May 122017
 
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Robert Doisneau Le Baiser Blotto, Paris 1953

 

Human Beings Are Not Efficiency Seeking Machines (Radford)
Stockman: Trump’s Tax Plan Never Had a Chance (DR)
Is China Really Deleveraging? (Balding)
China Stocks Are Tumbling Again. Unlike 2015, World Doesn’t Care (BBG)
China Has the World’s Biggest Productivity Problem (BBG)
No Evidence of Russian Intrusion in US Political System (Ron Paul)
Canada’s Home Capital Seeks New Funding Sources, Uncertain Of Future (BBG)
Open Letter to Theresa May: Annul The Phoney Negotiations! (Varoufakis)
Pound Stumbles As Bank Of England Releases Gloomy Economic Report (Pol.)
Macron Spells the End to the Global Baby-Boomer Rule (BBG)
European Monotony (K.)
Anxiety Mounts As Italy Moves To Get More Migrants Out (AFP)
G7 Finance Chiefs Can’t Agree On Trade, So They Talk About Greece (BBG)
Greek Economy to Grow Over 2% in 2017 – Economy and Development Minister (BBG)
European Commission Slashes Greece’s Economic Forecasts (GR)
Schaeuble Says Greece Needs Reforms, Defends 2015 ‘Timeout’ Idea (K.)
One In Six Greek Businesses Are Late Payers – Central Bank Chief (Amna)
Somebody’s Going To Suffer: Greece’s New Austerity Measures (Michael Hudson)

 

 

Wonderful: “..if your goal is to understand real economies replete with real humans, modern economics is a waste of time.”

Human Beings Are Not Efficiency Seeking Machines (Radford)

I don’t understand why people get upset when I say that economics is a waste of time. I suppose it’s because I don’t make a clear enough difference between economics as a general topic and economics as a formal, mainstream, body of knowledge. It’s the latter that is a waste of time. The former is wonderfully interesting. At its heart economics is a study of human behavior, where that behavior is specific to certain activities. It is thus deeply rooted in psychology, so it is more closely associated with biology than physics. This is not a new idea: some of the greatest economists of the past have argued as much. Trying to transfer in ideas from physics, even metaphorically, therefore tends to lead to dead ends.

Like the notion of efficiency. That’s something of great interest to engineers, but has little to do with economics. You can have an efficient physical system. You cannot have an efficient social system. There’s just too much we don’t know and can never know. Still economists all over the world are obsessed with efficiency. So what do they do? They start to abstract and simplify. They model and fine tune. They test and re-test. And still their ideas run afoul of reality: human beings are not efficiency seeking machines, and so any system filled with humans is likely to be darned near impossible to steer towards efficient outcomes. Nothing daunted economists press on. If humans are unlikely to be efficient the logical next step is to construct a theory to exclude actual humans.

That’s what’s happened in economics: the faulty decision to root economics in a physics-like setting rather than in a biology like-setting forced subsequent generations of economists to “refine” their thinking and, eventually, to force real people out of their theoretical world. Voila! Modern economics ends up as a wonderful edifice with extravagant claims as to its ability to understand human behavior precisely by eliminating all contact with humanity. Weird. Ergo, if your goal is to understand real economies replete with real humans, modern economics is a waste of time.

Go study something else. You can learn a great deal about real economies by reading psychology literature. Behavioral economics — which despite all the press it gets has had only a marginal impact on the mainstream and on textbook economics — is an attempt to do that. The behavioral economics project is in its infancy. Go get involved. By the way: anything that refers to strategic behavior is also useful. Real humans are constantly trying to outwit each other. That’s when they’re not cooperating, which is another human characteristic economics determinedly overlooks. Humans are complicated. Too complicated for an economics built on an exclusive belief in relentless rationality.

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“This rosy scenario, which is the current ten-year baseline, assumes 30% more nominal GDP and wage growth per year than we’ve actually had in the past ten years.”

Stockman: Trump’s Tax Plan Never Had a Chance (DR)

David Stockman joined Fox Business and Maria Bartiromo on Mornings with Maria to discuss President Trump’s tax plan efforts and what he viewed as a massive calamity unfolding in Washington. The Fox Business host began the conversation by asking what he thought on the Trump tax plan proposal. Stockman pressed, “I think it is a one page, $7.5 trillion wish list that has no chance of being enacted and is pretty irresponsible this late in the game.” The host then fired back by asking how the former Reagan budget director placed a price tag on the plan without a score from the Congressional Budget Office. The author fired back, “The corporate is at 15%, the pass through rate on all unincorporated business is at 15% and that will cost roughly $4 trillion. Doubling the standard deduction will cost over $1 trillion. Getting rid of the alternative minimum will cost nearly $1 trillion.”

Then when referencing the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (which Stockman is a Board Member of) the author highlighted, “The gross cost is $7.5 trillion and that perhaps the government could earn back $2 trillion through loophole closing and base broadening. My argument is, after ruling out charitable contributions, home mortgages and a Congress that says they won’t touch a health care exclusion… when you go through the math there is no $2 trillion that this Congress and Republican party will even remotely be able to put together.” When asked about the assumption from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Senior Economic Advisor Cohn that new economic growth would pay for the budget Stockman pressed on the facts as he saw them:

“Growth always helps, but what they’re failing to realize, and what I learned in the 1980’s is that there is more growth built into the baseline forecast from the CBO than you’re ever going to achieve in the real world.” “This rosy scenario, which is the current ten-year baseline, assumes 30% more nominal GDP and wage growth per year than we’ve actually had in the past ten years.” When asked about the conditions in Congress and how else the government could raise revenue he directed, “We have to look at the numbers. There’s $10 trillion of new deficits built in over the next ten years, within the current policy, with rosy scenario economics. If you are going to try to push $2-$6 billion in tax cuts on top of that with $1 trillion of defense increases, $1 trillion for infrastructure in addition to Veteran spending and more – we’re headed for a fiscal calamity.

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Christopher Balding and crazy numbers.

Is China Really Deleveraging? (Balding)

There’s growing evidence that China is finally scaling back its epic borrowing binge. That’s important for a lot of reasons, not least for reducing risk and avoiding a financial crisis. The question is whether the government can sustain the pain. Regulators in Beijing are well aware of the risks that excessive leverage poses, and have tried many times over the years to crack down. Yet they routinely fail to rein in local government officials who get promoted by boosting economic growth, regardless of what systemic risks they may be incurring by binging on debt. To adapt a Chinese proverb: Growth is high and the banking regulator is far away. Evidence is mounting that this time is different. Lending to banks from the People’s Bank of China, which surged by 243% from December 2015 to January 2017, has declined by 12% in the past two months.

Loans to non-financial corporations are up a relatively moderate 7.3% from March 2016, which is a slower rate than nominal growth in gross domestic product. Although this clampdown followed an enormous surge of credit in the first half of last year, it does suggest real progress. Another good sign is that the government is starting to rein in shadow banking. Issuance of risky wealth-management products declined by 18% in April from March, as banks and insurance companies have been pressured to rely on them less. Because the sector is so enormous – with more than $4 trillion outstanding – getting it under control is a crucial prerequisite for any serious deleveraging. Predictably, though, these reforms have pushed down asset prices. Stocks, bonds, commodities and real estate have all turned strongly negative.

Interest rates have been inching up, inflicting losses on bond investors. Allocations of stocks and commodities in wealth-management products are at their lowest levels in almost a year, depressing prices further. This will probably get worse. Industrial capacity is widely up while demand growth is flat. Steel rebar prices have dropped by only 8% from their highs this year, and remain up by an amazing 91% since December 2015. Yet even this small dip has had a major effect. In March, when prices peaked, 85% of Hebei steel makers reported being profitable. Now that figure stands at 66%. If an 8% drop in prices results in a 19 percentage-point decline in the number of profitable steel mills, more serious price drops could well push the industry to the brink.

For a sector in which listed firms have suffered operational losses of 5.1 billion yuan since 2010 – during one of the largest building booms the world has ever seen – a sustained deleveraging effort may well spell disaster. The property market could also be in for a rough ride. Chinese consumers take the ability to buy an apartment as a birthright, and prices have risen in response to demand. Mortgage lending has grown by 31% since March 2016. But as cities place more restrictions on purchases and banking regulators get tougher about slowing mortgage growth, the resulting pressure on prices could be an unpleasant surprise for homeowners and indebted developers.

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Don’t worry, the world will care yet.

China Stocks Are Tumbling Again. Unlike 2015, World Doesn’t Care (BBG)

Global investors are still shaking off a rout that’s erased more than $560 billion from the value of Chinese equities, making them the world’s worst performers since mid-April. Below are four charts showing just how deep the pain has spread in China’s mainland. Outside of the nation’s borders, investors are indifferent to the weakness in the second-largest equity market after the U.S. The MSCI All-Country World Index is near a record and the VIX Index, the so-called fear gauge for U.S. stocks, is close to its lowest level since 1993. The ChiNext small-cap gauge, seen as a barometer for Chinese stock-market sentiment, has taken quite the hit this year, down 9.7% and close to its lowest level since February 2015. The selloff erased all that was left of a rebound from a low later that year, after a bubble in China’s markets burst.

A technical indicator suggests the Shanghai Composite Index has fallen too far, too fast. The gauge’s relative strength index dipped further below the 30 level that signals to some traders an asset is oversold, and is close to levels not seen since 2013. Chart watchers are still waiting for that rebound. The benchmark for yuan-denominated shares has lost 6.9% in the past month, while global stocks are up 2.8%. That divergence means the Shanghai measure is trailing the rest of the world by the most since 2014.

Chinese stocks now make up less than 9% of the world’s equity market, the smallest slice since June last year. The value of global equities is near a record $73 trillion reached earlier this month.

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Quite shocking: “..each employed worker in China generated only 19% of the amount of GDP an American worker did.” Workers in India generate just 13%.

China Has the World’s Biggest Productivity Problem (BBG)

Just about everybody assumes that China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s indispensable economy. One factor, however, could slow its seemingly relentless march and cast doubt on China’s prospects for becoming an advanced economy: faltering productivity. Sure, China is advancing daily in wealth, technology and expertise. But nothing is inevitable in economics. As costs rise and the labor force shrinks due to Beijing’s decades-long “one-child” policy, China will need to squeeze a lot more out of each remaining worker to keep incomes growing. If not, China could succumb to a sluggish trajectory that threatens both its future and that of the entire global economy. Despite China’s reputation as a paragon of authoritarian efficiency, the country isn’t immune to the global trend of dwindling productivity gains.

The Conference Board, using adjusted economic growth estimates, figures that Chinese labor productivity rose 3.7% in 2015, a precipitous plunge from an average of 8.1% annually between 2007 and 2013. (Official Chinese statistics also show productivity growth falling off, although settling at higher rates.) Of course, even that reduced clip looks drool-worthy to policymakers elsewhere. Labor productivity inched upwards by a mere 0.7% in the U.S. and 0.6% in the euro zone in 2015. But the smaller increases in China are a big problem, because it has so much catching up to do. Chinese workers are miserably unproductive compared to their U.S. counterparts. The Conference Board calculates that in 2015 each employed worker in China generated only 19% of the amount of GDP an American worker did.

That’s not a whole lot better than Indian workers, who created 13%. China, like other economies in Asia, is facing the consequences of its past success. The region’s economies achieved eye-popping growth rates by tossing their poor and primarily agrarian workers into industry and global supply chains. That unleashed a torrent of productivity gains, as peasant farmers started making everything from teddy bears to iPhones. In other words, China propelled its rapid development by shifting underutilized labor and capital into a modern capitalist economy. (That’s why Paul Krugman once argued that there was nothing particularly miraculous about the Asian “miracle.”) Inevitably, though, such low-hanging, productivity-enhancing fruit gets picked as the economy advances. Then the bang you get for every buck of new inputs starts to taper off.

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It’s time for proof on all aleegations concerning Russia. Either that or a full stop. I was just talking to someone who said he ‘believes’ the Russians downed MH17. But belief doesn’t cut it, we need facts and proof.

No Evidence of Russian Intrusion in US Political System (Ron Paul)

RT: Sergey Lavrov says President Trump wants productive relations with Moscow after the previous administration soured them. Can they be improved considering the storm over the alleged ties between the Trump team and Russia?

Ron Paul: Absolutely. And I think that has been. What is going on right now is an improvement. I think what is going on in Syria with these de-escalation zones; I think that is good. They are talking to each other. I just don’t understand why sometimes there is an impression that we shouldn’t be having diplomatic conversations … All the tough rhetoric doesn’t do any good. Trump’s statement to me sounded pretty good. I think the whole thing about the elections, putting that aside would be a wise thing because the evidence is not there for any intrusion in our election by the Russians. I think this is good progress, and there will be plenty individuals in this country who complain about it because it just seems like they are very content to keep the aggravation going. Right now, the relationship from my viewpoint has greatly improved. I think that is good.

RT: During the media conference, some journalists again raised the question of possible Russian involvement in US politics. How is it possible for such a great nation to think this way?

RP: If it is a fact, we should hear about it, but we haven’t. And those individuals who are trying to stir up trouble like that, they haven’t come up with any facts. Nobody wants anybody’s elections interfered with. But the facts aren’t there, so why dwell on that? Why use that as an excuse to prevent something that we think is positive and that is better relations with Russia. I think what is happening with this conversation is very beneficial.

RT: According to Lavrov, Trump also expressed his support for creating safe zones in Syria. Will this pave the way for co-operation between the two coalitions?

RP: With Assad and Russia working together and getting more security for the country, at the same time the US is now talking with Russia. I think this is good. But just the acceptance of the idea that we should be talking and practicing diplomacy rather than threats and intimidation. There are obviously a lot of problems that we have to work out, but I think in the last week and the last couple of days very positive things have been happening.

RT: The meeting came after the firing of the FBI director James Comey. What do you make of the timing?

RP: I don’t think that firing had anything to do with the so-called investigation. I think it has to do with the credibility of Comey as such, where he was involved too politically in the issues. First, it looked like he was supporting Hillary, then the next time he was supporting Trump, and he should not have been out in front on either one of those issues; that should have been done more privately on these charges made that were unconfirmed. I think this represents poor judgment on Comey’s part and certainly, the president had the authority to fire him. It will be politicized now, and the question will be whether there will be a special prosecutor, but if there are no problems, then a special prosecutor in my estimation is unnecessary.

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Stick a fork in it and turn it over.

Canada’s Home Capital Seeks New Funding Sources, Uncertain Of Future (BBG)

Home Capital said it’s seeking new sources of funding after a run on deposits sparked by a regulatory investigation raised concerns about the Canadian mortgage lender’s ability to stay in business. “Material uncertainty exists regarding the company’s future funding capabilities as a result of reputational concerns that may cast significant doubt” about continued operations, Home Capital said in a statement late Thursday. “Management’s focus is on finding more sources of funding in the near term so we can be more active serving our customers, and on seeking longer-term solutions that put the business back on track.” Home Capital’s troubles are being closely watched by investors concerned about possible contagion to other lenders and to the red-hot real estate markets in Toronto and Vancouver.

The Canadian dollar has slumped, and is the worst performing currency among Group of 10 nations this year. Moody’s Investors Service late Wednesday cut the credit ratings on six Canadian banks, citing rising household debt and soaring real estate prices that make the banks more vulnerable to losses. Home Capital, accused by regulators last month of misleading investors over fraudulent mortgage loan applications, has lost almost C$1.8 billion ($1.2 billion) in high-interest deposits in five weeks, draining the Toronto-based company of funds used to finance mortgages. The company said it’s facing liquidity issues because of reputational concerns raised by the Ontario Securities Commission allegations, as well as a class action lawsuit announced earlier this year. The lack of a chief executive officer and chief financial officer is also hurting, the company said.

High-interest savings plummeted to C$134 million as of May 9 from $1.9 billion at March 31, the company said. Home Capital also lost C$344 million in cashable GICs, or guaranteed investment certificates. Tightening lending criteria and broker incentive programs will lead to a decline in originations and renewals going forward, the company said. The lender’s liquid assets are about C$1.01 billion as of May 10, it said in a separate statement Thursday. It had drawn C$1.4 billion of a C$2 billion rescue loan from an Ontario pension fund that carries an effective interest rate of 22.5%, the firm disclosed. The company also sold a C$154 million portfolio of preferred shares to raise cash.

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Brussels is a cesspit obsessed with power politics, not with representing Europeans.

Open Letter to Theresa May: Annul The Phoney Negotiations! (Varoufakis)

Dear Mrs May [..] While the clock is ticking away, and your country is caught up in pre-election fever, there are two potential mistakes I wish to warn against: First, the belief that a strong mandate on June 8 will enhance your ability to negotiate. Second, that meaningful negotiations are possible within the less than two years left after the triggering of Article 50. Your mandate will, I believe, enrage Brussels in proportion to its magnitude and steel their preordained determination to frustrate the negotiations in order to procure a mutually disadvantageous outcome. Why would they pursue mutual disadvantage? Because faced with a choice between an agreement that is to the advantage of the peoples of Europe and one that bolsters their own power within the EU institutions at the expense of Europe’s social economies, the Brussels establishment, and the powerful politicians behind them, will choose the latter every time.

In 2015 the proposals I was tabling, of a moderate Greek public debt restructure, lower tax rates and deep reforms, would have allowed the EU to reclaim more of European taxpayers’ loans to Greece. Except that getting back their taxpayers’ money was lower on their list of priorities than signalling to the Spaniards, the Irish, the Italians etc. that if they dared to elect a government promising to challenge the EU’s authority, they would be crushed. Thankfully, Britain is too rich to crush. Alas, Britain is not too big to be pushed into a disadvantageous form of Brexit as a deterrent to other Europeans voting against the edicts of the Brussels apparatchiks. The political utility to the Brussels establishment of leading the UK-EU negotiations to impasse is greater than any disutility they might experience from watching European people and businesses lose out.

If I am right, negotiations will be an exercise in futility and frustration. Barnier’s two-phase negotiation announcement amounts to a rejection of the principle of … negotiation. He is, effectively, saying to you: First you give me everything I am asking for unconditionally (Phase 1) and only then will I hear what you want (Phase 2). This is nothing short of a declaration of hostilities and, moreover, of his lack of a mandate to negotiate with you in good faith. Moreover, if you try to bypass Brussels, in order to communicate directly with, say, Angela Merkel, you will be given the EU runaround (i.e. Merkel refers you to Juncker, who refers you to Barnier who suggests you go back to Merkel, and so on ad infinitum). Meanwhile, the leaks about your ministers’ “lack of preparedness” will be flooding out of the meeting rooms as part of a propaganda war of attrition.

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As long as the UK is as splintered as it is now, its economy will be in danger.

Pound Stumbles As Bank Of England Releases Gloomy Economic Report (Pol.)

Less than a month ahead of the U.K. general election, the Bank of England published a gloomy report indicating British families’ finances are being squeezed that sent sterling tumbling. The BoE’s latest quarterly inflation report, published Thursday, points to a stronger-than-expected squeeze in real incomes which would translate into decreased household spending. The report also shows inflation continuing to climb above the central bank’s 2% target, and is expected to hit close to 3% by December, as the fall in the value of sterling has raised import prices and started to feed through to the real economy. Economic growth in the first quarter of this year was also weaker than expected, the BoE said.

Sterling fell sharply against the dollar after the report was released, losing half a cent to $1.288. In a warning to the British government, the central bank said, “The outlook for U.K. growth will continue to be influenced by the response of households, companies and financial market participants to the prospect of the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU including their assumptions about the nature and timing of post-Brexit trading arrangements. The Bank of England also Thursday decided to leave interest rates and the levels of monetary stimulus untouched. Its monetary policy committee voted seven to one to maintain the BoE’s benchmark rate at 0.25%, while unanimously backing the level of U.K. government bond purchases at £435 billion, and corporate bond buying at up to £10 billion.

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Fun with numbers.

Macron Spells the End to the Global Baby-Boomer Rule (BBG)

President-elect Emmanuel Macron will still be seven months short of his 40th birthday when he takes power on Sunday, putting him within a year of France’s median age. While voters often pick experience over youth, France chose a political rookie to chart a new course after successive baby-boomers from the establishment parties oversaw a decade of stagnation. The country’s youngest head of state since Napoleon Bonaparte is also the only leader from the old Group of Eight nations who can claim to be the same age as his people – 70-year-old Donald Trump has the biggest gap at 32 years older than the median American. Macron will get to compare notes with his G-7 peers later this month in Italy.

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Yes, Le Pen was right. Merkel rules France.

European Monotony (K.)

When Alexis Tsipras became prime minister in 2015 he raised the hopes of the radical left across Europe. But after six months, the turnaround of the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition government was complete, as it adapted to the European order of things. The conclusion is that guerrilla talk is good for coffee shops and that politics and policy are formed and enforced elsewhere. One might say that this sort of situation is confined to decadent and incoherent Greece, or that it occurred because of leftist adventurism. But possibly not. Because we all saw what happened in France. It was basic restraint that saved all those who were not enthralled by the rise of the extreme right.

At the end of the day, the only thing that Marine Le Pen achieved was to secure a little more than a third of the support of French voters, doubling the percentage received by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, and to lift the National Front from the fringe and turn it into a political force. But we have better things to preoccupy ourselves with. During the election campaign, Emmanuel Macron projected himself as someone who will save France from the specter of the far right, but also as someone who aimed to change the profile of Europe. And immediately after his election, he proposed a way out of Europe’s dead end, but that was immediately rejected by Germany.

Manfred Weber from Bavaria, who pummeled Tsipras in the European Parliament, said that Macron can talk about reforming Europe only when he has proved himself capable of implementing reforms in France. More condescendingly, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Macron’s proposals were impossible to implement. Given this, there is a danger that Le Pen will be vindicated in her prediction that if she was not elected president, then France would be run by another woman, Angela Merkel. The most likely outcome is that Macron will realize that talk of changing Europe is alright for the legendary La Rotonde brasserie in Paris’s 6th arrondissement, where he celebrated his victory in the first round of the elections. Something similar happened to Tsipras on the other side of the political spectrum. Because, at the moment, Europe is Germany and everyone else.

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High time for safe zones in Syria, Libya and beyond. But that would hurt arms sales.

Anxiety Mounts As Italy Moves To Get More Migrants Out (AFP)

Behind the high fences of the repatriation centre at Ponte Galeria, just down the road from Rome’s Fiumicino airport, dozens of women sit outside, waiting for word on whether they will have to leave Italy. But as the government steps up its efforts to send more migrants home, many who pinned their hopes on asylum appeals are growing increasingly worried. This week an official decree paved the way for the creation of 11 more repatriation centres capable of housing 1,600 people pending deportation, on top of the four currently in operation. At Ponte Galeria, in courtyards easily mistaken for cages, Khadigia Shabbi, 47, can barely hold back her tears. “Here we are dying,” the former Libyan university lecturer says. Arrested in Palermo at the end of 2015 and convicted of inciting terrorism, Shabbi protests her innocence and has requested asylum.

She is not alone. Half of the 63 women at Ponte Galeria, which AFP was able to visit, have made similar requests. Several are from Nigeria, having crossed Libya to reach Italy. But there are also Ukrainians and Chinese. The country is sheltering more than 176,000 asylum-seekers, with about 45,000 migrants arriving since January 1 – a 40% rise on the same period last year – and officials are bracing for another summer of record arrivals. To cope with the influx – and to deter others from coming – Interior Minister Marco Minniti pushed through parliament last month a plan to increase migrant housing and provide new resources for expelling those who have come only to seek work. The plan includes creating fast-track asylum appeal courts for the roughly 60% of migrants who have their initial requests denied, in order to reach a binding decision that gets them out of the country sooner.

Between January and April, Italy expelled 6,242 people who did not have the right to stay, an increase of 24% on the same period last year. But the figures include more than just people rescued from the overcrowded boats coming daily from Libya who have failed in their asylum requests. Many were sent home directly because of repatriation agreements, such as those with Tunisia, Egypt or Morocco, while others were expelled after overstaying their student or tourism visas. But despite Italy’s new efforts to deter migrant arrivals, many say they won’t give up trying. “If they expel me, I’ll come back afterwards. I say this honestly — there is nothing for me back there,” said one woman at Ponte Galeria.

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US pressure may be the only way out for Greece.

G7 Finance Chiefs Can’t Agree On Trade, So They Talk About Greece (BBG)

Group of Seven finance chiefs don’t see eye-to-eye on trade, so they’re reverting to a default issue in economic diplomacy: Greece. Officials arriving on Thursday for talks in the Southern Italian port of Bari – a crossroads of commerce for more than two millenia – downplayed any focus on their festering disagreement after two abortive Group of 20 discussions this year suggested the Trump administration won’t sign up to the long-existing global consensus on free trade. That leaves sideline talks on Greece as the most fruitful arena for talks for now. On Wednesday, a senior U.S. Treasury official said they are looking for Europe to take the lead in solving the country’s debt problem. Informal talks on Greece were held on Thursday night, according to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

His nation, together with Italy, France, the IMF and the ECB make up the so-called Washington Group. “Trade is explicitly off the table – they’re not going to clinch anything at all,” said Isabelle Mateos y Lago at BlackRock. But on Greece, “this is the right grouping within which to reach an agreement on some of the more political aspects.” Talks on easing Greece’s debt load have been picking up steam amid hopes of striking a deal later this month, with officials targeting the May 22 meeting in euro-area finance ministers in Brussels. Among the preferred options is the use of leftovers from the country’s latest euro-area-backed bailout to repay about €12.4 billion of IMF loans to Greece outstanding, according to EU officials. “We’ll carry on working on this debt relief package,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Friday. “We certainly hope that the Europeans will be far more specific in terms of debt relief which is also an imperative.”

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That so-called ‘Growth’ is achieved because Greece raises taxes and cuts pensions for its poorest, and sells its assets for pennies on the drachma. But that is not growth. That is scorched earth.

Greek Economy to Grow Over 2% in 2017 – Economy and Development Minister (BBG)

Greece is confident that the country’s economic output will exceed 2% in 2017 boosted by investments, privatizations and exports, Economy and Development Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou said. This year will be “the year of real growth in Greece,” Papadimitriou said in a May 10 interview in Nicosia, Cyprus, at the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. With the exception of 2014, Greece’s economy shrank every year since 2008. The IMF in April cut its forecast for 2017 Greek economic growth to 2.2% from 2.8%. The European Commission revised earlier today its estimate for the Greek growth rate to 2.1% from 2.7%. Papadimitriou cited committed investments for 2017 of €300 million by Philip Morris International and €500 million by Hellenic Telecommunication as well as applications to make investments worth €1.9 billion following the introduction of new legislation that provides incentives to investors. He also highlighted higher industrial production, increased exports and a rise in employment.

Greece will also complete in 2017 an “ambitious” privatization program worth over €2 billion that mainly comprises regional airports, the country’s second-largest port of Thessaloniki, the national railroad operator Trainose and units of state-controlled Public Power Corp., the largest electricity supplier, Papadimitriou said. With almost one-quarter of Greeks without work in the fourth quarter of 2016, or 23.6%, the highest in the EU, Greece is targeting a fall in the unemployment rate by 2020/21 to the euro-area average of 12% through targeted programs for job creation, Papadimitriou said. The final conclusion of the review of Greece’s bailout program with the country’s international creditors will see the nation’s sovereign bonds included in the ECB’s asset purchase program that will mean Greece will be like “a normal country and every other member of the euro zone,” Papadimitriou said.

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Growth, you said? Both sides are making up numbers that suit their book. And in the end, Greece loses.

European Commission Slashes Greece’s Economic Forecasts (GR)

The European Commission forecast for Greece’s economic figures is not as optimistic as the one presented by Athens. Specifically, the European Commission sees growth of 2.1% of GDP in 2017 and 2.5% in 2018 (compared with 2.7% and 3.1% respectively as the Greek government projected). The government deficit is projected to fall to 1.2% of GDP in 2017 and to a surplus of 0.6% in 2018. In the Commission’s winter forecast, the deficit was slightly lower for 2017 (1.1%) and the surplus slightly higher for 2018 (0.7%). Regarding the sovereign debt, the forecasts for the decline of the state debt are also more conservative than the Commission’s winter forecasts.

It is estimated to drop from 179% of GDP in 2016 to 178.8% in 2017 (177.2% in winter forecasts) and 174.6% of GDP in 2018 (170.6% in winter forecasts). At the same time, unemployment numbers differ, as it is estimated that from 23.6% in 2016 it will fall to 22.8% in 2017 (compared with 22% in the winter forecasts) and 21.6% in 2018 (compared to 20.3% in winter forecasts). Inflation is expected to be 1.2% in 2017 and 1.1% in 2018. Finally, estimates of investment growth are also mitigated by lower growth. Specifically, investment growth is projected to increase by 6.3% in 2017 (compared with 12% in the winter forecasts) and 10.8% in 2018 (compared with 14.2% in winter forecasts).

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Schaeuble blames Greece for not exiting the Eurozone in 2015. Like the EU would have let them. The world on its head.

Schaeuble Says Greece Needs Reforms, Defends 2015 ‘Timeout’ Idea (K.)

Structural reforms are key to membership of the euro area, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said while defending his 2015 offer of a Greek euro “timeout.” “If a country does not want to leave [the euro], then it has to make structural reforms – like Greece has,” Schaeuble said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published Thursday. “With the euro, the time is over when some countries could increase their competitiveness through currency devaluation. This is a political short-cut,” he said. Asked about his proposal for a temporary Greek exit from the eurozone, put forward in the dramatic summer of 2015, the German finance minister defended his idea. “You know what [Italian Economy Minister] Pier Carlo Padoan said in public: an overwhelming majority of finance ministers were convinced that it would be better if Greece were temporarily out of the euro,” Schaeuble said. “It was Greece that decided otherwise. We are now making an effort to make sure that the third aid package is a success,” he said.

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Remember 40% of Greek businesses don’t expect to survive 2017.

One In Six Greek Businesses Are Late Payers – Central Bank Chief (Amna)

About one in six businesses in Greece has the characteristics of a late payer, Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras said on Thursday, addressing an audience at the Federation of Industries of Northern Greece (FING) in Thessaloniki. Stournaras said it is urgent to address the problem of non-performing loans (NPLs), saying it should be a priority among the reforms discussed between Greece and its lenders, as it is a very significant obstacle to economic recovery. “This is the biggest challenge facing today, not just the banking system but the Greek economy,” he said, adding that according to a conservative estimate based on a sample of 13,000 businesses with loans over one million euros, an average of one in six has the characteristics of a bad payer.

He said there are indications that the analogy is significantly higher for smaller businesses and households. “But this will change in the immediate future with a series of initiatives that have already underway to address the aforementioned causes and which have hindered banks’ efforts to resolve the problem for years,” he said. Stournaras also expressed confidence that the approval of the prior actions by the parliament agreed during the second program review will open the way for the disbursement of the next loan tranche from the Eurogroup on May 22. “The financial markets are already expecting this result,” he said.

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“Somebody’s going to suffer. Should it the wealthy billionaires and the bankers, or should it be the Greek workers? Well, the Greek workers are not the IMF’s constituency.”

Somebody’s Going To Suffer: Greece’s New Austerity Measures (Michael Hudson)

Michael Hudson: I wouldn’t call it a negotiation. Greece is simply being dictated to. There is no negotiation at all. It’s been told that its economy has shrunk so far by 20%, but has to shrink another 5% making it even worse than the depression. Its wages have fallen and must be cut by another 10%. Its pensions have to be cut back. Probably 5 to 10% of its population of working age will have to immigrate. The intention is to cut the domestic tax revenues (not raise them), because labor won’t be paying taxes and businesses are going out of business. So we have to assume that the deliberate intention is to lower the government’s revenues by so much that Greece will have to sell off even more of its public domain to foreign creditors. Basically it’s a smash and grab exercise, and the role of Tsipras is not to represent the Greeks because the Troika have said, “The election doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the people vote for. Either you do what we say or we will smash your banking system.” Tsipras’s job is to say, “Yes I will do whatever you want. I want to stay in power rather than falling in election.”

Sharmini Peries: Right. Michael you dedicated almost three chapters in your book “Killing the Host” to how the IMF jjunkeconeconomists actually knew that Greece will not be able to pay back its foreign debt, but yet it went ahead and made these huge loans to Greece. It’s starting to sound like the mortgage fraud scandal where banks were lending people money to buy houses when they knew they couldn’t pay it back. Is it similar?

Michael Hudson: The basic principle is indeed the same. If a creditor makes a loan to a country or a home buyer knowing that there’s no way in which the person can pay, who should bear the responsibility for this? Should the bad lender or irresponsible bondholder have to pay, or should the Greek people have to pay? IMF economists said that Greece can’t pay, and under the IMF rules it is not allowed to make loans to countries that have no chance of repaying in the foreseeable future. The then-head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, introduced a new rule – the “systemic problem” rule.

It said that if Greece doesn’t repay, this will cause problems for the economic system – defined as the international bankers, bondholder’s and European Union budget – then the IMF can make the loan. This poses a question on international law. If the problem is systemic, not Greek, and if it’s the system that’s being rescued, why should Greek workers have to dismantle their economy? Why should Greece, a sovereign nation, have to dismantle its economy in order to rescue a banking system that is guaranteed to continue to cause more and more austerity, guaranteed to turn the Eurozone into a dead zone? Why should Greece be blamed for the bad malstructured European rules? That’s the moral principle that’s at stake in all this.

[..] Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister under Syriza, said that every time he talked to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde and others two years ago, they were sympathetic. They said, “I am terribly sorry we have to destroy your economy. I feel your pain, but we are indeed going to destroy your economy. There is nothing we can do about it. We are only following orders.” The orders were coming from Wall Street, from the Eurozone and from investors who bought or guaranteed Greek bonds. Being sympathetic, feeling their pain doesn’t really mean anything if the IMF says, “Oh, we know it is a disaster. We are going to screw you anyway, because that’s our job. We are the IMF, after all. Our job is to impose austerity. Our job is to shrink economies, not help them grow. Our constituency is the bondholders and banks.” Somebody’s going to suffer. Should it the wealthy billionaires and the bankers, or should it be the Greek workers? Well, the Greek workers are not the IMF’s constituency. It says: “We feel your pain, but we’d rather you suffer than our constituency.”

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May 272016
 
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Jack Delano Near Shawboro, North Carolina, Florida migrants on way to Cranberry, NJ 1940

Bill Gross Trying to Short Credit to Reverse Four Decades of Instinct (BBG)
“Japan Is Already Doing Helicopter Money” (BBG)
“China’s Economy Resembles A Spinning Top Running Out Of Momentum” (RD)
US-China Economic Poker Game Looms With Market Calm at Stake (BBG)
China Stocks Head for Longest Weekly Losing Streak in Four Years (BBG)
Chinese Buyers Are Losing Interest In Australian Property (BBG)
EU Warns China To Expect New Steel Tariffs (FT)
Japan Fails in Bid to Have G-7 Warn of Global Crisis Risk (BBG)
Corporate Japan Much More Downbeat About Escape From Deflation (R.)
Debt Repayments In Crude Cripple Poorer Oil Producers (R.)
Wells Fargo Launches 3% Down-Payment Mortgage (CNBC)
Universal Basic Income: Money For Nothing (FT)
After 7 Years, UK Workers Still Waiting For Decent Pay Rises (FT)
Cameron Denies Being A “Closet Brexiteer” (R.)
Australia Erased From UN Climate Change Report As Government Intervenes (G.)
‘Disaster in the Making’: The Many Failures of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Sp.)
Up To 80 Dead In Shipwreck Off Libya (MEE)

“I’m an investor that ultimately does believe in the system, but believes that the system itself is at risk.”

What Gross says is that being an investor is no longer any use. Or, as I said quite a while ago, in a market as manipulated as this one, with no price discovery, there are no investors. You’d have to fully redefine the term. For now, there are only people pretending to be investors.

Bill Gross Trying to Short Credit to Reverse Four Decades of Instinct (BBG)

Bill Gross, who built a career and a $1.9 billion personal fortune trading bonds, is trying to go short on credit, a position that he said runs contrary to his instincts and training as an investor. Gross, who manages the $1.3 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, said he is moving to sell credit risk and insurance on market volatility rather than buying long-term debt, because he believes a day of reckoning will come when central banks will no longer be able to prop up asset prices and investors will withdraw from markets. “It’s really hard to change your psychological makeup and to be a hedge manager that is comfortable with being short,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker. “I’m working on it, because I’m an investor that ultimately does believe in the system, but believes that the system itself is at risk.”

Central bankers, seeking to stimulate economies, have lowered rates below zero in Europe and Japan, driving down returns on national debt, while investors seeking higher yield have pushed up the value of other credit. Stimulus from central banks worldwide has artificially pushed up values of stocks and credit, which has made Gross cautious on such assets, he said. Eliminating credit as an investment means “not buying stocks, not buying high-yield bonds,” Gross said. “It means going the other way, which comes at a price.” The U.S. Fed Funds target rate is between 0.25% and 0.5%. Eventually, central bankers will have to raise rates to reward individual savers, insurance companies and other investors who depend on fixed-income returns, or the economy and markets will suffer, according to Gross.

The Fed will boost the rate in June and should continue a gradual path of increases, Gross said. Since last week when the Fed released minutes of an April meeting indicating the economy has strengthened enough for a rate increase, the probability of a hike at the June 15 Federal Open Market Committee meeting has climbed to 34%, according to futures information compiled by Bloomberg.

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Shinzo Abe approaches full panic mode. Dangerous.

“Japan Is Already Doing Helicopter Money” (BBG)

Yukio Noguchi, a former Ministry of Finance official whose business books are best sellers, envisages a scenario in which a failure of Japan’s economic stimulus could drive the yen to weaken beyond 300 per dollar. “If these fiscal and monetary policies continue, the yen’s value is at great risk,” the 75-year-old professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University said in an interview on May 11. “If you base your thinking on the efficient-markets hypothesis, you can’t predict a level for the currency. But, if the nation’s economic strength weakens, it is possible the yen could drop to 300, or 500, or 1,000 to the dollar.” Growth has stagnated for a decade despite fiscal and monetary stimulus efforts that left the government with a debt burden that is the highest in the world, at about 2.5 times the value of the nation’s economic output.

Noguchi believes the Bank of Japan is already financing fiscal spending, providing so-called helicopter money. That echoes comments by billionaire bond investor Bill Gross, who said the likely endgame was for the BOJ to forgive sovereign debt. The problem with the extremely cheap money is that it gets channeled into unproductive areas, and allows “zombie companies” to continue to stay in business, said Noguchi, who has a Ph.D. in economics from Yale, and is currently an adviser at Waseda University in Tokyo. Even so, this stimulus hasn’t been effective, and capital investment, wages, and prices aren’t rising, he said. “Japan is already doing helicopter money, as Bernanke describes it,” said Noguchi, whose economics books and life-hacking scheduler have sold millions of copies in Japan. “That’s what’s happening now under the BOJ’s asset purchase policy, with banks buying longer-maturity bonds and immediately selling them to the BOJ.”

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Duncan’s not fooling around.

“China’s Economy Resembles A Spinning Top Running Out Of Momentum” (RD)

Economist and financial author Richard Duncan has published a stark look at China’s economy as it enters a new phase of slower growth, assessing the implications for a global economy that has become reliant on Chinese demand as a driver. Duncan believes that China’s economic boom ended in 2015 and that a protracted slump lies ahead. He has published a series of videos explaining why, in his opinion, China’s economic development model of export-led and investment-driven growth is now in crisis. The South China Morning Post brings you the first video in that series.

“China’s economy resembles a spinning top that is running out of momentum. It is wobbling and gyrating erratically,” Duncan said. A former Hong Kong-based banking analyst, Duncan has also worked as an analyst at the World Bank, and as global head of investment strategy at ABN AMRO Asset Management in London. He has authored three books on the global economic crisis, including The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures. He is now chief economist at the Singapore-based hedge fund Blackhorse Asset Management.

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Cats in a sack.

US-China Economic Poker Game Looms With Market Calm at Stake (BBG)

As top American and Chinese officials prepare for their annual powwow against the backdrop of a looming Federal Reserve interest-rate increase, the policy actions of the world’s two-biggest economies have never been so closely bound. In what could be likened to a poker game, officials from the world’s two biggest economies will attempt to assess each others’ policy plans – and their potential domestic implications – when they sit down in Beijing June 6-7. China wants to loosen the yuan’s link with the dollar while averting an exodus of capital. The Fed wants to gradually move away from near-zero interest rates, with almost all officials penciling in at least two quarter-point hikes this year.

The past nine months have made clear how the two sides’ goals can conflict, with the withdrawal of U.S. stimulus encouraging Chinese outflows and a surprise August yuan devaluation generating market ructions that put a pause on a Fed rate move. A Fed-induced surge in the U.S. currency would put pressure on the yuan, lighting a match under money outflows that have eased significantly after a record $1 trillion left in 2015. Avoiding another financial conflagration is one task for Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and other officials when they meet their Chinese counterparts. The gathering will be the eighth and final Strategic and Economic Dialogue since the Obama administration agreed on the annual sessions, which were an extension of a Bush administration initiative.

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Listening to the ‘authorative voice’.

China Stocks Head for Longest Weekly Losing Streak in Four Years (BBG)

China’s stocks headed for their longest stretch of weekly losses since July 2012 amid concern a pick-up in earnings growth is losing steam as the nation’s economy slows. The Shanghai Composite Index was poised for a sixth week of declines after slipping 0.3% on Friday. Industrial, drug and consumer-staples producers were the worst performers this week. China Southern Airlines and Air China slumped more than 6% during the period, hurt by rising fuel prices and a weakening yuan. Data on Friday showed industrial companies’ profit growth slowed to 4.2% in April. Hong Kong stocks halted a three-day advance after Tingyi Cayman Islands reported slumping earnings.

Sentiment toward Chinese stocks turned bearish after March’s pick up in economic indicators didn’t carry over to April and a high-profile warning by the People’s Daily about the nation’s high levels of debt damped hopes for more easing. Adding to the concern this week is the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates spurring capital outflows. Despite dwindling optimism, the Shanghai Composite hasn’t strayed more than 51 points from 2,800 in the past two weeks, with declines limited by suspected buying from state-backed funds aimed at preventing the benchmark from ending below that level. “The market is slowly searching for a bottom and testing investors’ patience,” said Wu Kan at JK Life Insurance in Shanghai. “Stocks are fluctuating in a small range near 2,800 amid waning turnover, as investors cautiously await clarity over issues such as the timing of U.S. rate hikes. Small rebounds, if any, will be followed by declines.”

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Losing interest? Are we sure that’s the only reason?

Chinese Buyers Are Losing Interest In Australian Property (BBG)

Buyers from China, often blamed for the sharp rise in home prices in Sydney and Melbourne, are starting to lose interest. In the first four months of the year, visits by potential buyers from China to realestate.com.au’s listings in New South Wales state, which has Sydney as its capital, declined 25% from the same period last year. Views of properties in Victoria state, whose capital is Melbourne, fell 8.9%, while the mining state of Western Australia saw the biggest drop of 35%, according to the portal, one of the nation’s two biggest property websites.

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At some point China must retaliate.

EU Warns China To Expect New Steel Tariffs (FT)

The EU has warned China that it faces new anti-dumping tariffs on steel, amid growing pressure for the west to block Beijing’s bid for “market economy status” and greater access to world markets. Speaking ahead of the G-7 summit in Japan, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker declared: “If somebody distorts the market, Europe cannot be defenseless.” The issue of Chinese steel exports will be discussed by G-7 leaders on Thursday against the backdrop of a steel crisis in many western countries, including Britain where efforts are under way to save Tata Steel’s UK operations. Draft language prepared for discussions on the G-7 communique, while not mentioning China, expresses concern about the excess supply of steel around the world and says it has distorted the global market.

A Japanese government official said the issue went beyond steel to other commodities as well. Juncker claimed Chinese overcapacity amounted to double the EU’s annual steel production and that it had contributed to the loss of “thousands of jobs since 2008”. “We will step up our trade defense measures,” he said. Juncker also said there would be an impact assessment of Chinese steel exports and detailed discussion on Beijing’s bid for market economy status under WTO rules. China expects to achieve that status in December on the 15th anniversary of its 2001 accession to the WTO, giving it greater access to world markets and making it harder for third parties such as the EU to impose anti-dumping sanctions.

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So it’s G7, but not really, since Juncker and Tusk are also invited, while Putin and Xi are not. You make it up as you go along.

Japan Fails in Bid to Have G-7 Warn of Global Crisis Risk (BBG)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed in his bid to have Group of Seven leaders warn of the risk of a global economic crisis in a communique issued as their summit wraps up Friday in central Japan. The final statement declares that G-7 countries “have strengthened the resilience of our economies in order to avoid falling into another crisis.” Japan had pressed G-7 leaders to note “the risk of the global economy exceeding the normal economic cycle and falling into a crisis if we did not take appropriate policy responses in a timely manner.” On Thursday, Abe presented documents to the G-7 indicating there was a danger of the world economy careering into a crisis on the scale of the 2008 Lehman shock.

Abe has frequently said he would proceed with a planned increase in Japan’s sales tax in April 2017 unless there is an event on the scale of Lehman or a major earthquake. He is expected to announce next week he is deferring the tax rise, Japanese media reported. One of the biggest topics at the meeting was China, which is not a member of the G-7. A slowdown in China, alongside a global steel glut, has spurred concerns among developed economies and at times disagreement on how best to spur growth. Abe has advocated greater government spending to back up monetary policy action. The communique urged a coordinated, albeit differentiated, response to storm clouds gathering over the global economy. Leaders pledged to use a mix of tools depending on their circumstances.

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Fast looming gloom: “70% of companies see no decisive escape from deflation for the foreseeable future, up from 48% in January”

Corporate Japan Much More Downbeat About Escape From Deflation (R.)

Japan Inc has become increasingly pessimistic about the country’s ability to beat deflation, with the vast majority of firms now expecting no escape for the foreseeable future, a Reuters poll showed. Most Japanese companies also said they did not think Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s latest growth strategy that centers on lifting the mininum wage and investment in technology would help bring significant improvement to a faltering economy. Abe swept into office three years ago with bold plans to end decades of deflation and bring about sustainable growth. But while unprecedented monetary policy in tandem with fiscal stimulus met with some initial success, any gains in ridding the country of a deflationary mindset look like they could be slipping away.

The Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted May 9-23, found 70% of companies see no decisive escape from deflation for the foreseeable future, up from 48% in January when the same question was asked. “Demand is not on an upward trend, and household spending is not rising because base pay is not rising,” wrote a manager at a chemicals company. “It has become difficult for companies to lift prices.” Japan has only managed very mild inflation since Abe took office and the pace of price gains has been slowing since 2014. Core consumer prices in March fell 0.3% from a year earlier, the fastest decline in three years due to lower oil prices. The survey also found that 79% of companies were worried that consumer prices could return to deflation either this year or next.

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Stunning from earlier in the week. ‘Weaker producers’ are forced to flood the market, but with nothing in return.

Debt Repayments In Crude Cripple Poorer Oil Producers (R.)

Poorer oil-producing countries which took out loans to be repaid in oil when the price was higher are having to send three times as much to respect repayment schedules now prices have fallen. This has crippled the finances of countries such as Angola, Venezuela, Nigeria and Iraq and created a further division within OPEC. Ahead of an OPEC meeting next week, poorer members have continued to push for output cuts to lift prices but wealthier Gulf Arab members such as Saudi Arabia, which are free of such debts, are resisting taking any action despite prices falling 60% in the past 2 years. Angola, Africa’s largest oil producer has borrowed as much as $25 billion from China since 2010, including about $5 billion last December, forcing its state oil firm to channel almost its entire oil output toward debt repayments this year.

This year Angola, Nigeria, Iraq, Venezuela and Kurdistan are due to repay a total of between $30 billion and $50 billion with oil, according to Reuters calculations based on publicly disclosed information and details given by participants in ongoing restructuring talks. Repaying $50 billion required only slightly over 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil exports when it was trading at $120 per barrel but with prices of around $40, the same repayment would require exports of over 3 million bpd. “All of those oil nations – Angola, Nigeria, Venezuela – have taken money for survival but haven’t got any money left for investments. “That is very damaging to their long-term growth prospects,” said Amrita Sen from Energy Aspects think-tank.

“People tend to look at current production volumes but if you have committed your entire production to China or other buyers under loans – then you cannot invest to keep growing and won’t benefit from higher prices in the future.” China has also become Venezuela’s top financier via an oil-for-loans program which since 2007 has funneled $50 billion into Venezuelan coffers in exchange for repayment in crude and fuel, including a $5 billion deal last September. While details of the loans have not been made public, analysts from Barclays estimate Caracas owes $7 billion to Beijing this year and needs nearly 800,000 bpd to meet payments, up from 230,000 bpd when oil traded at $100 per barrel.

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But of course. Got to keep them sales going until they don’t.

Wells Fargo Launches 3% Down-Payment Mortgage (CNBC)

First-time buyers and low- to moderate-income buyers have largely been sidelined by today’s housing recovery. The common cry is too-tight credit. Lenders have kept the credit box restrictive because they are gun-shy from the billions of dollars in buy backs and judicial settlements stemming from the mortgage crisis that they still face today. Now, the nation’s largest lender, Wells Fargo, says it is opening that box with a new low down payment loan — a loan it claims is low-risk to the bank. “We are fully underwriting the borrowers, we are partnering with Fannie Mae to originate and sell these loans, we are ensuring the borrowers have an ability to repay and that they’re qualified for home ownership, but we’re simplifying things for the homebuyer,” said Brad Blackwell, executive vice president and portfolio business manager at Wells Fargo.

Branded “yourFirstMortgage,” Wells Fargo’s new product has a minimum down payment of 3% for a fixed-rate conventional mortgage of up to $417,000. Down payment help can come from gifts and community-assistance programs. Customers are not required to complete a homebuyer education course, but if they do, they may earn a 1/8% interest rate reduction. The minimum FICO score for these loans, which are underwritten according to Fannie Mae standards, is 620. Mortgage insurance can either be rolled in to the cost of the loan or purchased separately by the borrower. Blackwell said either way, the monthly payment is less than a government-insured FHA loan. More importantly, it’s simpler than other 3% down payment products already in the market, some of which have specific income and counseling requirements.

“We’ve taken all the complexity of the home mortgage lending process, removed it from the front-line consumer, so that it’s easy for them to understand and Wells Fargo is taking care of all the capital markets and other types of complexities behind the scenes,” added Blackwell. Other 3% down payment products from Bank of America with Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae’s HomeReady program have not been popular because lenders find them bureaucratic and hard to use. “To the extent that Wells is using this product as liberally as they can, that’s a positive for most borrowers,” said Guy Cecala, CEO of Inside Mortgage Finance.

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Sort of like Brexit, a discussion conducted on the wrong terms. It can’t only be about robots taking jobs. That is far too narrow. Economic collapse is a much larger factor.

Universal Basic Income: Money For Nothing (FT)

Switzerland’s traditionally conservative electorate will next month vote on the superficially preposterous idea of handing out an unconditional basic income of SFr30,000 ($30,275) a year to every citizen, regardless of work, wealth or their social contribution. Opinion polls suggest the June 5 referendum will be heavily defeated. And even if some kind of electoral convulsion results in the proposal being unexpectedly approved by voters, it is certain to be shot down by the 26 cantons that would have to implement it. But the very fact that one of the world’s most prosperous countries is holding such a vote highlights how a centuries-old dream of radical thinkers is seeping into the political mainstream.

In countries as diverse as Brazil, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and India, local and national governments are experimenting with the idea of introducing some form of basic income as they struggle to overhaul inefficient welfare states and manage the social disruption caused by technological change. Daniel Häni, a chirpy Basel entrepreneur who is one of the Swiss initiative’s main supporters, said modern welfare states provide basic social support but are failing to adapt to the needs and values of our times. The trouble is that they are too costly and cumbersome, assume that a citizen’s worth is determined solely by their value as an employee and rely on means testing by an overly intrusive state. “Our social system is 150 years old and is based on Bismarck’s response to Industrialisation 1.0,” he said. “Our idea is simple. We want to render the conditional unconditional. UBI is about shifting power back to the citizen.”

The idea of providing money for nothing to all citizens dates back centuries and was nurtured by a radical cult before resurfacing in recent times. In the 20th century it was championed by thinkers on the left, such as John Kenneth Galbraith and Martin Luther King, as a means of promoting social justice and equal opportunity. But it was also backed by some libertarians and economists on the right, including Milton Friedman, as a way of restricting the coercive state and restoring individual choice and freedom. Incredible as it seems today, President Richard Nixon came very close to implementing a negative income tax (a variant of basic income) across the US in 1970. Nixon’s initiative, part of his Family Assistance Plan, was strongly backed by the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate, where some Democrats considered it unambitious, and several Republicans considered it too bold.

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Something tells me they will get to wait a lot longer.

After 7 Years, UK Workers Still Waiting For Decent Pay Rises (FT)

Britain’s workers have gone seven years without a decent pay rise — and data published on Thursday suggest they will have to wait a while longer. In the three months to the end of April, the busiest month of the year for pay settlements, the median pay settlement dipped from 2% to 1.7%. XpertHR, the company that gathers the data, said almost half the awards were lower than the same group of employees received last year, while only a fifth were higher. Economics textbooks would not have predicted such figures. Wages are meant to rise when unemployment falls since there are fewer jobless people around who are willing to work for low pay. Yet though unemployment has dropped to a pre-crisis low of 5.1%, average wage growth remains stubbornly slow at about 2% a year — roughly half the pace that was typical before the crash.

Adopting the slogan “Britain deserves a pay rise”, the government has tried to force the issue by raising the minimum wage sharply in April but this does not seem to have affected average pay. Britain is not alone: wage growth has weakened across the developed world and economists in Germany and the US, where unemployment is similarly low, are just as puzzled. Employers are less mystified. “We keep referring back to the old world, where full employment meant pay should be rapidly rising but I think the new world we’re in now is [that] we have still got underemployment, low productivity and low inflationary environments, which means there’s no need to raise pay,” said James Hick, managing director of ManpowerGroup Solutions, which supplies 35,000 contractors and temps per week to UK employers.

There are plenty of lower-paid people who would work more hours if they could, said Mr Hick, which lessens the pressure on employers to pay more. The unemployment rate may be the same as it was in 2006 but 14% of part-time workers say they cannot find full-time work, compared with 9% a decade ago. [..] The most important factor in the long term is that Britain has suffered a productivity slowdown since the financial crisis, much like many other countries, including the US. British workers are now 14% less productive than they would have been if the pre-crisis growth trend had continued. Employer lobby groups such as the CBI say wages cannot rise sustainably until workers increase their output per hour.

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Could have fooled me… Why else make such crazy claims?

Cameron Denies Being A “Closet Brexiteer” (R.)

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday he was not a “closet Brexiteer” and that leaving the European Union would hurt Britain’s economic future and complicate trade deals with countries such as Japan. Speaking at a meeting of the G7 industrial powers, Cameron rejected a description by a former aide this week that he secretly supported a vote to leave the EU at a referendum on June 23. “So I have never been a closet Brexiteer,” he told a news conference in Japan. “I am absolutely passionate about getting the right result, getting this reform in Europe and remaining part of it. It’s in Britain’s interests and that’s what it is all about.”

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Almost funny.

Australia Erased From UN Climate Change Report As Government Intervenes (G.)

Every reference to Australia was scrubbed from the final version of a major UN report on climate change after the Australian government intervened, objecting that the information could harm tourism. Guardian Australia can reveal the report “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”, which Unesco jointly published with the United Nations environment program and the Union of Concerned Scientists on Friday, initially had a key chapter on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as small sections on Kakadu and the Tasmanian forests. But when the Australian Department of Environment saw a draft of the report, it objected, and every mention of Australia was removed by Unesco. Will Steffen, one of the scientific reviewers of the axed section on the reef, said Australia’s move was reminiscent of “the old Soviet Union”.

No sections about any other country were removed from the report. The removals left Australia as the only inhabited continent on the planet with no mentions. Explaining the decision to object to the report, a spokesperson for the environment department told Guardian Australia: “Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism.” As a result of climate change combined with weather phenomena, the Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of the worst crisis in recorded history. Unusually warm water has caused 93% of the reefs along the 2,300km site to experience bleaching. In the northern most pristine part, scientists think half the coral might have died. The omission was “frankly astounding,” Steffen said.

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The German view of a doomed deal.

‘Disaster in the Making’: The Many Failures of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Sp.)

It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the claim that Turkey is a safe place for refugees. According to Amnesty International, Turkish authorities have deported hundreds of refugees from Turkey back to Syria in recent months. In early May, Human Rights Watch documented the cases or five Syrian refugees who were shot dead while attempting to enter Turkey, allegedly by Turkish border troops. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 16 deaths at the Syrian-Turkish border between December 2015 and March 2016. The EU has sent 390 migrants from Greece back to Turkey since early April, far fewer than planned. About 8,000 migrants, a third of them Syrians, remain in the Aegean islands. The European Commission now believes that Greek appellate judges may stop one in three deportations of Syrians.

“This strikes at the core of the deal,” said a senior Brussels official. Europe’s goal with the Turkey agreement is deterrence. In recent weeks, a number of migrants have indeed chosen not to leave Turkey for Greece, fearing that they would be sent back. If it now emerges that the Greeks are not deporting migrants nearly as quickly as anticipated, many more refugees could risk the voyage across the sea again soon, predicts Metin Çorabatir, chairman of the Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration (IGAM). But the camps on the Greek island are already overcrowded. Food is scarce and migrants have set garbage cans on fire to protest conditions in the camps. “We don’t know what we’ll do if even more people arrive,” says an official with the Greek Ministry of Migration. Political consultant Knaus calls it a “disaster in the making.”

Nevertheless, the EU is clinging to the deal, despite the tense climate between Brussels and Ankara. Erdogan has threatened to cancel the agreement altogether if EU refuses to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel, while Europe has countered that Ankara needs to reform the Turkish anti-terrorism law first, as agreed. The Turkish president hardly misses an opportunity to show that he couldn’t care less about what Europeans think – of his plan, for instance, to revoke the immunity of members of parliamentarians who refuse to toe the line, so that they can then be sidelined with the help of the judiciary. And now that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been ousted, the EU has lost a level-headed dialog partner in Turkey. His successor, Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, is seen as an Erdogan acolyte.

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Thousands are being rescued every single day. The idea that you can just stop the flow is a lethal illusion. But still no emergency UN meetings.

Up To 80 Dead In Shipwreck Off Libya (MEE)

Up to 80 people are feared dead after a shipwreck off Libya, while at least 50 refugees and migrants have been rescued from the waves, the EU’s naval force said on Thursday. The wreck comes during a week in which more than 6,000 migrants and refugees have been rescued by Libyan, Italian and other authorities off the coast of Libya. On Thursday, a Luxembourg reconnaissance plane spotted the capsized boat around 64km off the Libyan coast with about 100 refugees and migrants in the water or clinging to the sinking vessel, captain Antonello de Renzis Sonnino, spokesman for the EU’s Sophia military operation to combat people smugglers in the Mediterranean, told AFP. The Spanish frigate Reina Sofia and Italian coast guard raced to the scene and threw life-floats and jackets to those in the water.

“Unfortunately, there were bodies too,” de Renzis Sonnino said, adding that the rescue operation was still ongoing. In photographs released by EUNAVFOR MED on Twitter people could be seen waving their arms for help as they balance perilously on the deck of the boat, already underwater but clearly visible in the limpid aquamarine sea. The shipwreck followed sharply on the heels of a disaster on Wednesday when a migrant boat overturned leaving five people dead, and another sinking on Tuesday which left a baby girl orphaned after both her parents died. Video footage of the incident released by the Italian navy showed people toppling into the sea as the overcrowded vessel capsized. A bout of good weather as summer arrives has kicked off a fresh stream of boats attempting to cross from Libya to Italy. The survivors will be added to the list of nearly 40,000 migrants and refugees to arrive in the country’s southern ports so far this year.

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May 222016
 
 May 22, 2016  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 22 2016
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Unknown Medical supply boat Planter, General Hospital wharf on the Appomattox, City Point, VA 1865

G-7 Warns on Weak Global Growth as Japan Bristles Over Yen (BBG)
Jeremy Corbyn Calls For New Economics To Tackle ‘Grotesque Inequality’ (G.)
“We Are Becoming Convinced That The System Won’t Stabilize” (Matt King)
Greece Braces for More Austerity Amid EU-IMF Quarrel About Debt (BBG)
This Time, The IMF Comes Bearing Gifts For The Greeks (G.)
Europe Should Heed The Lessons of 1913 (Horvat)
New Evidence About The Dangers Of Monsanto’s Roundup (Intercept)
Technology Is Changing Our Hands (G.)
The Worst Famine Since 1985 Looms Across Africa (G.)

The US risks forcing Japan into a position it cannot afford to be in.

G-7 Warns on Weak Global Growth as Japan Bristles Over Yen (BBG)

Finance chiefs from the world’s biggest developed economies meeting in Japan underscored concerns that global growth is flagging and reaffirmed a pledge not to deliberately weaken their currencies, even as Japan again warned on the yen’s surge. At the end of two days of talks, Group of Seven central bank governors and finance ministers highlighted risks from terrorism, refugee flows, political conflicts and the potential for a U.K. exit from the EU. While officials agreed not to target currencies to stoke growth and warned of the negative consequences from disorderly moves in exchanges rates, host Japan repeated a stance that recent trading in the yen has been one sided and speculative.

Comments on the yen’s moves by Finance Minister Taro Aso hint at a growing frustration inside Japan’s government about the impact on exporters after the currency surged 9% this year, spurring speculation that the government may intervene. Aso raised the issued in a meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Saturday. “I told him that one-sided, abrupt, and speculative moves were seen in the FX market recently, and abrupt moves in the currency market are undesirable and the stability of currencies is important,” Aso said to reporters. Tensions over the yen were evident over the course of the meetings, which were held at a hot springs resort in the country’s north. As Japan warned about the impact of disorderly trading, Lew repeated his view that the yen’s movement hasn’t been overly volatile.

“It’s a pretty high bar to have disorderly conditions,” Lew told reporters. To be sure, Japan remains a long way from its first intervention since 2011, when the G-7 sanctioned selling the yen to aid the country’s recovery after a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. A strengthening dollar amid rising bets that the Federal Reserve may lift interest rates over coming moths is helping ease pressure on Japan’s exporters. Aso also made it clear that the difference of opinion with the U.S. is manageable. “They have an election and we have an election and we both have TPP talks,” Aso said. “There are various things on our plates and we of course have to say various things as that’s our jobs.”

Still, by choosing to be so vocal on the yen, Aso is both attempting to jawbone the currency lower and put a marker down in the event the currency again starts to appreciate rapidly. “There’s no sign that Japan and the U.S. will move closer together,” said Hiroaki Muto, chief economist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center.

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Left, right, everyone wants growth. But what if that is quite literally a broken record? What if the ‘New Economics’ should be one that questions perpetual growth? After all, growth is no more than an assumption, and there are others.

Jeremy Corbyn Calls For New Economics To Tackle ‘Grotesque Inequality’ (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn said the UK needed a serious debate about wealth creation, as he called for a new style of economics to tackle Britain’s “grotesque inequality”. Closing a Labour state of the economy conference in central London on Saturday, the party’s leader said: “Wealth creation is a good thing: we all want greater prosperity. But let us have a serious debate about how wealth is created, and how that wealth should be shared.” Corbyn also said a Labour government would “chase down the tax avoiders and the tax evaders” and ensure HMRC had the resources it needed to do so. Labour needed to be ambitious and bold to win the next election, he said. In the meantime, he insisted that the party could make a difference despite the frustrations of being in opposition.

“We must continue to stand up against the Conservative six-year record of mismanagement of the economy – and stand up for the vital services on which we all depend.” George Osborne had vowed six years ago that austerity would wipe out the deficit, Corbyn said. “That’s the wonderful thing about George Osborne’s five-year plans: they’re always five years away,” he added. Shopfloor workers, entrepreneurs and technicians should be put in the driving seat, the Labour leader said. “We want to see a genuinely mixed economy of public and social enterprise, alongside a private sector with a long-term private business commitment, that will provide the decent pay, jobs, housing, schools, health and social care of the future. Labour will always seek to distribute the rewards of growth more fairly. But to deliver that growth demands real change in the way the economy is run,” Corbyn said.

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Citi’s Matt King on markets that are supposed to self-stabilize, a still popular notion. Despite the fact that, as Minsky noted quite a while ago, stability breeds instability.

“We Are Becoming Convinced That The System Won’t Stabilize” (Matt King)

Take market liquidity, for example. Despite near-record notional volumes on TRACE, and policymakers’ protestations that nothing has really changed, market participants continue to lament that bid-offer is misleading, and depth is not what it used to be. Worse, many managers have struggled to make money on the basis of traditional single-name fundamentals, and poor performance is contributing to a steady leakage of flows away from traditional benchmarked funds towards totalreturn funds, indices and ETFs. The shift is not unique to credit: in European equities, futures-to-cash ratios – one convenient measure of index trading versus single-name trading – have reached all-time highs, for example (Figure 1).

Traditional thinking would not read too much into this. A decline in active single-name trading by some market participants should lead to greater dislocations, and hence greater opportunities for others. As index, or asset class, or factor investing becomes more popular, so it should become harder to make money there, and money should return to single-name trading. The system should stabilize. We are becoming more and more convinced this is wrong. In ways that were underappreciated at the time, the pre-crisis era of unlimited leverage led to a veritable bonanza for sellside and buyside alike, in which trading begat more trading, and liquidity begat liquidity. Cyclicals vs non-cyclicals. Value vs momentum. On-the-runs vs off-the-runs. Cash vs CDS. Single names vs indices. The constant arbitraging of relative value relationships led to regular patterns of mean reversion, which in turn encouraged more investors to trade.

In the post-crisis era, this process is running in reverse. Yet what started as a simple desire by regulators to curtail excesses of leverage risks is having much more farreaching repercussions. The curtailment of the hedge fund bid means that many relationships which previously mean reverted are now failing to do so, or at a minimum are doing so much more erratically. Cyclicals vs non-cyclicals. Value vs momentum. On-the-runs vs off-the-runs. Cash vs CDS. Single names vs indices. In principle, these aberrations do constitute trading opportunities – but only for investors with sufficiently strong stomachs and long time horizons, which these days nobody has. Central bank distortions have exacerbated these movements, making investor interest more one-sided and leading one market after another to exhibit more bubble-like tendencies, rising exponentially and then falling back abruptly.

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More broken records.

Greece Braces for More Austerity Amid EU-IMF Quarrel About Debt (BBG)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras braces for yet another vote on additional austerity measures, as European creditors remain at loggerheads with the IMF about how much debt relief the country will get for its pain. Lawmakers in Athens are scheduled to vote Sunday evening on an omnibus bill that includes measures ranging from the taxation of diamond dust and coffee to the transfer of thousands of real estate assets from the state to a new privatization fund. The debate will test the resilience of Tsipras’s three-seat parliamentary majority, as euro-area states resist calls from the IMF to set less ambitious fiscal targets and hand Greece more generous debt relief.

Approval of the measures is one of the prior actions Greece has to fulfill to unlock the next tranche of emergency loans from the European Stability Mechanism, the currency bloc’s crisis-fighting fund. The Eurogroup of 19 finance ministers will convene Tuesday to assess the country’s compliance with its latest bailout agreement struck in the summer of 2015. A positive assessment is also a condition for the Eurogroup to ease the servicing terms for over €200 billion of bailout loans handed to the country since 2010.

[..] The Washington-based IMF proposed that interest and principal payments on Greece’s European bailout loans be deferred until 2040, and that maturities on those loans will be extended to 2080, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News. Even though European counter-proposals acknowledge that current Greek debt dynamics are unsustainable, they fall short of what the IMF wants, according to people familiar with the discussions that took place between government officials over the past week. Instead, the euro area expects Greece to maintain a budget surplus level which the IMF has said is a “far-fetched fantasy.”

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Really? Are you sure IMF and EU are not playing good cop bad cop here?

This Time, The IMF Comes Bearing Gifts For The Greeks (G.)

Another Sunday, another vote in the Greek parliament, another self-imposed punishment beating as the parliament in Athens votes through fresh austerity measures. There will be higher VAT and an increase in taxes on all the pleasures of life: coffee, booze, fags, gambling, even pay TV. And just in case Greece might need to tighten its belt by another couple of notches to meet stringent budget targets, there will be additional measures that will kick in if there is any fiscal slippage over the next couple of years. George Harrison started his song Taxman with the words: “Let me tell you how it will be/There’s one for you, nineteen for me.” The Greeks know exactly what he meant. Greece’s predicament is simple. It has debt repayments to make this summer and it doesn’t have the money to pay the bills.


David Simonds/Observer

The EU can solve this acute cashflow problem by unlocking the funds pledged to Greece under the terms of last summer’s bailout agreement, but it will only do so if Athens demonstrates that it is serious about sorting out its budget. Austerity today will lead to generosity from EU finance ministers when they meet on Tuesday. That, at least, is the hope of Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, who is looking for a package in which he gets debt relief in return for austerity. Here’s where things get interesting. The difference between this Sunday and all the other tension-packed Sundays that have studded the Greek crisis over the past six and a half years is that, this time, the battle is not between Greece and the “troika” of the European commission, the ECB and the IMF. Instead, there is a face-off between Europe and the IMF.

The Europeans badly want the fund to be part of Greece’s bailout and to contribute money to it. But Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s managing director, says her support is conditional on two things: a credible deficit reduction plan and a decent slug of debt relief. Hardline EU governments, led by Germany, have resisted this idea, fearing the Greeks will interpret any writedown of its debts as a sign of weakness that Athens will exploit to avoid meeting its budgetary commitments.

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“Back to 1913. Isn’t it one of the most curious facts that all these historical figures [Tito, Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky, Freud and Franz Ferdinand] lived at the same time at the same place, maybe only a few hundred metres apart? Did any of them ever meet? Were they drinking coffee at the same place? Would the world history look different if Hitler had been psychoanalysed by Freud?”

Europe Should Heed The Lessons of 1913 (Horvat)

Imagine the following group of curious characters living in the same city: a worker from Croatia, one unsuccessful painter, two Russians, a guy who analyses dreams and a young Austrian soldier and trophy hunter. Tito, Hitler, Stalin, Trotsky, Freud and Franz Ferdinand might make for unusual neighbours but, as Charles Emmerson describes in his recent book, 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War, they spent plenty of time in the same two square miles of the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Vienna, in 1913. Only one year later, Franz Ferdinand would become the Archduke of the empire, and his assassination in Sarajevo would lead to the first world war. In 1917, the two Russians became the leading figures of the October revolution and, about the same time, Tito – who would soon become leader of Yugoslavia – became active in the communist movement too.

Sixteen years later, on 30 January 1933, the unsuccessful painter became German Reichskanzler – the second world war was just around the corner. And Freud? After Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, the Gestapo came after him and he became a refugee in London. In short, 1913 was one in which the course of history could have altered significantly. I am in no doubt that now might be another such period. At its collapse, the Austro-Hungarian empire consisted of 15 nations and more than 50 million inhabitants. The EU consists of 28 member states – with some now threatening to exit – and a population of 500 million.

Today’s Austria is facing one of its biggest political crises with the resignation of its chancellor, Werner Faymann, a second round of presidential elections looming on 22 May – which will in all likelihood result in a turn to the right – and, at the same time, nationalist calls for a referendum on Tyrol unification. We don’t know if some future Stalin or Hitler is living in Vienna, but the whole of Europe seems to be on the verge of an abyss. Recent news about a Syrian refugee who was shot by guards on the border between Slovakia and Hungary, and Turkish forces using live bullets to drive away Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their home towns point in that direction. If countries such as Denmark and Switzerland start to seize refugees’ assets, what is left of the European project nominally based on solidarity and brotherhood (“Alle Menschen werden Brüder …”, as the official anthem of the EU claims)?

The refugee crisis wasn’t – and can’t be – solved by investing €6bn in Turkey and “outsourcing” the “redundant humans” to the periphery of Europe again. Moreover, the case of German comedian Jan Boehmermann, who was charged for allegedly insulting the Turkish president, Recep Erdogan, shows that the EU’s only foreign policy is something we might call “export-import”. First we export wars (to Libya or Syria), then we import refugees. Then we export the refugees again (to Turkey), and then we import authoritarian values from Turkey, which is now killing one of the foundations of the European project – free speech. And humour.

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And there’s more…

New Evidence About The Dangers Of Monsanto’s Roundup (Intercept)

Some European governments have already begun taking action against one {Roundup’s] co-formulants, a chemical known as polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, which is used in Monsanto’s Roundup Classic and Roundup Original formulations, among other weed killers, to aid in penetrating the waxy surface of plants. Germany removed all herbicides containing POEA from the market in 2014, after a forestry worker who had been exposed to it developed toxic inflammation of the lungs. In early April, the French national health and safety agency known as ANSES took the first step toward banning products that combine glyphosate and POEA. A draft of the European Commission’s reregistration report on glyphosate proposed banning POEA.

[..] manufacturers of weed killers are required to disclose only the chemical structures of their “active” ingredients — and can hide the identity of the rest as confidential business information — for many years no one knew exactly what other chemicals were in these products, let alone how they affected health. In 2012, Robin Mesnage decided to change that. A cellular and molecular toxicologist in London, Mesnage bought nine herbicides containing glyphosate, including five different formulations of Roundup, and reverse engineered some of the other components. After studying the chemicals’ patterns using mass spectrometry, Mesnage and his colleagues came up with a list of possible molecular structures and then compared them with available chemical samples.

“It took around one year and three people (a specialist in pesticide toxicology, a specialist of chemical mixtures, and a specialist in mass spectrometry) to unravel the secrets of Monsanto’s Roundup formulations,” Mesnage explained in an email. The hard work paid off. In 2013, his team was able not only to deduce the chemical structure of additives in six of the nine formulations but also to show that each of these supposedly inert ingredients was more toxic than glyphosate alone. That breakthrough helped scientists know exactly which chemicals to study, though obtaining samples remains challenging. “We still can’t get them to make experiments,” said Nicolas Defarge, a molecular biologist based in Paris. Manufacturers of co-formulants are unwilling to “sell you anything if you are not a pesticide manufacturer, and even less if you are a scientist willing to assess their toxicity.”

So when Defarge, Mesnage, and five other scientists embarked on their most recent research, they had to be creative. They were able to buy six weed killers, including Roundup WeatherMax and Roundup Classic, at the store. But, finding pure samples of the co-formulants in them was trickier. The scientists got one from a farmer who mixes his own herbicide. For another, they went to a company that uses the chemical to make soap. “They were of course not aware that I was going to assess it for toxic and endocrine-disrupting effects,” said Defarge. András Székács, one of Defarge’s co-authors who is based in Hungary, provided samples of the other three co-formulants studied, but didn’t respond to inquiries about how he obtained them.

In February, the team published its findings, which showed that each of the five co-formulants affected the function of both the mitochondria in human placental cells and aromatase, an enzyme that affects sexual development. Not only did these chemicals, which aren’t named on herbicide labels, affect biological functions, they did so at levels far below the concentrations used in commercially available products. In fact, POEA — officially an “inert” ingredient — was between 1,200 and 2,000 times more toxic to cells than glyphosate, officially the “active” ingredient.

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Interesting thoughts. Long article. Not sure how fast our hands could change, though, and quite sure our present tech push will be interrupted.

Technology Is Changing Our Hands (G.)

The new era of the internet, the smartphone and the PC has had radical effects on who we are and how we relate to each other. The old boundaries of space and time seem collapsed thanks to the digital technology that structures everyday life. We can communicate instantly across both vast and minute distances, Skyping a relative on another continent or texting a classmate sitting at the next table. Videos and photos course through the web at the touch of a screen, and social media broadcast the minutiae of both public and private lives. On the train, the bus, in the cafe and the car, this is what people are doing, tapping and talking, browsing and clicking, scrolling and swiping.

Philosophers, social theorists, psychologists and anthropologists have all spoken of the new reality that we inhabit as a result of these changes. Relationships are arguably more shallow or more profound, more durable or more transitory, more fragile or more grounded. But what if we were to see this chapter in human history through a slightly different lens? What if, rather than focusing on the new promises or discontents of contemporary civilisation, we see today’s changes as first and foremost changes in what human beings do with their hands? The digital age may have transformed many aspects of our experience, but its most obvious yet neglected feature is that it allows people to keep their hands busy in a variety of unprecedented ways.

The owner of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop describes the way young people now try to turn pages by scrolling them, and Apple have even applied for patents for certain hand gestures. Patent application 7844915, filed in 2007, covered document scrolling and the pinch-to-zoom gesture, while the 2008 application 7479949 covered a range of multitouch gestures. Both were ruled invalid, not because gestures can’t be patented, but because they were already covered by prior patents. At the same time, doctors observe massive increases in computer- and phone-related hand problems, as the fingers and wrist are being used for new movements that nothing has prepared them for.

Changes to both the hard and soft tissues of the hand itself are predicted as a consequence of this new regime. We will, ultimately, have different hands, in the same way that the structure of the mouth has been altered, it is argued, by the introduction of cutlery, which changed the topography of the bite. The edge-to-edge bite that we used to have up to around 250 years ago became the overbite, with the top incisors hanging over the lower set, thanks to new ways of cutting up food that the table knife made possible. That the body is secondary to the technology here is echoed in the branding of today’s products: it is the pad and the phone that are capitalised in the iPad and iPhone rather than the “I” of the user.

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The world risks reaching crisis fatigue. Largely because of how the media present them.

The Worst Famine Since 1985 Looms Across Africa (G.)

Countries are just waking up to the most serious global food crisis of the last 25 years. Caused by the strongest El Niño weather event since 1982, droughts and heatwaves have ravaged much of India, Latin America and parts of south-east Asia. But the worst effects of this natural phenomenon, which begins with waters warming in the equatorial Pacific, are to be found in southern Africa. A second consecutive year without rain now threatens catastrophe for some of the poorest people in the world. The scale of the crisis unfolding in 10 or more southern African countries has shocked the United Nations. Lulled into thinking that Ethiopia in 1985 was the last of the large-scale famines affecting many millions, donor countries have been slow to pledge funds or support. More than $650m and 7.9m tonnes of food are needed immediately, says the UN. By Christmas, the situation will have become severe.

The scale of the crisis unfolding in 10 or more southern African countries has shocked the United Nations. Lulled into thinking that Ethiopia in 1985 was the last of the large-scale famines affecting many millions, donor countries have been slow to pledge funds or support. More than $650m and 7.9m tonnes of food are needed immediately, says the UN. By Christmas, the situation will have become severe. Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Madagascar, Angola and Swaziland have already declared national emergencies or disasters, as have seven of South Africa’s nine provinces. Other countries, including Botswana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have also been badly hit. President Robert Mugabe has appealed for $1.5bn to buy food for Zimbabwe and Malawi is expected to declare that more than 8 million people, or half the country, will need food aid by November.

More than 31 million people in the region are said by the UN to need food now, but this number is expected to rise to at least 49 million across almost all of southern Africa by Christmas. With 12 million more hungry people in Ethiopia, 7 million in Yemen, 6 million in Southern Sudan and more in the Central African Republic and Chad, a continent-scale food crisis is unfolding. “Food security across southern Africa will start deteriorating by July, reaching its peak between December 2016 and April 2017,” says the UN’s office for humanitarian affairs. The regional cereal deficit already stands at 7.9m tonnes and continues to put upward pressure on market prices, which are already showing unprecedented increases, diminishing purchasing power and thereby reducing food access. As food insecurity tightens and water scarcity increases due to the drought, there are early signs of acute malnutrition in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Read more …

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

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.”

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“..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.

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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.

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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”.

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“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.

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“.. 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.”

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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.

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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.”

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May 202016
 
 May 20, 2016  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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John Vachon Window in home of unemployed steelworker. Ambridge, PA 1941

Lacking New Ideas, G7 To Agree On ‘Go-Your-Own-Way’ Approach (R.)
Japan And US Are Headed For A Showdown Over Currency Manipulation (MW)
Kuroda Stresses Readiness to Act if Yen Rise Threatens Inflation Goal (WSJ)
US Business Loan Delinquencies Spike to Lehman Moment Level (WS)
China Steelmakers Attack US 522% Tariff Move; Say Need More Time (R.)
The Iron Mountain on China’s Doorstep Tops 100 Million Tons (BBG)
Big Chinese Banks Issue New Yuan-Denominated Debt In US (WSJ)
Mass Layoffs Are Looming in South Korea (BBG)
‘Central Banks Can Do Nothing’: Steen Jakobsen (Saxo)
Making Things Matters. This Is What Britain Forgot (Chang)
Germany Strives to Avoid Housing Bubble (BBG)
Bayer Eyes $42 Billion Monsanto in Quest for Seeds Dominance (BBG)
Bayer’s Mega Monsanto Deal Faces Mega Backlash in Germany (BBG)
EU Declines To Renew Glyphosate Licence (EUO)
Ai Weiwei Says EU’s Refugee Deal With Turkey Is Immoral (G.)

In a strong sign of how fast the crisis is deepening, and in between the usual blah blah, the G7 is falling apart.

Lacking New Ideas, G7 To Agree On ‘Go-Your-Own-Way’ Approach (R.)

A rift on fiscal policy and currencies is likely to set the stage for G7 advanced economies to agree on a “go-your-own-way” response to address risks hindering global economic growth at their finance leaders’ gathering on Friday. 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. Finance leaders gathering in Sendai, northeast Japan, sought advice from prominent academics, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, on ways to boost growth in an informal symposium ahead of an official G7 meeting on Friday.

Participants of the symposium agreed that instead of relying on short-term fiscal stimulus or monetary policy, structural reforms combined with appropriate investment are solutions to achieving sustainable growth, a G7 source said. If so, that would dash Japan’s hopes to garner an agreement on the need for coordinated fiscal action to spur global demand. Germany showed no signs of responding to calls from Japan and the United States to boost fiscal stimulus, instead warning of the dangers of excessive monetary loosening. “There is high nervousness in financial markets” fostered by huge government debt and excess liquidity around the globe, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Thursday.

But G7 officials have signaled that they would not object if Japan were to call for stronger action using monetary, fiscal tools and structural reforms – catered to each country’s individual needs. That means the G7 finance leaders, while fretting about risks to outlook, may be unable to agree on concrete steps to bolster stagnant global growth. “I expect there to be a frank exchange of views on how to achieve price stability and growth using monetary, fiscal and structural policies reflecting each country’s needs,” Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told reporters on Thursday.

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The interests are too different to reconcile, and it’s by no means just Japan and the US that are involved in the showdown.

Japan And US Are Headed For A Showdown Over Currency Manipulation (MW)

Investors will be watching for signs of tension between Japanese and U.S. powers this weekend, when central bankers and finance chiefs face off in Sendai, a city northeast of Tokyo, for the latest Group of 7 summit. The two countries have sparred over the dollar-yen exchange rate in the months since the Japanese currency began a prolonged rise against the dollar. The yen has lost nearly 9% of its value relative to the dollar since the beginning of the year. Last week, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso spoke publicly about the continuing disagreement between U.S. and Japanese policy makers over whether the rise in the yen seen since the beginning of the year has been severe enough to warrant an intervention.

Japan might favor a weaker currency primarily because it makes the country’s exports more attractive. “We’ve have often been arguing over the phone,” Aso said, according to The Wall Street Journal. He also reiterated that Japanese officials wouldn’t hesitate to intervene in the market if the currency continued its sharp moves. Plus, he said, the Treasury Department’s decision to put Japan on a currency manipulation monitoring list “won’t constrain” the country’s currency policy. The Treasury published the list for the first time this year, including it as part of a semiannual report on currency practices released late last month. Japan was joined on the list by China, Germany, Taiwan and Korea.

To be included on the Treasury’s watch list, a country must meet at least two of three criteria: A trade surplus with the U.S. larger than $20 billion, a current-account surplus larger than 3% of its GDP—or it must engage in persistent one-sided intervention in the currency market, which the Treasury qualifies as repeated purchases of foreign currency amounting to more than 2% of a country’s GDP over the course of a year.

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And so are all other central bankers.

Kuroda Stresses Readiness to Act if Yen Rise Threatens Inflation Goal (WSJ)

Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda said he would act quickly if the yen’s rise threatens his inflation goal, highlighting his caution over exchange rates ahead of a major international convention. “Be it exchange rates or anything, if it has negative effects on our efforts to achieve our price-stability target, and from that perspective if we figure that action is necessary, we will undertake additional easing measures,” Mr. Kuroda told reporters Thursday. The remarks by Mr. Kuroda come at a time of tension between the U.S. and Japan over whether the yen’s appreciation seen earlier this year is sharp enough to warrant intervention by authorities. Investors are closely watching whether Tokyo and Washington will continue to clash over yen policy during a meeting in northern Japan Friday and Saturday of finance chiefs from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations.

Mr. Kuroda defended his policy stance, saying it is no different from that of central banks abroad. He also reiterated that the BOJ has kept in place massive stimulus to achieve its target of 2% inflation, not to guide the yen lower. Mr. Kuroda said that while he is watching how the bank’s negative-rates policy affects the economy, “this doesn’t mean that we will sit idly by until trickle-down effects become clear.” The BOJ will review the need for fresh steps “at every policy meeting,” he added. Speaking of risks facing Japan’s economy, Mr. Kuroda acknowledged that he is “paying close attention” to the coming British referendum to decide whether to leave the European Union.

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“Business loan delinquencies are a leading indicator of big economic trouble.”

US Business Loan Delinquencies Spike to Lehman Moment Level (WS)

This could not have come at a more perfect time, with the Fed once again flip-flopping about raising rates. After appearing to wipe rate hikes off the table earlier this year, the Fed put them back on the table, perhaps as soon as June, according to the Fed minutes. A coterie of Fed heads was paraded in front of the media today and yesterday to make sure everyone got that point, pending further flip-flopping. Drowned out by this hullabaloo, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve released its delinquency and charge-off data for all commercial banks in the first quarter – very sobering data. So here a few nuggets. Consumer loans and credit card loans have been hanging in there so far.

Credit card delinquencies rose in the second half of 2015, but in Q1 2016, they ticked down a little. And mortgage delinquencies are low and falling. When home prices are soaring, no one defaults for long; you can sell the home and pay off your mortgage. Mortgage delinquencies rise after home prices have been falling for a while. They’re a lagging indicator. But on the business side, delinquencies are spiking! Delinquencies of commercial and industrial loans at all banks, after hitting a low point in Q4 2014 of $11.7 billion, have begun to balloon (they’re delinquent when they’re 30 days or more past due). Initially, this was due to the oil & gas fiasco, but increasingly it’s due to trouble in many other sectors, including retail.

Between Q4 2014 and Q1 2016, delinquencies spiked 137% to $27.8 billion. They’re halfway toward to the all-time peak during the Financial Crisis in Q3 2009 of $53.7 billion. And they’re higher than they’d been in Q3 2008, just as Lehman Brothers had its moment. Note how, in this chart by the Board of Governors of the Fed, delinquencies of C&I loans start rising before recessions (shaded areas). I added the red marks to point out where we stand in relationship to the Lehman moment:

Business loan delinquencies are a leading indicator of big economic trouble. They begin to rise at the end of the credit cycle, on loans that were made in good times by over-eager loan officers with the encouragement of the Fed. But suddenly, the weight of this debt poses a major problem for borrowers whose sales, instead of soaring as projected during good times, may be shrinking, and whose expenses may be rising, and there’s no money left to service the loan.

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Hadn’t seen this claim before: “..local steelmakers are more efficient (and enjoy far lower costs) than their international counterparts.”

China Steelmakers Attack US 522% Tariff Move; Say Need More Time (R.)

Chinese steelmakers attacked new U.S. import duties on the country’s steel products as “trade protectionism” on Thursday, saying the world’s biggest producer needs time to address its excess capacity. “There’s too much trade friction and it’s not good for the market,” Liu Zhenjiang, secretary general of the China Iron and Steel Association told Reuters when asked if China will appeal U.S. anti-dumping duties at the WTO. China said it will continue its tax rebates to steel exporters to support the sector’s painful restructuring after the United States said on Tuesday it would impose duties of 522% on Chinese cold-rolled flat steel. China, which accounts for half the world’s steel output, is under fire after its exports hit a record 112 million tonnes last year, with rivals claiming that Chinese steelmakers have been undercutting them in their home markets.

In the four months to April, China’s steel exports have risen nearly 7.6% to 36.9 million tonnes. “It’s not just China’s problem to tackle overcapacity. Everyone should play a part. China needs time,” Liu told an industry conference. “Trade protectionism hurts consumers, (it’s) against free trade and competition,” he added. China’s Commerce Ministry said on Wednesday the United States had employed “unfair methods” during an anti-dumping investigation into Chinese cold-rolled steel products. While a flood of cheap Chinese steel has been blamed for putting some overseas producers out of business, China denies its mills have been dumping their products on foreign markets, stressing that local steelmakers are more efficient and enjoy far lower costs than their international counterparts.

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All we got to do is wait till they run out of space to store it.

The Iron Mountain on China’s Doorstep Tops 100 Million Tons (BBG)

There’s a mountain of iron ore sat right on China’s doorstep. Stockpiles at ports have climbed above 100 million metric tons, offering fresh evidence of increased supplies in the world’s top user that may hurt prices. The inventories swelled 1.6% to 100.45 million tons this week, the highest level since March 2015, according to data from Shanghai Steelhome Information Technology. The holdings, which feed the world’s largest steel industry, have expanded 7.9% this year, and are now large enough to cover more than five weeks’ of imports. Iron ore has traced a boom-bust path over the past two months after investors in China piled into raw-material futures, then changed course after regulators clamped down.

While mills in China churned out record daily output in April to take advantage of a steel price surge, production in the first four months was 2.3% lower than a year earlier. Port inventories in China may continue to increase, BHP Billiton forecast this week. “There’s a lot of optimism actually that steel demand in China will increase,” Ralph Leszczynski at shipbroker Banchero Costa , said by phone. “It’s a bit of an ‘if’ as the economy is still quite fragile,” he said, calling the rise in port stocks “probably excessive.” The raw material with 62% content sank 5.8% to $53.47 a dry ton on Thursday, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd. Prices have tumbled 24% since peaking at more than $70 a ton in April, paring the gain so far in 2016 to 23%.

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A stronger dollar makes this a huge gamble.

Big Chinese Banks Issue New Yuan-Denominated Debt In US (WSJ)

Two of China’s largest banks are issuing new local currency debt in the U.S., offering attractive yields for investors willing to take some currency risk. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest bank by assets, said it plans on Friday to raise 500 million yuan ($76 million) through 31-day certificates of deposit in the U.S. that will yield 2.6%. Agricultural Bank of China, the third-largest bank in the world, this week sold a 117 million yuan one-year bill that yields 3.35%. Both issues came at a significant premium to the 0.621% yield on the one-year U.S. Treasury bill. But the yuan-denominated debt could pay out less if the currency falls in value. Fed officials last month discussed the possibility of raising interest rates at their June policy meeting, according to minutes from the April meeting released on Wednesday.

A rate increase could cause the yuan to weaken against the dollar. China’s 3% devaluation in August sparked a selloff in yuan-denominated bonds, driving up interest rates in the offshore market, also known as the dim sum market. The new offerings will test demand for Chinese debt in local currency, the first issued by any Chinese bank in the U.S. since last year. China’s one-month interbank rate is currently 2.84%, which means some Chinese banks can borrow at better rates in the U.S. and other foreign markets than at home. The debt also promotes the use of the yuan abroad, one of the conditions set by the IMF when it said last year it would add the Chinese currency to its basket of reserve currencies. The IMF’s inclusion of the yuan is a step toward making the currency fully convertible.

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Take that, G7.

Mass Layoffs Are Looming in South Korea (BBG)

The South Korean government’s push to restructure debt-laden companies is set to cost tens of thousands of workers their jobs in an economy where social security is limited and a rigid labor market reduces the likelihood of getting rehired in a full-time position. Many of the layoffs will be in industrial hubs along the southeast coastline, where shipyards and ports dominate the landscape. These heavy industries, which helped propel South Korea’s growth in previous decades, have seen losses amid a slowdown in global growth, overcapacity and rising competition from China. As a condition of financial support, creditor banks and the government are pushing companies to cut back on staff and sell unprofitable assets. In Korea, losing a permanent, full-time job often means sliding toward poverty, one reason why labor unions stage strikes that at times lead to violent confrontations with employers and police.

A preference for hiring and training young employees, rather than recruiting experienced hands, means that many workers who get laid off drift into day labor or low-wage, temporary contracts that lack insurance and pension benefits, according to Lee Jun Hyup, a research fellow for Hyundai Research Institute. “The possibility of me getting a new job that offers similar income and benefits is about 1%,” said one of about 2,600 employees to be laid off following a previous restructure, of Ssangyong Motor in 2009. The 45-year-old worker, who asked only to be identified by the surname Kim as he tries to get rehired, initially delivered newspapers and worked construction after losing his permanent job. He’s now on a temporary contract at a retailer and taking night shifts as a driver to get by. Despite having these two jobs, his income has been halved. Being fired was “like being pushed into a desert with no water,” Kim said.

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Jakobsen’s always interesting. This is quite a long piece.

‘Central Banks Can Do Nothing’: Steen Jakobsen (Saxo)

TradingFloor.com: The “new nothingness” thesis was based on zero rates, zero growth, zero reforms. But you hinted that all of this nothingness has spilled over into culture and politics as well… do these macro facts hinder peoples’ imagination, or their ability to deal with the problem?

Steen Jakobsen: Yes, I think so. This year, we see a growing gap between the central banks’ narrative – which is that you have a trickle-down impact from lower rates – and [the situation on the ground]. People understand that zero interest rates are a reflection of zero growth, zero inflation, zero hope for changes, and zero reforms. In my opinion as an economist and a market observer, people are smarter than central banks. And because they are smarter, they can live with policy mistakes for a while because the narrative is very strong and because people like (ECB head Mario) Draghi and (Fed chief Janet) Yellen have these platforms from which they not only talk but occasionally shout, and they are deemed to be “credible”, scare quotes mine…

We see [this gap] in the Brexit debate as well, where the elite and the academics talk down to the average voter. By doing that, of course, they alienate the voters from their representatives. That’s what we see globally, that’s why Brazil is going to change presidents, why Ireland could not get its government re-elected with 6% growth. It’s not about the top line, but about the average person seeing that we need real, fundamental change.

TF: Earlier this year, you said that the social contract – the agreement between rulers and the ruled – is broken. It made me think of this year’s Davos meeting, which showed a leadership class terrified of slowing jobs growth and enamoured with the idea that population movements might be used to address this. Given the current unpopularity of globalisation and its effects, would you say that there are some things it is impossible for 21st century leaders and the led to agree upon? Is a social contract impossible?

SJ: No, it could be re-established, but it needs to be established on terra firma. Right now, we have a panacea in the form of low rates and the idea that things will somehow improve in six months. This has led to buyback programmes, a lack of motivation [and all the rest]. We as a society have to recognise that productivity comes from raising the average education level. People forget that all the revolutionary trends, the changes we’ve seen in history, have come from basic research. I don’t mean research driven by profit, but by an individual’s particular interest in one very minute area of a specific topic. This is what creates new inventions.

The second thing we often forget is that the military has been behind a lot of the industrial revolution. Mobile telephony, for example, had nothing to do with private citizens or companies – instead, it had a lot to do with the US military. The key thing here is that we need to be more productive. If everyone has a job, there is no need to renegotiate the social contract. The world has become elitist in every way. Before, you could start a company and build a small franchise; now, you have to be global, you have to have a billion users (if you’re an IT company), and [the pursuit of this] does not necessarily provide the best technologies, but only the biggest ones, the ones backed by [the firms with] the deepest pockets and largest web of connections.

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It’s what many countries ‘forgot’.

Making Things Matters. This Is What Britain Forgot (Chang)

It’s being blamed on the Brexit jitters. But the weakness in the UK economy that the latest figures reveal is actually a symptom of a much deeper malaise. Britain has never properly recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. At the end of 2015, inflation-adjusted income per capita in the UK was only 0.2% higher than its 2007 peak. This translates into an annual growth rate of 0.025% per year. How pathetic this performance is can be put into perspective by recalling that Japan’s per capita income during its so-called “lost two decades” between 1990 and 2010 grew at 1% a year. At the root of this inability to stage a real recovery is the serious imbalance that has developed in the past few decades – namely, the over-development of the UK financial sector and the atrophy of manufacturing.

Right after the 2008 financial crisis there was a widespread recognition that the ballooning financial sector needed to be reined in. Even George Osborne talked excitedly for a while about the “march of the makers”. That march never materialised, however, and manufacturing’s share of GDP has stagnated at around 10%. This is remarkable, given that the value of sterling has fallen by around 30% since the crisis. In any other country a currency devaluation of this magnitude would have generated an export boom in manufactured goods, leading to an expansion of the sector. Unfortunately manufacturing had been so weakened since the 1980s that it didn’t have a hope of staging any such revival. Even with a massive devaluation, the UK’s trade balance in manufacturing goods (that is, manufacturing exports minus imports) as a proportion of GDP has hardly budged.

The weakness of manufacturing is the main reason for the UK’s ever-growing deficit, which stood at 5.2% of GDP in 2015. Some play down the concerns: the UK, we hear, is still the seventh or eighth largest manufacturing nation in the world – after the US, China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, France and Italy. But it only gets this ranking because it has a large population. In terms of per capita output, it ranks somewhere between 20th and 25th. In other words, saying that we need not worry about the UK’s manufacturing sector because it is still one of the largest is like saying that a poor family with lots of its members working at low wages need not worry about money because their total income is bigger than that of another family with fewer, high-earning members.

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Just keep rates low enough for long enough and you’ll screw up any economy.

Germany Strives to Avoid Housing Bubble (BBG)

The German government, after years of warnings, is about to clamp down on rising home prices and mortgage lending. The government is preparing to implement measures to prevent real estate bubbles, the Finance Ministry said in an e-mail late on Wednesday. These policies may include capping borrowers’ loan-to-income ratio in order to reduce the probability of default, Handelsblatt reported on Thursday. The government continues to study the consequences of low interest rates on financial stability, a finance ministry spokesman said in the e-mail. However, there are currently no signs that German residential real estate lending is causing acute risks, he said.

With mortgage rates at record lows and savings accounts earnings almost nothing – thanks to a string of ECB rate cuts – Germans are buying homes at the fastest rate in decades. That’s pushed prices in cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich up by more than 30% in five years. New mortgages jumped by 22% in 2015 after five years of rising at 3% or less, according to the Bundesbank. In March, Bundesbank board member Andreas Dombret said he sees “clouds gathering on the horizon” and that the central bank is keeping a close eye on mortgages. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has been critical of the ECB’s policy of pushing growth with cheap cash, in December said the hunt for yield could lead to the “formation of bubbles and excessive asset values.”

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Don’t think I can say in public what I think should happen to companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta et al. The people who brought you Agent Orange, Zyklon B and chemical warfare are coming for your food, all of it. A start might be to figure out who holds shares in these things. Your money fund, your pension fund? This is the industry of death, as much as arms manufactureers are.

Bayer Eyes $42 Billion Monsanto in Quest for Seeds Dominance (BBG)

Bayer made an unsolicited takeover offer for Monsanto Co. in a bold attempt by the German company to snatch the last independent global seeds producer and become the world’s biggest supplier of farm chemicals. The St. Louis-based company, with a market value of $42 billion, said it’s reviewing the offer in a statement Thursday. It didn’t disclose the terms of the proposal. Bayer, confirming the bid, said the combination would bolster its position as a life sciences company. Shares of Bayer plunged amid concern that a large purchase would weigh on its credit rating and force the company to sell more stock. The proposal by Werner Baumann, who’s been at Bayer’s helm for less than a month, follows Monsanto’s failed attempt to buy Syngenta and the proposed merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont.

To help finance its quest to buy the world’s largest seed maker, Bayer is considering asset disposals and a share sale, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because discussions are private. The German company is exploring the potential disposal of its animal-health business and the remaining 69% stake in plastics business Covestro, the people said. Animal health could fetch $5 billion to $6 billion, according to one of the people, and the Covestro holding is worth about €4.9 billion. If Bayer buys Monsanto, it could be the biggest acquisition globally this year and the largest German deal ever, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A takeover of Monsanto would require an enterprise value of as much as €65 billionß, according to analysts at Citigroup.

[..]Merging Monsanto with the company that invented aspirin would bring together brands such as Roundup, Monsanto’s blockbuster herbicide, and Sivanto, a new Bayer insecticide. Monsanto is particularly vulnerable to a takeover after piling up a mountain of problems this year. The company has cut its earnings forecast, clashed with some of the world’s largest commodity-trading companies and become locked in disputes with the governments of Argentina and India. Shares are down 19% in the past 12 months. “It’s a relentless string of bad news,” Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein in New York, said. “It’s almost like they forgot to sacrifice a goat to the gods.”

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Bayer won’t be able to sell its new ‘products’ at home.

Bayer’s Mega Monsanto Deal Faces Mega Backlash in Germany (BBG)

Bayer’s proposed mega deal to buy Monsanto is likely to create a mega public relations challenge for the German company at home. Bayer faces a backlash against Germany’s biggest planned acquisition because of two products from the St. Louis-based company that are widely detested in the country: genetically modified seeds and the weedkiller Roundup, which uses a compound called glyphosate that some believe can cause cancer. “Germans view Monsanto as the main example of American corporate evil,” said Heike Moldenhauer, a biotechnology expert at German environmental group BUND. “It may not be such a good idea to take over Monsanto as that means incorporating its bad reputation, which would also make Bayer more vulnerable.”

A German Environment Ministry study released last month found 75% of citizens are against genetic engineering of plants and animals. Aware of voter suspicions, members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, have already come out against the deal, which would turn Bayer into the biggest supplier of farm chemicals. Monsanto, which has a market value of $42 billion, said Thursday it’s studying the offer. Neither party has disclosed the terms. A merger would “strengthen the economic power of genetic engineering in Germany, which we see as very problematic as the majority of the population in Germany is opposed to the technology,” said Elvira Drobinski-Weiss, the lawmaker responsible for formulating policy positions on genetic engineering for the Social Democrats.

BASF four years ago abandoned research into genetically modified crops in Germany, citing a lack of acceptance of the technology in many parts of Europe from consumers, farmers and politicians. The German company moved the unit to the U.S. and halted development of products targeted for Europe to focus on crops for the Americas and Asia. “There’s virtually no market for genetically modified seeds in Europe because they’re so unpopular,” said Dirk Zimmermann, a GMO expert at Greenpeace in Hamburg. A deal combining Bayer and Monsanto would “hurt the future of sustainable agriculture.”

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The EU is good for something after all. The pro-Roundup arguments get an eery left field feel to them though: “We use it for some farming practices such as no-till and minimum-tillage, helping to ensure less greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion.”

EU Declines To Renew Glyphosate Licence (EUO)

European experts failed again to take a decision on whether to renew a licence for glyphosate, the world’s widest-used weedkiller, during a meeting on Wednesday and Thursday (18-19 May). The EU standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed (Paff), which brings together experts of all EU member states, failed to organise a vote. There was no qualified majority for such a decision. The current licence expires on 30 June. The Paff committee was expected to settle on the matter already in March, but postponed the vote after France, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden raised objections, mainly over the impact of glyphosate on human health. The European Commission has since tabled two new proposals, both of which failed to convince the member states.

The health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis insists that member states decide with a qualified majority because of the controversies involved. A spokesperson said the commission will reflect on the discussions. ”If no decision is taken before 30 June, glyphosate will be no longer authorised in the EU and member states will have to withdraw authorisations for all glyphosate based products”, the spokesperson said. Pekka Pesonen, the secretary general of agriculture umbrella organisation Copa-Cogeca, told EUobserver he regretted the outcome. ”This adds to uncertainty in an already pressured business”, he said. Glyphosate is widely used by European farmers because it is cost-efficient and widely available on the market.

”Without it, production will be jeopardised. This raises questions about food safety, competitiveness of European farmers, as well as our commitments to climate change,” Pesonen said. “We use it for some farming practices such as no-till and minimum-tillage, helping to ensure less greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion.” ”Glyphosate is also recognised as safe by the EU food safety authority [Efsa]”, he added.

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“It is not legal or moral, it is shameful and it is not a solution. It will cause problems later.”

Ai Weiwei Says EU’s Refugee Deal With Turkey Is Immoral (G.)

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei described the EU’s refugee deal with Turkey as shameful and immoral as he unveiled the artistic results of his stay on the Greek island of Lesbos. Speaking in Athens, where the works are going on public display for the first time from Friday, Ai said that although he had seen and experienced extreme and violent conditions in China, he “could never have imagined conditions like this”. Lesbos last year became the main European entry point for tens of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, but arrivals have fallen dramatically since the implementation of an agreement between Brussels and Ankara to return migrants from the Greek islands to Turkey. Of the agreement, Ai said: “It is not legal or moral, it is shameful and it is not a solution. It will cause problems later.”

The artist told the Guardian: “These people have nothing to do with Europe; they are like people from outer space, but they have to come. They have been pushed out and they are being totally neglected by Europe. They are sleeping in the mud and rain and it is only volunteers giving them food or clothes.” Ai arrived on Lesbos in December, having been invited to stage an exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. The island seemed like a good starting point for thinking about ancient Greece and its mythologies, philosophies and values. Instead Ai became caught up in what he said was the biggest, most shameful humanitarian crisis since the second world war. He had told his girlfriend and young son it was a holiday, but five months later he and his studio are still there. He said he has been changed by what he has seen.

“It is such a beautiful island – blue water, sunshine, tourists – and to see the boats come in with desperate children, pregnant women and elderly people, some 90 years old, and they all have fear and they all have it in their eyes … You think: how could this happen? I got completely emotionally involved.” Ai said Europe needed to understand that the refugees were fleeing their countries because they had to. It was leave or die, he said. The exhibition at the MCA, Ai’s first in Greece, includes an enormous collage of 12,030 small pictures taken on his camera phone, documenting his time on the island. He is also exhibiting photographs taken by six Greek amateur photographers, in partnership with the Photographic Society of Mytilene.

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May 252015
 
 May 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle May 25 2015
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Harris&Ewing District National Bank, Washington, DC 1931

Memorial Day: Our Soldiers Died For The Profits Of The Bankers (Smedley Butler)
Europe’s Biggest Debt Collector: Central Banks’ Stimulus Has Failed (Bloomberg)
“It’s A Coup D’Etat”, “Central Banks Are Out Of Control” – David Stockman (ZH)
Unemployment Is a Big Threat to Eurozone Economy, Central Bankers Warn (WSJ)
HSBC Fears World Recession With No Lifeboats Left (AEP)
Did China Just Launch World’s Biggest Spending Plan? (Gordon Chang)
G7 Finance Ministers To Address Faltering Global Growth (Reuters)
Schaeuble Expects Conflict at Dresden G-7 Over Austerity Policy (Bloomberg)
Greece Hasn’t Got The Money To Make June IMF Repayment (Reuters)
Greece’s Misery Shows We Need Chapter 11 Bankruptcy For Countries (Guardian)
Greeks Back Government’s Red Lines, But Want To Keep Euro (AFP)
The Truth About Riga (Yanis Varoufakis)
The Bloodied Idealogues vs. The Bloodthirsty Technocrats (StealthFlation)
Spain’s Ruling Party Battered In Local And Regional Elections (EUObserver)
Catalan Independence Bid Rocked by Podemos Victory in Barcelona (Bloomberg)
Auckland Nears $1 Million Average House Price (Guardian)
Monsanto’s GMO Cotton Problems Drive Indian Farmers To Suicide (RT)
‘Incredibly Diverse’, Endangered Plankton Provide Half The World’s Oxygen (SR)

Smedley Butler knew it way back in 1933.

Memorial Day: Our Soldiers Died For The Profits Of The Bankers (Smedley Butler)

Memorial Day commemorates soldiers killed in war. We are told that the war dead died for us and our freedom. US Marine General Smedley Butler challenged this view. He said that our soldiers died for the profits of the bankers, Wall Street, Standard Oil, and the United Fruit Company. Here is an excerpt from a speech that he gave in 1933:

“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6% over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100%. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag. I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.

There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism. It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

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“A rate that is too low, or a rate that many of us have never experienced, is so extraordinary that it doesn’t create any stability or faith in the future at all..”

Europe’s Biggest Debt Collector: Central Banks’ Stimulus Has Failed (Bloomberg)

The head of Europe’s biggest debt collector says the historic wave of stimulus spilling out of central banks has failed to fuel investment growth. Lars Wollung, the chief executive officer of Intrum Justitia AB, warned that record-low interest rates “don’t seem to lead to investments that create jobs,” in an interview in Stockholm. “A rate that is too low, or a rate that many of us have never experienced, is so extraordinary that it doesn’t create any stability or faith in the future at all,” he said. “Rather the opposite: one feels insecure and waits with expansion plans and to hire more people.” The comments mark a blow to central banks who have resorted to everything from negative rates to bond purchases to aid growth.

A study by Intrum Justitia shows 73% of the almost 9,000 European firms surveyed between February and April said low interest rates brought about “no change in investments.” Some even reported a decline. In Sweden, where the central bank’s main rate is minus 0.25%, 82% of companies said it made no difference to their investments. What companies need if they’re “to believe in the future” is certainty that their bills will be paid, Wollung said. That means clearer payments legislation and more incentives for borrowers to repay their debts on time, he said. Intrum Justitia has devoted resources to lobbying officials in Brussels in an effort to bring across its point, Wollung said.

In Germany and Scandinavia, where companies and borrowers can refer to clear and robust legal systems, unemployment is low and economic growth strong, he said. A German firm waits 17 days on average to get paid by a client company. In Italy, it takes 80 days, Intrum figures show. The survey indicates that about 8 million European companies would hire more people if they got their payments faster. “Late payments are a significant problem for companies,” Wollung said. Having a stable cash flow is “probably more important than if interest rates are at 1% or 0.5%,” he said.

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No holds barred.

“It’s A Coup D’Etat”, “Central Banks Are Out Of Control” – David Stockman (ZH)

We’re all about to be taken to the woodshed, warns David Stockman in this excellent interview. The huge wealth disparity is “not because of some flaw in capitalism, or Reagan tax cuts, or even the greed of Wall Street; the problem is central banks that are out of control.” Simply put, they have “syphoned financial resources into pure gambling” and the people that own the stocks and bonds get the huge financial windfall. “The 10% at the top own 85% of the financial assets,” and thus, thanks to the unleashing of almost limitless money-printing, which has created a massive worldwide financial inflation, “the central banks have created and exaggerated the wealth gap.” Stockman concludes, rather ominously,

“it’s a coup d’etat, the central banks have taken over – unconstitutional domination of the entire economy.” “Everywhere, misleading distorted signals are being given to both public and private sector players about financial values… the prices have been falsified by The Fed. We can’t print our way to prosperity… The Fed is now petrified that Wall Street will have a hissy-fit when they tighten.”

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Well, they caused it.

Unemployment Is a Big Threat to Eurozone Economy, Central Bankers Warn (WSJ)

High and divergent unemployment rates in Europe pose a serious threat to the region’s long-term economic health, central bankers and economists warned during a weekend conference held by the European Central Bank. But they stopped short of offering specific advice on the best steps to take. The ECB’s seminar, the second of what it plans as an annual conference in the resort town of Sintra on Portugal’s western coast, brought together central bankers and economists from Europe, the U.S. and Asia to examine the root causes of high unemployment and persistently weak inflation in Europe. The attendees dwelled extensively on an economic concept known as “hysteresis,” a reduction in economic output brought on by weak growth that gives rise to long-term unemployment.

The remedies to such problems, however, lie partly with fiscal-policy officials and not central bankers, who don’t set labor and other economic policies. The conference largely lacked representatives from finance ministries and businesses. But ECB President Mario Draghi signaled that the stakes were too high for central bankers to keep silent, particularly in the 19-member eurozone, where diverse countries ranging from powerful Germany to recession-ravaged Greece set their own economic and fiscal policies but share a single currency and monetary policy. “In a monetary union you can’t afford having large and increasing structural divergences between countries,” Mr. Draghi said on Saturday. “They tend to become explosive; therefore they are going to threaten the existence of the monetary union.”

The eurozone is the world’s second-biggest economy after the U.S. But in recent years it has emerged as one of the global economy’s main trouble spots, having struggled through a pair of recessions since 2009 that pushed the bloc’s unemployment rate into double digits. The region has started to recover, but the damage has resulted in huge gaps in unemployment across the eurozone. “Unemployment in Europe, notably youth unemployment, is not only unbearably high. It is also unbearably different across nations belonging to an economic and monetary union,” Tito Boeri, professor at Bocconi University, and Juan Jimeno of the Bank of Spain wrote in a conference paper.

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“JP Morgan estimates that the US economy contracted at a rate of 1.1pc in the first quarter..” “China accounted for 85pc of all global growth in 2012, 54pc in 2013, and 30pc in 2014. This is likely to fall to 24pc this year.”

HSBC Fears World Recession With No Lifeboats Left (AEP)

The world economy is disturbingly close to stall speed. The United Nations has cut its global growth forecast for this year to 2.8pc, the latest of the multinational bodies to retreat. We are not yet in the danger zone but this pace is only slightly above the 2.5pc rate that used to be regarded as a recession for the international system as a whole. It leaves a thin safety buffer against any economic shock – most potently if China abandons its crawling dollar peg and resorts to ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ policies, transmitting a further deflationary shock across the global economy. The longer this soggy patch drags on, the greater the risk that the six-year old global recovery will sputter out. While expansions do not die of old age, they do become more vulnerable to all kinds of pathologies.

A sweep of historic data by Warwick University found compelling evidence that economies are more likely to stall as they age, what is known as “positive duration dependence”. The business cycle becomes stretched. Inventories build up and companies defer spending, tipping over at a certain point into a self-feeding downturn. Stephen King from HSCB warns that the global authorities have alarmingly few tools to combat the next crunch, given that interest rates are already zero across most of the developed world, debts levels are at or near record highs, and there is little scope for fiscal stimulus. “The world economy is sailing across the ocean without any lifeboats to use in case of emergency,” he said.

In a grim report – “The World Economy’s Titanic Problem” – he says the US Federal Reserve has had to cut rates by over 500 basis points to right the ship in each of the recessions since the early 1970s. “That kind of traditional stimulus is now completely ruled out. Meanwhile, budget deficits are still uncomfortably large,” he said. The authorities are normally able to replenish their ammunition as recovery gathers steam. This time they are faced with a chronic low-growth malaise – partly due to a global ‘savings glut’, and increasingly to a slow ageing crisis across most of the Northern hemisphere. The Fed keeps having to defer its first rate rise as expectations fall short.

Each of the past four US recoveries has been weaker than the last one. The average growth rate has fallen from 4.5pc in the early 1980s to nearer 2pc this time. The US fiscal deficit has dropped to 2.8pc but is expected to climb again as pension and health care costs bite, even if the economy does well. The US cannot easily launch a fresh New Deal. Public debt was just 38pc on GDP when Franklin Roosevelt took power in 1933, and there were few contingent liabilities hanging over future US finances. “Fiscal stimulus – a novel idea at the time – may have been controversial, but the chances of it working to boost economic activity were quite high given the healthy starting position. Today, it is much more difficult to make the same argument,” he said.

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” The reason for the fall in new loans is clear. There is a fundamental lack of demand in China.”

Did China Just Launch World’s Biggest Spending Plan? (Gordon Chang)

Beijing has just initiated a round of accelerated government spending, and it will, in all probability, end up as the biggest such effort today. Wednesday, the Chinese central government announced both the allocation of 1.13 trillion yuan ($185.8 billion) for upgrading internet infrastructure and the creation of a 124.3 billion yuan fund for affordable housing. These expenditures follow Monday’s authorization of six new rail lines costing 250 billion yuan. This month, as Xinhua News Agency reports, Beijing has unveiled a “pro-growth measure” at the rate of one every two days. April was a banner month for Beijing’s spenders as well. The Ministry of Finance reported a 33.2% increase in fiscal spending compared with same month in 2014.

For the last several years, Beijing has been using fiscal stimulus in varying amounts to keep the economy humming. No one, however, thought Premier Li Keqiang, generally considered a reformer, would resort to the old-line, anti-reform tactic of massive government spending. There were two principal reasons for this belief. First, many thought Beijing had finally opted for fundamental restructuring to grow the economy. Analysts hailed the issuance of the Communist Party’s November 2013 Third Plenum decision, which promised substantial reforms, as proof of the political victory of those favoring progressive change.

Fiscal spending, on the other hand, has been considered the antithesis of reform because investment-led growth—the result of that spending—would only take China further away from the ultimate goal of reform, a consumption-based economy. Second, analysts believed just about everyone in Beijing had come to the inescapable conclusion that former Premier Wen Jiabao’s crash stimulus program, authorized in late 2008, was a huge mistake, largely because it had resulted in grossly inefficient usage of capital, large asset bubbles, and far too much debt. Yet the universally accepted view that there would be no large stimulus was premised on the assumption that the economy would respond to small-scale stimulus.

The economy, unfortunately, has not. Perhaps the most indicative statistic to come out of Beijing in recent days is that, despite all the monetary loosening since the end of last year, there were only 707.9 billion yuan of new loans in April, down from 1.18 trillion yuan in March. The reason for the fall in new loans is clear. There is a fundamental lack of demand in China.

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“..a preliminary Reuters poll last week predicted adjusted Q1 U.S. GDP numbers due on Friday would be massively revised down and show a 0.7% contraction..”

G7 Finance Ministers To Address Faltering Global Growth (Reuters)

Finance ministers from the world’s largest developed economies meet in Germany this week against a backdrop of faltering global growth, scant inflationary pressures and a bond market in turmoil. High on their agenda – even if unofficially – will be Greece and how it can stay in the troubled euro zone. Figures due on Friday from the United States that will almost certainly show the world’s biggest economy contracted last quarter are also likely to feature. “With the negotiations between Greece and the rest of the euro area at an impasse, an impatient German Chancellor Merkel has warned that an agreement must be reached before the end of the month,” said Thomas Costerg, senior economist at Standard Chartered.

Greece cannot make a payment to the IMF due on June 5 unless foreign lenders disburse more aid, a senior ruling party lawmaker said on Wednesday, the latest warning from Athens it is on the verge of default. Analysts largely agree the country’s cash squeeze is increasingly acute and fresh aid will be needed sooner or later to avoid bankruptcy. Merkel and French President Francois Hollande held talks on Thursday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Riga, hoping to speed the resolution of Athens’ debt crisis. With business growth slowing in the euro zone and factory activity contracting again in China, market watchers have been looking to the United States to drive a pick-up in growth.

But a preliminary Reuters poll last week predicted that adjusted first quarter U.S. GDP numbers due on Friday would be massively revised down and show a 0.7% contraction in the first three months of this year. “The poor Q1 2015 performance follows growth of just 2.2% in Q4 2014, so there has been very little growth over the last couple of quarters,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. “As a result, market participants have started to wonder again whether the U.S. economy might be in an extended period of secular stagnation.”

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And there should be.

Schaeuble Expects Conflict at Dresden G-7 Over Austerity Policy (Bloomberg)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble expects a political tussle with his partners over austerity policy when G-7 finance ministers meet on May 27-May 29 in Dresden. Germany’s advocacy of budget cuts to heal euro-zone woes will come under attack at the meeting, Schaeuble said in a pamphlet distributed Saturday. The German government will face “demand-side” opponents of its policy in Dresden, he said without mentioning France or Italy or the U.S. “’Demand-side’ advocates will make clear in Dresden that cutting public spending leads to weaker demand for goods and services,” the minister said in a pamphlet distributed in the Dresden newspaper Saechsische Zeitung.

Germany’s position is that “solid public finance” boosts investment and growth, he said. Risks to Europe’s economic outlook stemming from the unresolved Greek crisis as well concern over the U.S. trade gap may fuse an alliance of France, Italy and the U.S. in Dresden. All three states fret that Germany’s rigorous advocacy of budget austerity may be holding back economic growth in Europe. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew urged Germany to boost public investment to spur imports from Europe and spark a cycle of economic growth that would also benefit the U.S.

The U.S. trade gap widened in March to the biggest in more than six years while Germany in 2014 again reported a record surplus. The U.S. has also called for a quicker fix of Greece’s problems in a sign that it views Germany’s unmoving insistence that Greece fulfill bailout terms as a risk. Lew said Friday that failure to reach a deal quickly would create hardship for Greece, uncertainties for Europe and the global economy. Schaeuble remains adamant that Germany’s stance on sound budgeting is the right one, if unpopular. “Further convincing needs to be done” at Dresden, he said in his pamphlet.

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Next weekend is a holiday weekend in Greece. Fears of capital controls.

Greece Hasn’t Got The Money To Make June IMF Repayment (Reuters)

Greece cannot make debt repayments to the IMF next month unless it achieves a deal with creditors, its interior minister said on Sunday, the most explicit remarks yet from Athens about the likelihood of default if talks fail. Shut out of bond markets and with bailout aid locked, cash-strapped Athens has been scraping state coffers to meet debt obligations and to pay wages and pensions. With its future as a member of the 19-nation euro zone potentially at stake, a second government minister accused its international lenders of subjecting it to slow and calculated torture. After four months of talks with its euro zone partners and the IMF, the leftist-led government is still scrambling for a deal that could release up to 7.2 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in remaining aid to avert bankruptcy.

“The four installments for the IMF in June are €1.6 billion. This money will not be given and is not there to be given,” Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis told Greek Mega TV’s weekend show. Voutsis was asked about his concern over a ‘credit event’, a term covering scenarios like bankruptcy or default, if Athens misses a payment. “We are not seeking this, we don’t want it, it is not our strategy,” he said. “We are discussing, based on our contained optimism, that there will be a strong agreement (with lenders) so that the country will be able to breathe. This is the bet,” Voutsis said. Previously, the Athens government has said it is in danger of running out of money soon without a deal, but has insisted it still plans to make all upcoming payments.

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The unbalance of global power.

Greece’s Misery Shows We Need Chapter 11 Bankruptcy For Countries (Guardian)

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s combative prime minister, is facing yet another week of fraught negotiations as he and his team struggle to agree a shopping list of economic reforms stringent enough to appease the country’s creditors, but different enough from the grinding austerity of the past five years to satisfy the Greek electorate. And all the while, bank deposits will leach out of the country, investment plans will remain on hold and consumers hammered by years of austerity will continue living hand to mouth. Change the actors – and the stakes – and it’s a tired plotline familiar to many governments across the world. According to Eurodad, the coalition of civil society groups that campaigns on debt, there have been 600 sovereign debt restructurings since the 1950s – with many governments, including Argentina for example, experiencing one wrenching write-off after another.

Many of these countries plunged deeper into recession as a result of the uncertainty and delay inherent in this bewildering process and the punishing austerity policies inflicted on them, with a resulting collapse in investor and consumer confidence. Argentina defaulted in 2001. Fourteen years later, it is still being pursued through the courts by so-called vulture funds, which buy distressed countries’ debts on the cheap and use every legal device they can to reclaim the money. Yet while the world’s policymakers have expended countless hours since the crisis of 2008 rewriting regulations on bonuses, mortgage lending, derivatives and too-big-to-fail banks, little attention has been paid to what should happen when a government is on the brink of financial meltdown.

Sacha Llorenti, the Bolivian ambassador to the UN, is currently touring the world’s capitals trying to change that. “We’re not just talking about a financial issue; it’s an issue related to growth, to development, to social and economic rights,” he says. The UN is not the obvious forum for discussing debt restructuring: unlike the IMF, it is not a lender of last resort with emergency cash to disburse, and doesn’t have a seat around the table when countries have to go to their creditors to ask for help. Yet also unlike the IMF, the UN general assembly is not dominated by the world’s major powers: each member country has one vote.

When Argentina tabled a motion calling for the UN to examine the issue of sovereign debt restructuring last autumn, 124 countries voted for it; 11, including the UK and the US, with their powerful financial lobbies, voted against; and there were 41 abstentions. Llorenti, who is chairing the UN “ad hoc committee” set up as a result of that vote, says the 11 countries that objected hold 45% of the voting power at the IMF. He believes they would prefer the matter to be tackled there, where they can shape the arguments: “It’s a matter of control, really.”

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Support for Syriza is still very high. But people are afraid to.

Greeks Back Government’s Red Lines, But Want To Keep Euro (AFP)

Cash-strapped Greeks remain supportive of the leftist government’s tough negotiating style, according to a new poll published Sunday, but hope for a deal with creditors that will keep the euro in their wallets. The poll conducted in May by Public Issue for the pro-government newspaper Avgi, shows 54% backing the SYRIZA-led government’s handling of the negotiations despite the tension with Greece’s international lenders. A total 59% believe Athens must not give in to demands by its creditors, with 89% against pension cuts and 81% against mass lay-offs. The SYRIZA-led government is locked in talks with the EU, ECB and the IMF to release a blocked final €7.2-billion tranche of its bailout.

In exchange for the aid, creditors are demanding Greece accept tough reforms and spending cuts that anti-austerity Syriza pledged to reject when it was elected in January. According to reports, creditors are demanding further budget cuts worth €5 billion including pension cuts and mass lay-offs. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made clear on Saturday however that his government “won’t budge to irrational demands” that involve crossing Syriza’s campaign “red lines”. Greece faces a series of debt repayments beginning next month seen as all but impossible to meet without the blocked bailout funds. Failure to honour those payments could result in default, raising the spectre of a possible exit from the euro. That is a scenario Greeks hope to avert, with 71% of those polled wanting to keep the euro while 68% said a return to the drachma could worsen the economic situation.

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Yanies takes aim at the media.

The Truth About Riga (Yanis Varoufakis)

It was the 24th of April. The Eurogroup meeting taking place that day in Latvia was of great importance to Greece. It was the last Eurogroup meeting prior to the deadline (30th April) that we had collectively decided upon (back in the 20th February Eurogroup meeting) for an agreement on the set of reforms that Greece would implement so as to unlock, in a timely fashion, the deadlock with our creditors. During that Eurogroup meeting, which ended in disagreement, the media began to report ‘leaks’ from the room presenting to the world a preposterously false view of what was being said within. Respected journalists and venerable news media reported lies and innuendos concerning both what my colleagues allegedly said to me and also my alleged responses and my presentation of the Greek position.

The days and weeks that followed were dominated by these false stories which almost everyone (despite my steady, low-key, denials) assumed to be accurate reports. The public, under that wall of disinformation, became convinced that, during the 24th April Riga Eurogroup meeting, my fellow ministers called me insulting names (“time waster”, “gambler”, “amateur” etc. were some of the reported insults), that I lost my temper, and that, as a result, my Prime Minister later “sidelined” me from the negotiations. (It was even reported that I would not be attending the following Eurogroup meeting, or that I would be ‘supervised’ by some other ministerial colleague.) Of course none of the above was even remotely true.

My fellow ministers never, ever addressed me in anything other than collegial, polite, respectful terms.
• I did not lose my temper during that meeting, or at any other point.
• I continue to negotiate with my fellow ministers of finance, leading the Greek side at the Eurogroup.
• Then came a New York Times Magazine story which raised the possibility of a recording of that Eurogroup meeting. All of a sudden, the journalists and news media that propagated the lies and the innuendos about the 24th April Eurogroup meeting changed tack. Without a whiff of an apology for the torrent of untruths they had peddled against me for weeks, they now began to depict me as a ‘spoof’ who had “betrayed” the confidentiality of the Eurogroup.

This morning I went on the record on the Andrew Marr television show (BBC1) on this issue. I am taking this opportunity to commit the truth in writing also here – on my trusted blog. So here it goes:

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Bruno is dead on.

The Bloodied Idealogues vs. The Bloodthirsty Technocrats (StealthFlation)

On the grave Greek question, it appears that the moment of truth is finally upon us. After nearly four months of frenetic, fruitless and often feckless high level deliberations and negotiations, both sides remain essentially at an impasse, right where they started. The technocrats in Brussels want to see their austerity driven reform program carried forward and implemented unconditionally. As for the idealogues in Athens, they have pledged to put forth their own enlightened approach to rescue their sinking society. The Technocrats hold the purse strings, but the Ideologues hold the heart strings. For what it’s worth, that is typically a highly combustible combination, tick tock. With their recent cocksure bravado, are the Technocrats entirely misreading the desperate determination of the Idealogues?

Get ready for yet another Euro Summer swoon.. Everyone agrees that Greece, under a corrupt political oligarchy, grossly abused its privileges as a Eurozone member. In fact, with the help of a few sleazy sophisticated Goldman Sachs financiers, they actually cheated on their application forms in order to join the exclusive club to begin with. The illegitimate Ionian books were cooked from the get go, and it only got worse and worse over time. The self serving political elites and their self-seeking sponsors at multinational banks and corporations ran up a massive tab, while their ill-fated nation did not have the wherewithal to pay the astronomical bills. That is essentially what happened here. Oh, and the parties specifically involved all happened to personally get rather wealthy themselves along the way.

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National elections at the end of the year could reinforce the changes.

Spain’s Ruling Party Battered In Local And Regional Elections (EUObserver)

Spain took a turn towards the new left in Sunday’s regional and local elections, putting an end to the dominating two-party system. Despite having won the most votes in the elections across Spain on Sunday (24 May), Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right PP party has lost all of its absolute majorities and will now often depend on coalitions and pacts with other parties. Compromises and coalitions between parties is new in Spain where more than 30 years of alternating power between the socialists and the conservatives is being challenged by an ncreasingly fragmented political system including anti-austerity party Podemos and centrist Ciudadanos.

The biggest changes have been the move towards the new left parties in Barcelona and maybe also in Madrid – depending on a possible pact between a Podemos-supporting coalition called Ahora Madrid and the Social Democrats (PSOE). It would be the first time the Spanish capital would have a leftwing Mayor in the last 25 years. “It is clear that a majority for change has won,” said Manuela Carmena, the 71 year-old emeritus judge of the Spanish Supreme Court who wants to become Madrid’s new mayor. She is one seat short of Madrid’s former conservative Mayor Esperanza Aguirre. However, with the support of Social Democrats – who came third – the two left-wing parties could together hold the absolute majority in Madrid. Barcelona’s new Mayor Ada Colau calls for “more social justice” and leads a coalition of left-wing parties and citizens’ organisations called ‘Barcelona en Comú’, which includes members of Podemos.

“We are proud that this process hasn’t just been an exception in Barcelona, this is an unstoppable democratic revolution in Catalonia, in [Spain] and hopefully in southern Europe,” Colau said last night after it became clear that she had won a small majority in the Catalan capital. Colau, a former anti-eviction activist, was one of the founders of a platform for people affected by mortgages – Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH) – which won the European Parliament’s European Citizens’ Prize in 2013. The PAH was set up in response to the hike in evictions caused by abusive mortgage clauses during the collapse of the Spanish property market eight years ago. Colau herself entered politics last year calling for “more and better democracy” and a clean-up of corruption in politics.

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Curious development?!

Catalan Independence Bid Rocked by Podemos Victory in Barcelona (Bloomberg)

Catalan President Artur Mas’s bid to win independence from the rest of Spain was gasping for air on Sunday as voters in Barcelona ousted his party from city hall. Voters in the regional capital picked Podemos-backed activist Ada Colau as their next mayor, as the pro-independence parties Mas is aiming to lead to an overall majority in Catalonia won 45% of the vote. The regional leader has pledged to call an early regional election this year to prove to officials in Madrid the support for leaving Spain. “Mas is in deep trouble,” said Ken Dubin, a political scientist at the Instituto de Empresa business school in Madrid and Lord Ashcroft International Business School in Cambridge, England.

Colau, 41, gained national prominence during the financial crisis leading a campaign to stop banks evicting families from their homes after they defaulted on their mortgages. She joined forces with anti-austerity party Podemos, an ally of Greece’s governing party Syriza, for her assault on city hall. Her coalition, Barcelona en Comu, won 25% of the vote and 11 representatives in the 41-seat city assembly, the Spanish Interior Ministry said on its website. CiU won 10 seats compared with 14 in 2011. Barcelona accounts for about a third of the Catalan economy and hosts all the major regional institutions. “This result adds uncertainty to the planning process because it wasn’t considered a possibility,” said Jaume Lopez, a pro-independence political scientist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. “We will see whether that uncertainty becomes a problem.”

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So screwed…

Auckland Nears $1 Million Average House Price (Guardian)

Economists in New Zealand have expressed alarm at a housing market boom which could soon see average prices of property in the country’s largest city pass the $1m mark. In Auckland, the cost of an average domestic property has risen from $550,000 during the last property boom in 2007 to nearly $810,000 now. House prices increased at a rate of 14% last year, while the rest of the country’s index remained stable. Some houses are increasing in value by $1,000 every day while 36 suburbs in the city now have an average house value of $1m or more. And at current rates the whole city’s average will be $1m within a year-and-a-half.

The National government has in part recognised the boom and taken action for the first time to tackle what many believe is a housing crisis. It announced a multimillion dollar development plan to build affordable homes, a move added to a previously announced tax on property speculators. But some economists believe more needs to be done, and while growth is expected to slow, that will merely move the $1m mark back a month or two. Small, one–bedroom apartments are selling for $800,000 and delapidated wrecks in barely desirable suburbs are fetching more than $1m. Senior research analyst Nick Goodall of property analytics company CoreLogic said: “It is inevitable the average price in Auckland will be $1m.”

In the past 15 years housing has seen a phenomenal investment in Auckland, as huge demand and limited supply has increased prices at record levels. Expensive land, and restrictions on building new and denser housing, has seen limited new stock come on the market. And a strong economy, record net migration, especially to Auckland, and banks happy to lend money in a market with significant capital gains, has seen people paying over the top of each other. “The narrative goes because it has been good in the last 10 or 15 years, it must be good forever,” said Shamubeel Eaqub, principal economist at the Institute of Economic Research. But it is impossible for this to continue, he says. “Auckland is in a massive bubble.”

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“.. it’s 8000% more expensive than normal cotton seed. But normal cotton seed is largely unavailable to Indian farmers because of Monsanto’s control of the seed market..”

Monsanto’s GMO Cotton Problems Drive Indian Farmers To Suicide (RT)

Hundreds of thousands of farmers have died in India, after having been allegedly forced to grow GM cotton instead of traditional crops. The seeds are so expensive and demand so much more maintenance that farmers often go bankrupt and kill themselves. “Nationally, in the last 20 years 290,000 farmers have committed suicide – this as per national crimes bureau records,” agricultural scientist Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu of the Center For Sustainable Agriculture told RTD, which traveled to India to learn about the issue. A number of the widows and family members of Indian farmers with whom the journalists have spoken have the same story to share: in order to cultivate the genetically modified cotton, known as Bt cotton, produced by American agricultural biotech giant Monsanto, farmers put themselves into huge debt.

However, when the crops did not pay off, they turned to pesticides to solve the problem – by drinking the poison to kill themselves. “My husband took poison. [On discovering him dead], I found papers in his pocket – he had huge debts. He had mortgaged our land, and he killed himself because of those debts,” one widow told RTD. “[He killed himself] with a bottle of pesticide… All because of the loans. He took them for the farm. He told our kids he was bankrupt,” another widow said. “He worked all day, but it was hard to make the field pay,” her daughter added. Farming GM crops in rural India requires irrigation for success. However, since rich farmers often distribute the seeds directly to the poorer ones, many smaller, less educated farmers are not aware of the special conditions Bt cotton requires to be farmed successfully.

“Bt cotton has been promoted as something that actually solves problems of Indian farmers who are cultivating cotton. But something that has been promoted as a crisis solution, creates even more problems,” agricultural scientist Kirankumar Vissa said. “There are many places where it is not suitable for cultivation. On the seed packages, Bt cotton seed companies say that it is suitable for both irrigated and non-irrigated conditions – this is basically deception of the farmers,” the scientist said, adding that Monsanto also spends huge amounts of money on advertising in India, with paid for publications not always clearly marked as such.

Saying that only Bt cotton is available in India, Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of Organic Consumers Association, says this crop requires many inputs. “It is incredibly expensive; it’s 8,000% more expensive than normal cotton seed. But normal cotton seed is largely unavailable to Indian farmers because of Monsanto’s control of the seed market,” she told RTD, adding that India is now the fourth largest producer of genetically modified crops.

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Genetic diversity is huge.

‘Incredibly Diverse’, Endangered Plankton Provide Half The World’s Oxygen (SR)

After a three-and-a-half year, sometimes harrowing, sea voyage covering some 87,000 miles of ocean, a team of researchers from the Tara Oceans Consortium is revealing details of “the most complete description yet of planktonic organisms to date,” co-author of a study published in the journal Science, Dr. Chris Bowler from the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, told BBC News. Plankton is the term for a myriad of microscopic species that are at the ground floor of the oceans’ food chain. One type, zooplankton, gives sustenance to larger organisms, which are then consumed by larger animals, and so on. Without the tiny zooplankton, marine life could not sustain itself. Another type of plankton, called phytoplankton, produce their own food the same way plants do: through photosynthesis.

This process not only sucks up heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it produces oxygen upon which life on planet Earth depends. The researchers report collecting 35,000 samples from 210 sites around the world’s oceans. Their analyses reveal not only an astounding genetic diversity among the plankton—about 40 million genes, which is about four times more than are found in the human gut—but that these organisms contribute about 50% of all the world’s oxygen, according to report by Tech Times. “Plankton are much more than just food for the whales,” said Dr. Bowler, in a report by Reuters. “Although tiny, these organisms are a vital part of the Earth’s life support system, providing half of the oxygen generated each year on Earth by photosynthesis and lying at the base of marine food chains on which all other ocean life depends.”

But what worries scientists is that climate change and warming oceans are causing some plankton to die off, according several studies, including by researchers at two universities in the UK who published their 2013 study in the journal Nature Climate Change. This is because as oceans warm, the natural cycles of nitrogen, phosphorous, and carbon dioxide are disturbed—a disruption that negatively affects the plankton. Dr. Bowler and his team also found that many marine microorganisms are sensitive to variations in temperature, “and with changing temperatures as a result of climate change we are likely to see changes in this community,” he told the BBC. Because of the massive amount of DNA data now made available to scientists everywhere by the newly released study—only 2% so far has been analyzed, Bowler says—future research is sure to shed more light on the way marine ecosystems function.

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