

The US economy died when middle class jobs were offshored and when the financial system was deregulated. Jobs offshoring benefitted Wall Street, corporate executives, and shareholders, because lower labor and compliance costs resulted in higher profits. These profits flowed through to shareholders in the form of capital gains and to executives in the form of “performance bonuses.” Wall Street benefitted from the bull market generated by higher profits. However, jobs offshoring also offshored US GDP and consumer purchasing power. Despite promises of a “New Economy” and better jobs, the replacement jobs have been increasingly part-time, lowly-paid jobs in domestic services, such as retail clerks, waitresses and bartenders.

The offshoring of US manufacturing and professional service jobs to Asia stopped the growth of consumer demand in the US, decimated the middle class, and left insufficient employment for college graduates to be able to service their student loans. The ladders of upward mobility that had made the United States an “opportunity society” were taken down in the interest of higher short-term profits. Without growth in consumer incomes to drive the economy, the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan substituted the growth in consumer debt to take the place of the missing growth in consumer income. Under the Greenspan regime, Americans’ stagnant and declining incomes were augmented with the ability to spend on credit. One source of this credit was the rise in housing prices that the Federal Reserves low interest rate policy made possible.

Consumers could refinance their now higher-valued home at lower interest rates and take out the “equity” and spend it. The debt expansion, tied heavily to housing mortgages, came to a halt when the fraud perpetrated by a deregulated financial system crashed the real estate and stock markets. The bailout of the guilty imposed further costs on the very people that the guilty had victimized. Under Fed chairman Bernanke the economy was kept going with Quantitative Easing, a massive increase in the money supply in order to bail out the “banks too big to fail.” Liquidity supplied by the Federal Reserve found its way into stock and bond prices and made those invested in these financial instruments richer.

Corporate executives helped to boost the stock market by using the companies’ profits and by taking out loans in order to buy back the companies’ stocks, thus further expanding debt. Those few benefitting from inflated financial asset prices produced by Quantitative Easing and buy-backs are a much smaller%age of the population than was affected by the Greenspan consumer credit expansion. A relatively few rich people are an insufficient number to drive the economy. The Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy was designed to support the balance sheets of the mega-banks and denied Americans interest income on their savings. This policy decreased the incomes of retirees and forced the elderly to reduce their consumption and/or draw down their savings more rapidly, leaving no safety net for heirs.

Read more …

As trade plummets, so does M&A. So how are they going to pump up stock prices now? All buybacks all the time?

Worldwide M&A Activity Falls 23% (Reuters)

Worldwide mergers and acquisitions deals have fallen 23% to $336 billion so far this year compared with last year, but cross-border activity by amount targeting U.S.-based companies reached a record high, Thomson Reuters data shows. After hitting a record high by deals value in 2015, worldwide M&A activity has been hurt this year by falling oil prices, worries about slowing growth in China and the health of the financial sector. A trio of deals for U.S. companies topped the list of M&A announced this week, including Chinese company Tianjin Tianhai’s $6.3 billion offer for U.S.-based Ingram Micro, bringing year-to-date China outbound M&A targeting the U.S. to $23.3 billion. China, Ireland and Canada account for 88% of cross-border acquirers in the U.S. so far this year. European M&A activity, which lagged the U.S. in 2015, has hit $92 billion so far this year, up 4% compared with a year ago, after state-owned ChemChina announced it would buy Swiss seeds and pesticides group Syngenta for $43 billion in February.

Read more …

$9.8 billion for the year. With hedges disappearing.

US Shale Faces March Madness With $1.2 Billion in Interest Due (BBG)

The U.S. shale industry must come up with $1.2 billion in interest payments by the end of March as $30-a-barrel oil makes it harder for companies to scrape up the cash needed to stay current on their debts. Almost half of the interest is owed by companies with junk-rated credit, according to data compiled by Bloomberg on 61 companies in the Bloomberg Intelligence index of North American independent oil and gas producers. Energy XXI said in a filing Tuesday that it missed an $8.8 million interest payment. The following day, SandRidge announced that it didn’t make a $21.7 million interest payment. “You’ve seen two of these happen in two days, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more in the next month as these payments come due,” said Jason Wangler at Wunderlich in Houston.

Energy XXI may not be able to meet its commitments in the next 12 months, raising “substantial doubt regarding the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” according to a company filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. A company representative didn’t return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment. SandRidge “has sufficient liquidity to make these interest payments, but has elected to use the 30-day grace period in connection with its ongoing discussions with stakeholders,” the company said in a statement released Wednesday. “Today’s actions will preserve liquidity and flexibility as we continue to engage in constructive dialogue with our stakeholders,” James Bennett, SandRidge president and chief executive officer, said in the statement.

Oil has tumbled about 70% since a June 2014 peak of $107 a barrel. While prices were high, many drillers spent more money than they earned, plugging the shortfall with debt. That debt has become increasingly burdensome as prices collapse. Since the start of 2015, 48 North American oil and gas producers have declared bankruptcy, owing more than $17 billion, according to law firm Haynes & Boone. Deloitte said this week that bankruptcies in the oil and gas industry could surpass levels seen in the Great Recession.

Read more …

And with hedges gone, borrowing gets much more expensive at the same time.

Moody’s Tallies 28 Downgrades In The Energy Sector Since December (MW)

Moody’s Investors Service said Friday it has downgraded a total of 28 energy companies since December, as it continues a global review of the troubled sector. The agency surprised investors in January when it placed the credit ratings of 120 energy companies and 55 mining companies from around the world on review for a possible downgrade. The move came after a deep slump in the price of oil and other commodities, hurt by oversupply and the slowdown in China, a major consumer of natural resources. Today’s tally includes issuers that had already been placed on review in December and surprised some in the market. “Moody’s drops another hammer,” is how analysts at credit research firm CreditSights described the move Friday.

“Over the past several weeks, it has become increasingly clear in our discussions with clients and in hearing from company managements that the agency was taking a very Draconian view of the sector,” they wrote in a note. Moody’s said it downgraded two energy companies by five notches each, sending them deep into speculative-grade, or “junk” territory. Denbury Resources was cut to Caa2 from Ba3, and Whiting Petroleum was cut to Caa1 from Ba2. The agency downgraded seven energy companies by four notches, nine companies by three notches and five companies by two notches. The agency affirmed ratings on another nine companies. It continues to review a total of 137 global issuers for a possible downgrade.

Read more …

Oil is everywhere in society. And lots of places rely on mostly high, but certainly somewhat stable, prices.

Why Oil Rout Is Hurting The Global Economy Instead Of Helping (MW)

Saudi Arabia saw Standard & Poor’s cut its credit rating cut two notches this week to A-minus—an unsurprising move that nevertheless helps illustrate why collapsing oil prices haven’t seemed to be the economic boon many had anticipated. In a Thursday note, Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, used the downgrade—along with cuts in ratings for Bahrain, Oman and Kazakhstan—to remind clients of his explanation of how falling commodity prices can weigh on global growth. Weinberg has calculated that a $100 drop in the price of a barrel of crude would reduce global income from extraction alone by $3.2 trillion, or about 4.5% of world gross domestic product. That’s to say nothing of the impact on global economic activity from oil sales, transportation and exploration.

The U.S. benchmark settled below $31 a barrel on Thursday, or about $76 below its mid-2014 high after settling as low as $26.21 earlier this month. Brent crude, the global benchmark, ended Thursday at $34.28. It traded around $115 a barrel in mid-2014. It isn’t wrong to assume that those losses would rebound to the benefit of oil consumers, Weinberg says. But the rub lies in the fact that consumers in oil-importing countries may be more likely to stash those savings away while workers in oil-exporting countries would have been more likely to spend that lost income. That means it can take “years or decades” before that savings is translated into spending. He writes:

If purchasing power is transferred from one country to another, and if the countries receiving the windfall have a higher marginal propensity to save than the countries that are paying the transfer, then world GDP will be reduced. So if oil-importing countries tend to have higher incomes and higher savings rates, then world GDP will be reduced. In other words, halving the weekly income of an oil field worker in Nigeria earning near-subsistence wages will likely affect his or her consumption more than reducing the monthly auto fuel bill of a dentist in Belgium by the equivalent amount.

Needless to say, the oil market carnage has translated into real fiscal problems for oil-producing nations. It feeds into ideas that this week’s talk of a production freeze that would include OPEC members and Russia—seemingly shot down by Saudi Arabia after Iran refused to comply—was a sign of desperation. While freezing output at record levels wasn’t seen as likely to do much to alleviate a global glut, oil futures have rallied on the idea that producers are at least talking to each other is an important step. Helima Croft, global head of commodities at RBC Capital Markets, said this week’s talks were “one of the first clear acknowledgments by the oil heavyweights that all isn’t entirely well in the current price environment.”

It might even lay the groundwork for a “more proactive” approach later in the year after OPEC has had a chance to gauge the impact of Iran’s post-sanctions return to the global oil market as well as the trajectory of non-OPEC production, Croft said in a Tuesday note. ”Recently, some leading Saudi experts have suggested that by the June meeting, those variables will be known, and with the supply-and-demand balance expected to be tighter by then, it will be easier for cartel to pull additional barrels if needed in order to accelerate a price recovery,” she wrote.

Read more …

“Beijing has also instructed bank branches in Hong Kong to limit their lending of renminbi to make it harder for traders and investors to place bets against the Chinese currency in financial markets.”

China’s Foreign Exchange Reserves Dwindling Rapidly (NY Times)

During China’s biggest boom years, its currency could have risen in value as huge sums in dollars, euros and yen flowed into the country. Instead, Beijing tightly controlled the value of the renminbi, buying up much of the inflows and putting them into its reserves instead. That brought angry accusations from the United States and Europe that it was manipulating its currency to help keep Chinese exports inexpensive and competitive in foreign countries. Now that the renminbi faces pressure to fall, China is spending its reserves in an effort to prop up the currency. But many American lawmakers and presidential candidates still accuse China of keeping its currency artificially weak. The reserves are still considerable, more than double Japan’s, which has the world’s second-largest amount.

The central bank chief, Mr. Zhou, and others have questioned whether the reserves are too big and the money could be better invested if left in the private sector. Mr. Zhou led a move over the last two years to make it easier for Chinese companies and families to invest their own money overseas, only to find in recent months that the outflows have been disconcertingly fast at times. China has taken steps to stem further flows out of the country. This winter the Chinese authorities arrested the leaders of underground banks that were converting billions of renminbi into dollars and euros. They also made it harder for Chinese citizens to use their renminbi to buy insurance policies in dollars. More quietly, Beijing bank regulators have halted sales within China of investment funds known as wealth management products that are denominated in dollars.

Beijing has also instructed bank branches in Hong Kong to limit their lending of renminbi to make it harder for traders and investors to place bets against the Chinese currency in financial markets. “We did receive notice from Beijing in the earlier part of January to be more stringent in approving renminbi-denominated loans,” said a Hong Kong-based China bank executive, who insisted on anonymity for fear of employer retaliation. “It is no fun being caught in the middle, with marketing officers wanting to do more business and the higher-ups telling you to be tougher when reviewing credit proposals.” The erosion of reserves is also politically awkward, given public perception, and Beijing has taken steps aimed directly at shoring them up.

Read more …

Big deal. He offered to step down last month. Beijing should understand that heavy-handedness does not boost confidence. What does this say about how Chinese securities have been regulated until today? Not much good.

China ‘Removes’ Top Securities Regulator (Reuters)

China has removed the head of its securities regulator following a turbulent period in the country’s stock markets, appointing a top state banking executive as his replacement, as leaders move to restore confidence in the economy. The announcement on the official Xinhua news agency on Saturday follows a string of assurances from senior leaders following the Lunar New Year holiday that China will underpin its slowing economy and steady its wobbly currency. Xinhua said Xiao Gang, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) since 2013, had been succeeded by Liu Shiyu, chairman of the Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. (AgBank) and a former deputy governor of the central bank. “Xiao’s departure is not a surprise following the recent stock disaster. This is a role vulnerable to public criticism because most Chinese retail investors are destined to lose money in such a market,” said Zhang Kaihua, a fund manager of Nanjing-based hedge fund Huyang Investment.

Xiao and the CSRC came under fire as China’s Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets slumped as much as 40% in just a few months last summer. In a further blow, a stock index “circuit breaker” introduced in January to limit stock market losses was deactivated after four days of use because it was blamed for exacerbating a sharp selloff. Online media nicknamed Xiao “Mr. Circuit Breaker.” Reuters reported in January that Xiao, 57, had offered to resign following the “circuit-breaker” failure. The CSRC said at the time the information did not conform to the facts. The gyrations in China’s stock markets, an unexpected devaluation of the yuan in August and sharp falls in currency reserves rattled global markets, raising concerns about the health of the economy and Beijing’s ability to steer the country through both a protracted slowdown in growth and a shift away from manufacturing towards services.

Read more …

They do it on purpose. Set it up so poorly losses are inevitable, and meanwhile use it to keep housing prices propped up. The taxpayer can fork over the difference.

Fannie Mae At Risk Of Needing A Bailout (FT)

Fannie Mae, the state-sponsored U.S. mortgage backer, is at risk of needing a government bailout that could shake confidence in the housing finance market, senior officials have warned. Fannie Mae’s chief executive and its regulator are sounding the alarm on a decline in the institution’s capital cushion, which is on course to vanish in 2018, when it would have to ask the US Treasury for emergency funds. Their warnings highlight Washington’s inaction on housing policy and its failure to reform the institution, which guarantees nearly $3 trillion of securities and enables 30-year fixed rate loans, following the last financial crisis. Since 2008 Fannie Mae has been in the post-crisis limbo of state-sponsored “conservatorship,” neither fully nationalized nor private, following several unsuccessful attempts by Congress to overhaul it.

Because the government does not let Fannie Mae retain profits, Tim Mayopoulos, its chief executive, told the Financial Times on Friday that its capital buffer, which has dwindled from $30 billion before the crisis to $1.2 billion today, was on track to disappear by January 2018. At that point it would be unable to weather quarterly losses and would need to draw on Treasury funds to avoid being placed into receivership. So far investors who own Fannie Mae’s mortgage-backed securities have not been spooked, Mr. Mayopoulos said, but he added: “We are a major source of liquidity to the mortgage markets and it would be better to avoid testing the market as to what the breaking point is well in advance of us getting to that point.” His comments came the day after Mel Watt, Fannie Mae’s top regulator, thrust the issue into the spotlight.

Addressing both Fannie Mae and its counterpart Freddie Mac, Mr Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said: “The most serious risk and the one that has the most potential for escalating in the future is the enterprises’ lack of capital.” “If investor confidence in enterprise securities went down and liquidity declined as a result, this could have real ramifications on the availability and cost of credit for borrowers,” he said in a speech. Fannie Mae’s inability to retain profits, which must instead be swept into government coffers, also makes it almost impossible for the institution to exit federal control.

Read more …

Refusing to kill the golden goose.

Independent Modelling May Show Way Out Of Oz Housing Bubble (SMH)

Independent modelling has dented the Turnbull government’s attack on Labor’s negative gearing policy, finding it will generate billions for the Commonwealth with the vast bulk of revenue coming from just the top 10% of households who negatively gear their properties. The report’s author says the policy would likely slow the pace of house-price growth and boost new housing construction, making it “potentially the biggest housing affordability policy the country has seen.” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched a scathing attack on Labor’s negative gearing policy on Friday, saying home owners across the country would see the value of the family home “smashed” by the “very blunt, very crude” idea.

In a clear sign his government is preparing to launch a massive scare campaign in the lead-up to the 2016 election over Labor’s proposal, which is designed to save $32 billion over a decade, Mr Turnbull warned the policy was “calculated” to reduce the value of all homes. n”The Labor Party’s negative gearing policy and its wind-back on the capital gains discount – its increase in tax on capital gains – is a very dangerous one. It’s been very, very poorly thought out,” Mr Turnbull said on Friday. “The consequence of it will be a decline in property prices, every home owner in Australia has a lot to fear from Bill Shorten.”

But independent modelling shows there will be “significant” long-term savings from Labor’s proposal to quarantine negative gearing to new housing investments from July 2017, eventually raising between $3.5 to $3.9 billion a year. It also shows Labor’s proposal to cut the capital gains tax discount from 50% to 25% would raise about $2 billion a year in the long term. It shows the vast majority of savings would be at the expense of the top 10% of earners who negatively gear their properties. It also estimates that by restricting negative gearing to new housing, the policy would “increase the share of investment housing devoted to newly built housing” by 10 to 20%. It does not say house prices would drop. “Our modelling shows that negative gearing benefits high-income families with 52.6% of the benefit going to the top 20% of incomes,” the paper says.

Read more …

EU must turn into EMU. Which nobody wants outside of Brussels and EU capitals. Anyway, the coming economic downturn will turn the EMU into a crumbling ruin.

Brexit!? France And Germany Can Not Wait (Gefira)

If London decides to leave the European Union nobody in Europe will even notice. Great Britain is an entirely separate country, isolated from the European Union and does not participate in the Euro or Schengen Agreement. The EU as a political platform is disintegrating and becoming more and more irrelevant and will be displaced by the European Monetary Union (EMU). The center of power in Europe has shifted from the EU to the EMU and London politicians are fully aware of it. A Brexit will accelerate the process of political integration of the EMU members and make the EU politically less significant.

Over the past decade we saw:
• Countries can enter the European Union;
• The very core values of the European Union can be set aside as we saw happening in Turkey just before the European Commission announced to restart Turkey’s accession negotiations;
• Trade relations with Great Britain can be suspended without any upheaval, as we saw it concerning non-EU member Russia;
• Borders can be opened and closed as is the case in south-east Europe due to the refugee crisis;
• The Dublin Regulation can be dissolved overnight in the face of the fact that more than a million refugees have entered Europe since the summer of 2015;

All these events hardly changed the life of the Europeans. Being a member of the European Monetary Union is of another magnitude. The Greek euro crisis changed the lives of millions of Greeks. During the tense days in July 2015, when the future of Greece, the EMU and indirect the future of Europe was at stake, Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande held 24 hours emergency meetings as did the Eurogroup. Great Britain and the European Parliament did not play any role whatsoever in these decisive moments for the future of Europe. Cameron was not even invited to share his opinion.

The European Monetary Union is doomed for further political integration; the euro members have no other option but to create a fiscal union and a banking union. Without these two pillars, the whole Euro will fall apart dragging with it the complete Western financial system. A fiscal and banking union means that these countries have to integrate far beyond the European Union framework. Prime Minister Cameron is an annoyance for the already struggling EMU. The European Monetary Union faces extreme difficulties, as on one hand further integration of the Euro countries is inevitable and on the other hand, the widespread support for this integration is eroding. In 2011, French President Sarkozy told Cameron:”We’re sick of you criticizing us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro, you didn’t want to join, and now you want to interfere in our meetings”.

The EMU countries face a big political problem that is to be solved. Germany and France will never let countries outside the EMU have a say in their affairs as Cameron proposed. The diplomatic words from French Prime Minister Manuel Valls make it all clear to London as he said; “a Brexit is a shock for Europe but still members can not pick and choose rules that suit them”. The UK leaving the EU will make life easier for Paris and Berlin as Figaro writes: “Brexit? An opportunity for Europe, for France and for Paris”. When the UK is outside the EU Frankfurt and Paris will have more opportunities to crush London as a financial center. London could not miss Merkel’s warning against gains for British banks under ‘Brexit’. If the UK decides to leave, Berlin and Paris will do definitely more than prevent London banks from making any gain; they will do everything to establish Paris or Frankfurt as the financial center of the EMU at London’s expense.

Read more …

Expect refugee numbers to soar over next 2 weeks.

Tsipras, Merkel, Hollande Agree On Open Borders Until March 6 Summit (Kath.)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels on Friday. At the meeting, which reportedly lasted for an hour, the three leaders discussed the refugee crisis and the Greek bailout. According to a close Tsipras aide, the Greek premier reiterated that Greece would not accept any action against its interests. The three leaders agreed that the key with regard to decreasing the migration flow was Turkey and that NATO’s involvement was a positive development. Tsipras reportedly received assurances from Germany and France that assistance would be provided if necessary.

A pivotal point in the discussion was that the three leaders stressed that there would be no change in the European borders’ status quo until March 6, when a new summit on the refugee crisis is scheduled to take place, after Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu canceled his trip to Brussels following a bomb attack in Ankara which claimed the lives of 28 people on Wednesday. The leaders also agreed that representatives of the institutions should return to Athens as soon as possible in order to complete the review.

Read more …

Because Brexit allows convenient alternate story line. Much more important than human misery.

EU Summit On Refugee Crisis Ends In Disarray (FT)

Chancellor Angela Merkel hoped this week’s EU summit on migration would provide at least a show of European unity in the refugee crisis. Instead, it ended in disarray. An Austrian plan to cap the entry of asylum-seekers at just 80 a day left the German leader isolated, Greece threatening to scupper any deal on Brexit in response, and leaders more divided than ever over the EU’s biggest challenge in decades. European leaders, from Berlin to Vienna to Athens, are now improvising and pursuing often contradictory policies. Ms Merkel took even her own officials by surprise when she demanded another summit on the refugee crisis on March 6, just before three key German regional elections on March 13 and before the onset of spring boosts the numbers crossing the Aegean.

Refugee arrivals have picked up, with more than 4,800 arriving in Greece from Turkey on Thursday a rate not far off the autumn peak, when an average of 7,000 people a day were arriving. A backlog is building up along the western Balkans route, where fractious states have had to pull together to cope with the arrival of more than 1m people since the start of 2015. In private, previously optimistic officials are starting to despair, with worries shifting to a potential humanitarian disaster on the bloc s south eastern border. An EU leader said: “It’s a serious situation”. Ms Merkel is still banking on a deal with Ankara to secure the vulnerable Greek-Turkish frontier. As the chancellor said in the early hours on Friday: “It is an absolute given that we must urgently move faster”.

But bad luck waylaid even this plan: Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu cancelled a planned trip to Brussels to discuss migration following a car-bomb attack in Ankara. After the stormy summit debate, a tired looking Ms Merkel put a brave face on events at the 2.30am press conference, pointing to the efforts made in recent weeks to engage with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and boost Greece’s sea defences by deploying Nato ships. Meanwhile, Vienna has been accused of trampling on international law, including the Geneva Convention on refugees, throwing already barely enforced rules on asylum into further doubt. “Conventions are like fairies; if you stop believing in them, they die”, said Elizabeth Collett, a director at the Migration Policy Institute.

However, the Austrian public backs its chancellor Werner Faymann’s migrant cap, with Der Standard newspaper on Friday defending him, saying that Brussels had scored “an own goal” by criticising Vienna. Ms Merkel, who rarely criticises EU partners in public, said that she had been “surprised” by Mr Faymann. Privately, German officials are furious that an old ally has broken ranks. Brussels had desperately attempted to force member states to abide by the rules, with little success. Despite EU member states agreeing to share out 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece among themselves, fewer than 600 have actually been moved. While some leaders such as Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, have noisily disagreed, others — such as Madrid and Paris — have simply dragged their feet.

Read more …

Here’s warning you once again, Brussels, you’re not going to survive this, somone will have your head on a platter for it, and it ain’t going to be silver. Even this UNHCR piece tries to blame the smugglers, but Europe could have provided safe passage all along.

Two Children Drown Every Day On Average Trying To Reach Europe (UNHCR)

Two children have drowned every day on average since September 2015 trying to cross the eastern Mediterranean to find safety with their families in Europe, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said today. In a joint statement, issued in Geneva, UNHCR, UNICEF and the IOM warned that the number of child deaths was on the increase and called for more measures to increase safety for those escaping conflict and despair. Since last September, when the tragic death of toddler Aylan Kurdi captured the world’s attention, more than 340 children, many of them babies and toddlers, have drowned in the eastern Mediterranean. The total number of children who have died may be even greater, the sister organisations said, with their bodies lost at sea and never recovered.

One of those statistics was seven-year-old Houda from Afghanistan who went missing in a shipwreck off the Greek island of Kos at the end of January. Her mother, father, two sisters and one of her brothers had left Kabul for Istanbul earlier that month after her father, a middle-ranking police officer, received death threats. In Turkey, the family made a deal with a smuggler who promised them an “extra-safe trip in a spacious large boat” to Greece. To pay for the trip, Houda’s father had sold his house and borrowed money from family and friends. At night in a dark bay as they prepared to leave, they saw the boat was little more than a sailing coffin. It was small, old and massively overcrowded with around 80 passengers covering a few metres of deck. They tried to step back, but were forced by the smuggler to board the boat with no questions.

Smugglers allow no last-minute change of mind. Houda’s sister Aisha and her brother Aziz survived that deadly trip, along with 26 others, but her mother, father and an older sister perished. Their bodies were recovered. Houda’s was never found. Aisha and Aziz, 16 and 15 respectively, had learned to swim in school and that saved them. The stretch of the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece is now among the deadliest routes in the world for refugees and migrants. “These tragic deaths in the Mediterranean are unbearable and must stop,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “Clearly, more efforts are needed to combat smuggling and trafficking. Also, as many of the children and adults who have died were trying to join relatives in Europe, organising ways for people to travel legally and safely, through resettlement and family reunion programmes for example, should be an absolute priority if we want to reduce the death toll,” he added.

With children now accounting for 36% of those on the move, the chance of them drowning on the Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey to Greece has grown proportionately. During the first six weeks of 2016, 410 people drowned out of the 80,000 people crossing the eastern Mediterranean. This amounts to a 35-fold increase year-on-year from 2015. Aisha and Aziz are now accommodated at a transit facility UNHCR runs with a national NGO offering specialized services to unaccompanied refugee children in Greece until they are assigned to a permanent facility. They wish to reunite as soon as possible with what remains of their family. They have a brother in Germany and hope one day to be able to join him there.

“These children expressed incredible dignity and courage throughout the many challenges they faced after the shipwreck. After already identifying the corpses of his own family members at the Coast Guard, Aziz insisted on seeing more pictures in order to recognize fellow travellers and help in their identification so that their families could also find out what had happened to them. They repeatedly expressed their gratitude towards me and other colleagues for the help we provided,” said Georgios Papadimitriou, a senior protection officer with UNHCR.

Read more …

Feb 072016
 
 February 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


DPC Chamber of Commerce, Boston MA 1904

$100 Trillion Up in Smoke (Mauldin)
As Big Oil Shrinks, Boards Plot Different Paths Out Of Crisis (Reuters)
Exxon Ends Share Buybacks – It Must Be Acquisition Time (Forbes)
Hess Oil: A “Folly For The Ages” (ZH)
Debt, Defaults, And Devaluations: A Crash Like Nothing Before (Telegraph)
Our Dysfunctional Monetary System (Steve Keen)
Why The Bulls Will Get Slaughtered (Stockman)
Obscure Chinese Firm Dives Into $22 Trillion US Market (BBG)
China’s FX Reserves Decline to $3.23 Trillion (BBG)
The Great Escape from China (Rogoff)
Albert Edwards: China Has Only “Months Left” To Stop Collapse (VW)
Why Doesn’t 4.9% Unemployment Feel Great? (CNN)
Risk of WWIII as Saudi Arabia, Turkey –and Ukraine– Wade Into Syria (Trayner)
EU Ministers Want To Buttress Borders To Stem Refugee Flow (AP)
Austria Threatens To Extend Border Controls (Reuters)
Austria Wants EU To Cover Costs Of Additional Migrants (Reuters)

That is a big number. Add losses in commodities, and you’re talking destruction, of money, credit, virtual wealth, it doesn’t matter anymore what you call it..

$100 Trillion Up in Smoke (Mauldin)

If energy powers the world, then whoever owns that energy must have power over the world. That’s certainly been the case for the last century or two. Ownership of our primary energy source, crude oil, is what made billionaires of John D. Rockefeller, H.L. Hunt, and assorted Middle Eastern kings, emirs, and sheikhs. Oil in the ground is wealth only on paper – you may own that oil, but it earns you nothing until you recover and sell it. Yet paper wealth is still wealth. It goes on your balance sheet as an asset that you can sell. You can use it as collateral to borrow cash and buy other assets. The ongoing oil price collapse is having a severely negative impact on the wealth of those who own oil reserves. The numbers, as you will see below, are almost incomprehensibly big.

They are so big, in fact, that many analysts have simply tuned out. The attitude seems to be, “These numbers blow up my models, so I will ignore them.” Today we’ll stop dancing around the truth and call the oil collapse what it is: global wealth destruction of epic proportions. In mid-2014, crude oil prices were about $100, depending on which grade you wanted to buy. Now prices hover near $30 – roughly a 70% decline in 18 months. That’s well-known, but we usually discuss the price collapse in terms of particular countries or companies: we don’t look at the bigger picture. Last week someone showed me this from Twitter. I almost fell out of my chair.

Stop for a minute. Let that sink in. The total value of all the world’s oil reserves is over $100 trillion less than it was just a year and a half ago.

(By the way, I verified Mr. Levine’s reserve total by consulting the CIA’s World Fact Book. It says total world “proved” oil reserves were 1.656 trillion barrels as of January 1, 2015.) To put these figures in perspective, consider that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, briefly surpassed Apple last week as the planet’s largest publicly traded company. Both are worth around $500 billion, depending on the day. The lost value in crude oil is equivalent to a couple of hundred Googles and Apples going up in smoke. If stock values were crashing to that degree, we would call the losses earth-shattering. Yet otherwise intelligent people are saying the oil collapse is a minor issue.

Read more …

They’re all fully unprepared. Deer and headlights.

As Big Oil Shrinks, Boards Plot Different Paths Out Of Crisis (Reuters)

As oil and gas companies cut ever-deeper into the bone to weather their worst downturn in decades, boards have adopted contrasting strategies to lead them out of the crisis. Crude prices have tumbled around 70 percent over the past 18 months to around $35 a barrel, leading to five of the world’s top oil companies reporting sharp declines in profits in recent days. Executives at energy firms face a tough balancing act: they must cut spending to stay financially afloat while preserving the production infrastructure and capacity that will allow them to compete and grow when the market recovers. Companies have opted for differing approaches to secure future growth, often choosing to narrow focus to their areas of expertise and the geographic location of their main assets.

American firms Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Hess are withdrawing from more costly deepwater projects to focus on shale oil fields on their home turf, for example. Britain’s BP is betting on offshore gas in Egypt, while Royal Dutch Shell has opted for an alternative route as it seeks to safeguard its future: the $50 billion takeover of BG Group. In the five years before the downturn began in mid-2014, when crude prices held above $100 a barrel, big energy firms had raced to expand production capacity, including buying stakes in vast, costly fields sometimes located thousands of meters under the sea, and miles from land.

Over the past year however, companies have slashed their overall capital expenditure, scrapping plans for mega projects that cost billions to develop and take up to a decade to bring online. “Companies want to strike a balance between long and short-cycle investments while maintaining a robust balance sheet to fund their way through the down cycle,” said BMO Capital analyst Brendan Warn. Focusing on a specific set of expertise and geographies allowed them to offer investors a “unique value proposition”, he added.

Read more …

Quick, before somone figures out what you’ve lost.

Exxon Ends Share Buybacks – It Must Be Acquisition Time (Forbes)

If the company was happy buying its own stock in 2014, it should be all the more eager to buy now that shares are down 25%. Unless it sees a better bargain elsewhere. In its fourth-quarter financial release Tuesday, Exxon Mobil announced a halt to share buybacks. The company purchased $4 billion of its own shares in 2015, and has averaged about $20 billion a year in buybacks over the past decade, according to Reuters. The peak buyback year was 2008, when oil prices hit a record high and Exxon bought in $35 billion worth. At first glance, halting buybacks might seem reasonable. Perhaps amid this oil industry depression Exxon just wants to conserve cash — it also expects to reduce capital spending by $8 billion this year.

But think about it. The key to good investing is to buy low and sell high. If Exxon was happy buying back shares in 2014, when its stock price hit $103, it should be all the more eager to continue buying now that shares are down to $74.50. If Exxon didn’t think its own shares weren’t a great investment it wouldn’t have bought $200 billion of them over the past decade. Don’t take my word for it. As CEO Rex Tillerson said in a statement Tuesday, “The scale and diversity of our cash flows, along with our financial strength, provide us with the confidence to invest through the cycle to create long-term shareholder value.” It’s a hallmark of Exxon’s discipline that it continues to invest whether oil prices are low or high. In 2015 it brought on six big projects with 300,000 barrels per day of new production.

Exxon is not worried about running out of cash. Cash flows were on the order of $30 billion for the year. Even in the fourth quarter it generated net income of $2.8 billion (and $16 billion for the year). And don’t think for a second that Exxon intends to cut its dividend payouts, which totaled $12 billion last year. A more plausible reason Exxon is ending buybacks: it’s preparing to acquire another company whose shares are even more deeply discounted than Exxon’s. And with “just” $3.7 billion in cash on hand at the end of the fourth quarter, its likely that Exxon would use its shares as currency for a buyout. Who would they buy? The options abound for a company still sporting an equity market cap of $318 billion. Anadarko Petroleum has long been rumored to be a prime Exxon target; its shares are down about 65% to a market cap of $19 billion.

Occidental Petroleum float is $51 billion, ConocoPhillips $47 billion and Apache is at $15 billion. Deeper in the discount bin, Marathon Oil shares could be had for $6.5 billion, or Devon Energy for $11 billion. Of course Exxon would also need to assume any debt carried by an acquisition target. But that wouldn’t be a problem — compared with the averaged overleveraged oil company, Exxon has modest gearing with $38 billion in debt outstanding. Other than Royal Dutch Shell ’s $52 billion takeover of BG Group , we haven’t seen a landmark merger during this downturn. The last time things got this bad for the industry, back in 1998, BP bought Amoco for $48 billion and Exxon bought Mobil for $75 billion. Ending buybacks is just Exxon’s way of telling the market it’s ready to make a deal.

Read more …

Hess oil is the case study. “..Hess just sold 25 million shares at a price of $39 after purchasing 63 million shares through 2015 at an average price that was more than double, or $83 a share..”

Hess Oil: A “Folly For The Ages” (ZH)

[..] back in 2013, when it was trading at a discount to its peers, Hess became the target of an activist campaign led by Paul Singer’s Elliott Management who demanded a quick boost in the stock price, as a result of which the energy producer decided to exit its refining business (arguably the only line of business that would have benefited from the current depressed oil price) while not only raising its dividend but also authorizing a $4 billion share buyback. The company then boosted its buyback further with proceeds from the sale of its retail gas stations (for $2.9 billion) while growing its debt by $1 billion from 2013 to 2015, leading to the repurchase of a total of 62.7 million shares through the end of 2014 at an average price of $83. The stock price reacted as expected: it soared past $100 from below $60 before Elliott turned up. It then continued to spend more billions under additional buyback all the way through the third quarter of 2015, which however took place just as the worst oil downturn in history was taking place.

And then the stock crashed, as investors finally realized that plunging oil, sliding cash flow and surging debt meant the company found itself in a life and death fight for survival. Which brings us to yesterday, when in an attempt to shore up liquidity and avoid halting its dividend, Hess sold 25 million shares at a price of $39/share: a 10% discount to the prior closing price. As Reuters puts it, the “Hess folly is one for the ages.” The silver lining? Unlike before, when Hess’ weak management team was kicked around by a hedge fund, at least it is being proactive now and scrambling to preserve its business even it means huge pain and dilution for shareholders. The company ended 2015 with $2.7 billion in cash and a big revolving line of credit it hasn’t dipped into yet. Capital just raised will push net debt from 5.4x EBITDA to below four times, according to Cowen estimates.

That should allow Hess to keep investing in future production and pay dividends. If oil remains at $30, however, it has just bought itself a few quarters of time. Still, that does not absolve management of pandering to a vocal shareholder: if instead of spending billions on buybacks Hess had done the right thing and saved the cash, it would not only have avoided the wild swings in the stock price which rewarded just activist investors while punishing long-term holders, and have a far bigger war chest to defend itself from $30 oil. The bottom line: Hess just sold 25 million shares at a price of $39 after purchasing 63 million shares through 2015 at an average price that was more than double, or $83 share. As Reuters concludes, “this modern Hess era is a case study that should be required reading in boardrooms everywhere.”

Read more …

The right wing is getting concerned.

Debt, Defaults, And Devaluations: A Crash Like Nothing Before (Telegraph)

A global recession is on the way. This truism of economics holds at any point in which the world is not in the grips of a contraction. The real question is always when and how deep the upcoming downturn will be. “The crash will come, but it would be nice if it came two years from now”, Thomas Thygesen, head of economics at SEB told over 200 commodity investors and analysts in London last month. His audience was rapt with unusual attention. They could be forgiven for thinking the slump had not already arrived. Commodity prices have crashed by two thirds since their peaks in 2014. Oil has borne the brunt of the sell-off, suffering the worst price collapse in modern history. Brent crude has fallen from $115 a barrel in the summer of 2014, to just $27.70 in mid-January.

Plenty of investors sitting in the blue-lit, cavernous surrounds of Bloomberg’s London HQ would have had their fingers burnt by the price capitulation. “They tell you should start your presentations with a joke, but making jokes at a commodities seminar is hardly appropriate these days,” Thygesen told his nervous audience. Major oil price falls have a number of historical precedents. Today’s glutted oil market is often compared to the crash of 1986, the last major episode over global over-supply. Back in the late 90s, a barrel of Brent crude fell to as low as $10 in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. But is the current oil price collapse really like anything the world economy has ever experienced?

For many market watchers, a confluence of factors – led by oil, but encompassing China, the emerging world, and financial markets – are all brewing to create a perfect storm in a global economy that has barely come to terms with the Great Recession. “We are in a very unusual situation where market sentiment is of a different nature to anything we’ve seen before,” says Thygesen. Unlike previous pre-recessionary eras, the current sell-off has seen commodity prices, equities and credit conditions all move in dangerous lockstep. Although a 75pc oil price collapse should represent an unmitigated positive for the world’s fuel thirsty consumers, the sheer scale of the price rout is already imperiling the finances of producer nations from Nigeria to Azerbaijan, and is now threatening to unleash a wave of bankruptcies across corporate America.

It is the prospect of this vicious feedback loop – where low oil prices create financial tail risks that spill over into the real economy – which could now propel the world into a “full blown crisis” adds Thygesen. So will it materialise? The world economy is throwing up reasons to worry, as the globe’s largest emerging markets have shown signs of deterioration over the last six months, says Olivier Blanchard, the former long-serving chief economist of the IMF. “China’s growth is probably less than officially reported. Russia and Brazil are doing very badly. South Africa is flirting with recession. Even India may not be doing as well as was forecast,” says Blanchard, who left the Fund after seven years late last year. As it stands however, he says market ructions still represent a classic case of “herd” behaviour. “Investors worry that other investors know something bad, and so just sell, although they themselves have no new information.”

But a tipping point may well be approaching. According to Blanchard’s calculations, a 20pc decline in stock markets that persists for more than six months, will translate into a decline in consumption of between 0.5pc to 1.0pc. “This would be a serious shock. My biggest fear is precisely that the dramatic shift in mood becomes self-fulfilling”. For now, oil-induced financial stress is concentrated in the energy sector. With Brent set to languish around $30-35 barrel for the rest of the year, prices will persist below the $40-60 barrel break-even point that renders the bulk of US oil and gas companies profitable. Spreads on high yield US energy corporates have soared to unprecedented highs. “They make Lehman look like a walk in the park” says Thygesen. More than a third of the entire US high yield bond index is now vulnerable to crude prices remaining low or falling even further, according to calculations from Oxford Economics.

Read more …

My friend Steve is losing his cool, and high time too. Is he really the only economist who undertands this, and can explain it? Y’all better listen closely, then.

“As someone who spent 2 years warning about this crisis before it happened, and another 8 years diagnosing it (and proposing remedies that would, I believe, be effective, if only banks and governments together would implement them), I find this dual idiocy incredibly frustrating. Rather than understanding the real cause of the crisis, we’ve seen the symptom—rising public debt—paraded as its cause. Rather than effective remedies, we’ve had inane policies like QE, which purport to solve the crisis by inflating asset prices when inflated asset prices were one of the symptoms of the bubble that caused the crisis.”

Our Dysfunctional Monetary System (Steve Keen)

The great tragedy of the global economic malaise is that it is caused by a shortage of something that is essentially costless to produce: money. Both banks and governments can produce money at physically trivial costs. Banks create money by creating a loan, and the establishment costs of a loan are miniscule compared to the value of the money created by it—of the order of $3 for every $100 created. Governments create money by running a deficit—by spending more on the public than they get back from the public in taxes. As inefficient as government might be, that process too costs a tiny amount, compared to the amount of money generated by the deficit itself. But despite how easy the money creation process is, in the aftermath to the 2008 crisis, both banks and governments are doing a lousy job of producing the money the public needs, for two very different reasons.

Banks aren’t creating money now because they created too much of it in the past. The booms that preceded the crisis were fuelled by a wave of bank-debt-financed speculation on some useful products (the telecommunications infrastructure of the internet, the DotCom firms that survived the DotCom bubble) and much rubbish (the Liar Loans that are the focus of The Big Short). That lending drove private debt levels to an all-time high across the OECD: the average private debt level is now of the order of 150% of GDP, whereas it was around 60% of GDP in the “Golden Age of Capitalism” during the 1950s and 1960s—see Figure 1.


Figure 1: The private debt mountain that has submerged commerce

In the aftermath of the Subprime bubble, credit-money creation has come to a standstill across the OECD. In the period from 1955 till 1975, credit grew at 8.7% per year in the United States; from 1975 till 2008, it grew at 8% per year; since 2008, it has grown at an average of just 1.5% per year. The same pattern is repeated across the OECD—see Figure 2. Globally, China is the only major country with booming credit growth right now, but that will come crashing down (this probably has already started), and for the same reason as in the West: too much credit-based money has been created already in a speculative bubble.


Figure 2: Credit growth is anaemic now, and will remains so as it has in Japan for 25 years

Japan, of course, got mired in this private debt trap long before the rest of the world succumbed. As Figure 1 shows, its private debt bubble peaked in 1995, and since then it’s had either weak or negative credit growth, so that its private debt to GDP level is now in the middle of the global pack. Economic growth there has come to a standstill since: Japan’s economy grew at an average of 5.4% a year in real terms from 1965 till 1990, when its crisis began; since then, it has grown at a mere 0.4% a year. That gives us a simple way to perform a “what if?”. What if the rest of the OECD is as ineffective at escaping from the private debt trap as Japan has been? Then the best case scenario for global credit growth is that it will match what has happened since Japan “hit the credit wall” in 1990

Read more …

Seasonally adjusted slaughter, that is.

Why The Bulls Will Get Slaughtered (Stockman)

Needless to say, none of that stink was detected by Steve Liesman and his band of Jobs Friday half-wits who bloviate on bubblevision after each release. This time the BLS report actually showed the US economy lost 2.989 million jobs between December and January. Yet Moody’s Keynesian pitchman, Mark Zandi described it as “perfect” Yes, the BLS always uses a big seasonal adjustment (SA) in January——so that’s how they got the positive headline number. But the point is that the seasonal adjustment factor for the month is so huge that the resulting month-over-month delta is inherently just plain noise. To wit, the seasonal adjustment factor for the month was 2.165 million. That means the headline jobs gain of 151k reported on Friday amounted to only 7% of the adjustment amount!

Any economist with a modicum of common sense would recognize that even a tiny change in the seasonal adjustment factor would mean a giant variance in the headline figure. So the January SA jobs number cannot possibly reveal any kind of trend whatsoever – good, bad or indifferent. But that didn’t stop Beth Ann Bovino, US chief economist at Standard & Poor’s Rating Services, from dispatching the usual all is swell hopium: “Today’s numbers are about momentum, so while 151,000 new jobs in January is below expectations and off pace from prior months, the data shows America’s recovery is continuing. Amid all the global economic turmoil and domestic market gyrations, positive job growth, the drop in the unemployment rate to 4.9%, and the uptick in wages show the U.S. is heading in the right direction.” Actually, it proves none of those things.

For one thing, the January NSA (non-seasonally adjusted) job loss this year of just under 3 million was 173,000 bigger than last January – suggesting that things are getting worse, not better. In fact, this was the largest January job decline since the 3.69 million job loss in January 2009 during the very bottom months of the Great Recession. So are we really “heading in the right direction” as claimed by Bovino, Zandi and the rest of the Cool-Aid crowd? Well, just consider two alternative seasonal adjustment factors for January that have been used by the BLS in the last five years. Had they used the January 2013 adjustment factor this time, the headline gain would have been 171,000 jobs; and had they used the 2010 adjustment factor there would have been a headline loss of 183,000 jobs. We could say in a variant of the Fox News motto – we report, you decide. But believe me, you can look at years of seasonal adjustment factors for January (or any other month) and not find any consistent, objective formula. They make it up, as needed.

Read more …

“..to help bring Chinese companies to U.S. markets..” Which is not that easy on most exchanges.

Obscure Chinese Firm Dives Into $22 Trillion US Market (BBG)

When Cromwell Coulson heard that an obscure Chinese real estate firm had agreed to buy the Chicago Stock Exchange, he was shocked. “My first reaction was, ‘Wow, that’s who they’re selling to?”’ said Coulson, CEO of OTC Markets in New York. “These new buyers have no connection to Chicago’s existing business. They’re completely disconnected from the current business of supporting the Chicago trading community. So wow, that’s out of left field.” While the world has gotten used to seeing Chinese companies snap up overseas businesses, the purchase of a 134-year-old U.S. stock market by Chongqing Casin Enterprise – a little-known property and investment firm from southwestern China – raises a whole host of questions. For starters, why does a provincial Chinese business with no apparent ties to the securities industry have any interest in buying one of America’s smallest equity exchanges? And will U.S. regulators sign off?

So far, Casin Group’s intentions are unclear, with calls to the company’s Chongqing headquarters going unanswered on Friday. If the deal does pass muster with American regulators, it would mark the first-ever Chinese purchase of a U.S. equity exchange, giving Casin Group a foothold in a $22 trillion market where even the smallest bourses have room to grow if they can provide the best price for a stock at any given moment. The Chicago Stock Exchange – a subsidiary of CHX Holdings – is minority-owned by a group including E*Trade, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, according to the company. The minority shareholders are also selling their stake, Chicago Stock Exchange CEO John Kerin said. The deal values the exchange at less than $100 million, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Casin Group’s offer, announced on Friday in a statement from the Chicago exchange, comes amid an unprecedented overseas shopping spree by Chinese companies. Businesses from Asia’s largest economy have announced $70 billion of cross-border acquisitions and investments this year, on track to break last year’s record of $123 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While many of those deals had obvious business rationales, the reasons for Casin Group’s bid are less clear. The company, founded in the 1990s through a privatization of state-owned assets, initially focused on developing real estate projects in Chongqing, before expanding into the environmental and financial industries. While the firm owns stakes in banks and insurers, it has no previous experience owning an exchange. Lu Shengju, the majority owner and chairman of Casin Group, wants to help bring Chinese companies to U.S. markets, according to the statement from Chicago’s bourse.

Read more …

Another $100 billion spent. That leaves about 2 months at this pace till alarm bells will start going off.

China’s FX Reserves Decline to $3.23 Trillion (BBG)

China’s foreign-exchange reserves shrank to the smallest since 2012, indicating that the central bank sold dollars as the yuan’s retreat to a five-year low exacerbated depreciation pressure. The world’s largest currency hoard declined by $99.5 billion in January to $3.23 trillion, according to a People’s Bank of China statement released on Sunday. The stockpile fell by more than half a trillion dollars in 2015, the first-ever annual decline. Policy makers fighting to hold up the weakening yuan amid slower economic growth, plunging stocks and increasing outflows have been burning through the reserves. The draw-down has continued since the central bank’s surprise devaluation of the currency in August, when the stockpile tumbled $94 billion, a monthly record at the time.

“While the remaining reserves represent a substantial war chest, the rapid pace of depletion in recent months is simply unsustainable,” said Rajiv Biswas at IHS Global Insight in Singapore. “Domestic private investors and global currency traders see a one-way bet against the currency. This has resulted in large-scale private capital outflows since early 2015 as expectations mount that the PBOC will eventually be forced to capitulate once its reserves are sufficiently depleted.” Capital outflows increased to $158.7 billion in December, the most since September and were $1 trillion last year, according to estimates from Bloomberg Intelligence. That’s more than seven times the amount of cash that left in 2014. The PBOC has stepped up efforts to stem the exodus, warning speculators that they will be punished.

It intervened in the Hong Kong market last month after the yuan’s offshore exchange rate sank to a record 2.9% discount to the onshore rate. Apart from selling dollars, the monetary authority also gave guidance to some Chinese lenders in the city to suspend yuan lending to curb short selling, a move that contributed to the overnight interbank lending rate surging to an all-time high of 66.8% on Jan. 12.

Read more …

“Now that Chinese firms have bought up so many US and European companies, money laundering can even be done in-house. ”

The Great Escape from China (Rogoff)

Since 2016 began, the prospect of a major devaluation of China’s renminbi has been hanging over global markets like the Sword of Damocles. No other source of policy uncertainty has been as destabilizing. Few observers doubt that China will have to let the renminbi exchange rate float freely sometime over the next decade. The question is how much drama will take place in the interim, as political and economic imperatives collide. It might seem odd that a country running a $600 billion trade surplus in 2015 should be worried about currency weakness. But a combination of factors, including slowing economic growth and a gradual relaxation of restrictions on investing abroad, has unleashed a torrent of capital outflows. Private citizens are now allowed to take up to $50,000 per year out of the country.

If just one of every 20 Chinese citizens exercised this option, China’s foreign-exchange reserves would be wiped out. At the same time, China’s cash-rich companies have been employing all sorts of devices to get money out. A perfectly legal approach is to lend in renminbi and be repaid in foreign currency. A not-so-legal approach is to issue false or inflated trade invoices – essentially a form of money laundering. For example, a Chinese exporter might report a lower sale price to an American importer than it actually receives, with the difference secretly deposited in dollars into a US bank account (which might in turn be used to purchase a Picasso). Now that Chinese firms have bought up so many US and European companies, money laundering can even be done in-house.

The Chinese hardly invented this idea. After World War II, when a ruined Europe was smothered in foreign-exchange controls, illegal capital flows out of the continent often averaged 10% of the value of trade or more. As one of the world’s largest trading countries, it is virtually impossible for China to keep a tight lid on capital outflows when the incentives to leave become large enough. Indeed, despite the giant trade surplus, the People’s Bank of China has been forced to intervene heavily to prop up the exchange rate – so much so that foreign-currency reserves actually fell by $500 billion in 2015. With such leaky capital controls, China’s war chest of $3 trillion won’t be enough to hold down the fort indefinitely. In fact, the more people worry that the exchange rate is going down, the more they want to get their money out of the country immediately.

That fear, in turn, has been an important factor driving down the Chinese stock market. There is a lot of market speculation that the Chinese will undertake a sizable one-time devaluation, say 10%, to weaken the renminbi enough to ease downward pressure on the exchange rate. But, aside from providing fodder for the likes of Donald Trump, who believes that China is an unfair trader, this would be a very dangerous choice of strategy for a government that financial markets do not really trust. The main risk is that a big devaluation would be interpreted as indicating that China’s economic slowdown is far more severe than people think, in which case money would continue to flee.

Read more …

But they can’t afford to wait that long.

Albert Edwards: China Has Only “Months Left” To Stop Collapse (VW)

In this week’s issue of Société Générale’s Global Strategy research note, Edwards writes that “China has burned through almost $800bn of its FX reserves mountain since it peaked at almost $4 trillion in mid-2014. January’s FX data to be released this weekend is set to register another sharp drop of $120bn (consensus estimate).” He goes on: “But at $3.2bn the market remains content that massive firepower remains to support the renminbi. It does not. Our economists estimate that when FX reserves reach $2.8 trillion – which should only take a few more months at this rate – FX reserves will fall below the IMF’s recommended lower bound. If that occurs in the next few months, expect to see a tidal wave of speculative selling, forcing the PBoC to throw in the towel and let the market decide the level of the renminbi exchange rate.”

Edwards’ view is based on the predictions of Société Générale’s China economist Wei Yao. Wei Yao has written that in her view, the PBoC might, “move to a free-float within six months, after burning through a significant amount of FX reserves.” Both Yao and Edwards’ doom-mongering is based on the level of China’s FX reserves. China has been depleting its FX reserves in an effort to slow the pace of currency depreciation. However, if the country continues to spend its reserves at the current rate, FX reserves will fall through the $2.8 trillion level that the IMF believes is the lowest acceptable level. The IMF’s ‘lowest acceptable’ reserves level is based on four specific elements that reflect potential drains on the balance of payments: (1) exports, (2) broad money, (3) short-term external debt, and (4) other liabilities (long-term external debt and portfolio liabilities).

Société Générale’s analysts believe that (assuming the level of short-term external debt at remaining maturity was unchanged from year-end 2014) China’s reserves are at 118% of the recommended level (estimated to be $2.8 trillion). If China’s reserves fall below the key $2.8 trillion level, the market could lose confidence in the PBoC’s ability to resist currency depreciation and manage future balance of payments shocks. Only two major emerging market countries (Malaysia and South Africa) have reserves that are below the IMF’s recommended range and many EM countries now have a more robust reserve balance than China in terms of the percentage above the IMF’s recommended minimum.

Read more …

Because it’s just a narrative. More right wing worry signs.

Why Doesn’t 4.9% Unemployment Feel Great? (CNN)

The U.S. unemployment rate just fell below 5% for the first time since 2008. Normally, this would merit a celebration. But these aren’t normal times. The economy is better than it was in the Great Recession, but not even President Obama is ready to declare it’s booming. In a special speech Friday touting the job gains during his presidency, Obama admitted there’s more “to tackle.” “We should be proud of the progress we’ve made…we’ve recovered from the worst economic crisis since the 1930s,” Obama said. He doesn’t believe he gets enough credit for creating over 14 million jobs. People as diverse as Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump don’t put it gently. They claim the “real” unemployment rate is much higher. Sanders calls the economy “rigged,” and Trump says the U.S. never wins anymore. There are three key reasons why everyone from Main Street to Wall Street isn’t cheering 4.9% unemployment.

1. Fewer adults are working Only 62.7% of adult Americans are working. The so-called Labor Force Participation rate hasn’t been this low since the late 1970s. The rate measures how many people over age 16 are working or actively seeking work. Back in the ’70s, it was low because fewer women worked outside the home. That’s not the story today. Now, three factors are driving the decrease in workers. The first is that a huge part of the adult population, Baby Boomers, are retiring. That’s expected and healthy. It explains about half of the decline in the workforce. The second is more young people are going to college and graduate school. They are studying more, which should be a positive for the nation. But the third one is alarming: some people have just given up on finding work. It’s hard to quantify how many people fall into this dropout category, but it’s large enough to matter. Politicians like Trump talk about it in stump speeches.The WSJ estimates that about 2.6 million of the roughly 92 million American adults who don’t work want a job but aren’t looking for one.

2. Long-term unemployment is still high Another reason why the jobs picture still looks gloomy is that an unusually high number of people can’t find jobs even though they have been looking for a long time. About 2.1 million Americans have been unable to get a job for over half a year. The government calls these people the “long-term unemployed.” During the worst of the Great Recession, 6.8 million people were long-term unemployed. So there’s been improvement, but there are still roughly double the number of long-term unemployed than in normal times.

3. Wage growth is anemic The last big issue is that wages aren’t going up for many Americans. The typical take home pay (often called “median income” by the Census Bureau) is about the same today as it was 20 years ago, once you adjust for inflation. In other words, middle class families aren’t really getting ahead. They’re just getting by. To be fair, this was a problem even before the Great Recession came along, but experts keep predicting wages will go up and it’s not happening. On Friday, Obama tried to celebrate the small gains that have been made in recent months. “This progress is finally starting to translate into bigger paychecks,” he said. But the reality is wage growth is only 2.5% a year. As Sharon Stark of D.A. Davidson notes, normally when unemployment is this low, wage growth should be humming along at about 4% a year.

Read more …

So many crazies. Trying to provoke Russia by sending Ukraine’s fascist troops into Syria.

Risk of WWIII as Saudi Arabia, Turkey –and Ukraine– Wade Into Syria (Trayner)

A terrifying array of rival superpowers are wading into the chaotic conflict on opposing sides. Analysts now fear the bloodbath – already longer than World War One – is mutating into a full-scale regional war. Saudi Arabia has threatened to send in ground troops and intelligence reports suggest Turkey is preparing to invade. Ukraine is also weighing up sending in soldiers. If their forces clashed with Russians or Iranians already on the ground, NATO – including Britain – could be dragged into an apocalyptic World War 3. Most military experts see the conflict as a proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia – supported by the US – on one side and Shia Muslim Iran – backed by Russia – on the other. The civil war in Yemen is also a victim of the new power struggle for control of the Middle East – which dates back to the death of Muhammed in 632 AD.

But the new Cold War – which some claim involved Saudi Arabia arming ISIS and Iran backing militants such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen – would turn searing hot if Saudi troops met the Iranian Army on the battlefield. The US fears Saudi Arabia may have obtained – or tried to obtain – nuclear weapons for an final battle with its centuries-old enemy. Tom Wilson, a research fellow for think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said: “The proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is now in a rapid state of escalation. “Saudi talk of sending troops to Syria may be a bluff to try and force the West to take more decisive action in that country instead. “But if the Saudis do put troops on the ground in Syria then this would represent the opening of a major new front in what is increasingly a full scale regional conflict.”

Russia claims aerial photographs reveal Turkey is preparing to invade Syria, its neighbour. Turkish Islamic extremists are already fighting in Syria – some on the side of ISIS – with well-attended funerals for “martyrs” held back home in Turkey. Ultra-nationalist “Grey Wolves” – who want to protect Turkmen living in northern Syria and restore the Ottoman Empire – are also battling the Syrian army and Russian forces. Enmity between Black Sea rivals Russia and Turkey dates back so long a Jewish “oracle” prophesied an apocalyptic war between Russia and Turkey would usher in the End of Days 200 years ago. Turkey is now a member of NATO and if the old enemies came to blows again – as almost happened when Turkey shot down a Russian jet last year – the US and UK would be compelled to back Turkey. Britain has already been dragged into war with Russia by Turkey once: the Crimean War.

Read more …

Everything they can do wrong, they do.

EU Ministers Want To Buttress Borders To Stem Refugee Flow (AP)

European Union nations anxious to stem the flow of asylum-seekers coming through the Balkans are increasingly considering sending more help to non-member Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as a better way to protect European borders instead of relying on EU member Greece. With Athens unable to halt the tens of thousands of people making the sea crossing from Turkey, EU nations fear that Europe’s Schengen border-free travel zone could collapse, taking with it one of the cornerstones on which the 28-nation bloc is built. “If Greece is not ready or able to protect the Schengen zone and doesn’t accept any assistance from the EU, then we need another defense line, which is obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria,” Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Szijjarto said at Saturday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers in Amsterdam.

An estimated 850,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015, overwhelming its coast guard and reception facilities. Aid groups say cash-strapped Greece has shelter for only about 10,000 people, just over 1% of those who have entered. Most of the asylum-seekers then travel on across the Balkans and into the EUs heartland of Germany and beyond. Szijjarto said EU nations are “defenseless from the south. There are thousands of irregular migrants entering the territory of the EU on a daily basis.” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said the cash-strapped government in Athens still underestimates the crisis. “I still don’t have the feeling that it has dawned on Greece how serious the situation is” for receiving nations like Austria, he said.

The situation has pushed some EU nations to send bilateral aid to FYROM, a non-EU nation, to control its border with EU member Greece. There has been even talk of sending military troops to FYROM to beef up the Greek border. FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said after the meeting it did not matter what the aid was technically called. “The essential thing is that we have people and equipment to control the border and do registration where legal crossing should happen,” he said. He said FYROM has already put its own military on the job. “They’re making sure that we have decreased the illegal crossings through our border and were going to continue to make these efforts,” he said.

Read more …

There certainly is no such thing as an EU policy.

Austria Threatens To Extend Border Controls (Reuters)

Austria will extend its border controls if Turkey does not take back refugees picked up at sea on their way to Greece, Chancellor Werner Faymann said in an interview with the daily Oesterreich, being published on Sunday. He had earlier said that migrants picked up at the Greek external EU border should be sent back directly to Turkey because this was the only measure that would make a radical enough impact. Austria is set to introduce a new border management system at Spielfeld, a key crossing point on its south-eastern border with Slovenia, which aims at speeding up applications and making the country less attractive to asylum seekers. More such border management facilities on other routes may be needed if Turkey does not respond to his proposal, the chancellor was quoted as saying.

Faymann said Turkey must make a decision by Feb. 18, when EU leaders meet for a summit. It would not be a solution if Turkish border controls led to 10,000 refugees arriving at EU borders instead of 20,000, Faymann was quoted as saying in the interview. “Then we must secure our borders even more,” Faymann said. “To protect internal borders is a makeshift solution. But we have to be prepared.” Ankara and Brussels agreed to slow down the flow of migrants in a Nov. 29 deal, but refugees continue to stream into Greece. Austria, which has a population of 8.4 million and last year received 90,000 applications for asylum, has said that the number of refugees it will accept this year will be limited to 37,500.

Read more …

And let me guess, Greece should pay its share?!

Austria Wants EU To Cover Costs Of Additional Migrants (Reuters)

Austria’s Finance Minister Hans-Joerg Schelling has asked the European Commission to provide €600 million to cover the costs of taking in additional refugees, a ministry spokesman said on Saturday. Austria budgeted for 35,000 asylum seekers annually at a cost of €11,000 per person but took in some 90,000 people in 2015, the spokesman quoted the minister as saying in a letter to the head of the EU executive, Jean-Claude Juncker. “Concerning the migration crisis it is high time the Commission returned to its normal function as an independent institution representing the general Community interest and start acting as such,” Schelling said in the letter, part of which was published by the daily Kurier.

Austria and neighboring Germany threw open their borders last year to hundreds of thousands of people pouring into Europe, many of them fleeing conflicts in Syria and elsewhere. Despite an initial outpouring of sympathy for the migrants, public concern about the influx has fueled a rise in support for the far right in Austria. Last week Vienna said it would step up deportations of migrants to countries it deems safe.

Read more …

Jan 122016
 
 January 12, 2016  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


V&APA Bowie age 16 in the Kon-Rads 1963

RBS Cries ‘Sell Everything’ As Deflationary Crisis Nears (AEP)
An ‘Extremely Normal And Realistic’ 26% S&P 500 Drop Is Taking Shape (MW)
Oil Down 20% Since Start Of Year, $10 Target Looms (Reuters)
Plunging Prices Could Force A Third Of US Oil Firms Into Bankruptcy (WSJ)
China Resorts To ‘Nuclear Strength’ Weapons To Defend The Yuan (Guardian)
Chinese Official: Bets Against Yuan Are ‘Ridiculous and Impossible’ (WSJ)
China Banks Feel The Heat Of Meltdown (FT)
China FX Reserve Sell-Off To Soon Move Beyond US Treasuries (Reuters)
Why China’s Market Illness Has Gotten More Contagious (WSJ)
China Rout Threatens to Spawn India Crisis (BBG)
EU Set To Weigh China’s Eligibility For Lower Import Tariffs (BBG)
South Africa’s Flash Crash Exposes Cracks in Currency Liquidity (BBG)
Saudi Arabia Plays Down Riyal Peg Fears (FT)
Banks’ Worst Fears Eased as Basel Soft-Pedals Capital Overhaul (BBG)
Canadian Stocks Fall in Longest Slump Since 2002 (BBG)
Discovery (Jim Kunstler)
It’s Time For Europe To Turn The Tables On Bullying Britain (Luyendijk)
Migrant Flows ‘Still Way Too High,’ EU Tells Turkey (AFP)
Mass Migration Into Europe Is Unstoppable (FT)

As things shape up the very way we always said they would, others claim ownership of the story.

“China has set off a major correction and it is going to snowball. Equities and credit have become very dangerous, and we have hardly even begun to retrace the ‘Goldlocks love-in’ of the last two years..”

RBS Cries ‘Sell Everything’ As Deflationary Crisis Nears (AEP)

RBS has advised clients to brace for a “cataclysmic year” and a global deflationary crisis, warning that major stock markets could fall by a fifth and oil may plummet to $16 a barrel. The bank’s credit team said markets are flashing stress alerts akin to the turbulent months before the Lehman crisis in 2008. “Sell everything except high quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small,” it said in a client note. Andrew Roberts, the bank’s credit chief, said that global trade and loans are contracting, a nasty cocktail for corporate balance sheets and equity earnings. This is particularly ominous given that global debt ratios have reached record highs. “China has set off a major correction and it is going to snowball. Equities and credit have become very dangerous, and we have hardly even begun to retrace the ‘Goldlocks love-in’ of the last two years,” he said.

Mr Roberts expects Wall Street and European stocks to fall by 10pc to 20pc, with even an deeper slide for the FTSE 100 given its high weighting of energy and commodities companies. “London is vulnerable to a negative shock. All these people who are ‘long’ oil and mining companies thinking that the dividends are safe are going to discover that they’re not at all safe,” he said. Brent oil prices will continue to slide after breaking through a key technical level at $34.40, RBS claimed, with a “bear flag” and “Fibonacci” signals pointing to a floor of $16, a level last seen after the East Asia crisis in 1999. The bank said a paralysed OPEC seems incapable of responding to a deepening slowdown in Asia, now the swing region for global oil demand Morgan Stanley has also slashed its oil forecast, warning that Brent could fall to $20 if the US dollar keeps rising.

It argued that oil is intensely leveraged to any move in the dollar and is now playing second fiddle to currency effects. RBS forecast that yields on 10-year German Bunds would fall time to an all-time low of 0.16pc in a flight to safety, and may break zero as deflationary forces tighten their grip. The European Central Bank’s policy rate will fall to -0.7pc. US Treasuries will fall to rock-bottom levels in sympathy, hammering hedge funds that have shorted US bonds in a very crowded “reflation trade”. RBS first issued its grim warnings for the global economy in November but events have moved even faster than feared. It estimates that the US economy slowed to a growth rate of 0.5pc in the fourth quarter, and accuses the US Federal Reserve of “playing with fire” by raising rates into the teeth of the storm. “There has already been severe monetary tightening in the US from the rising dollar,” it said.

It is unusual for the Fed to tighten when the ISM manufacturing index is below the boom-bust line of 50. It is even more surprising to do so after nominal GDP growth has fallen to 3pc and has been trending down since early 2014. RBS said the epicentre of global stress is China, where debt-driven expansion has reached saturation. The country now faces a surge in capital flight and needs a “dramatically lower” currency. In their view, this next leg of the rolling global drama is likely to play out fast and furiously. “We are deeply sceptical of the consensus that the authorities can ‘buy time’ by their heavy intervention in cutting reserve ratio requirements (RRR), rate cuts and easing in fiscal policy,” it said.

Read more …

How about 50%? Standard & Poor’s 1500 index – a broad basket of large, mid and small company stocks – is already down -26.9% from its 52-week high.

An ‘Extremely Normal And Realistic’ 26% S&P 500 Drop Is Taking Shape (MW)

It’s been a brutal start to 2016 in the markets. But the way this chart is setting up, there’s a lot more pain on the way, according to J.C. Parets of the All Star Charts blog. “We’re down 9% from the all-time highs in the S&P 500 SPX, +0.09% and I see people acting like two-year-olds that just had their favorite toy taken away from them,” he said. “Why, because the market is down 9% from its highs last year after rallying over 220% over the prior 6 years? Please.” He goes on to explain how this recent spate of selling action isn’t unusual and how “things get absolutely destroyed all the time.” Like the British pound, energy, emerging markets and agricultural commodities, to name just a few.

“And these are real collapses in prices, not this 9% nonsense that people are getting all worked up about because it’s the S&P 500, or Apple or something that they’re too sensitive about,” Parets wrote in his blog post. He used the chart above to support his prediction that the S&P is headed toward the 1,570 level, which would be an “extremely normal and realistic” 26% correction from the top. Or another 20% from where it stands now. “This is a ‘sell rallies’ market, not a ‘buy the dip’ environment,” he added. That’s not to say there won’t be bounces. “Go look at a list of the best days in stock market history, they all come during massive selloffs,” Parets said. “I would expect this decline to be no different and the rallies we do get should be vicious.”

Read more …

And now Lybia comes on line…

Oil Down 20% Since Start Of Year, $10 Target Looms (Reuters)

Crude oil prices continued a relentless dive early on Tuesday, falling almost 20% since the beginning of the year as analysts scrambled to cut their 2016 oil price forecasts and traders bet on further price falls. U.S. crude West Texas Intermediate was trading at $30.66 per barrel at 0531 GMT on Tuesday, down 75 cents from the last settlement and about 20% lower than at the beginning of the year. Earlier it traded at $30.60, the lowest since December 2003. Brent crude futures fell 83 cents to $30.72 a barrel. Earlier they declined to $30.66, their lowest since April 2004. Brent has fallen nearly 20% in January and, like WTI, has declined on every day of trading so far this year.

Trading data showed that managed short positions in WTI crude contracts, which would profit from a further fall in prices, are at a record high, implying that many traders expect further falls. “It’s going to be a very interesting year in oil,” said Ric Spooner at CMC Markets in Sydney. “The lower the price goes, the faster in time we are likely to form a base and recover.” Analysts also adjusted to the early price rout in the year, with Barclays, Macquarie, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Standard Chartered and Societe Generale all cutting their 2016 oil price forecasts on Monday. “A marked deterioration in oil market fundamentals in early 2016 has persuaded us to make some large downward adjustments to our oil price forecasts for 2016,” Barclays bank said.

“We now expect Brent and WTI to both average $37/barrel in 2016, down from our previous forecasts of $60 and $56, respectively,” it added. But it was Standard Chartered that took the most bearish view, stating that prices could drop as low as $10 a barrel. “Given that no fundamental relationship is currently driving the oil market toward any equilibrium, prices are being moved almost entirely by financial flows caused by fluctuations in other asset prices, including the USD and equity markets,” the bank said. “We think prices could fall as low as $10/bbl before most of the money managers in the market conceded that matters had gone too far,” it added.

Read more …

It’ll be epic.

Plunging Prices Could Force A Third Of US Oil Firms Into Bankruptcy (WSJ)

Crude-oil prices plunged more than 5% on Monday to trade near $30 a barrel, making the specter of bankruptcy ever more likely for a significant chunk of the U.S. oil industry. Three major investment banks – Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup – now expect the price of oil to crash through the $30 threshold and into $20 territory in short order as a result of China’s slowdown, the U.S. dollar’s appreciation and the fact that drillers from Houston to Riyadh won’t quit pumping despite the oil glut. As many as a third of American oil-and-gas producers could tip toward bankruptcy and restructuring by mid-2017, according to Wolfe Research.

Survival, for some, would be possible if oil rebounded to at least $50, according to analysts. More than 30 small companies that collectively owe in excess of $13 billion have already filed for bankruptcy protection so far during this downturn, according to law firm Haynes & Boone. Morgan Stanley issued a report this week describing an environment “worse than 1986” for energy prices and producers, referring to the last big oil bust that lasted for years. The current downturn is now deeper and longer than each of the five oil price crashes since 1970, said Martijn Rats, an analyst at the bank. Together, North American oil-and-gas producers are losing nearly $2 billion every week at current prices, according to a forthcoming report from AlixPartners, a consulting firm. “Many are going to have huge problems,” said Kim Brady at consultancy Solic Capital.

Read more …

“Its actions are comparable to steps taken by other central banks when they previously fought against international speculators, such as George Soros..”

China Resorts To ‘Nuclear Strength’ Weapons To Defend The Yuan (Guardian)

The Chinese authorities have resorted to “nuclear strength” weapons to deter an attack on the yuan by short sellers and convince sceptical investors that they are in control of the country’s spluttering financial system. China’s central bank fixed the currency firmer again on Tuesday but traders were not persuaded and the currency slipped in early trade despite what dealers called aggressive intervention to support the currency. The gap between the mainland yuan and its offshore counterpart had grown in recent days but suspected intervention by China’s state-owned banks brought them almost into line on Tuesday. The action sent the rate at which banks charge each other to borrow yuan in Hong Kong to a record high of 67% on Tuesday.

“The market suspects that the People’s Bank of China is possibly using major state banks to directly drain yuan liquidity in offshore markets,” said a dealer at an European bank in Shanghai. The dealer described the strength of the central bank’s actions as being of “nuclear-weapon” level strength. “Its actions are comparable to steps taken by other central banks when they previously fought against international speculators, such as George Soros,” he said. [..] Perceived mis-steps by China’s authorities have stoked concerns in global markets that Beijing might be losing its grip on economic policy, just as the country looks set to post its slowest growth in 25 years. Amid suspicions by some in the market that China wants the yuan to devalue in order to boost its ailing exporters, sources suggested there were moves afoot for China’s cabinet to take a bigger role in overseeing financial markets.

The state council has set up a working group to prepare for upgrading the cabinet’s financial department to bureau level, said a source close to the country’s leadership. Officials were doing their best to talk up the currency [..] The central bank’s chief economist Ma Jun said on Monday that the bank planned to keep the yuan basically stable against a basket of currencies, and fluctuations against the US dollar would increase. Han Jun, deputy director of the office of the Chinese Communist party’s leading group on financial and economic affairs, said a more substantial decline in the yuan was “ridiculous” and “impossible”.

Read more …

The louder their claims, the lower confidence goes.

Chinese Official: Bets Against Yuan Are ‘Ridiculous and Impossible’ (WSJ)

Wagers that the yuan will slump 10% or more against the dollar are “ridiculous and impossible,” a senior Chinese economic official said Monday, warning that China had a sufficient tool kit to defeat attacks on its currency. “Attempts to sell short the renminbi will not succeed,” said Han Jun, deputy director of the office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, at a briefing at the Chinese Consulate in New York. “The expectations of markets can be changed.” The comments are the latest demonstration of Chinese officials’ determination to defeat those betting that yuan declines will intensify. They echo comments such as ECB President Mario Draghi’s 2012 “whatever it takes” speech, made when European government bonds issued by weaker countries were under attack.

Yet analysts said China’s plan carries considerable risks, potentially creating tension with the government’s efforts to integrate itself into the global financial architecture. Currency-market interventions are costly and risk confusing investors by adding to volatility, some said. “These interventions work well only if they’re undertaken in the context of much broader reforms,” said Eswar Prasad, a former top China hand at the International Monetary Fund and now an economics professor at Cornell University. Bets against the yuan, or renminbi, have picked up in 2016, sending the currency to its lowest level in nearly five years against the dollar and widening the gap between the official Chinese yuan fixing and the so-called offshore market in Hong Kong, where the government is less involved.

On Monday, the yuan rose 0.3% against the dollar in China and rose 1.5% in the offshore market, to 6.5863 per dollar. In late New York trading, the yuan was up 0.4% to 6.5666 per dollar. The debate over the direction of the yuan has captivated Wall Street since last August, when China roiled financial markets by reducing the currency’s value against the dollar by 2% on Aug. 11, its largest single-day decline in two decades. Further yuan devaluation would threaten to exacerbate existing problems in the global economy, where sluggish demand for goods and services is tripping up growth. Many nations have sought to bolster flagging domestic growth by increasing exports, but a sharp decline in the yuan would likely undermine such efforts by making Chinese goods cheaper and more competitive abroad.

Read more …

“China’s banks could require up to $7.7 trillion of new capital and funding over the next three years…” But that’s just part of the story; it’s still based on very low amounts of bad loans -“barely 1% at the big lenders, and 1.8% at mid-tier banks this year-, and that doesn’t seem realistic. Fitch puts it at 21%(!).

China Banks Feel The Heat Of Meltdown (FT)

If the US or Europe had experienced the kind of equity market slump that China has suffered of late, its financial institutions would be quaking and leading the list of biggest fallers in Shanghai and Hong Kong trading. As it is, the big banks have seen their share prices tumble by about 10% over the past two or three weeks, far less than the 15% slump in the Shanghai Composite index. On the face of it, there may be good reason for that. Traditionally China’s large financial institutions are not big stock market players — retail investors make up the bulk of the market. In reality, the banks are the most exposed to China’s ills. They are directly bound up in the stock market turmoil and the government’s efforts to shore up sentiment against the flood of selling. Figures relating to the past week or so are not yet available.

But during a similar rout in early July last year, 17 banks — including the big five listed but partly state-owned groups — lent more than $200bn to facilitate broker purchases of shares and funds. Even without the seizure of their balance sheets to prop up the equity market, China’s banks are pretty troubled. Like banks in the west before the financial crisis, China’s lenders — with government encouragement — have inflated a vast credit bubble, funding the country’s ambitious companies and fast-expanding property market. Chinese banking assets now amount to more than $30tn. Over the past decade, credit growth has consistently topped 10% a year. (It peaked at close to 35% in 2009.) Even this year, it is expected to be double the 6-7% forecast rate of GDP growth.

Last August, JPMorgan estimated China’s non-financial industry private sector debt at 147%, half as much again as in 2007. The downturn in China’s fortunes — particularly across its heartland heavy industry — is already hitting the banks. Annual non-performing loan rates have been doubling annually since 2012. China Merchants Bank, China Everbright and ICBC are seen as among the most troubled. China bulls point to the still low level of NPLs — barely 1% at the big lenders, and 1.8% at mid-tier banks this year, according to analyst forecasts. As a gauge, NPLs in Greece have risen to between 30 and 40% amid that country’s crisis. But China experts at independent research house Autonomous suggest investors are underestimating a spiralling problem. Across the board, loan losses will rise by $845bn this year, Autonomous predicts. That, they think, will be enough to shrink profits by 6% at big banks.

[..] Investors in China’s banks may well recognise that the lenders cannot be compared with institutions that operate along western lines and will expect hazier disclosures and readier state interference. They are also likely to think that China will not allow its banks to fail. But if analysts, like those at Autonomous are to be believed, China’s banks could require up to $7.7tn of new capital and funding over the next three years.

Read more …

Exporting deflation.

China FX Reserve Sell-Off To Soon Move Beyond US Treasuries (Reuters)

The unwinding of China’s foreign exchange reserves could soon extend beyond U.S. Treasuries, with U.S. corporate and euro zone sovereign bonds among the assets most vulnerable to selling from Beijing, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said on Monday. China sold a record $510 billion of FX reserves last year to counter the damaging impact on an already decelerating economy from the surge of capital fleeing the country. The lion’s share of that came from $292 billion sales of U.S. Treasury debt, followed by $92 billion sales of U.S. stocks, $3 billion of U.S. agency bonds and $170 billion of non-U.S. assets, according to BAML estimates. China increased its U.S. corporate bond investments by $44 billion last year to $415 billion, BAML strategists estimated, adding that it won’t be long before investors turn their attention to other assets Beijing could potentially sell.

“In the next two months I would still say Treasuries. But if the pressure continues beyond that, it’s non-U.S. assets, and in the U.S. space it’s definitely corporates and agencies,” said Shyam Rajan, rates strategist at BAML in New York. Rajan and his colleagues estimate that China’s $3.33 trillion FX reserves comprise $1.15 trillion non-U.S. assets (mostly short-dated euro-denominated bonds), $415 billion U.S. corporate bonds, $212 billion in agencies, $266 billion stocks and $1.29 trillion of Treasuries. Selling across these bonds may not automatically trigger a sharp rise in their yields though, Rajan said, pointing to the experience of Treasuries in the latter part of last year when swap spreads moved below zero.

“The way to trade the reserve flow story is through relative value trades, such as the swap spread tightening in Treasuries. I would imagine it plays out the same way in other markets too,” Rajan said. Last year’s record unwind brought China’s total FX reserves to a three-year low of $3.33 trillion. Most analysts expect that to be depleted further this year. JP Morgan estimates that capital flight from China since the second quarter of 2014 has totaled $930 billion, while credit ratings agency Fitch on Monday put the figure at over $1 trillion. U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley on Monday joined Goldman Sachs in lowering its forecast for the Chinese yuan, citing the ongoing flow of capital out of the country and need for a weaker currency to support the economy.

Read more …

Nothing much has changed, other than suspicions that Beijing can’t handle the downfall. But global exposure to China is still the same, it’s just been ridiculously downplayed.

Why China’s Market Illness Has Gotten More Contagious (WSJ)

The Shanghai stock market is undersized and isolated. Its market capitalization is less than one-quarter the size of New York’s. Just 37% of its shares are available to trade, and foreigners own only a tiny fraction. Yet the tide of selling by Chinese investors last week—along with an unexpectedly sharp move to weaken the yuan—rolled through stocks, commodities and currencies across the globe. The chain reaction heralds a new era for China, whose financial-market muscle has long been underdeveloped compared with its economic heft. On Monday, Chinese shares resumed their slide. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 5.3%, leaving it down 15% in the new year. U.S. shares stumbled but covered their losses in the final hour of trading and closed up slightly.

Oil fell to a new 12-year low in the U.S., and currencies in countries like South Africa and Russia fell sharply. Until last year, few in global markets took their cue from Shanghai, which has a history of roller-coaster trading. In the summer of 2015, a sharp plunge in the Shanghai Composite, after a 60% rise earlier in the year, combined with a surprise yuan devaluation to trigger a global selloff. Attention soon faded, and Shanghai’s market ended the year up 9.4%. But last week’s meltdown again showed China’s market influence. And to many, it suggested an even more ominous possibility: that Beijing may be fumbling its management of China’s economy. That could have disastrous consequences for the prices of goods and commodities, and thus markets, around the world.

Today, China accounts for about 11% of world gross domestic product, 12% of the globe’s oil consumption and about half the demand for steel. It is the No. 1 trading partner for countries from South Korea and Australia to Brazil and soaks up exports worth more than 10% of GDP from Singapore and Taiwan. Despite tight controls over the currency and the banking system that wall off China from much of the global financial system, China’s huge presence in global trade means the country is more tightly tied to the rest of the world than ever. Its roaring growth has been a boon to Western stock markets like Germany’s, whose exchange is filled with manufacturers that sell machines and factory equipment there.

Now, China ties may be a liability. In Europe, whose companies get 10% of their revenue from the Asia-Pacific region, the pan-European Stoxx Europe 600 is down 7% in 2016 through Monday, and Germany’s DAX is down 8.5%. Europe is especially vulnerable to a China slowdown: Its own economic growth has been weak for years, and the Continent has been counting on exports to plug the gap. Nearly 10% of the exports from the 28-member EU go to China. The story isn’t the same everywhere, though. U.S. companies get only 5% of their revenue from Asia-Pacific. They also can rely on a more buoyant domestic economy. The S&P 500 was down 6% this year through Friday.

Read more …

And India is one of the first victims of the popping China Ponzi.

China Rout Threatens to Spawn India Crisis (BBG)

A deepening slowdown in China threatens to derail India’s economic growth, triggering financial market upheaval and a falling currency, Vishal Kampani, the nation’s top investment banker, said. “If China keeps getting hit like this, the yuan has to devalue, and we will see another crisis in India,” Kampani at JM Financial, the South Asian country’s top M&A adviser last year, said in a Jan. 8 interview. “I refuse to believe that India will stand out and will look very different.” Indian stocks and the rupee fell Monday, tracking declines in other emerging markets as volatility in China sapped risk appetite globally. China’s efforts to stabilize the yuan failed to halt equity losses, reviving concern about the Communist Party’s ability to manage an economy set to grow at its weakest pace since 1990. India’s benchmark S&P BSE Sensex Index fell 0.4% on Monday in Mumbai after dropping as much as 1.4% earlier.

The rupee weakened 0.2% to 66.7725 against the dollar as of 4:11 p.m. local time. A devaluation of the yuan could weaken the rupee, creating “huge problems” for Indian companies that have to pay back dollar loans, Kampani said. China is India’s largest trade partner and third-largest export market, so a slowdown there could prolong a record slump in the South Asian nation’s overseas shipments, which declined 12 straight months through November. A China-led rout in Indian markets also risks damping private investment, already hurt by credit lines choked by bad debt and a legislative gridlock that’s blocked economic bills. That would boost pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to sustain public spending even at the risk of worsening Asia’s widest budget deficit. Modi has seen his economic agenda stall in parliament, disappointing investors who bet that his landslide win in 2014 would speed up reforms.

Read more …

In which the richer nations can once again overpower the poorer.

EU Set To Weigh China’s Eligibility For Lower Import Tariffs (BBG)

European Union policy makers are poised to kick off deliberations to determine whether EU industries ranging from steel to solar can keep relying on import tariffs to fend off aggressive Chinese competitors, the opening salvo in a political and economic battle due to last all year. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will hold an initial debate Jan. 13 about whether the bloc should recognize China as a market economy starting in December. Such a step would make it more difficult for European manufacturers such as ArcelorMittal and Solarworld AG to win sufficiently high EU duties meant to counter alleged below-cost – or “dumped” – imports from China.

The talks will pit free-trade governments in northern Europe against more protectionist ones in the south, put Europe on a possible track that the U.S. is staying off and produce a political verdict on whether communist China has come of age economically 15 years after it joined the World Trade Organization. In addition to being a political prize for Beijing, market-economy status would be a business boost for China, whose growth has slumped to the weakest since 1990 and which suffered a 10% fall in stocks last week. “This is one of the hottest issues on the agenda,” Jo Leinen, a German MEP who chairs its delegation for relations with China, said by phone from Saarbruecken, Germany, on Jan. 7. “It’s a hot potato. The Chinese are pushing for market-economy status and interests are divided in Europe.”

The matter combines top-level political calculations with tricky economic and legal considerations. With the EU struggling to bolster economic growth and keep Greece in the euro area, leaders across Europe have courted China for investment in infrastructure and orders of goods such as Airbus planes. While it’s the EU’s No. 2 trade partner behind the U.S., China is grouped with the likes of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Mongolia in seeking market-economy designation by Europe and faces more European anti-dumping duties than any other country. The import levies cover billions of euros of Chinese exports such as stainless steel, solar panels, aluminum foil, bicycles, screws, paper, kitchenware and office-file fasteners, curbing competition for producers across the 28-nation EU. Market-economy status for China would signal more European trust in Beijing by ensuring the EU uses Chinese data for trade investigations affecting the country.

Read more …

Emerging markets will start collapsing outright, Brazil, South Africa, China and more.

South Africa’s Flash Crash Exposes Cracks in Currency Liquidity (BBG)

It took just 15 minutes on Monday morning for South Africa’s rand to plummet 9% in what traders said may be a prelude of the new normal in the global $5.3 trillion-a-day currency market. Such flash crashes will probably become more common in foreign-exchange trading as liquidity shrinks amid tighter regulation and reduced demand for emerging-market assets, according to Insight Investment and Citigroup.The rand slid to record lows versus the dollar and yen in Asian trading before recovering the bulk of the day’s losses almost as swiftly. “The rand isn’t alone in this,” said Paul Lambert at Insight Investment, a Bank of New York Mellon unit, which manages more than $582 billion.

“The rand is another reflection of the change in the liquidity environment in which we’re all operating. We’re learning that unless there are clients on the other side, banks are very unwilling to take risk onto their books.” Volatility in the rand versus the dollar surged toward the highest level in four years, while a measure of global currency price swings climbed to the most since October. The difference between prices at which traders are willing to buy and sell the rand, used as a gauge of liquidity, was about 1.5 times wider on average in the past six months than it was during the first half of 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In a phenomenon that’s also hit U.S. stock markets in recent years, regulation is pushing banks to reduce their size and cut down on market making, making it more difficult to trade without prices moving adversely. A reduction in liquidity has contributed to similar price swings in fixed-income securities, including the $13 trillion U.S. government bond market. Bursts of volatility in currency markets and diminishing liquidity are another affliction for emerging economies such as South Africa, which seek to secure overseas investments amid slowing growth, a rout in commodities and domestic political challenges. Boosting international trade and capital inflows is made harder by currency turmoil as investors and banks become less willing to take on additional risk.

Read more …

A rock and an impossible place.

Saudi Arabia Plays Down Riyal Peg Fears (FT)

Saudi Arabia sought to cool talk about the future of its currency peg, saying movements in the forward market were the result of market “misperception” about the state of the kingdom’s economy. Oil price declines and rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have pushed up the cost of riyal-dollar forward prices and questioned the validity of the 30-year-old peg. In a statement, the governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency said it would “uphold its mandate” of maintaining the peg at SR3.75 to the dollar, “backed up by the full range of monetary policy instruments including its foreign exchange reserves”. The statement was prompted by forward market volatility, said governor Fahad al-Mubarak, which he attributed to “mispricing linked to market operators’ misperception about Saudi Arabia’s overall economic backdrop”.

Economic and financial indicators were stable, underpinned by its net creditor position and a sound and resilient banking system, Mr al-Mubarak said. Oil price woes are weighing on several commodity currencies, not least Russia’s rouble, which dropped more than 1% to a 13-month low. Further rouble declines would cut across the Central Bank of Russia’s strategy for resuming its easing cycle, said Rabobank’s Piotr Matys, and increased the risk of a prolonged recession. Oil’s impact on the Saudi kingdom would prompt markets to “worry more” about falling reserves and the exchange rate pegs of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, said Kamakshya Trivedi of Goldman Sachs in a note, “especially if attempts at fiscal adjustment are not credible or unsuccessful”.

Simon Quijano-Evans at Commerzbank acknowledged that Saudi Arabia had four years’ worth of reserves to cover budget and current account deficits. But he added that without a sustained upward oil price move, market speculation about the peg would increase. “History has shown us that if a policy peg is not economically viable, there really is little point in holding on as the intrinsic benefits from the set-up eventually become its principal vulnerabilities,” he said. Gulf bankers were unconcerned, saying the peg had survived worse financial backdrops. In the late 1990s, when oil prices were even lower, the finance ministry toiled under domestic debts totalling more than 100% of gross domestic product. Sama still has $627bn in foreign reserves, down 14% on last November, as the kingdom burns through its savings to fund the deficit and an expensive war in Yemen.

“Traders are forgetting about Saudi firepower,” said one senior Gulf banker. “This is a low-cost trade with a huge potential payout,” said another senior financier. “Those bearish oil may want to bet that pressure will become too great for Saudi. Possible, but not my scenario.”

Read more …

Nothing has changed, nothing at all. The bankers still write the rules that are supposed to keep them in check.

Banks’ Worst Fears Eased as Basel Soft-Pedals Capital Overhaul (BBG)

Global banking regulators pledged to refrain from further tightening capital requirements with new rules to be finalized in 2016, dispelling industry fears that triggered intense lobbying efforts over the past year. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision doesn’t plan to raise capital requirements across the board in the remaining projects of its post-crisis bank rule overhaul, it said Jan. 11 after a meeting of its oversight body, chaired by ECB President Mario Draghi. The group, which includes the Bank of England and U.S. Federal Reserve, said it will assess the potential costs of any additional action. “The committee will conduct a quantitative impact assessment during the year,” the group said in a statement. “As a result of this assessment, the committee will focus on not significantly increasing overall capital requirements.”

Basel’s slate of rules for this year, including a review of trading risks that the committee endorsed on Jan. 10, have faced heavy criticism from bankers, who say onerous new capital charges would crimp their ability to lend. The overhaul of how banks value risky assets has led industry executives to warn a regulatory onslaught – sometimes referred to as Basel IV – is still ahead, even after the last decade of new rules designed to prevent another market meltdown. Karen Shaw Petrou at Federal Financial Analytics said the Basel’s latest statement is a response to bankers’ warnings. “Global regulators clearly hope to tamp down continuing talk of a ‘Basel IV’ rule, emphasizing in both action and statements that continuing changes are recalibrations, not hikes,” Petrou said in an e-mail.

Draghi said the agreements reached by the Basel committee and the upcoming agenda seek to provide greater clarity about the capital framework and, “a clear path for completing post-crisis reforms.” As part of this process, the regulator will hold a public consultation on removing internal-model approaches for some risks, such as the Advanced Measurement Approach for operational risk, as well as on “setting additional constraints on the use of internal model approaches for credit risk, in particular through the use of floors.” The committee also sounded a soft note on another lingering worry of bankers, the unweighted leverage ratio. It will keep the minimum amount of capital per total assets unchanged at 3%, when it becomes a binding requirement in 2018, it said. For the world’s biggest banks, there may be an add-on, it said, without elaborating.

Read more …

Canada has so much more to go.

Canadian Stocks Fall in Longest Slump Since 2002 (BBG)

Energy’s drag on Canadian stocks showed no signs of abating as the nation’s benchmark equity gauge slumped a ninth straight day, the longest losing streak since 2002. Canadian equities have lost 7.4% during this period with the Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index failing to post a positive trading day in 2016. Crude futures in New York tumbled to a 12-year low. Analysts at Morgan Stanley projected Brent oil may slump to as low as $20 a barrel on strength in the dollar. Brent dropped 6.7% to $31.32 a barrel in London. Bank of America Corp. cut its average 2016 Brent forecast to $46 a barrel from $50. “Risk appetite will not return until we start to see crude carve out a bottom,” said David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff in a note to clients.

The S&P/TSX fell 1% to 12,319.25 at 4 p.m. in Toronto. The gauge capped a 20% plunge from its September 2014 record on Jan. 7, hitting a magnitude in declines commonly defined as a bear market. Canada was the second Group of 7 country to see its benchmark enter a bear market, after Germany’s DAX Index did in August. Energy producers sank 2.7%. The group, which accounts for about 20% of the broader index, was the worst-performing sector in the S&P/TSX last year.

Read more …

The demise of retail.

Discovery (Jim Kunstler)

It looks like 2016 will be the year that humanfolk learn that the stuff they value was not worth as much as they thought it was. It will be a harrowing process because a great many humans are abandoning ownership of things that are rapidly losing value — e.g. stocks on the Shanghai exchange — and stuffing whatever “money” they can recover into the US dollar, the assets and usufructs of which are also going through a very painful reality value adjustment. Of course this calls into question foremost exactly what money is, and the answer is: basically a narrative construct. In other words, a story explaining why we behave the way we do around certain things. Some parts of the story have a closer relationship with reality than other parts. The part about the US dollar has a rather weak connection.

When various authorities — the BLS, the Federal Reserve, The New York Times — state that the US economy is “strong,” we can translate that to mean giant companies listed on the stock exchanges are able to put up a Potemkin façade of soundness. For instance, Amazon.com. The company continues to seem like a good idea. And it reinforces that idea in the collective imagination by sending a lot of low-priced goods to your door, (all bought on credit cards), which rings your (nearly) instant gratification bell. This has prompted investors to gobble up Amazon stock. It’s well-established by now that the “brick-and-mortar” retail operations are majorly sucking wind. Meaning, fewer people are driving to the Target store and venues like it to buy stuff. Supposedly, they are buying stuff at Amazon instead.

What interests me in that story is the idea that every single object purchased these days has a UPS journey attached to it. Of course, people also drive to the Target store, though I doubt they leave the place with just one thing. That dynamic ought to call into question just how people are living in the USA, and the answer to that is: spread out all over the place in a suburban sprawl living arrangement that has poor prospects for being reformed or mitigated. Either you drive yourself to the Target store for a slow-cooker and a few other things, or Amazon has to send the brown truck to each and every house. Either way includes an insane amount of transport, and sooner or later both the brick-and-mortar chain store model and the Amazon home delivery model will fail.

Read more …

Joris is primarily funny here. But he wants to ‘reform’ the EU, and that’s a dead end. One point is good: EU’s finance center can’t be in a country outside of it. So the UK threat to leave would force banks and multinationals out of London.

It’s Time For Europe To Turn The Tables On Bullying Britain (Luyendijk)

So let us start talking now, out loud in Brussels as well as in Europe’s opinion pages and in national parliaments, about the offer we are going to make to the Scots, should they prefer Brussels to London in the event of Brexit. Let’s also discuss in which ways we are going to repatriate financial powers from London to the European mainland. It is strange enough that Europe’s financial centre lies outside the eurozone, but to have it outside the EU? That would be like placing Wall Street in Cuba. Clearly multinational corporations from China, Brazil or the US cannot have their European HQs outside the EU. So let’s have an EU summit about which European capitals these headquarters should ideally move to. Make sure the English can hear these discussions, and in the meantime keep an eye on how the value of commercial real estate in London plummets.

Or consider the UK-based Japanese car industry – would Greece, with its excellent port and shipping facilities, not be its ideal new home? Oh yes, and sooner or later, the 1.3 billion Indians will object again to not having a permanent seat on the UN security council when 55 million English do. Let’s work out what favours we want from India in exchange for our support. The best way for the EU to prevent Brexit is to start preparing for it, loudly. But this is not enough. European politicians and pundits must not be shy of cutting England down to size. This is the chief problem for those in England trying to make the EU case: they must acknowledge first how irrelevant and powerless their country has become. Except that is still a huge taboo. Seen from China or India, the difference between the UK and Belgium is a rounding error: 0.87% of world population versus 0.15%.

But this is not at all how Britain sees itself – consider the popular derogatory expression “a country the size of Belgium”. But alas, what a missed opportunity this referendum is. A child can see that the EU needs fundamental reform and just imagine for a moment that England had argued not for a better deal for Britain, but for all of us Europeans. How electrifying it would have been if Cameron had demanded an end to the insanely wasteful practice of moving the European parliament back and forth between Strasbourg and Brussels. If he had insisted on a comprehensive overhaul of the disastrous common agricultural policy, on the long overdue reduction in salaries and tax-free perks for Eurocrats, and on actual prosecution of corrupt officials. Instead he has set his sights on largely symbolic measures aimed at humiliating and excluding European migrants, safeguarding domestic interests versus those of the eurozone and, no surprises here, guarantees for London’s financial sector.

Ultimately, as far as the EU is concerned, the English are only in it for themselves. All the more reason, then, for Europeans to stop imploring them to stay in, and begin using their strength in the negotiations.

Read more …

These clowns actually believe they’re in control.

Migrant Flows ‘Still Way Too High,’ EU Tells Turkey (AFP)

The number of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece is “still way too high”, a top EU official said Monday, a month and a half after a deal aimed to limit the flow. EU vice president Frans Timmermans said Turkey and Brussels had to speed work up on implementing the action plan, while Ankara reaffirmed it was looking at a measure to tempt more Syrians to stay in Turkey by granting them work permits. “The numbers are still way too high in Greece, between 2,000-3,000 people (arriving) every day. We cannot be satisfied at this stage,” Timmermans told reporters after talks with Turkey’s EU Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkir in Ankara. “The goal of this (action plan) is to stem the flow. 2,000-3.000 (arrivals) a day is not stemming the flow. But we are in this together and we will work on that,” he added.

Under the November 29 deal, EU leaders pledged €3 billion in aid for the more than 2.2 million Syrian refugees sheltering in Turkey, in exchange for Ankara acting to reduce the flow. Under pressure from voters at home, EU leaders want to reduce the numbers coming to the European Union after over one million migrants reached Europe in 2015. Yet there has so far been no sign of a significant reduction in the numbers of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and other troubled states undertaking the perilous crossing in rubber boats from Turkey’s western coast to EU-member Greece. Turkish authorities on a single day last week found the bodies of at least 36 migrants, including several children, washed up on beaches and floating off its western coast after their boats sank.

In the latest tragedy Monday, two women and a five-year-old girl died when a boat carrying 16 Afghan migrants sank in bad weather off the Aegean coast, reports said. “I believe we need to speed our work to get some of the projects in place,” said Timmermans. “I also said to the minister that we need… to be very explicit on what elements of the action plan have already been implemented and where we still need work.” Bozkir said that Turkey was expending “intense efforts” on halting the migrant flow, saying the Turkish authorities were stopping 500 people every day. “We will try to reduce the pressure on illegal immigration by giving work permits to Syrians in Turkey,” he added.

Read more …

Dead on. Not a bright future. As long as the right wing keeps rising in the face of incompetence.

Mass Migration Into Europe Is Unstoppable (FT)

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans populated the world. Now the world is populating Europe. Beyond the furore about the impact of the 1m-plus refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015 lie big demographic trends. The current migration crisis is driven by wars in the Middle East. But there are also larger forces at play that will ensure immigration into Europe remains a vexed issue long after the war in Syria is over. Europe is a wealthy, ageing continent whose population is stagnant. By contrast the populations of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia are younger, poorer and rising fast. At the height of the imperial age, in 1900, European countries represented about 25% of the world’s population. Today, the EU’s roughly 500m people account for about 7% of the world’s population. By contrast, there are now more than 1bn people in Africa and, according to the UN, there will be almost 2.5bn by 2050.

The population of Egypt has doubled since 1975 to more than 80m today. Nigeria’s population in 1960 was 50m. It is now more than 180m and likely to be more than 400m by 2050. The migration of Africans, Arabs and Asians to Europe represents the reversal of a historic trend. In the colonial era Europe practised a sort of demographic imperialism, with white Europeans emigrating to the four corners of the world. In North America and Australasia, indigenous populations were subdued and often killed — and whole continents were turned into offshoots of Europe. European countries also established colonies all over the world and settled them with immigrants, while at the same time several millions were forcibly migrated from Africa to the New World as slaves. When Europeans were populating the world, they often did so through “chain migration”.

A family member would settle in a new country like Argentina or the US; news and money would be sent home and, before long, others would follow. Now the chains go in the other direction: from Syria to Germany, from Morocco to the Netherlands, from Pakistan to Britain. But these days it is not a question of a letter home followed by a long sea voyage. In the era of Facebook and the smartphone, Europe feels close even if you are in Karachi or Lagos. Countries such as Britain, France and the Netherlands have become much more multiracial in the past 40 years. Governments that promise to restrict immigration, such as the current British administration, have found it very hard to deliver on their promises.

The EU position is that, while refugees can apply for asylum in Europe, illegal “economic migrants” must return home. But this policy is unlikely to stem the population flows for several reasons. First, the number of countries that are afflicted by war or state failure may actually increase; worries about the stability of Algeria are rising, for example. Second, most of those who are deemed “economic migrants” never actually leave Europe. In Germany only about 30% of rejected asylum seekers leave the country voluntarily or are deported. Third, once large immigrant populations are established, the right of “family reunion” will ensure a continued flow. So Europe is likely to remain an attractive and attainable destination for poor and ambitious people all over the world.

Read more …

Jan 092016
 
 January 9, 2016  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


DPC Longacre Square, soon to be Times Square 1904

Worst First Five Days of Year Ever For US Stocks Dim Outlook (WSJ)
The End of the Monetary Illusion Magnifies Shocks for Markets (BBG)
More Than 40% Of Young Americans Use Payday Loans Or Pawnshops (Ind.)
British People Donating Bodies To Science To Avoid Funeral Costs (Tel.)
Multiple Jobholders Responsible For 64% Of Net US Job Gains (ECRI)
First Profit Fall In 48 Years Looms Over US Energy Sector (MarketWatch)
Mining’s $1.4 Trillion Plunge Like Losing Apple, Google, Exxon Combined (BBG)
Inventor of Market Circuit Breakers Says China Got It Wrong (BBG)
China Market Tsar In Spotlight Amid Stock Market Turmoil (Reuters)
As Growth Slows, China’s Era of Easy Choices Is Over (WSJ)
Why China Shifted Its Strategy for the Yuan, and How It Backfired (WSJ)
China Finds $3 Trillion Just Doesn’t Pack the Punch It Used To (BBG)
Shock, Laughter Greet Plan for Saudi Arabia’s Record Oil IPO (BBG)
Saudi Aramco’s Fire Sale (BBG)
US Accuses Volkswagen Of Poor Co-Operation With Probe (FT)
Visible Light From Black Holes Detected For First Time (Guardian)
Refugees Struggle In Sub-Zero Temperatures In Balkans (BBC)
Greek Police, Frontex To ‘Check’ Volunteers On Islands Receiving Migrants (Kath.)

China went up on Friday, but Wall Street did not. Omen?

Worst First Five Days of Year Ever For US Stocks Dim Outlook (WSJ)

The Dow industrials tumbled more than 1,000 points this week, marking the worst first five days of any year, as volatility across the globe rattled investors. Traders said they are bracing for further big swings in the weeks to come. The Dow fell 1% Friday after starting the day in positive territory amid a strong U.S. jobs report and an uneventful session in China’s markets overnight. But shares slumped in afternoon trading as investors became unwilling to enter the weekend exposed to the risk of further losses. In all, U.S. stocks lost $1.36 trillion in value this past week.

The unusually severe drop highlighted the precarious position of markets caught between relatively high valuations—attributable in part to years of easy money from central banks—and a new round of uncertainty about the fundamental underpinnings of key parts of the global economy. “The conundrum is there are parts of the world that are doing fine…and we have pockets that aren’t doing so well,” said Lawrence Kemp, head of BlackRock’s Fundamental Large Cap Growth team. “Given what’s going on in China and the rest of the world, the U.S. economy could grow a little more slowly.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1,078.58 points in the first week of 2016, down 6.2%. The broader S&P 500 was down 6%, also its worst five-day start to a year, and the Nasdaq Composite Index was down 7.3%.

Traders said the glum tone is likely to carry over into the coming week, as U.S. companies start reporting earnings for the last quarter of 2015. Corporate-earnings reports are widely expected to be underwhelming. The strong dollar is weighing on the competitiveness of U.S. exporters and the dollar value of companies’ overseas sales. Oil prices, which fell below $33 a barrel Friday in New York before closing at $33.16, continue to weaken. And China’s growth remains slow. Fourth-quarter earnings by companies in the S&P 500 are expected to come in 4.7% lower than they were a year earlier, according to FactSet.

Read more …

Central banks

The End of the Monetary Illusion Magnifies Shocks for Markets (BBG)

Central bankers are no longer the circuit breakers for financial markets. Monetary-policy makers, market saviors the past decade through the promise of interest-rate reductions or asset purchases, now lack the space to cut further or buy more. Even those willing to intensify their efforts increasingly doubt the potency of such policies. That’s leaving investors having to cope alone with shocks such as this week’s rout in China or when economic data disappoint, magnifying the impact of such events. “The monetary illusion is drawing to a close,” said Didier Saint Georges at Carmignac Gestion, an asset-management company. “With central banks becoming increasingly restricted in their stimulus policies, 2016 is likely to be the year when the markets awaken to economic reality.” Even against the backdrop of this week’s market losses, Fed officials signaled their intention to keep raising interest rates this year.

Those at the ECB and BoJ ended last year playing down suggestions they will ultimately need to intensify economic-aid programs. They have only themselves to blame for becoming agents of volatility, according to Christopher Walen at Kroll Bond Rating. He told Bloomberg TV this week that officials’ willingness to keep interest rates near zero and repeatedly buy bonds and other assets meant they became “way too involved in the global economy” and should have left more of the lifting work to governments. The handover to looser fiscal policy now needs to happen if economic growth and inflation are to get the spur they need, said Martin Malone at London-based brokerage Mint Partners. “Major economies have exhausted monetary and foreign-exchange policies,” he said. “Government action must take over from central-bank policies, triggering more confident private-sector investment and spending.”

Read more …

Yeah, recovery.

More Than 40% Of Young Americans Use Payday Loans Or Pawnshops (Ind.)

Young people are turning to desperate means to make ends meet. New figures that show 42% of Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and the mid-1990s, have turned to alternative finance including payday lenders and pawnshops in the past five years. The numbers come from a survey of more than 5,000 Millennials in the US by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University. Reports show that Millennials are high users of payday loans in the UK too. A 2014 report by the Financial Ombudsman Service showed that customers complaining about payday lenders were far more likely to be drawn from the 25-34 age group than any other.

The PwC study showed that a third of Millennials are very unsatisfied with their current financial situation and 81% have at least one long term debt, like a student loan or mortgage. That’s before they are saddled with interest on a payday loan that can be as much as 2000%. “They have already maxed out everything else and so they’re going to behavior that’s deemed even riskier,” said Shannon Schuyler, PwC’s corporate responsibility leader. The report also found that almost 30% of Millennials are overdrawn on their current accounts and more than half carry a credit card. Millennials are not the only generation suffering from rising debts. Earlier this week the Bank of England published a report showing that household borrowing surged in the run up to Christmas. The monthly cash rise in consumer credit for November 2015 was the highest since February 2008.

Read more …

The shape of things to come. Who can afford a $5000-6000 funeral?

British People Donating Bodies To Science To Avoid Funeral Costs (Tel.)

People are choosing to donate their body to science to avoid the cost of paying for a funeral, MPs have been warned. A leading forensic anthropologist said giving remains to anatomy departments can be seen as a way of avoiding the burden of funeral costs. However, science departments are not always able to take a person’s body, because of disease or because there is simply no space. Professor Sue Black, Director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, told the bereavement benefits inquiry families can be shocked to realise their loved one’s remains cannot be donated. “It is important that bequeathal is not viewed as an option to address funeral poverty although for some individuals it is unquestionably used in this manner,” she said.

As Dundee has one of the highest levels of child and adult poverty in Scotland, Professor Black said it is “not unusual for our bequeathal secretary to receive calls that will relate to concerns over funeral costs.” The Work and Pensions Committee is investigating funeral poverty after a freedom of information request by the BBC found the cost to local councils of so-called “paupers’ funerals” has risen almost 30pc to £1.7m in the past four years. The number of public health funerals, carried out by local authorities for people who die alone or whose relatives cannot afford to pay, has also risen by 11pc. [..] Bodies donated to science are mainly used for medical training and research.

But some are turned down because they are not suitable for educational use, for example if there has been a post-mortem and the body has already been dissected, or because the person has had a particularly destructive form of cancer, or if they have had an organ transplant. Potential donors must also make their wishes clear in their lifetime. “It’s really important that if people think that they want to donate their body, there are things that they must do. It’s not enough to say if verbally, they have to either find the consent forms or make a legal statement in a will or testament,” Professor Black said. The average cost of a basic funeral is now £3,702 according to a recent report.

Read more …

Could be the major take-away from yesterday’s BLS report. Employment numbers do not reflect those of the employed.

Multiple Jobholders Responsible For 64% Of Net US Job Gains (ECRI)

The latest jobs report far exceeded consensus expectations as the economy added 292,000 nonfarm payroll jobs. But a closer look at the details reveals why concerns remain about the health of the labor market. In December, year-over-year (yoy) growth in multiple jobholders rose to an 11-month high, while yoy growth in single jobholders eased to a three-month low. Specifically, since May the number of multiple jobholders has increased by 752,000, while single jobholders have increased by 429,000. In other words, multiple jobholders have been responsible for 64% of the net job gains since last spring. The disproportionate importance of multiple jobholders – forced to cobble together a living – shows why the labor market is weaker than it seems. Notably, as long as these multiple jobholders log 35 hours of work per week – no matter how many part-time jobs that takes – they are considered full-time.

Read more …

1967. Remember?

First Profit Fall In 48 Years Looms Over US Energy Sector (MarketWatch)

The energy sector will depress U.S. fourth-quarter earnings and subdue growth for the entire S&P 500, making 2015 the weakest year for earnings since 2008, Goldman Sachs said Friday. The bank trimmed its S&P 500 earnings-per-share estimates for 2015, 2016 and 2017 in a note that highlighted three factors it expects to feature in earnings releases and on conference calls this year. The fourth-quarter and 2015 earnings season kicks off next week. The report from Aluminum producer Alcoa, scheduled for Monday after the market’s close, is seen as the unofficial start of several weeks of corporate news. The first factor Goldman highlighted is the energy sector, which the bank says is about to show a decline in operating earnings per share for 2015, its first negative reading since the bank started keeping records in 1967. “Energy EPS has collapsed along with crude oil prices,” analysts wrote in a note.

Energy EPS is highly sensitive to the price of oil, which Goldman is assuming will average $44 a barrel this year. Crude futures were trading below $33 a barrel early Friday, after hitting their lowest level since 2004 this week. Energy companies have been hammered by the slump in oil prices caused by oversupply, which has made some shale plays unprofitable and led companies to slash spending budgets, sell underperforming assets and cut staff and other costs. “The write-down in energy company assets has exacerbated the earnings hit from the 35% fall in Brent crude oil prices in 2015, following a 48% plunge in the commodity price in 2014,” said the note. In 2014, the energy sector accounted for $13, or 12%, of the overall S&P 500’s EPS reading of $113. In 2015, that contribution had tumbled to a loss of $2. That means energy contributed a $15 decline to S&P 500 earnings, which more than outweighed EPS gains in other sectors, said the note.

Read more …

Much more downside to come.

Mining’s $1.4 Trillion Plunge Like Losing Apple, Google, Exxon Combined (BBG)

The $1.4 trillion lost in global mining stocks since 2011 exceeds the total market value of Apple, Exxon Mobil and Google’s parent Alphabet. When you’ve spent a decade building new mines from the Andean mountains to the West African jungle, it’s bad news when a downturn in China, your biggest customer, shows no signs of stopping. Investors have been unforgiving and concerns that it will only get worse pushed the Bloomberg World Mining Index to an 11-year low. “It’s terrible, there are no two ways about it,” said Paul Gait at Sanford C. Bernstein in London. “A lot of people were hoping at the start of 2016 to see at least some stabilization in the commodity performance in these stocks. Essentially people were looking to close the consensus short that has characterized 2015. This has clearly not happened.”

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto were once among the world’s largest companies. Shares of the biggest commodity producers trading in London are now at least twice as volatile as the U.K.’s benchmark stock index. Raw-material prices slipped to the lowest since 1999 on Thursday, with China’s stock market suffering its worst start to the year in two decades after the central bank cut the yuan’s reference rate by the most since August. A weaker currency encourages exports from the nation and makes it costlier for it to import commodities, hurting those that supply them. Anglo American, worth almost £50 billion ($73 billion) in 2008, is now valued at £3.1 billion. The 99-year-old company, which is the world’s biggest diamond and platinum producer and owns some of the best copper and coal mines, is now worth less than mid-tier Randgold and copper miner Antofagasta.

Apple, the world’s most valuable company, is worth about $549 billion. Alphabet is valued at $510 billion and Exxon $321 billion. The Bloomberg mining index of 80 stocks slumped as much as 4.1% on Thursday to the lowest since 2004. Anglo closed down 11% in London to the lowest since it started trading in 1999. BHP tumbled 5% and Rio retreated 3.4%. Glencore settled down 8.3%.

Read more …

They seem to get a lot wrong.

Inventor of Market Circuit Breakers Says China Got It Wrong (BBG)

The man responsible for stock circuit breakers says Chinese officials must revise their safety net to avoid creating panic, joining critics who argue the nation’s trading halts are triggered too easily for such a volatile market. “They’re just on the wrong track,” said Nicholas Brady, 85, the former U.S. Treasury secretary who ran a committee that recommended the curbs on equity trading after the 1987 crash. “They need a set of circuit breakers that appropriately reflects their market.” Brady spoke Thursday after Chinese regulators suspended their newly introduced program that ends stock trading for the entire day after a 7% plunge. The halt was set off twice in its first week of operation, bolstering speculation China set its threshold too low. “The right thing to do is to widen their band,” Brady said in an interview.

The U.S. confronted a similar problem in the 1990s. The curb that the Brady Commission helped implement shut the market for the first time on Oct. 27, 1997, when the Dow Jones Industry Average lost 554 points. That was only a 7.2% decline, almost identical to the Thursday plunge in China’s CSI 300 Index. The trouble was that a decade-long surge in U.S. stock prices had diminished the value of each point in the Dow. The 1987 crash’s 508-point slump had amounted to a 23% tumble, three times greater than the decline that froze trading 10 years later. Regulators and exchanges pushed through a revision: If the Dow fell 10%, there would be an hour pause. At 20%, trading would cease for two hours, and at 30%, the day would end early.

In recent years, the benchmark that triggers the halts switched to the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and the levels changed. Now it takes 7% and 13% drops to prompt a brief pause, and a 20% decline to close markets early for the day. Whereas 7% losses are rare in the U.S. – they were only common during the 2008 financial crisis, October 1987, and the Great Depression – Chinese shares have dropped about that much seven times in the past year. “I don’t think this is an exact science,” said Sang Lee, an analyst at financial-markets researcher Aite Group. With circuit breakers, “If you set these too low, instead of easing volatility it may increase volatility. That echoes the view of Brady, who was chairman of Wall Street powerhouse Dillon Read & Co. when President Ronald Reagan asked him to figure out what happened during the 1987 crash and propose solutions.

Read more …

Lost in Beijing hubris.

China Market Tsar In Spotlight Amid Stock Market Turmoil (Reuters)

Xiao Gang, China’s stock market tsar, once remarked that the only thing he’d done right in life was marry his wife. No doubt the self-effacing Xiao, chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), has done many other things right. Managing the stock market, though, might not be a high point of his career. Xiao faced internal criticism from the ruling Communist Party for his handling of the stock market crash last year, sources with ties to the leadership said at the time. In another blow, a “circuit breaker” mechanism to limit stock market losses that was introduced on Monday was deactivated by Thursday after it was blamed for exacerbating a sharp selloff. Online media had nicknamed Xiao “Mr Circuit Breaker”.

“There has to be responsibility. People are looking to the leader at the regulator. Xiao Gang is the public face,” said Fraser Howie, an independent China market analyst. “He was lucky to keep his job after the fiasco of July and August.” Xiao, 57, became chairman of the CSRC in the leadership churn when President Xi Jinping came into power, taking the helm of the regulator in March 2013. At the time, Chinese markets had been among the world’s worst-performing for six years – indeed they had not recovered from their collapse during the global financial crisis. Unfortunately for Xiao, they still haven’t. The challenge Xiao faced upon taking up the post was enormous: to attract fresh investment into equities from speculative bubbles in sectors like real estate, while defending against endemic insider trading.

To pull any of this off he needed to first convince China’s legions of small retail investors, who dominate transactions but are infamously fond of quick-hit speculative plays, that stocks are a safe place to park long-term capital. The urgency was heightened by the need to deal with China’s corporate debt overhang – Chinese firms had become almost entirely dependent on bank loans for financing, which naturally prejudiced economic development toward collateral-rich heavy industry and away from the innovative, nimble technology companies that tend to rely more on stock issuances to fund quick growth.

Read more …

Chinese politics clash with economics. By default. It’s not just pushing a button or pulling a lever.

As Growth Slows, China’s Era of Easy Choices Is Over (WSJ)

China has pulled hundreds of millions of people from poverty, supercharged its economy and burnished the pride of a nation that stood weak and isolated only decades ago. But swelling levels of debt, bloated state companies and an overall aversion to market forces are swamping the world’s second-largest economy, threatening to derail China’s ascent to the ranks of rich countries. As Beijing battles another bout of stock-market turmoil—and global markets shudder in response—the risks of doing nothing about these deep-seated problems are rising, economists said. Without a change in course, they said, China faces a period of low growth, crimped worker productivity and stagnating household wealth. It’s a condition known as “the middle-income trap.” “The era of easy growth is over,” said Victor Shih, professor at the University of California-San Diego.

“It’s increasingly about difficult choices.” Some economists don’t rule out an abrupt drop in growth, a hard landing that would see bad debts soar, consumer confidence tank, the Chinese yuan plunge, unemployment spiral and growth crater. More likely is that Beijing will continue to prop up growth, steering more capital to money-losing companies, unneeded infrastructure and debt servicing, depriving the economy of productive investment and leading to the sort of protracted malaise seen in Japan in recent decades. But China is less prosperous than Japan. An anemic China would weaken global growth at a time of low demand and prolong the downturn for big commodity producers like Brazil that have been dependent on the Asian economic giant. “They don’t want to take the pain,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero at investment bank Natixis. “But the longer they wait, the more difficult it becomes.”

Chinese leaders are aware of the risks. On Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang called for a greater focus on innovation to spur new sources of economic growth and to revitalize traditional sectors, according to the Xinhua. A far-reaching economic blueprint laid out in 2013 after President Xi Jinping came to power vowed to let markets take a “decisive” role and build out a legal framework to restructure the economy and benefit consumers and small businesses, rather than industry. Progress to date, economists said, has been disappointing. Political objectives stand in the way. Mr. Xi has committed the government to meeting a goal of doubling income per person between 2010 and 2020, the eve of the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party. That means, in Mr. Xi’s eyes, that growth must reach 6.5% annually. With global demand slipping and fewer Chinese entering the workforce, Beijing will need to resort to stimulus spending to get there, analysts said, delaying the reckoning with restructuring.

Read more …

“As of September, China’s outstanding foreign debt stood at $1.53 trillion. More than two-thirds of that amount is expected to come due within a year..”

Why China Shifted Its Strategy for the Yuan, and How It Backfired (WSJ)

The IMF’s decision on Nov. 30 to declare the yuan an official reserve currency removed an incentive for the central bank to keep propping up the currency. Rather, it aims to let it gradually depreciate with an eye toward sending it modestly higher in this year’s second half, according to advisers to the PBOC. That is when Beijing will host leaders from the Group of 20 major economies and will be eager to showcase China’s economic might. But that strategy is fraught with risks. Chief among them, analysts say, is the difficulty in reversing continued market expectations for a still-weaker yuan. In Hong Kong, where the yuan can be bought and sold freely, the Chinese currency now trades at a steep discount to its mainland cousin, whose trading is limited within a government-dictated band.

The gap has led some investors to try to profit from the different exchange rates, causing irregular flow of funds across China’s borders. By intervening in the Hong Kong market Thursday to try to cap the offshore yuan rate and at the same time allowing the onshore rate to weaken faster, the central bank appears to be attempting to find “a near-term market equilibrium level that can help the exchange rates converge,” analysts at HSBC wrote in a research note. The central bank also doesn’t want a too-weak yuan to exacerbate capital outflows and make it more difficult for Chinese companies to pay off their dollar-denominated debt. As of September, China’s outstanding foreign debt stood at $1.53 trillion. More than two-thirds of that amount is expected to come due within a year, according to government data.

Among the big foreign-debt holders are Chinese property companies, which have more than $60 billion of dollar debt outstanding, according to data provider Dealogic. Wary of continued weakening of the yuan, some Chinese companies are moving to pay off their debt early. State-run airliner China Eastern Airlines paid down $1 billion of dollar debts on Monday, citing the need to reduce its exposure to exchange-rate fluctuations. For many years, the prevailing investor sentiment had been the yuan had no way to go but up as China’s trade surplus surged. Investors have now shifted their mind-set to the other extreme.

Read more …

Will they have any FX reserves left a year from now? It’s not all that obvious.

China Finds $3 Trillion Just Doesn’t Pack the Punch It Used To (BBG)

China’s $3 trillion-plus in foreign currency reserves, the biggest such stockpile in the world, would seem to be a gold-plate insurance policy against the country’s current market chaos, a depreciating currency and torrent of capital leaving the country. Maybe not, say economists. First off, data point to an alarming burn rate of dollars at the People’s Bank of China. The nation’s stockpile of foreign exchange reserves plunged by $513 billion, or 13.4%, in 2015 to $3.33 trillion as the nation’s central bank coped with a weakening yuan and an estimated $843 billion in capital that left China between February and November, the most recent tally available according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “My greatest worry is the fast depletion of FX reserves,” said Yu Yongding, a member of China’s monetary policy committee when the currency was revalued in 2005.

True, trillions of dollars under the central bank’s care are thought to be invested in safe liquid securities, including Treasury bonds. The U.S. measure of China’s holdings of Treasuries, the benchmark liquid investment in dollars, stood at $1.25 trillion in October, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, which cautions that the figures may not reflect the true ownership of securities held in a custodial account in a third country. In China, like some other countries, the exact composition of China’s reserves is a state secret. But analysts worry the currency armory may not be as strong as it looks. That’s because some of the investments may not be liquid or easy to sell. Others may have suffered losses that haven’t been accounted for.

In addition, some Chinese reserves may have already been committed to fund pet government projects like the Silk Road fund to build roads, ports and railroad across Asia or tens of billions in government-backed loans to countries such as Venezuela, much of which is repaid through oil shipments. Then there are other liabilities that China needs to cover, such as the nation’s foreign currency debt to finance and manage imports denominated in overseas currencies. When those factors are taken into account, some $2.8 trillion in reserves may already be spoken for just to cover its liabilities, according to Hao Hong at Bocom International. “Considering China’s foreign debt, trade and exchange rate management, it needs around $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to be comfortable.” he said.

[..] “Where is the line in the sand, and what happens when we get there?,” said Charlene Chu, the former Fitch analyst known for her warnings over China’s debt risks. “China’s large hoard of foreign reserves gives the country considerable power and influence globally, and I would think they would want to protect that. If there is such a line in the sand, it is very possible we hit it in 2016.” To be sure, intervention isn’t the only thing dragging China’s reserves lower. There’s also a valuation impact from fluctuating currencies. Some of the fall may also reflect authorities accounting for its investments. Chu reckons much of the decline up to June 2015 was mostly due to investments in illiquid assets and valuation changes rather than capital outflows.

Read more …

“The company could be worth anything from $1 trillion to upwards of $10 trillion..”

Shock, Laughter Greet Plan for Saudi Arabia’s Record Oil IPO (BBG)

When one financial adviser heard about Saudi Arabia’s plans to list a company larger than the economies of most nations, he had to pull over his car because he was laughing so hard. Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, said Friday it’s considering an initial public offering. It confirmed an interview with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman published in the Economist Thursday. The news was greeted with incredulity in the financial industry, according to interviews with a half dozen bankers who do business in the Middle East. They asked not to be identified to protect their business interests. For one thing, Aramco’s inner workings are opaque, making its true value a mystery. Then there’s the timing. The price of crude oil is near its lowest level in more than a decade.

Discussions with Aramco about selling assets in the past had been about much smaller parts of the business, five of the people said. An initial public offering of the entire enterprise had only ever been discussed as a joke, one of the people said. The company could be worth anything from $1 trillion to upwards of $10 trillion, which would make it the most valuable company in the world, according to a note from Jason Tuvey at research firm Capital Economics. The last mega IPO from the oil industry was a decade ago, when Russia’s OAO Rosneft raised more than $10 billion. Even if Saudi Arabia sells a small stake, a listing could easily surpass that of Alibaba whose $25 billion IPO is the largest on record. Still, Aramco is unlikely to list on the biggest exchanges, according to Bloomberg oil strategist Julian Lee.

That would require the government to give investors more detailed information about Aramco’s reserves and production capacity, something oil-producing nations consider state secrets, he said. Aramco is considering selling an “appropriate%age” of its shares in the capital markets or listing a bundle of its subsidiaries, it said in the statement. Saudi Arabia typically sells stakes in state-owned companies to the public at below market value as part of its efforts to redistribute wealth. National Commercial Bank raised $6 billion in 2014 in the Middle East’s largest share sale. As the bankers do the sums, a big IPO won’t necessarily translate into big fees. Governments often pay low fees on their exits.

Read more …

“.. it’s hard not to see talk of floating Aramco as a defensive move forced on a kingdom that is under pressure on the financial, political and military fronts.”

Saudi Aramco’s Fire Sale (BBG)

That strange and rather unappetizing sound you just heard was the world’s energy bankers simultaneously salivating over the prospect of the oil deal of the century. In an interview published Thursday by The Economist, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Muhammad bin Salman said his country is considering privatizing Saudi Aramco. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation for a company whose oil reserves dwarf those of Exxon Mobil yields a potential market capitalization of: gajillions. Apart from anything else, Aramco’s role in supplying roughly a tenth of the world’s oil would make its earnings guidance required reading not merely for sell-side analysts, but central bankers, government leaders and generals, too.There are many caveats here, beginning with the fact that the privatization is “something that is being reviewed.”

And if privatization were to proceed, it might well involve listing shares in some downstream part of Aramco such as petrochemicals, rather than the core upstream business or parent company. The bigger issue, though, is the idea appearing to have any traction at all and being spoken of publicly by no less a figure than the deputy crown prince. It adds a further twist to a narrative emanating from Saudi Arabia that suggests the global oil market is undergoing epochal change. The interview was wide-ranging, touching on relations with Iran and the U.S., women in the workforce, tax reform and possible privatization in many sectors, not just energy. And the deputy crown prince was in expansive mode, agreeing with his interviewer’s supposition that the autocratic kingdom is undergoing a “Thatcher revolution” and answering one question on attracting foreign investors with an almost Trumpian “I’m only giving out opportunities.”

The context for this sweeping vision, though, is the OPEC benchmark oil price having just slipped below $30 a barrel. The rational time to sell shares in Aramco would have been, let’s see, about 18 months ago, when oil was still trading in triple digits and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index was nudging 1100 rather than languishing below 750. Of course, other things play a part in deciding to privatize any state jewel of this scale – such as, in the words of the deputy crown prince, fostering transparency and strengthening the domestic stock market. Such factors were there, for example, in the privatization of China’s oil majors at the start of this century. Yet it’s hard not to see talk of floating Aramco as a defensive move forced on a kingdom that is under pressure on the financial, political and military fronts.

Saudi Arabia still sits on sizable foreign reserves. But the increases in (heavily subsidized) domestic fuel prices announced recently, as part of the country’s annual budget, indicate Riyadh’s desire to hunker down for a prolonged period of low oil prices. Indeed, it is possible that raising money from an Aramco IPO would be designed to show that the state is making its own sacrifices. [..] Change is clearly in the air. Riyadh is due later this month to unveil a medium-term “National Transformation Plan” aimed at, among other things, streamlining a public sector where wages swallow up nearly a fifth of GDP and diversifying the country’s tax base. This comes soon after a decision to open the country’s stock market to foreign investors. And, of course, it is happening amid an ongoing policy to maximize oil production in a suddenly much more competitive global oil market.

In one unnerving respect, this is bullish for oil: Ossified political structures are highly vulnerable precisely when they seek even partial reform. Any destabilization in Saudi Arabia could provide the supply shock that clears the glut in oil and raises oil prices. But don’t forget the warnings given by Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister just over a year ago that global oil demand growth may face a “black swan” in the next few decades. Viewed through that lens, the policy of pumping more barrels out now looks like not merely a strategy to maintain market share but also to simply monetize reserves that might otherwise be left to mire underground. Take it one step further, and you might say the same of Riyadh suddenly deciding it’s time to cash in on Saudi Aramco now, oil price be damned.

Read more …

“VW cited German law as its reason for not co-operating.”

US Accuses Volkswagen Of Poor Co-Operation With Probe (FT)

Volkswagen is failing to co-operate sufficiently with a US investigation into the emissions scandal, according to New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman, who warned that the authorities’ patience was “wearing thin”. Mr Schneiderman said on Friday that VW’s co-operation with a probe involving 47 state attorneys-general had been “spotty” and “slow”, adding to the German carmaker’s mounting troubles in the US. On Monday, the Department of Justice sued VW in a civil case, seeking at least $45bn in penalties. The US authorities’ clash with VW came as the company said that its annual sales had fallen last year for the first time in more than a decade.

A combination of the emissions scandal and turmoil in emerging markets has taken a toll on Europe’s biggest carmaker, pushing group-wide sales below 10m units in 2015. VW admitted in September that it had installed “defeat devices” in up to 11m cars, including 482,000 in the US, that served to understate the diesel-powered vehicles’ emissions of nitrogen oxides during official tests. The 47 state attorneys-general, plus prosecutors in Washington DC, are investigating whether VW violated environmental laws and misled consumers. The justice department is pursuing a similar probe now relating to almost 600,000 VW cars in the US.

“Volkswagen’s co-operation with the states’ investigation has been spotty — and frankly, more of the kind one expects from a company in denial than one seeking to leave behind a culture of admitted deception,” Mr Schneiderman said. He added that VW had been slow to produce documents from its US files, had sought to delay responses until it completed its own investigation, and had “failed to pursue every avenue to overcome the obstacles it says that German privacy law presents to turning over emails from its executives’ files in Germany”. “Our patience with Volkswagen is wearing thin,” Mr Schneiderman said. The New York Times first reported that VW was not handing over documents to the US authorities. VW cited German law as its reason for not co-operating.

Read more …

Not long ago the very idea was considered heresy.

Visible Light From Black Holes Detected For First Time (Guardian)

Astronomers have discovered that black holes can be observed through a simple optical telescope when material from surrounding space falls into them and releases violent bursts of light. The apparent contradiction emerges when a black hole’s gravity pulls in matter from nearby stars, producing light that can be viewed from a modest 20cm telescope. Japanese researchers detected light waves from V404 Cygni – an active black hole in the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan – when it awoke from a 26-year-long slumber in June 2015. Writing in the journal Nature, Mariko Kimura of Kyoto University and others report how telescopes spotted flashes of light coming from the black hole over the two weeks it remained active. The flashes of light lasted from several minutes to a few hours. Some of the telescopes were within reach of amateur astronomers, with lenses as small as 20cm.

“We now know that we can make observations based on optical rays – visible light, in other words – and that black holes can be observed without high-spec x-ray or gamma-ray telescopes,” Kimura said. The black hole, one of the closest to Earth, has a partner star somewhat smaller than the sun. The two objects circle each other every six-and-a-half days about 8,000 light years from Earth. Black holes with nearby stars can burst into life every few decades. In the case of V404 Cygni, the gravitational pull exerted on its partner star was so strong that it stripped matter from the surface. This ultimately spiralled down into the black hole, releasing a burst of radiation. Until now, similar outbursts had only been observed as intense flashes of x-rays and gamma-rays.

At 18.31 GMT on 15 June 2015, a gamma ray detector on Nasa’s Swift space telescope picked up the first signs of an outburst from V404 Cygni. In the wake of the event, Japanese scientists launched a worldwide effort to turn optical telescopes towards the black hole. The flickers of light are produced when x-rays released from matter falling into the black hole heat up the material left behind. Poshak Gandhi, an astronomer at Southampton University, said the black hole looked extremely bright when matter fell in, despite being veiled by interstellar gas and dust. “In the absence of this veil, V404 Cygni would have been one of the most distant objects in the Milky Way visible in dark skies to the unaided eye in June 2015,” he writes in the journal.

Read more …

Death stalks Europe.

Refugees Struggle In Sub-Zero Temperatures In Balkans (BBC)

Medics working at refugee aid camps in the Balkans say they are seeing a spike in the number of migrants falling ill as freezing temperatures arrive. It has fallen to as low as -11C (12F) in the region. The medical charities International Medical Corps and Medecins Sans Frontieres say most patients are suffering with respiratory problems such as bronchitis and flu. There are also concerns about people refusing or not seeking treatment. Migrants are offered medical assistance, warm clothes and food at the main refugee points at the Serbian border with Macedonia to the south, and Croatia to the north. International Medical Corps runs a makeshift clinic at the train station in the tiny town of Sid, in northern Serbia “Last week, when temperatures were a bit less, we were seeing around 50 to 60 people a day,” said Sanja Djurica, IMC team leader.

“This week, now that temperatures have fallen, it’s more like 100 or so a day.” “Almost all of them are suffering with respiratory illnesses brought on by the cold.” I met the Al-Maari family, who are making the journey as the snow falls thick and fast. They fled Syria three weeks ago, and have been on the road ever since. They are travelling with four children, the youngest is just two years old. His brother Mohammad, seven, is suffering with fever and a chest infection. “We are on a journey of death,” said Mohammad’s uncle, Iyad Al-Maari. “We can endure. But I am worried about the children – the cold, disease and hunger.” Mohammad is not thought to be seriously ill. Iyad said the family are determined to continue to Germany, where the children’s father is waiting for them.

“Some people are refusing further medical help after we’ve assessed them,” said Tuna Turkmen from MSF in Serbia. “Even if they are referred to hospital, most don’t go. They just want to keep moving… in case borders suddenly close and they are left stranded.” With tears in her eyes, Mohammad’s mother, Malak, said: “We didn’t want any of this… we just want the war to end in Syria.” The stress and anxiety can be seen clearly on Malak’s face. She is traumatised and desperate. Medics have also highlighted the enormous psychological impact on those making these journeys. International Medical Corps has psychologists on hand in Sid, and even though people only tend to stay there for a few hours, medics and aid workers do have some time to deliver “psychological first aid”. “It’s emotional comfort, empathetic listening and encouraging coping techniques,” said Sanja Djurica.

Read more …

Checking those who filled in when Europe was a no-show. What a joke.

Greek Police, Frontex To ‘Check’ Volunteers On Islands Receiving Migrants (Kath.)

The Greek Police and [EU border agency] Frontex are to carry out checks on non-governmental organizations and volunteers on islands of the northern Aegean which have been receiving large numbers of migrants, sources have told the Athens-Macedonia News Agency. “Our goal is not to offend the volunteers and employees of NGOs nor to disrupt their work but to simply highlight the presence of the police on the coastline and generally in areas where migrants and refugees are disembarking,” a police source told AMNA. There will also be an investigation into reports that certain individuals posed as refugees in order to steal the personal belongings of refugees or the smuggling boats on which they reach the islands. The broader checks will seek to determine that people declaring themselves as volunteers are working for an accredited organization. The aim is to restore a sense of security on the islands, police source said, not to prevent the work of the NGOs.

Read more …