Aug 092015
 
 August 9, 2015  Posted by at 11:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Drift Mouth, Sand Lick Mine, near Grafton, West Virginia 1908

China Producer Price Index Falls For 40th Straight Month (Reuters)
Peak Insanity: Chinese Brokers Now Selling Margin Loan-Backed Securities (ZH)
China Cancels $17.6 Billion Construction Projects ‘To Protect Environment’ (RT)
China’s Stock Crash Is Spurring a Shakeout in Shadow Banks (Bloomberg)
Stocks Are A ‘Disaster Waiting To Happen’: Stockman (CNBC)
The Widening Vortex Of Global Finance (Sampath)
Greece’s Collapse Was a Reversion to the Mean… Who’s Next? (Phoenix)
Greek Shipping Industry Extends Its Dominance (WSJ)
German Trade Surplus To Rise To New Record In 2015 (Reuters)
Finland Could Stay Out Of New Greek Bailout, Says Foreign Minister (Reuters)
How England’s Social Care System Fails The Most Vulnerable (Observer)
Oz FinMin Orders Sale Of Residential Properties Owned By Foreign Nationals (AAP)
Why Europe And The US Are Locked In A Food Fight Over TTIP (Bonadio)
Be Afraid: Japan Is About To Do Something That’s Never Been Done Before (ZH)
Petrobras Oil Scandal Leaves Brazilians Lamenting a Lost Dream (NY Times)
How Russian Energy Giant Gazprom Lost $300 Billion (Eurasia.net)
The Huge Hidden Costs Of Our Fossil-Fueled Economy (Shiller)
Antibiotic Resistance: Zoology To The Rescue (Economist)

“China’s corporate debt stands at 160% of gross domestic product, twice that of the United States..”

China Producer Price Index Falls For 40th Straight Month (Reuters)

China is under growing pressure to further stimulate its economy after disappointing data over the weekend showed another heavy fall in factory-gate prices and a surprise slump in exports. Producer prices in July hit their lowest point since late 2009, during the aftermath of the global financial crisis, and have been sliding continuously for more than three years. Exports tumbled 8.3% in the same month, their biggest fall in four months, as weaker global demand for Chinese goods and a strong yuan policy hurt manufacturers. “Policy focus is definitely the (producer) deflation at this stage,” said Zhou Hao at Commerzbank. He said China’s central bank would likely need to further cut interest rates again, having already cut four times since November in the most aggressive easing in nearly seven years.

The gloom may only deepen in the coming week with a raft of economic data forecast to show renewed weakness in factories, investment and domestic spending. The world’s second-largest economy is officially targeted to grow at 7% this year, still strong by global standards, but some economists believe it is growing at a much slower pace. Economists expect the central bank to cut rates by another 25 basis points this year, and further reduce the amount of deposits banks must hold as reserves by another 100 basis points, according to a Reuters poll last month. The producer price index fell 5.4% from a year earlier, the National Statistics Bureau said on Sunday, compared with an expected 5.0% drop. It was the worst reading since October 2009 and the 40th straight month of price decline.

Falling producer prices are worrying because they eat into the profits of miners and manufacturers and raise the burden of their debts. China’s corporate debt stands at 160% of gross domestic product, twice that of the United States, according to a Thomson Reuters study of over 1,400 firms. In line with the sluggish economy, annual consumer inflation remained muted at 1.6% despite surging pork prices, in line with forecasts and slightly higher than June’s 1.4%.

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It’s like one of those layered cakes..

Peak Insanity: Chinese Brokers Now Selling Margin Loan-Backed Securities (ZH)

One of the reasons why the Chinese dragon quite often appears to be chasing its own tail is that the country is trying to re-leverage and deleverage at the same time. Take China’s local government debt refi effort for instance. Years of off-balance sheet borrowing left China’s provincial governments to labor under a debt pile that amounts to around 35% of GDP and thanks to the fact that much of the borrowing was done via LGFVs, interest rates average between 7% and 8%, making the debt service payments especially burdensome. In an effort to solve the problem, Beijing decided to allow local governments to issue muni bonds and swap them for the LGFV debt, saving around 400 bps in interest expense in the process.

Of course banks had no incentive to make the swap (especially considering NIM may come under increased pressure as it stands), and so, the PBoC decided to allow the banks to pledge the new muni bonds for central bank cash which could then be re-lent into the real economy. So, China is deleveraging (the local government refi effort) and re-leveraging (banks pledge the newly-issued munis for cash which they then use to make more loans) simultaneously. We can see similar contradictions elsewhere in China’s financial markets. For instance, Beijing has shown a willingness to tolerate defaults – even among state-affiliated companies. This is an effort (if a feeble one so far) to let the invisible hand of the market purge bad debt and flush out failed enterprises.

Meanwhile, Beijing is enacting new policies designed to encourage risky lending. In April for instance, the PBoC indicated it was set to remove a bureaucratic hurdle from the ABS issuance process, which means that suddenly, trillions in loans which had previously sat idle on banks’ books, will now be sliced, packaged, and sold. Specifically, the PBoC said regulatory approval would no longer be required to issue ABS (hilariously, successive RRR cuts have served to reduce banks’ incentive to package loans, but we’ll leave that aside for now). Once again, deleveraging (tolerating defaults) and re-leveraging (making it easier for banks to get balance sheet relief via ABS issuance), all at once.

There’s a parallel between this dynamic and what’s taking place in China’s equity markets. That is, a dramatic unwind in the half dozen or so backdoor margin lending channels (a swift deleveraging) has been met with a government-backed effort to prop up the market via China Securities Finance Corp., which has been transformed into a state-controlled margin lending Frankenstein that could ultimately end up with some CNY5 trillion in dry power (a mammoth attempt at re-leveraging). Now, the PBoC will look to supercharge efforts to re-engineer a stock market bubble via leverage by pushing brokerages to issue ABS backed by margin loans.

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“Even with last year’s 4.5% drop in housing prices, more than 60 million apartments in China remain empty. ”

China Cancels $17.6 Billion Construction Projects ‘To Protect Environment’ (RT)

China has rejected 17 construction projects with a total investment of $17.6 billion, attempting to bolster environmental protection strategies and fight corruption. The projects were among 92 examined by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), involving a total of more than 700 billion yuan ($112.6 billion) in investment, the Xinhua news agency reported on Friday. The projects’ rejection was said to improve the environmental impact assessment system and fix loopholes that allow corruption. The protection ministry has ordered all the environmental impact assessment agencies cut their links to government at all levels by the end of 2016. It has also launched random inspections of agencies and disqualified dozens of agencies and engineers, according to Xinhua.

MEP has speeded up approval of major projects such as railways and irrigation. Construction of major projects in China has been the main tool for boosting investment and sustaining growth since the beginning of 2015. Investment in the railways rose 22.6% year on year by the end of April. Beijing said in the next two years it would boost investment to foster technological progress in six manufacturing industries, including railway equipment, new-energy vehicles and medical equipment. The country is trying to upgrade its manufacturing sector and stimulate sluggish economic growth. China’s real economy cooling and a 30% stock market slump since the middle of June make it a tough task for Beijing to reach the aimed seven-percent growth in 2015.

Another key factor behind the project’s cancelation may be the real estate market, which has to stay healthy for the country’s targeted growth level. The Chinese government has engineered a property boom during the financial crisis to compensate for the weakness in overseas demand. Later it implemented tightening measures to cool the heated property market. Even with last year’s 4.5% drop in housing prices, more than 60 million apartments in China remain empty. While the real estate sector accounts for about 25-30% of China’s GDP, it’s impossible for the country to prop up the economy without reviving this vital industry.

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Something tells me these analysts have as little overview of the shadow banks as Beijing has.

China’s Stock Crash Is Spurring a Shakeout in Shadow Banks (Bloomberg)

China has been struggling to tame its shadow banks for years. Now, a stock market crash has hamstrung some of the fastest growing ones in a matter of weeks. Loans from sources such as online lenders for equity purchases have plunged by at least 700 billion yuan ($113 billion), a drop of 61% from this year’s peak, after authorities banned them from funding stock buying in July, according to a Bloomberg survey conducted last month. Peer-to-peer Internet lending for the purchases had more than tripled to 8 billion yuan in the second quarter, data from research firm Yingcan Group show. The reversal has helped cull riskier lenders in China’s online market, which was surging before the equity rout wiped out more than $4 trillion.

President Xi Jinping has already curbed traditional forms of unregulated funding – such as trust loans – as part of his effort to wean the economy from debt-fueled growth after corporate defaults mounted. “The new regulations are making the industry more disciplined and transparent,” said Wei Hou at Sanford C. Bernstein. “There may be short-term pain of a number of small players closing down. But it’s good for the industry in the long term.” Peer-to-peer lending was pioneered in the U.S. by companies such as LendingClub Corp., but China is where it’s really taking off. Origination of such loans totaled the equivalent of $41 billion in 2014 and will exceed $332 billion by 2017, according to Maybank Kim Eng. That compares with only $6 billion in the U.S. last year.

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“The point that I’m making is that it’s over.”

Stocks Are A ‘Disaster Waiting To Happen’: Stockman (CNBC)

David Stockman has long warned that the stock market is on the verge of a massive collapse, and the recent price action has him even more convinced than ever that the bottom is about to fall out. “I think it’s pretty obvious that the top is in,” the Reagan administration’s OMB director said Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” The S&P 500 has traded in a historically narrow range for the better part of 2015, having moved just 1% higher year to date. “It’s just waiting for the knee-jerk bulls, robo traders and dip buyers to finally capitulate.”

Stockman, whose past claims have yet to come to fruition, still believes that the excessive monetary policy from central banks around the world has created a “debt supernova,” and all the signs point to “the end of the central bank enabled bubble,” which could cause a worldwide recession. “The larger picture has nothing to do with the jobs report [Friday] or even the September decision by the Fed,” said Stockman. “It has to do with the the fact that the world economy, including the U.S., is heading into what is clearly going to be an epochal deflation to the likes of what we have never experienced in modern time.” According to Stockman, it’s only a matter of time before the collapse in China trickles down to other markets.

“The whole global economy since 2008 has been driven forward by this massive investment and construction and borrowing spree in China,” said Stockman. “The point that I’m making is that it’s over.” For Stockman, there’s no reversing the artificially inflated bubbles created by the Federal Reserve. “I think what we are seeing is the beginning evidence that the central bank-driven credit economy is over and we are in a new era,” said Stockman. “It’s a huge disaster waiting to happen.”

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How risk got financialized.

The Widening Vortex Of Global Finance (Sampath)

[..] .. rising inequality and sky-rocketing financial profits have paralleled the rise of neo-liberalism — a term used to refer to a cluster of economic policies that includes privatisation, cuts in welfare spending, loosening of labour laws, and deregulation of finance. If there is one common factor that undergirds all these economic policies — it is the rise of global finance, or “financialization”, which also denotes the growing penetration of real economic activity (to do with generating surplus value) by finance capital. In his book, The Everyday Life of Global Finance, the economic geographer, Paul Langley, explains how the common view of global finance as something “out there somewhere” — timeless, spaceless, identified with 24X7 global markets — is fallacious.

It is simply not true that finance operates primarily in a rarefied realm of super-specialists far removed from the world of everyday economic activity such as earning, saving and borrowing. On the contrary, Langley argues, global finance has fundamentally reengineered the ordinary ways we think about and manage money. Till the generation say right up to the 1980s, the future was conceived as a realm of uncertainty, one that held possible harm, for which one provisioned through thrift — specifically, savings and insurance. Financialisation is born when uncertainty is quantified into risk. How we frame risk, calculate it, and manage it, decides what we do with our money. In Langley’s formulation, if risk is calculated and managed as a future harm that requires prudence in the present, it makes for an approach of thrift and savings.

But if it is framed as an opportunity that holds the possibility of immense rewards, it mandates an approach where the most rational form of saving becomes investment. Therefore, at the ideological level, financialisation entails two basic manoeuvres: one, the transformation of nebulous uncertainty into quantifiable risk, which is then managed through an array of calculative technologies; two, a shift in the common sense understanding of risk as something potentially harmful, to something potentially rewarding. Given that risk is essentially a financial category, the current civilisational obsession with data is another testament to the growing supremacy of finance capital (in alliance with technology), which wants every piece of the world’s data on anything and everything in order to be able to manage risk optimally for maximum returns.

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Lest we forget… We must, however, be careful where we put the blame for this.

Greece’s Collapse Was a Reversion to the Mean… Who’s Next? (Phoenix)

Because of the rampant fraud and money printing in the financial system, the real “bottom” or level of “price discovery” is far lower than anyone expects due to the fact that the run up to 2008 was so rife with accounting gimmicks and fraud. The Greek debt crisis, like all crises in the financial system today, can be traced to derivatives via the large investment banks. Indeed, we now know that Greece actually used derivatives (via Goldman Sachs) to hide the true state of its debt problems in order to join the Euro. Spiegel:

Creative accounting took priority when it came to totting up government debt. Since 1999, the Maastricht rules threaten to slap hefty fines on euro member countries that exceed the budget deficit limit of three% of gross domestic product. Total government debt mustn’t exceed 60%. The Greeks have never managed to stick to the 60% debt limit, and they only adhered to the three% deficit ceiling with the help of blatant balance sheet cosmetics… “Around 2002 in particular, various investment banks offered complex financial products with which governments could push part of their liabilities into the future,” one insider recalled, adding that Mediterranean countries had snapped up such products.

Greece’s debt managers agreed a huge deal with the savvy bankers of US investment bank Goldman Sachs at the start of 2002. The deal involved so-called cross-currency swaps in which government debt issued in dollars and yen was swapped for euro debt for a certain period – to be exchanged back into the original currencies at a later date.

The above story for Greece is illustrative of the story for all “emerging markets” starting in 2003: tons of easy money, rampant use of derivatives for accounting gimmick, and the inevitable collapse. From a big picture scenario, in 2003, the global Central Banks abandoned a focus on inflation and began to pump trillions in loose money into the economy. Because large banks could loan well in excess of $10 for every $1 in capital on their balance sheets, global credit went exponential. The effect was sharply elevated asset prices that greatly benefitted tourism-centric economies such as Greece. As I stated in our issue Price Discovery:

If the foundation of the financial system is debt… and that debt is backstopped by assets that the Big Banks can value well above their true values (remember, the banks want their collateral to maintain or increase in value)… then the “pricing” of the financial system will be elevated significantly above reality. Put simply, a false “floor” was put under asset prices via fraud and funny money. Take a look at the impact this had on Greece’s economy. Below is Greek GDP dating back to the 1960s. Having maintained a long-term trendline of growth the country suddenly saw its GDP MORE THAN DOUBLE in less than 10 years after joining the EU?

In many regards, this “growth” was just a credit binge, much like housing prices, stock prices, etc. By joining the Euro, Greece was able to borrow money at much lower rates (2%-3% vs. 10%-20%). Rather than using these lower rates to pay off its substantial debts, Greece funneled as much money as possible towards Government employees (nearly one in three Greek workers). As a result, Government wages nearly doubled to the point that your typical Government employee was paid 150% more than his or her private sector counterpart. Add to this a pension system in which retirees are paid 92% of their former salaries and you have a debt bomb of epic proportions.

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Yes, there are still rich Greeks.

Greek Shipping Industry Extends Its Dominance (WSJ)

Greece’s shipping magnates, having emerged largely unscathed from both the country’s ravaging financial crisis and one the industry’s longest-ever downturns, are now extending their dominance by snapping up vessels from competitors who haven’t fared as well. The Greek owners, who operate almost 20% of the global fleet of merchant ships, are paying rock-bottom prices because assets once owned by bankrupt shipping lines are now in the hands of creditors, including German banks, who want to clear nonperforming loans from their portfolios. For years, Greece and Germany have been Europe’s shipping powerhouses.

But while the Greeks stuck to a hands-on approach in which the owner arranged everything from financing to chartering and operations, the so-called German KG system largely depended on scores of investors ranging from banks to the country’s wealthy middle class. Many of them put their money into shipping at the peak of the market, before the 2008 economic downturn. “As the global financial crisis took hold and the freight market gradually collapsed, the Greeks stayed above water as they were not overly leveraged and stood on cash generated during the boom years before 2008,” said Basil Karatzas, a New York-based maritime adviser. In Germany, by contrast, a single vessel often had up to 1,000 investors and the system wasn’t strong enough to absorb the market stress, Mr. Karatzas said.

“There were too many conflicts of interest, lopsided market concentration on container ships—which were among the hardest hit—and scores of loans by German banks, which poured billions into new vessels believing that demand will continue to grow,” he said. Analysts say that at the end of 2012, German lenders including HSH Nordbank, Commerzbank and Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale controlled about a third of the $475 billion global ship-finance market. In the past four years, the three banks have set aside more than €3.6 billion in provisions for nonperforming shipping loans as they desperately try to sell vessels once owned by bankrupt shipping lines.

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Illegal under EU treaties.

German Trade Surplus To Rise To New Record In 2015 (Reuters)

Germany’s trade surplus is expected to rise to a new record in 2015 thanks to falls in the prices of imported oil and gas, Der Spiegel reported on Saturday. The Finance Ministry is estimating a trade surplus of 8.1% of economic output after 7.6% last year, the magazine said, citing an internal ministry document. The lower cost of imports of oil and gas is expected to boost the trade balance by around 1.2% alone, the document said. Without the decline in oil and gas prices, the trade surplus would have fallen compared with the previous year. Germany has come under international pressure to reduce its trade surplus, which critics say contributes to imbalances in the world economy.

In a report published last month, the IMF said Berlin should focus on bolstering medium–term growth and reducing external imbalances. The European Commission considers trade surpluses that are repeatedly over 6% of economic output as dangerous for stability and has urged Germany to undertake more investment to stimulate imports. Despite a fall in exports in June, the larger net balance between exports and imports meant that the trade surplus widened to a record €24.0 billion, data published on Friday showed.

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Let Finland be the one to blow up the edifice.

Finland Could Stay Out Of New Greek Bailout, Says Foreign Minister (Reuters)

Finland could stay out of a planned third bailout deal for Greece, the Nordic country’s Eurosceptic foreign minister said on Saturday, amid calls from his nationalist party, The Finns, for a more critical stance toward the EU. Finland has taken one of the hardest lines against bailouts among euro zone members, and got even tougher in May when The Finns joined a new center-right coalition. “Of course we can stay out of (the third bailout), that is possible,” Timo Soini told Reuters on the sidelines of his party’s congress. “We’re really out of patience … Our government has a very tight policy on this. We will not accept increasing Finland’s liabilities, or cuts in Greece’s debts.”

Athens is racing to wrap up agreement on a bailout worth up to €86 billion within days, hoping to receive a first disbursement in time to make a debt repayment to the European Central Bank. Finland has said it could accept a deal under which the EU’s bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, would be used only within its current capacity. At a meeting of euro zone finance ministers last month, Finland supported the idea of a temporary ‘Grexit’ – Greece leaving the bloc – but eventually accepted that new loan talks could begin. “If we vote against a deal, it goes to the emergency procedure, and a package is implemented regardless of us,” Soini said, referring to a clause in the fund that allows measures to be passed without unanimous approval if stability is deemed to be at risk.

“I don’t believe that this (bailout) policy will provide solutions, and I think that, in the longer term, ‘Grexit’ is the most likely scenario.” Soini’s party, formerly known as True Finns, has risen from obscurity within just a few years to become the second-biggest parliament group in an election last April. Its criticisms of the EU and its calls for tougher restrictions on immigration have resonated among many citizens as Finland struggles with recession and rising unemployment. But the party had to make compromises as it agreed for the first time to enter government, teaming up with millionaire prime minister Juha Sipila’s Centre party and the pro-EU National Coalition party.

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All care systems do.

How England’s Social Care System Fails The Most Vulnerable (Observer)

It is written in the dry language of the bureaucrat. But an inspector’s report published just last week into the red-brick Birdsgrove Nursing Home, near Bracknell in Berkshire, accommodating the elderly and frail, as well as people stricken by dementia still makes for uncomfortable reading. “We spoke with a person who was still in bed in night clothes,” the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspector writes. “It was mid-morning and the person told the inspector they had been awake since 7am and were waiting for two staff to help move them from their bed to their chair, wash them and help them get dressed. The person said they were unsure if they were going to be washed today as they had not been told. They said: ‘You have to get used to it here, it’s a routine.’

“We left the person’s room and shortly afterwards heard them shouting for help. They were shouting: ‘Please help me’ and ‘Help me, please’. The person was in very obvious distress and their shouts for help were loud enough for any staff nearby to hear them. No staff responded to the person’s calls for help. “We went into their room and reassured the person and they became calm. We said we would get a member of staff to come and help them. One inspector spoke with a care worker on the corridor outside the person’s room and told them the person needed help. The care worker said they were helping another person adding: ‘I’m doing her, I don’t want this one wandering off as well.’

“We left the room as the person remained calm. Shortly after we left the room they began shouting for help again in the same manner. A registered nurse was observed standing in the corridor near to the person’s room not reacting to their cries for help. We had to find another member of staff and ask them to come to help the person. A few minutes later a care worker arrived to assist the person. The person’s cries for help were repeatedly ignored.”

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New Zealand and Canada next?

Oz FinMin Orders Sale Of Residential Properties Owned By Foreign Nationals (AAP)

Joe Hockey has ordered the sale of six residential properties owned by foreign nationals. The owners live in four countries, with one investor having two in a Perth suburb, the treasurer told reporters in Sydney on Saturday. Some purchased the properties with Foreign Investment Review Board approval but their circumstances have changed, while others have simply broken the rules, he said. Hockey said the purchase price of the properties – in Sydney, on the outskirts of Brisbane and in Perth – ranged from $152,000 to $1.86 million. The investors voluntarily came forward following the amnesty the federal government announced in May. “They now have 12 months to sell the properties, rather than the normal three-month period, and they will not be referred for criminal prosecution,” he said.

There are 462 other cases under investigation, with the treasurer predicting more divestment orders being made in the future. “I expect more divestment orders will be announced in the not too distant future,” he said. The treasurer urged others to come forward before the November 30 cut off, saying he will introduce tighter rules into parliament during the next two weeks. They will include tougher civil penalties, which will see investors lose the capital gain made on the property, 25% of the purchase price or 25% of the market value of the property. “Australia’s foreign investment policy for residential real estate is designed to increase our housing stock, but those who break the rules and purchase established property illegally are doing so to the detriment of all Australians,” he said.

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TPP looks dead, TTIP up next?!

Why Europe And The US Are Locked In A Food Fight Over TTIP (Bonadio)

Black Forest ham, Asiago, Gorgonzola, Gouda, and many other European geographical indications for foodstuffs are at the centre of a TTIP food fight. They are all protected from imitation by other companies in many countries of the world. Not in the US though. And as the details of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership are negotiated, the EU wants to stop American manufacturers from being able to falsely label their products with their protected names. Part of the EU’s legal framework for protecting regional food products is that they have acquired a strong reputation among consumers the world over. Favourable climates and centuries-old manufacturing techniques rooted in their protected areas have contributed to build up this renown. They are intellectual property rights that identify “products with a story”.

The US plays by different rules, however. There are numerous American companies that use European geographical and traditional names (including Parmesan, Asiago and feta for cheese) to identify products that have not been produced in the relevant European locations – and often do not have the same quality as the originals. This lack of protection – European negotiators stress – allows an unacceptable exploitation of Europe’s cultural heritage, as well as costing EU manufacturers large amounts of revenue. The US is, however, resisting these claims. Its negotiators maintain that their food producers have been using and trademarking European geographical names for many decades, and it would now be unfair to ask them to stop.

The US also claims that many of the geographical terms, such as Parmesan, Fontina, feta, Gouda and Edam, have become the generic names of the relevant products, and cannot be monopolised by anyone, including the European producers located in those areas. Indeed, most US consumers don’t even know that these terms are actually geographical names. To them they just describe the characteristics of a product. EU-style legal protection – the US argument goes – would basically allow rent-seeking by European food producers. It would amount to a trade barrier, which would force many US producers to go through an expensive re-brand, and would increase final prices for consumers. It would take a heavy toll on the US cheese market in light of the US$21 billion in US cheese production that uses European-origin names.

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How fitting. In the week that we remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Be Afraid: Japan Is About To Do Something That’s Never Been Done Before (ZH)

When the words “mothballed”, “nuclear”, and “never been done before” are seen together with Japan in a sentence, the world should be paying attention… As TEPCO officials face criminal charges over the lack of preparedness with regard Fukushima, and The IAEA Report assigns considerable blame to the Japanese culture of “over-confidence & complacency,” Bloomberg reports,

Japan is about to do something that’s never been done before: Restart a fleet of mothballed nuclear reactors. The first reactor to meet new safety standards could come online as early as next week. Japan is reviving its nuclear industry four years after all its plants were shut for safety checks following the earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station north of Tokyo, causing radiation leaks that forced the evacuation of 160,000 people.

Mothballed reactors have been turned back on in other parts of the world, though not on this scale – 25 of Japan’s 43 reactors have applied for restart permits. One lesson learned elsewhere is that the process rarely goes smoothly. Of 14 reactors that resumed operations after four years offline, all had emergency shutdowns and technical failures, according to data from the World Nuclear Association, an industry group. “If reactors have been offline for a long time, there can be issues with long-dormant equipment and with ‘rusty’ operators,” Allison Macfarlane, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said by e-mail.

In case you are not worried enough yet…

As problems can arise with long-dormant reactors, the NRA “should be testing all the equipment as well as the operator beforehand in preparation,” Macfarlane of the U.S. said by e-mail. Although the NRA “is a new agency, many of the staff there have long experience in nuclear issues,” she said. Kyushu Electric has performed regular checks since the reactor was shut to ensure it restarts and operates safely, said a company spokesman, who asked not to be identified because of company policy.

“If a car isn’t used for a while, and you suddenly use it, then there is usually a problem. There is definitely this type of worry with Sendai,” said Ken Nakajima, a professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute. “Kyushu Electric is probably thinking about this as well and preparing for it.”

It’s not the first time a nation has tried this..

In Sweden, E.ON Sverige AB closed the No. 1 unit at its Oskarshamn plant in 1992 and restarted it in 1996. It had six emergency shutdowns in the following year and a refueling that should have taken 38 days lasted more than four months after cracks were found in equipment.

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“..if I speak, the republic is going to fall.” They could triple the health care budget if they get rid of corruption.

Petrobras Oil Scandal Leaves Brazilians Lamenting a Lost Dream (NY Times)

Alberto Youssef, a convicted money launderer and former bon vivant, sat in a Brazilian jail cell in March of last year, getting ready to tell his lawyers a story. It was about an elaborate bribery scheme involving Petrobras, the government-controlled oil giant. He opened with a dire prediction. “Guys,” Mr. Youssef said, “if I speak, the republic is going to fall.” To those lawyers, Tracy Reinaldet and Adriano Bretas, who recently recounted the conversation, this sounded a tad melodramatic. But then Mr. Youssef took a piece of paper and started writing the names of participants in what would soon become known as the Petrobras scandal. Mr. Reinaldet looked at the names and asked, not for the last time that day, “Are you serious?”

[..] Oil was central to Brazil’s strategy, and that gave Petrobras a leading role in the nation’s growing influence — and pride of place. At one time it was the sixth-largest company in the world by market capitalization and accounted for roughly 10% of Brazil’s gross domestic product. For perspective, Apple, which has twice Petrobras’s peak market cap, represents 0.5% of the United States’ gross domestic product. The company has lost more than half its value in the last year, about $70 billion in market cap. Part of that stems from the worldwide decline in oil prices, but none of the company’s rivals have been punished as severely. That plunge has had repercussions for investors worldwide. Petrobras had been a favorite investment for big emerging-market bond funds sold to United States investors, for instance.

In Brazil, Petrobras’s plunge is so cataclysmic, according to analysts, that it is a major reason the economy is expected to contract by more than one%age point this year. Unemployment is up, and Standard & Poor’s has cut the nation’s long-term debt rating to one notch above junk status. All of this has provoked something that transcends outrage. Brazilians are in the midst of an identity crisis. Much of Brazil’s recently acquired cachet looks as if it was the product of fraud, and for an added touch of humiliation, a fraud cooked up at a company long regarded as an emblem of Brazil’s success and aspirations. “I’ve never seen my countrymen so angry,” said Maurício Santoro, a political science professor at Rio de Janeiro State University. “We have this sense that the dream is over.”

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As always when western media address Russia: beware of hidden political themes.

How Russian Energy Giant Gazprom Lost $300 Billion (Eurasia.net)

It was not too long ago that Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy conglomerate, was one of the Kremlin’s most powerful weapons. But those days now seem like a distant memory. Today, Gazprom is a financial shadow of its former self. The speed of Gazprom’s decline is breathtaking. At its peak in May 2008, the company’s market capitalisation reached $367bn, making it one of world’s most valuable companies, according to a survey compiled by the Financial Times. Only fellow Exxonmobile and PetroChina were worth more. Gazprom’s deputy chair Alexander Medvedev repeatedly predicted that within a decade the Russian energy giant could be worth $1 trillion.

That prediction now seems foolhardy. Since 2008, Gazprom’s value has plummeted. In early August it had a market capitalisation of $51bn – losing more than $300bn. No company among the world’s top 5,000 has suffered a bigger collapse, Bloomberg Business News reported in April 2014, and by the end of the year net income had fallen by an astonishing 86%. Though share prices have rallied slightly since, indicators suggest Gazprom has further to fall. Lingering uncertainty raises questions about whether it can survive, with production continuing to tumble downward. So what happened? Why is a company with the world’s largest gas reserves, operating in a country bordering China and the European Union – two of the world’s top energy consumers, performing so badly?

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“..costs of the coal companies range mostly from about $40 to $100 for every dollar in profit”

The Huge Hidden Costs Of Our Fossil-Fueled Economy (Shiller)

Extracting fossil fuels is a lucrative business. Last year, ExxonMobil made $32.5 billion in profits. But, arguably, it’s a business built on shaky foundations. If we were to account for the full cost of fossil fuels to the environment, it might completely wipe out the industry’s profitability. That’s the conclusion of a new analysis from the University of Cambridge that tallies up the social cost of producing oil, gas and coal products. Across 20 leading companies, it finds “hidden economic costs” that is, costs that aren’t currently paid of $755 billion in 2008, and $883 billion in 2012. Which is several times what the companies reported in earned income in those years. “The 20 companies as a group are highly profitable, with after tax profits of about 8.2 % of revenues in 2008 and 8.6 % in 2012.

However this does not take account of the hidden economic cost to society that is caused when their products are burned and CO2 is emitted to the atmosphere,” says the paper by Chris Hope, Paul Gilding, and Jimena Alvarez. The researchers studied the accounts of major oil and gas groups like BP, Shell, Statoil, and Petrobras as well as several coal producers like Peabody and Coal India. The calculations are based on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency model that says each ton of CO2 costs society $105 (in 2008 dollars). That’s higher than the working EPA figure of $37 per ton, but below what some other researchers have calculated it should be. The analysis doesn’t include some major state-owned producers such as Saudi Aramco, which don’t publish open public accounts.

Most of the oil and gas companies have hidden costs of $1.5 to $3 for every dollar is post-tax profit, while costs of the coal companies range mostly from about $40 to $100 for every dollar in profit, the paper says. The coal companies are also the most “unprofitable” with economic costs ranging from two to nine times annual revenues (let alone their profits). The point of the paper is to warn investors that they face risks if society ever wants to account for its losses (which doesn’t look likely at the moment, but still). “These results will be a useful starting point for investors seeking to manage their exposure to climate change risk, and for policy makers interested in fossil fuel companies net contribution to society,” the authors say.

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Love this sort of thinking.

Antibiotic Resistance: Zoology To The Rescue (Economist)

Much is made, in academic circles, of the virtues of interdisciplinary research. Its practice is somewhat rarer. But fresh thinking and an outsider’s perspective often do work wonders, and that may just have happened in the field of antibiotic resistance. Adin Ross-Gillespie of Zurich University is a zoologist, not a physician. But his study of co-operative animals such as meerkats and naked mole rats has led him to think about the behaviour of another highly collaborative group, bacteria. He and his colleagues have just presented, at a conference on evolutionary medicine in Zurich, a way of subverting this collaboration to create a new class of drug that seems immune to the processes which cause resistance to evolve.

Antibiotic resistance happens because, when a population of bacteria is attacked with those drugs, the few bugs that, by chance, have a genetic protection against their effects survive and multiply. As in most cases of natural selection, it is the survival of these, the fittest individuals, that spurs the process on. But Dr Ross-Gillespie realised that, in the case of bacteria, there are circumstances when the survival of the fittest cannot easily occur. One of these is related to the way many bacteria scavenge a crucial nutrient, iron, from the environment. They do it by releasing molecules called siderophores that pick up iron ions and are then, themselves, picked up by bacterial cells. In a colony of bacteria, siderophore production and use is necessarily communal, since the molecule works outside the boundaries of individual cells.

All colony members contribute and all benefit. In theory, that should encourage free riders—bacteria which use siderophores made by others without contributing their own. In practice, perhaps because the bacteria in a colony are close kin, this does not seem to happen. But inverting free riding’s logic makes the system vulnerable to attack, for a bug that contributes more than its share does not prosper. Following this line of thought Dr Ross-Gillespie turned to gallium, ions of which behave a lot like those of iron and can substitute for them in a siderophore, making it useless to a bacterium. In fact, siderophores bind more effectively with gallium than with iron, hijacking the whole process. A judicious dose of gallium nitrate can thus take out an entire bacterial colony, by depriving it of the iron it needs to thrive.

The crucial point is that, because siderophores are a resource in common, a mutated siderophore that did not bind preferentially to gallium would be swamped by the others, would fail to benefit the bug that produced it, and therefore would not be selected for and spread. At least, that was Dr Ross-Gillespie’s theory.

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Mar 012015
 
 March 1, 2015  Posted by at 12:58 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


NPC K & W Tire Co. Rainier truck, Washington, DC 1919

Forget All Our Other Troubles – The Russians Are Coming! (Neil Clark)
What Is Money And How Is It Created? (Steve Keen)
Humiliated Greece Eyes Byzantine Pivot As Crisis Deepens (AEP)
Poll Surge For Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza As Greeks Learn To Smile Again (Guardian)
Greece’s Lenders Skeptical On New Bills But Focus On Funding Needs (Kathimerini)
Greece To Prioritize IMF Repayments But Wants Talks On ECB-held Bonds (AP)
Schäuble Softens Tone On Greece and Varoufakis (AFP)
Greek PM Accuses Spain, Portugal of Anti-Athens ‘Axis’ (Reuters)
Eurozone Negative-Yield Bond Universe Expands to $1.9 Trillion (Bloomberg)
US Cuts Off Student-Loan Collectors for Misleading Debtors (Bloomberg)
Shadow Banking Shrinks to Least Since 2000 as Liquidity Declines (Bloomberg)
Fed Independence Is A Joke, So Why Not Audit? (Freedomworks)
China Factory Sector Still Shrinking, Official PMI Shows (Reuters)
Crude Price Shock Sends Canadian Oil Service Companies Into Whirlwind (RT)
Ukraine Pays Gazprom $15 Million For 24 Hours Worth Of Gas (RT)
Mass Anti-Immigration Rally In Rome (BBC)
Uruguay Bids Farewell To Jose Mujica, Its Pauper President (BBC)
Why Iceland Banned Beer 100 Years Ago (BBC)

“..the BBC News website ran an article entitled “How to spot a Russian bomber.” I printed the guide out and thanks to it I was able to rule out the possibility that the plane flying over my local playing fields was a Tupolev Tu-22M3 and was able to sleep easily in my bed that night..”

Forget All Our Other Troubles – The Russians Are Coming! (Neil Clark)

The gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. Train and bus fares continue to rise. Twice as many people are living in poverty than 30 years ago. And our National Health Service is being privatized before our very eyes. But hey – we Brits must forget about all those things – because there’s something far more important to worry about. The Russians are coming! That “sinister tyrant” Vladimir Putin, doesn’t’ just threaten the whole of Ukraine – and the Baltic States – but even poses a “threat” to Britain too! This simply must be true (says author, tongue firmly in cheek), because the claims are being made by prominent members of the British political and media establishment – you know the same bunch who in 2003 told us Iraq had WMDs, who in 2011 told us that toppling Gaddafi was a great idea, and who in 2013 wanted us to bomb Syria and topple a secular government that was fighting ISIS.

UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon (who voted for the Iraq war in 2003), raised the specter last week of Putin targeting the Baltic States. “I’m worried about Putin. I’m worried about his pressure on the Baltics, the way he is testing NATO,” Fallon said. “It’s a very real and present danger,” the Minister went on, just in case we still didn’t appreciate the Russian ‘threat’. “He (Putin) flew two Russian bombers down the English Channel two weeks ago. We had to scramble jets very quickly to see them off. It’s the first time since the height of the Cold War; it’s the first time that’s happened.” Sir Adrian Bradshaw, the NATO Deputy Supreme Commander in Europe, went even further than Fallon, saying that “the threat from Russia” represented “an existential threat to our whole being.”

Meanwhile, the former Air Chief Marshall Lord Jock Stirrup raised the horrifying prospect that civilian planes containing holidaymakers could be brought down by Russian jets. In case these warnings weren’t enough to give us palpitations the so-called Russophobic hack pack – the group of mutually-adoring propagandists who obsess about Russia – weighed in to reinforce the message that we all ought to be jolly scared about Putin. [One] commenter provided useful advice on “How to stop Putin nuking us all” (which includes blocking RT). While ordinary people in Britain struggle to make ends meet, for theelite, the big burning question of the day is not “What can we do to reduce bus and train fares?” but “How can we can deal with the Russian ‘threat?’”.

“Can the UK handle the Bear threat from Russia? “asked the Independent. “With bad guys about, you can’t ignore defense” was the title of one comment piece in Rupert Murdoch’s Times. “Putin’s war on the West” was the cover story of the Economist. “As Ukraine suffers, it is time to recognize the gravity of the Russian threat – and to counter it.. The EU and NATO are Mr. Putin’s ultimate targets.” Very helpfully, amid all these concerns, the BBC News website ran an article entitled “How to spot a Russian bomber.” I printed the guide out and thanks to it I was able to rule out the possibility that the plane flying over my local playing fields was a Tupolev Tu-22M3 and was able to sleep easily in my bed that night.

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And now you know!

What Is Money And How Is It Created? (Steve Keen)

[..] Only one person ever really did work out what money really is.—and no, it wasn’t Ayn Rand. It was Augusto Graziani, an Italian Professor of Economics, who died early last year. He understood what money is because he posed and correctly answered a simple question: how does a monetary economy differ from one in which trade occurs by barter? This ruled out gold being money, since gold is a commodity that anyone can produce for themselves with a bit of mining (and a lot of luck). So even though gold is really special and incredibly rare, it is in the end, a commodity: an economy using gold for trade is really a barter economy, not a monetary one. As Graziani put it:

a true monetary economy is inconsistent with the presence of a commodity money. A commodity money is by definition a kind of money that any producer can produce for himself. But an economy using as money a commodity coming out of a regular process of production, cannot be distinguished from a barter economy. A true monetary economy must therefore be using a token money, which is nowadays a paper currency. [He wrote this in 1989, before our modern electronic money system had developed]

That doesn’t rule out a world in which gold is used as the basis for commerce of course: it just says that that’s not a monetary economy. Those who say we’d be better off “going back to gold” are really saying that they don’t like a monetary economy, and reckon we would be better off in a barter economy instead. Identifying money as a paper token wasn’t enough, however, since there are some paper tokens—such as a “bill of exchange”—which are used in transactions, but leave a debt obligation between the buyer and the seller. An economy using bills of exchange was not a monetary economy, Graziani argued, but a credit economy:

If in a credit economy at the end of the period some agents still owe money to other ones, a final payment is needed, which means that no money has been used.

So to be money, the token given in exchange for a good must be accepted as a final payment—but this carried the danger that whoever produced the token might be able to “get something for nothing”. In an ideal system, this had to be ruled out as well.

This gave Graziani three basic conditions that had to be met for something to be called “money”:

a) money has to be a token currency (otherwise it would give rise to barter and not to monetary exchanges);

b) money has to be accepted as a means of final settlement of the transaction (otherwise it would be credit and not money);

c) money must not grant privileges of seignorage to any agent making a payment.

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“The euro is more than just money. It is talismatic for the Greeks. It was only when we joined the euro that we felt truly European. There was always a nagging doubt before.. ”

Humiliated Greece Eyes Byzantine Pivot As Crisis Deepens (AEP)

Greece’s new currency designs are ready. The green 50 drachma note features Cornelius Castoriadis, the Marxisant philosopher and sworn enemy of privatisation. The Nobel poet Odysseus Elytis – voice of Eastward-looking Hellenism – honours the 200 note. The bills rise to 10,000 drachma, a wise precaution lest there is a hyperinflationary shock as Greece breaks out of its debt-deflation trap at high velocity. The amateur blueprints are a minor sensation in Greek artistic circles. They are only half in jest. Greece’s Syriza radicals have signed a fragile ceasefire with the eurozone’s creditor powers. Few think this can last as escalating deadlines reach their kairotic moment in June. Each side has agreed to a deception with equal cynicism, knowing that the interim deal evades the true nature of Greece’s crisis and cannot bridge the immense political divide.

They have bought time, but not much. “I am the finance minister of a bankrupt country,” says Yanis Varoufakis, the rap-artist Keynesian with a mission to correct all of Europe’s economic ills. First he has to deal with his own liquidity crisis. Tax arrears have reached €74bn, rising by €1.1bn a month. “This isn’t tax evasion. These are normal people who can’t pay because they are in distress,” he told the Telegraph. The Greek Orthodox Church is struggling to pick up the pieces. “The local councils can’t cope, so people come to us for food,” said Father Nicolaos of St Panourios parish in a working-class district of West Athens. “We’re feeding 270 people and it is getting worse every day. Today we discovered three young children going through rubbish bins for food. They are living in a derelict building and we have no idea who they are,” he said, sitting in a cramped office packed with bags of bread and supplies.

“We rely on donations from the local bakery. If we run out of beans or lentils, I put out a call, and everybody brings in what they can. There is this spirit of solidarity because nobody feels immune,” he said. His poor parish in Drapetsova was built by refugees from Smyrna and Pontus, victims of the “Catastrophe” in 1922, when ethnic cleansing extinguished the ancient Greek communities of Asia Minor. He lovingly showed me the historic icons and prayer books they hauled with them in wagons, now in the church basement. The utility companies have been cutting off the electricity as arrears rise – and sometimes the water too – leaving 300,000 Greeks in the dark. “They come and ask for candles. They can’t use their fridge. They can’t cook. Their children can’t do their homework,” he said. It is almost a description of a failed state.

Restoring electricity is the first order of business in Syriza’s “Thessaloniki programme”, along with food stamps, a halt to property foreclosures, and a month’s extra pension for the less affluent. Father Nicolaos urged Syriza to stand its ground. “Yes, we Greeks played our own part in our downfall, but Europe played its part too. We must not sell out at any cost, or sell our monuments to pay our debts. We must fight,” he said. Syriza has a peculiar mandate. The Greeks voted for defiance, and also to stay in the euro, two objectives that are hard to reconcile. Views are divided over which emotion runs deeper, therefore which way the inscrutable Alexis Tsipras will pivot. The boyish prime minister has yet to show his hand. “When it comes to the choice, I fear Tsipras will abandon our programme rather than give up the euro,” said one Syriza MP, glancing cautiously around in case anybody was listening as we drank coffee in the “conspiracy” canteen of the Greek parliament.

“The euro is more than just money. It is talismatic for the Greeks. It was only when we joined the euro that we felt truly European. There was always a nagging doubt before,” he said. “But you can’t fight austerity without confronting the eurozone directly. You have to be willing to leave. It is going to take a long time for the party to accept this bitter reality. I think the euro was a tremendous historic mistake, and the sooner they get rid of it, the better for all the peoples of Europe, but that is not the party view,” he said.

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“They’ve given us our voice back,” “For the first time there’s a feeling that we have a government that is defending our interests.”

Poll Surge For Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza As Greeks Learn To Smile Again (Guardian)

Alexis Tsipras’ left-led government may be the bane of Europe’s political establishment, but in Greece support is soaring as Athens’ new political class negotiates the country’s economic plight. One month and three days after the tough-talking firebrand assumed power, Greeks of all political persuasions appear to like what they see. A Metron Analysis poll published on Saturday showed popularity ratings for the prime minister’s radical left Syriza party at an all-time high: from the almost 36% it won in snap polls on 25 January, support for Syriza has jumped to 47.6%, a record for a movement that only three years ago was on margins of Greek politics. In a triumphant address Tsipras attributed the surge to restored pride after five rollercoaster years of being humbled and humiliated by the debt-stricken nation’s worst economic crisis in modern times.

“The Greek people feels it is regaining the dignity that it has been doubted and denied,” the leader told Syriza’s central committee at the weekend. “From the very first day of the new [coalition] government, Greece stopped being a pariah, executing orders and enforcing memorandums,” he said, referring to the EU- and IMF-sponsored bailout accords Athens signed to keep afloat. On the street, optimism has returned. People worn down by gruelling austerity, on the back of unprecedented recession, are smiling. Government officials have taken to walking through central Athens, instead of ducking into chauffeur-driven cars to avoid protesters. Last week, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis – a maverick to many of his counterparts – was mobbed by appreciative voters as he ambled across Syntagma square.

“They’ve given us our voice back,” said Dimitris Stathokostopoulos, a prominent entrepreneur. “For the first time there’s a feeling that we have a government that is defending our interests. Germany needs to calm down. Austerity hasn’t worked. Wherever it has been applied it has spawned poverty, unemployment, absolute catastrophe.” The approval is all the more extraordinary, given the policy U-turns the anti-austerity government has been forced to make – concessions that have sparked fierce opposition within the ranks of Syriza. Faced with the reality of governing, Tsipras has dropped demands for a reduction of the country’s monumental debt; agreed to continued supervision by auditors at the EU, ECB and IMF (now named “the institutions” rather than the maligned “troika”); and abandoned pre-election pledges by promising not to take “unilateral” steps that might throw the budget off-balance.

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“We have not discussed anything with the Greek side,” a European official told Sunday’s Kathimerini..”

Greece’s Lenders Skeptical On New Bills But Focus On Funding Needs (Kathimerini)

European officials have expressed concern that the Greek government has not consulted with its partners over its plans to bring new legislation to Parliament this week but the greatest focus appears to be on how Athens will cover its immediate funding needs. “We have not discussed anything with the Greek side,” a European official told Sunday’s Kathimerini after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced on Friday night that four bills would be tabled in the House this week. In a televised address to his cabinet, Tsipras said that four draft laws would be unveiled this week in order to tackle the social impact of the crisis, to introduce a new payment scheme for overdue debts to the state, to protect primary residences from foreclosures and to reopen public broadcaster ERT.

At the Eurogroup on February 20, Greece and its lenders agreed that the government would not adopt any measures unilaterally that “would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions.” It is not clear if Greece’s creditors believe that the bills due to be submitted to Parliament this week fall into this category but sources suggested that there is concern about the lack of of communication between Athens and its partners. However, the immediate problem that must be overcome is ensuring that the government can meet its funding needs over the next few months, starting with a €1.6 billion payment to the IMF in March.

On Saturday, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis went as far saying that Athens would try to negotiate the summer payment of €6.7 billion worth of Greek bonds held by the ECB. “Shouldn’t we negotiate this? We will fight it,” he told Skai TV. “If we had the money we would pay… They know we don’t have it.” Greece’s lenders, however, believe that they may be able to use this inability to pay to their advantage and pressure the government to carry out reforms before the country’s funding needs become less significant. “Now is the time that we can exercise pressure on the Greek government,” a European official told Kathimerini.

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“.. the ECB repayments are in a different league and we shall have to determine this in association with our partners and the institutions.”

Greece To Prioritize IMF Repayments But Wants Talks On ECB-held Bonds (AP)

Greece will prioritize debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund, some of which come due in March, but repayments to the European Central Bank are «in a different league» and will need discussion with Greece’s creditors, the country’s finance minister said Saturday. In an interview with The Associated Press, Yanis Varoufakis also said Athens intends to start discussions with its creditors on debt rescheduling in order to make the country’s massive debt sustainable, at the same time as working on reform measures that need to be cemented by April, the finance minister said Saturday.

“The IMF repayments of course we are going to prioritize, we are not going to be the first country not to meet our obligations to the IMF,» the 53-year-old said, speaking in his office in the finance ministry overlooking Athens’ central square and the country’s parliament. “We shall squeeze blood out of stone if we need to do this on our own, and we shall do it.” However, “the ECB repayments are in a different league and we shall have to determine this in association with our partners and the institutions.” The ECB has always insisted on full repayment and it’s not clear they would accept a rescheduling.

Greece faces IMF repayments in March of about €1.5 billion, and about €6.7 billion to the ECB in the summer. But it is facing a cash crunch and will struggle with scheduled repayment of its debts. Athens wouldn’t ask for a delay in repayment in its ECB obligations, the minister noted, but rather something that would make the repayments easier to achieve. “I do not believe the ECB would accept a delay, but what we can do is we can package a deal that makes these repayments palatable and reasonably doable as part of our overall negotiation regarding the Greek debt, and the next … contract for growth for the Greek economy between us and the partners.”

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Almost kissed him.

Schäuble Softens Tone On Greece and Varoufakis (AFP)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Sunday Greece’s new government needs «a bit of time» but is committed to implementing necessary reforms to resolve its debt crisis. “The new Greek government has strong public support,» Schaeuble said in an interview with German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “I am confident that it will put in place the necessary measures, set up a more efficient tax system and in the end honour its commitments. “You have to give a little bit of time to a newly elected government,» he told the Sunday paper. «To govern is to face reality.”

Schaeuble also insisted that his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis, despite their policy differences, had «behaved most properly with me» and had «the right to as much respect as everyone else». mIt was a marked change in tone for the strait-laced Schaeuble, who has repeatedly exchanged barbs with Varoufakis, his virtual opposite in both style and politics, since January’s watershed Greek elections brought in an anti-austerity government. Schaeuble last week sternly warned that Greece would not receive «a single euro» until it meets the pledges of its existing €240 billion bailout programme.

But he put his weight behind a four-month extension, to the end of June, approved overwhelmingly by the German parliament on Friday after a complex compromise reached between eurozone finance ministers and Athens. In exchange, Greece has pledged to implement reforms and savings. Schaeuble reiterated the ground rules for the aid programme extension, stressing that «Greece must meet its commitments. Only then will it receive the promised aid payments.” Asked about repeated comments from the new Greek government against austerity measures and for a debt haircut, Schaeuble said that «contracts are more important than statements».

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Technocrats are sore losers.

Greek PM Accuses Spain, Portugal of Anti-Athens ‘Axis’ (Reuters)

Greece’s leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused Spain and Portugal on Saturday of leading a conservative conspiracy to topple his anti-austerity government, saying they feared their own radical forces before elections this year. Tsipras also rejected criticism that Athens had staged a climbdown to secure an extension of its financial lifeline from the euro zone, saying anger among German conservatives showed that his government had won concessions. Greeks have directed much of their fury about years of austerity dictated by international creditors at Germany, the biggest contributor to their country’s €240 billion bailout.

But in a speech to his Syriza party, Tsipras turned on Madrid and Lisbon, accusing them of taking a hard line in negotiations which led to the euro zone extending the bailout program last week for four months. “We found opposing us an axis of powers … led by the governments of Spain and Portugal which for obvious political reasons attempted to lead the entire negotiations to the brink,” said Tsipras, who won an election on Jan. 25. “Their plan was and is to wear down, topple or bring our government to unconditional surrender before our work begins to bear fruit and before the Greek example affects other countries,” he said, adding: “And mainly before the elections in Spain.”

Spain’s new anti-establishment Podemos movement has topped some opinion polls, making it a serious threat to the conservative People’s Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in an election which must be held by the end of this year. Rajoy went to Athens less than a fortnight before the Greek election to warn voters against believing the “impossible” promises of Syriza. His appeal fell on deaf ears and voters swept the previous conservative premier from power. Portugal will also have elections after the summer but no anti-austerity force as potent as Syriza or Podemos has so far emerged there.

In an interview published before Tsipras made his speech, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho denied that Portugal had taken a hard line in negotiations on the Greek deal at the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers. “There may have been a political intention to create this idea, but it is not true,” he told the Expresso weekly newspaper. Passos Coelho aligned himself with euro zone governments which have called for policies to promote economic growth but without trying to walk away from austerity as in Greece. “We were on the same side as the French government, with the Italian and Irish governments. I think it’s bad to stigmatize southern European countries,” he said.

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“It sounds very awkward in a sense, but if you look at it more, the central bank has a deposit rate in negative territory, and there’s a huge bond-buying program coming.”

Eurozone Negative-Yield Bond Universe Expands to $1.9 Trillion (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank’s imminent bond-buying plan has left $1.9 trillion of the euro region’s government securities with negative yields. Germany sold five-year notes at an average yield of minus 0.08% on Wednesday, a euro-area record, meaning investors buying the securities will get less back than they paid when the debt matures in April 2020. By the next day, German notes with a maturity out to seven years had sub-zero yields, while rates on seven other euro-area nations’ debt were also negative. While some bonds had such yields as far back as 2012, the phenomenon has gathered pace since the ECB’s decision to cut its deposit rate to below zero last year. Even when investors extend maturities, and move away from the region’s core markets, returns are becoming increasingly meager.

Ireland’s 10-year yield slid below 1% for the first time this week, Portugal’s dropped below 2%, while Spanish and Italian rates also tumbled to records. “It is something that many would not have pictured a year ago,” said Jan von Gerich at Nordea Bank in Helsinki. “It sounds very awkward in a sense, but if you look at it more, the central bank has a deposit rate in negative territory, and there’s a huge bond-buying program coming. People are holding on to these bonds and so you don’t have many willing sellers.” 88 of the 346 securities in the Bloomberg Eurozone Sovereign Bond Index have negative yields, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Euro-area bonds make up about 80% of the $2.35 trillion of negative-yielding assets in the Bloomberg Global Developed Sovereign Bond Index, the data show.

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Huge disgrace. But since when would the US government take that as an insult?

US Cuts Off Student-Loan Collectors for Misleading Debtors (Bloomberg)

The U.S. Education Department, citing “inaccurate representations” to student-loan borrowers, will end debt-collection contracts with Navient and four other companies. Representatives of these companies, which pursue students who default on their loans, made misleading statements about programs that help borrowers get back on track, the agency said in a statement late Friday. The companies include Pioneer Credit Recovery, a unit of Navient, which was split off last year from SLM, commonly known as Sallie Mae, the largest U.S. education finance company. “Federal Student Aid borrowers are entitled to accurate information as they make critical choices to manage their debt,” Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said in a statement. “Every company that works for the Department must keep consumers’ best interests at the heart of their business practices by giving borrowers clear and accurate guidance.”

The government turns to 22 debt-collection companies to put the squeeze on borrowers who are defaulting on their loans. In 2012, Bloomberg News reported that the private contractors chasing these debts collected about $1 billion annually in commissions and faced growing complaints that they were insisting on stiff payments, even when borrowers’ incomes make them eligible for leniency. Pioneer said in a statement that the Education Department has conducted 17 exams since the beginning of 2014, listening to 600 phone calls, and had not raised concerns about the company’s rates of inaccurate or misleading information to borrowers. In April, it received written confirmation from the agency that its policies complied with regulation.

“We were blindsided by the Department of Education’s actions,” Pioneer said. Navient’s revenue from collecting for the Education Department totaled $65 million last year. The agency said it will “wind down” its contracts with the five companies and transfer their business to other agencies with contracts. The four other companies losing contracts are Coast Professional, Enterprise Recovery Systems, National Recoveries and West Asset Management, according to the statement. Those companies couldn’t be reached for comment after business hours. “This is a huge step forward for student loan borrowers who are too often the victims of dishonest debt-collection practices,” Maggie Thompson, campaign manager for Higher Ed, Not Debt, said in a statement. “We are happy the Department of Education protected borrowers by ending the contracts of some of the most abusive debt collectors in the business.”

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End of the Ponzi.

Shadow Banking Shrinks to Least Since 2000 as Liquidity Declines (Bloomberg)

The financing markets that grease the wheels of most debt trading have contracted to the smallest in 15 years as liquidity declines, adding to concern U.S. economic stability is at risk. The amount, known as shadow banking, was $4.13 trillion last month, down from a peak of $7.61 trillion in March 2008, according to data compiled by the Center for Financial Stability, a nonpartisan research group. The CFS measure, which includes money-market funds, repurchase agreements and commercial paper, all adjusted for the impact of inflation, is at the lowest since January 2000.

“Market finance is suffering, and it has been inextricably linked to growth in the economy and financial stability,” Lawrence Goodman, president of CFS and author of the report, said. “The fact that we are seeing bumps in varying asset classes suggests that cracks are evident in the financial system. In part, this is a direct function of limited liquidity.” Global regulators have focused on reducing the footprint of shadow banking, which was viewed as a catalyst for the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008 that shook markets worldwide, accelerating the financial crisis. In the process, market finance has contracted to an “excessively steep” degree that “starves financial markets from needed liquidity and is detrimental to future growth,” according to a Feb. 25 report from the CFS.

Repurchase agreements, or repos, are a source of short-term finance for banks, allowing them to use securities as collateral for short-term loans from investors such as other banks or money-market mutual funds. The amount of securities financed through a part of the market known as tri-party repo fell to an average $1.58 trillion as of Jan. 12, from $1.96 trillion in December 2012, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve. Tighter market liquidity and a resulting surge in volatility were both on display Oct. 15, when Treasuries suddenly careened through the biggest yield fluctuations in a quarter-century without being spurred by any concrete news. While that extreme loss of liquidity in Treasuries has faded, the day-to-day dealings in 10-year Treasuries have worsened this year, according to analysis by Deutsche Bank.

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“The people – those plain people who think economics is about supply and demand rather than complicated math formulas – deserve some level of sway over the Fed’s operations..”

Fed Independence Is A Joke, So Why Not Audit? (Freedomworks)

If Janet Yellen didn’t resemble a bookwormish teetotaler, perhaps she’d join her colleagues in a toast to suppressing democratic accountability. For now, she’ll order a club soda while working vigorously to keep Congress, and thus the people, out of her business of running the country’s central bank. Yellen has only been Chair of the Federal Reserve for one year, but she’s already facing pressure to open the books from the new Congress. Leading the charge are two statesmen from Kentucky: Representative Thomas Massie and Senator Rand Paul. Both have introduced audit the Fed legislation in their respective chambers. Wall Street’s cadre of financial oligarchs are predictably up in arms over an audit of their free money machine.

Think tankers are antagonizing the campaign, with Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute asserting that Sen. Paul has “a poor understanding of what’s actually on the Fed balance sheet and how the bank operates.” It’s expected President Obama would veto an audit the Fed bill. Even local bankers are scaremongering over the prospect of the Fed losing autonomy. Yellen, for her part, isn’t about to let the nosy wolves in her henhouse. In a recent interview, she said she would stand “forcefully” against any audit measures. She justified her intransigence by citing the importance of “central bank independence” and being able to act without interference. Nothing says limited government and separation of powers like a bureaucracy unaccountable to the voice of the people! Then again, Yellen doesn’t care much for democratic oversight.

She’s a caricature of Randian libertarianism: someone who wants to do whatever, whenever, without rulers. The problem is Yellen isn’t operating a private railroad company. She’s the figurehead for a government institution created by Congress. If democracy means anything, it’s that voters have some measure of control over political bureaucracies. So apologies Janet, you don’t operate in a bubble (insert Fed pun here). The people – those plain people who think economics is about supply and demand rather than complicated math formulas – deserve some level of sway over the Fed’s operations. So why not an audit by the Government Accountability Office? Last I heard, President Obama was all about accountability. Yellen and company aren’t buying it. They don’t want anyone butting in on their micromanagement of the money supply. Outside observers would interfere with the Fed’s independence, which is a sacrament of the central bank.

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Bub. Ble.

China Factory Sector Still Shrinking, Official PMI Shows (Reuters)

Activity in China’s factory sector contracted for a second straight month in February on unsteady exports and slowing investment, an official survey showed on Sunday, reinforcing bets that more policy loosening is needed to lift the economy. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) inched up to 49.9 in February from January’s 49.8, a whisker below the 50-point level that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a weaker reading of 49.7. A separate official services PMI, also released on Sunday, showed growth in the sector accelerated to 53.9, up from 53.7 in January. Accounting for 48% of China’s $10.2 trillion economy last year, the services sector has weathered the growth downturn better than factories, partly because it depends less on foreign demand.

The official PMIs were released shortly after China’s central bank cut interest rates late on Saturday, the latest effort to support the world’s second-largest economy as its momentum slows and deflation risks rise. The PMIs are the last official Chinese data to come out before the opening this week of the annual session of China’s legislature, where leaders will announce a growth target for 2015. The final February reading for the HSBC manufacturing PMI survey will be announced on Monday. The flash estimate showed factory growth edged up to a four-month high in February, but export orders shrank at their fastest rate in 20 months. To boost a sagging economy, China’s central bank lowered the reserve requirement – the ratio of cash that banks must set aside as reserves – in February for the first time in over two years.

That was after it had cut interest rates in November, also for the first time in more than two years. Despite the raft of stimulus moves, a newspaper owned by the central bank warned on Wednesday that China is dangerously close to slipping into deflation, highlighting the nervousness among policymakers about a sputtering economy that is not gaining speed. A housing slump, erratic growth in exports and a state-led slowdown in investment to help restructure China’s economy dragged growth to 7.4% last year – a level not seen since 1990. Reflecting China’s “new normal” of slower but better-quality growth, economists at state think-tanks with knowledge of policy discussions said the government is likely to lower its 2015 economic growth target to around 7%, from last year’s 7.5%.

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Ha. Ha.: “Customers are taking a cautious approach until there is more certainty as to when oil prices will recover..”

Crude Price Shock Sends Canadian Oil Service Companies Into Whirlwind (RT)

The crude oil price collapse has forced some Canadian oil service companies to cut their workforces, budgets, and salaries, as their energy-producing customers have been struggling with their own budget cuts and market uncertainty. Calfrac Well Services and Trican Well Service, both based out of Calgary, are two of the most recent examples of companies showing signs of a struggle amid a slowdown in drilling activity across North America. Oilfield services and hydraulic fracturing company Calfrac announced on Wednesday that it will cut over $25 million from its general and administrative costs, as it released its fourth quarter revenue report. The firm will be slashing executive salaries by around 10% and directors’ pay by 20% starting in April. Calfrac was also forced to shut down its operations in Colombia.

“As a result of the decline in crude oil prices, the company’s customers in Canada and the United States have lowered their 2015 capital budgets in the order of 20 to 40 per cent from 2014,” Calfrac’s president and chief executive, Fernando Aguilar, told analysts. The biggest concern is how cheaper crude will impact equipment utilization and pricing in 2015. “Customers are taking a cautious approach until there is more certainty as to when oil prices will recover,” Aguilar added. One of Calfrac’s biggest competitors, Trican, announced similar cuts – including slashing salaries and costs – after cutting 600 positions. All Canadian and US employees will receive a 10% cut in average compensation, according to the firm’s press release.

Oil prices have plummeted by at least 50% since the summer. The situation was made worse when OPEC opted not to cut its daily output levels in November. In reaction to new oil price projections, the Bank of Canada (BoC) unexpectedly cut its interest rate to 0.75% in January, with markets pricing in another rate cut in March. The central bank also lowered its economic growth and inflation forecasts, warning of widespread negative effects of lower oil prices on the Canadian economy. Just last week, BoC Deputy Governor Agathe Cote stressed the significance of the oil-price shock. “This shock will delay the economy’s return to full capacity by undermining both investment in the oil sector and gross domestic income,” she said, noting that personal wealth is likely to be reduced and interprovincial trade affected.

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And counting.

Ukraine Pays Gazprom $15 Million For 24 Hours Worth Of Gas (RT)

Ukraine’s Naftogaz has paid Gazprom $15 million for gas delivery. At current levels, the prepayment covers one day’s gas consumption and will be spent by Tuesday, Gazprom spokesperson Sergey Kupriyanov said. “Today at 9:20am MSK Gazprom received a payment from Ukraine’s Naftogaz in the amount of $15 million. At the current level of supply this sum will be enough roughly for one day,” he said. “If Naftogaz paid for another 24 hours, it means the resources would last through Monday till Tuesday,” he said. The relatively small prepayment suggests Kiev is buying time before trilateral talks in Brussels on march 2nd. Russian energy minister Alexander Novak had warned Kiev’s failure to pre-pay would mean a cut-off.

In a letter sent to Gazprom late Wednesday, Naftogaz said it had a total of 206 million cubic meters of Russian gas pre-paid. “The concerns and worries are caused first of all by the fact that not much prepaid gas is left. If there is no money the supplies will stop starting from Tuesday,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. “The payment should be completed Friday so that the gas is supplied starting from Tuesday,” Novak said. “If there is no payment there will be a break in gas supplies to Ukraine. The European consumers will fully receive gas.” “We are worried about the situation with the problem of prepayment for the gas delivery. On Friday morning, the rest of the gas, prepaid by Ukraine, accounted for 123.8 mln cubic meters.

Taking into consideration the fact that on the average we supply [Ukraine] with 42 mln cubic meters, without DPR and LPR [Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic], in fact, the remains of the gas will be enough only for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” Novak said, according to RIA-Novosti. In a new gas standoff, deliveries to the conflict-plagued Donbass region have become a new bone of contention between Russian and Ukraine. Last week Kiev suspended deliveries to the area, citing damage to the pipeline. Russia then launched a separate gas supply to Donbass, with President Vladimir Putin saying that cutting the war zone off gas “smells like genocide.” Gazprom said Thursday it was ready to separate gas supplies to Ukraine and Donbass.

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Europe better watch out.

Mass Anti-Immigration Rally In Rome (BBC)

Thousands of supporters of Italy’s Northern League have poured into one of Rome’s biggest squares for a rally against immigration, the EU and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government. League leader Matteo Salvini accused Mr Renzi of substituting the country’s interests to those of the EU. He also criticised the government’s record in dealing with Romanian truck drivers, tax, banks and big business. A large counter-demonstration against Mr Salvini was also held in Rome. Opinion polls suggest that Mr Salvini is rapidly gaining in popularity. They show him as being second only to Mr Renzi, prompting some to dub him as “the other Matteo”.

The Northern League was once a strong ally of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, but it has sought to find new allies as he struggles to shake off a tax fraud conviction that forced him out of parliament. Mr Salvini’s fiery rhetoric against the European Union, immigration and austerity politics had led to comparisons being drawn between him and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. The counter-demonstration staged by an alliance of leftist parties, anti-racism campaigners and gay rights groups was held only a few hundred metres from the Northern League rally. Many protested under the banner “Never with Salvini”.

“The problem isn’t Renzi, Renzi is a pawn, Renzi is a dumb slave, at the disposal of some nameless person who wants to control all our lives from Brussels,” Mr Salvini told the rally at the Piazza del Popolo. He told his supporters that the prime minister was the “foolish servant” of Brussels. Mr Salvini spoke of a “different Europe, where banks count for less, and citizens and small businessmen count for more”. “I want to change Italy. I want the Italian economy to be able to move forward again, something that is obstructed by Brussels and mad European policies,” he said, describing the government’s immigration policies as “a disaster”.

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A fine man.

Uruguay Bids Farewell To Jose Mujica, Its Pauper President (BBC)

Whatever your own particular “shade” of politics, it’s impossible not to be impressed or beguiled by Jose “Pepe” Mujica. There are idealistic, hard-working and honest politicians the world over – although cynics might argue they’re a small minority – but none of them surely comes anywhere close to the outgoing Uruguayan president when it comes to living by one’s principles. It’s not just for show. Mujica’s beat-up old VW Beetle is probably one of the most famous cars in the world and his decision to forego the luxury of the Presidential Palace is not unique – his successor, Tabare Vasquez, will also probably elect to live at home. But when you visit “Pepe” at his tiny, one-storey home on the outskirts of Montevideo you realise that the man is as good as his word.

Wearing what could best be described as “casual” clothes – I don’t think he’s ever been seen wearing a tie – Mujica seats himself down on a simple wooden stool in front of a bookshelf that seems on the verge of collapsing under the weight of biographies and mementoes from his political adversaries and allies. Books are important to the former guerrilla fighter who spent a total of 13 years in jail, two of them lying at the bottom of an old horse trough. It was an experience that almost broke him mentally and which shaped his transformation from fighter to politician. “I was imprisoned in solitary [confinement] so the day they put me on a sofa I felt comfortable!” Mujica jokes. “I’ve no doubt that had I not lived through that I would not be who I am today. Prison, solitary confinement had a huge influence on me. I had to find an inner strength. I couldn’t even read a book for seven, eight years – imagine that!”

Given his past, it’s perhaps understandable why Mujica gives away about 90% of his salary to charity, simply because he “has no need for it”. A little bit grumpy to begin with, Mujcia warms to his task as he describes being perplexed by those who question his lifestyle. “This world is crazy, crazy! People are amazed by normal things and that obsession worries me!” Not afraid to take a swipe at his fellow leaders, he adds: “All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority. I’m living a normal life and Italian, Spanish leaders should also live as their people do. They shouldn’t be aspiring to or copying a rich minority.”

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If only Al Capone had known.

Why Iceland Banned Beer 100 Years Ago (BBC)

.. for much of the 20th Century it was unpatriotic – and illegal – to drink beer. When full prohibition became law 100 years ago, alcohol in general was frowned upon, and beer was especially out of favour – for political reasons. Iceland was engaged in a struggle for independence from Denmark at the time, and Icelanders strongly associated beer with Danish lifestyles. “The Danes were drinking eight times as much alcohol per person on a yearly basis at the time,” says historian Stefan Palsson, author of Beer: Around the World in 120 Pints. As a result, beer was “not the patriotic drink of choice”. The independence and temperance movements reinforced each other, and in 1908, four years after gaining home rule, Iceland held a referendum on a proposal to outlaw all alcohol from 1915. About 60% voted in favour. Women, who still didn’t have the vote, were vocal in their support.

“Prohibition was seen as progressive, like smoking [bans] today,” says Palsson. It didn’t take long for Prohibition to be undermined. Smuggling, home-brew and ambassadors lobbying for alcohol to oil the wheels of diplomacy all played a part. “Doctors started prescribed alcohol as medicine and they did so in huge quantities, for more or less everything. Wine if you had bad nerves, and for the heart, cognac,” says Palsson. But beer was never “what the doctor ordered”, despite the argument some put forward that it was a good treatment for malnourishment. “The head doctor put his foot down and said beer did not qualify as a medicine under any circumstances,” Palsson says.

There were other leaks in the Prohibition armour too. “Prohibition supporters complained that painters who never used to use spirits to clean their brushes were now getting litres and litres each year,” says Palsson. “So alcohol was flowing in from all directions.” Then the Spanish threatened to stop importing salted cod – Iceland’s most profitable export at the time – if Iceland did not buy its wine. Politicians bowed to the pressure and legalised red and rose wines from Spain and Portugal in 1921. Over time, support for prohibition dwindled. It had already been repealed by all the other European nations that had experimented with it (apart from the Faroe Islands) when in 1933 Icelanders voted to reverse course.

But even then the ban remained in force for beer containing more than 2.25% alcohol (about half the strength of an average-strength beer). As beer was cheaper than wines or spirits, the fear was that legalising it would lead to a big rise in alcohol abuse. The association of beer with Denmark also continued to tarnish its image in a country that only achieved full independence in 1944. However, beer remained accessible, just about, to those who really wanted it. “If you knew a fisherman, he may have had a few cases stashed in his garage – usually the cheapest and strongest beer available, often stored too long,” says Palsson Also popular, according to Ingvarsson, was tipping brennivin (burning wine), a potato-based vodka, into non-alcoholic beer – which tasted, as he puts it, “interesting and totally disgusting”.

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Feb 252015
 
 February 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley “J.A. Herzog Pontiac, 17th & Valencia Sts., San Francisco.” 1936

Yellen Removes Another Obstacle To An Eventual Rate Hike (MarketWatch)
US Government’s ‘New Rule’ Allows Banks To Completely Make Sh#t Up (Simon Black)
Greek Finance Chief: We Want To Regain EU’s Trust (CNBC)
Greek Finance Minister’s Full Letter To The Eurogroup (Kathimerini)
Greece Has Lost The Gamble But Can Still Come Up Trumps (Guardian)
How Addiction To Debt Came Even To China (Martin Wolf)
China Readies Measures to Counter Housing Market Slump (Bloomberg)
Britain To Send Military Advisers To Ukraine, Announces Cameron (Guardian)
UK Military Training In Ukraine: Symbolic Move That Risks Russian Ire (Guardian)
IMF Package for Ukraine: Some Pesky Macros (Constantin Gurdgiev)
Kiev Cash-For-Gas Fail Could Cost EU Its Supply In 2 Days – Gazprom (RT)
East Ukraine Artillery Withdrawal In Focus – As Poroshenko Buys UAE Weapons (RT)
Lure of Wall Street Cash Said to Skew Credit Ratings (Bloomberg)
Militants, Migrants And The Med: Europe’s Libya Problem (BBC)
Lester Brown: ‘Vast Dust Bowls Threaten Tens Of Millions With Hunger’ (Guardian)
The Amherst Cauldron: The Donbass in New England (Albert Bates at ClubOrlov)
Kick-The-Can Has Morphed Into A Blatant Farce (David Stockman)
“Remove From Governments The Ability To Interfere With [Our] Rights” (Snowden)
London: A Set Of Improbable Sex Toys Poking Gormlessly Into The Air (Guardian)

All these financne guys don’t think she’ll do it without letting them know well in advance. But that would defeat the very purpose.

Yellen Removes Another Obstacle To An Eventual Rate Hike (MarketWatch)

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen on Tuesday took another step closer to the first rate hike since 2006. In testimony to the Senate, Yellen signaled to financial markets the Fed would soon drop the word “patient” from its forward guidance. She softened the blow with several dovish comments that suggest no hurry about actually moving. Markets had expected that when the Fed dropped “patient” from its policy statement that it would mean the a rate hike would follow in the next couple of meetings. That interpretation came from signals Yellen had sent in December. Now, however, Yellen stressed that the Fed wasn’t on automatic pilot and only wanted the flexibility to move “on a meeting-by-meeting basis.”

Several analysts said a June rate hike remained on the table if the Fed decides to drop the word “patient” from its policy statement on March 17-18. Several Fed officials have said they want to drop “patient” from the Fed’s next policy meeting scheduled in mid-March. Minutes of the January meeting released last week showed Fed officials were concerned with how the market might react if “patient” was dropped. Tom Simons, an economist at Jefferies in New York, said Yellen had effectively neutered the word so it no longer even matters whether the word stays or goes in the Fed’s next policy statement. “Now ‘patient’ doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Simons said.

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No end to insanity.

US Government’s ‘New Rule’ Allows Banks To Completely Make Sh#t Up (Simon Black)

Banks still use accounting tricks to hide their true condition. Bloomberg showcased one such technique last year, exposing the way that many US banks are rebooking their assets from “available for sale (AFS)” to the “held-to-maturity (HTM)” designation. This is a very subtle move that means nothing to most people. But to banks, it’s a highly effective way of concealing losses they’ve suffered in their investment portfolios. Banks ordinarily buy bonds and other securities with the purpose of generating a return on that money until they have to, you know, give it back to their depositors. That’s why they’re called “available for sale,” because the bank has to sell these assets to pay their depositors back. But here’s the problem– many of these investments have either lost money, or they soon will be. And banks don’t want to disclose those losses.

So instead, they simply redesignate assets as HTM. It’s like saying “I don’t care that these bonds aren’t worth as much money as when I bought them because I intend to hold them forever.” Thing is, this simply isn’t true. Banks don’t have the luxury of holding some government bond for the next 30-years. This is money they might have to repay their customers tomorrow, which makes the entire charade intellectually dishonest. That doesn’t stop them. JP Morgan alone boosted its HTM mortgage bonds from less than $10 million to nearly $17 billion (1700x higher) in just one year. This is a huge shift. Nearly every big bank is doing this, and is doing it deliberately. This is no accident. And there’s only one reason to do it—to use accounting minutia to conceal losses. But the accounting tricks don’t stop there. And in many cases they’re fueled by the government.

One recent example is how federal regulators created a new ‘rule’ which allows banks to consciously reduce the risk-weighting they assigns their assets. The Federal Financial Institution Examination Council recently told banks that, “if a particular asset . . . has features that could place it in more than one risk category, it is assigned to the category that has the lowest risk weight.” This gives banks extraordinary latitude to underreport the risk levels of their investments. Bankers can now arbitrarily decide that a risky asset ‘has features’ of a lower risk asset, and thus they can completely misrepresent their investments. Bottom line, it’s becoming extremely difficult to have confidence in western banks’ financial health. They employ every trick in the book to overstate their capital ratios and understate their risk levels. This, backed by a central bank that is borderline insolvent and a federal government that is entirely insolvent.

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All the right words.

Greek Finance Chief: We Want To Regain EU’s Trust (CNBC)

Greece’s new government wants to re-establish trust with the rest of Europe, the country’s finance minister told CNBC, as Athens obtained a four-month extension of its bailout program. “The reason why we have this four-month period is to re-establish bonds of trust between us and our European partners as well as the IMF in order to build a new contract between us and our partners so as to put an end to this debt inflationary spiral,” Yanis Varoufakis said in an interview in Athens. On Tuesday, euro zone finance ministers accepted a list of Greek reform proposals, but warned that the reforms must be expanded in detail before new bailout funding would be released. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde called the proposals “sufficiently comprehensive to be a valid starting point” but said they lacked “clear assurances.”

Varoufakis said implementing new legislation concerning corruption and tax evasion is his top priority. As to whether European officials will approve each and every measure passed in parliament, he said “there is going to be a great deal of toing and froing between us and the institutions and our partners.” The trained economist was also critical of the tense negotiation process with euro zone finance ministers, saying they were dominated by “legalisms.” “You know what I think the main problem is, European finance ministerial meetings are seldom about finance, they’re more about process and rules…and I’m not good at that. I think that when we’re talking about macroeconomics, when we’re talking about Greece’s recovery, I don’t think we have the moral right to talk as if this is applying rules.”

Leftist political party Syrzia’s principal task of reducing Greece’s $366 billion debt has been flatly rejected. Several Greeks, noticeably senior politician Manolis Glezos, claim the party has bent too much to European creditors, making it no different from the previous administration. But Varoufakis rejected the notion that Syrzia has been unfaithful to Greeks: “We got elected to renegotiate Greece’s deal with our partners. What is a negotiation; it’s an attempt to find a compromise. The fact that we compromised is not a U-turn. A U-turn would have been to have led this negotiation to an impasse, and we didn’t do that because we’re interested in a mutually beneficial agreement.”

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Click the link to see all the specific proposals for Syriza to comply with EU demands, while keeping its promises to voters. It will undergo a thousand changes, but at least everyone can see now what has been put on the table.

Greek Finance Minister’s Full Letter To The Eurogroup (Kathimerini)

Dear President of the Eurogroup: In the Eurogroup of 20 February 2015 the Greek government was invited to present to the institutions, by Monday 23rd February 2015, a first comprehensive list of reform measures it is envisaging, to be further specified and agreed by the end of April 2015. In addition to codifying its reform agenda, in accordance with PM Tsipras’ programmatic statement to Greece’s Parliament, the Greek government also committed to working in close agreement with European partners and institutions, as well as with the International Monetary Fund, and take actions that strengthen fiscal sustainability, guarantee financial stability and promote economic recovery. The first comprehensive list of reform measures follows below, as envisaged by the Greek government. It is our intention to implement them while drawing upon available technical assistance and financing from the European Structural and Investment Funds.

Truly Yanis Varoufakis, Minister of Finance, Hellenic Republic=

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No broad vision at the Guardian.

Greece Has Lost The Gamble But Can Still Come Up Trumps (Guardian)

Tsipras and finance minister Yanis Varoufakis have been criticised for sending out mixed messages, referencing Nazi Germany, longingly gazing towards Russia, and even their untucked shirts. But Greece’s liquidity weaknesses were clear long before Syriza won the elections, and were exploited to the fullest by its lenders. The country’s fragility lies in the fact that it cannot fund itself and is shut out of international bond markets. Between this and the absence of a credible plan to exit the euro, even for use as a negotiating tool, Tsipras and Varoufakis were left with very few options. Whether they blundered into a deal or secured it with clever cajoling is a trivial matter at the moment.

Athens’ diplomatic indiscretions and a helter-skelter approach to negotiations have been matched by stubbornness and contempt in other European capitals. In this environment, everyone can shirk their responsibilities. Greek leaders can substitute progressive policymaking with populist bluster, while their European counterparts can continue to peddle the myth that Greeks have received European solidarity but given nothing in return. If all sides withdraw to these positions over the coming months the Greek people, who have experienced the worst economic downturn since the 1930s and the sharpest fiscal adjustment western Europe has ever seen, will pay an even heavier price than they have over the past five years. There is a great historical responsibility on all those involved to ensure that punishment on one side and retribution on the other are not the main policy drivers over the months to come.

There remains a small window of opportunity in which Syriza can change the narrative. One of the most important concessions it gained in Brussels was to be the main author of its own reform programme – previous governments were merely handed a checklist of changes from its lenders. Of course, the creditor nations will still push for some unpopular measures. But Tsipras and Varoufakis will have a unique chance to show if they are truly committed to tackling Greece’s chronic problems brought about by its decaying institutions, including the public administration and judicial system. These changes could have broad appeal among Greeks, and may also help alter the sour mood that has emerged between Greece and the eurozone over the past few weeks.

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Worse for the others than it is for China.

How Addiction To Debt Came Even To China (Martin Wolf)

Balance sheets matter. This is the biggest lesson of the financial crises that have rolled across the world economy. Changes in balance sheets shape the performance of economies, as credit moves in self-fulfilling cycles of optimism and pessimism. The world economy has become credit addicted. China could well be the next victim. If we think about balance sheets in the world economy of today, four questions arise. First, what determines vulnerability? Second, where are vulnerabilities now appearing? Third, how are countries coping with the legacy of old debt crises? Finally, can the world economy cope with the new vulnerabilities? Start with the sources of vulnerability. In economies with liberalized financial sectors, the driver towards disaster is far more often private than public imprudence.

Rising property prices and expanded mortgage lending drive many credit booms. A deterioration in the public sector’s balance sheets usually then follows crises. Failure to recognize this link between private excess and public borrowing is wilful blindness. In an update of work on debt and deleveraging, McKinsey notes that between 2000 and 2007, household debt rose as a proportion of income by one-third or more in the US, the UK, Spain, Ireland and Portugal. All of these countries subsequently experienced financial crises. Indeed, huge increases in private sector credit preceded many other crises: Chile in 1982 was an important example of this connection. Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley argues that the 30 most explosive credit booms all led to a slowdown, often a crisis.

A rapid change in the ratio of credit to gross domestic product is more important than its level. That is partly because some societies are able to manage more debt than others; it is partly because a sudden burst in lending is likely to be associated with a sudden collapse in lending standards. Thus, in seeking new vulnerabilities, we need to look for economies that have had sharp rises in private debt. China leads the pack, with a rise of 70 percentage points in the ratio of corporate and household debt to GDP between 2007 and 2014 . If we add financial sector debt, the rise in gross private indebtedness is 111 percentage points. With government debt included, it is 124 percentage points.

China’s huge credit boom has several disquieting features. Much of the rise in debt is concentrated in the property sector; “shadow banking” — that is lending outside the balance sheets of the formal financial institutions — accounts for 30% of outstanding debt, according to McKinsey; much of the borrowing has been put on off-balance-sheet vehicles of local governments; and, above all, the surge in debt was not linked to a matching rise in trend growth, but rather to the opposite. This does not mean China is likely to experience an unmanageable financial crisis. On the contrary, the Chinese government has all the tools it needs to contain a crisis. It does mean, however, that an engine of growth in demand is about to be switched off. As the economy slows, many investment plans will have to be reconsidered. That may start in the property sector. But it will not end there. In an economy in which investment is close to 50% of GDP, the downturn in demand (and so output) might be far more severe than expected.

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More bigger bubble.

China Readies Measures to Counter Housing Market Slump (Bloomberg)

China is preparing measures to counter a housing market slump and will roll them out if the economy needs support, people with knowledge of the matter said. The government could reduce down-payment requirements for second-home purchases, the people said, declining to be identified as the information isn’t public. Another possible step would be to let homeowners sell properties without paying sales tax after two years, down from five years. China’s new-home prices posted a record year-on-year decline in January, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysis of government data tracking 70 cities.

Implementation of the new easing policies will depend on whether an economic downturn continues or worsens, the people said. An interest-rate cut in November and the removal of some curbs have failed to revive the property industry. In September, the central bank allowed lower down payments and mortgage rates for some people applying for loans for second homes. As a result of past efforts to curb property speculation and rein in price gains, minimum down payments for second homes are now at least 60%.

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On course for dying British boys and girls.

Britain To Send Military Advisers To Ukraine, Announces Cameron (Guardian)

Britain was pulled closer towards a renewed cold war with Russia when David Cameron announced UK military trainers are to be deployed to help Ukraine forces stave off further Russian backed incursions into sovereign Ukraine territory. The decision – announced on Tuesday but under consideration by the UK national security council since before Christmas – represents the first deployment of British troops to the country since the near civil war in eastern Ukraine began more than a year ago. Downing Street said the deployment was not just a practical bilateral response to a request for support, but a signal to the Russians that Britain will not countenance further large scale annexations of towns in Ukraine.

The prime minister said Britain would be “the strongest pole in the tent”, and argued for tougher sanctions against Moscow if Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine failed to observe the provisions of a ceasefire agreement reached this month with the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko. Downing Street said some personnel would be leaving this week as part of the training mission. Initially 30 trainers will be despatched to Kiev with 25 providing advice on medical training, logistics, intelligence analysis and infantry training. A bigger programme of infantry training is expected to follow soon after taking the total number of trainers to 75. They will not be sent to the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Personnel involved in the training elements could spend one or two months in the country, with a command and control deployment lasting up to six months. [..]

He said there was no doubt about Russian support for the rebels. “What we are seeing is Russian-backed aggression, often these are Russian troops, they are Russian tanks, they are Russian Grad missiles. You can’t buy these things on eBay, they are coming from Russia, people shouldn’t be in any doubt about that. “We have got the intelligence, we have got the pictures and the world knows that. Sometimes people don’t want to see that but that is the fact.” He added: “If there was major further incursion by Russian-backed forces and effectively Russian forces into Ukraine, we should be clear about what that is. That is trying to dismember a democracy, a member of the United Nations, a sovereign state on the continent of Europe, and it’s not acceptable.”

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The level of dumb-f#cked-ness is deafening.

UK Military Training In Ukraine: Symbolic Move That Risks Russian Ire (Guardian)

Britain’s decision to dip its toe into the Ukraine crisis is hardly likely to have a decisive impact on the outgunned and struggling Ukrainian army, but it serves the symbolic purpose of taking a stake in the country’s defence. The 75 British trainers bound for Ukraine in the coming days will provide instruction in command procedures, tactical intelligence, battlefield first aidand logistics, and assess the national army’s infantry training needs. The overall aim, said UK defence sources, was to “improve the survivability” of Ukrainian troops who have been pummelled by heavy artillery, reportedly from weapons such as self-propelled howitzers supplied by Russia in support of the separatists, some of which appear to have been being fired from Russian soil.

The British trainers will be deployed well away from the frontlines, in western Ukraine, to eliminate the risk of British and Russian soldiers inflicting casualties on each other. But it is likely the move will be seized on in Moscow as proof of President Vladimir Putin’s claims that the Russian-backed separatists are fighting a Nato ‘foreign legion’. American advisers will be arriving in spring to train four companies of the Ukrainian National Guard at the Yavoriv training area near the Polish border. The British effort appears to be coordinated with that mission, and by getting its soldiers on the ground first, David Cameron’s coalition government will seek to counter recent criticism that it has been marginalised in the international diplomacy aimed at stopping the war.

It was a Franco-German initiative that led to the latest ceasefire agreement in Minsk between Putin, Angela Merkel and François Hollande earlier this month. That truce shows little sign of taking hold, and sanctions so far do not seem to have dissuaded Putin from intervention in eastern Ukraine, leaving western capitals struggling to come up with other methods of demonstrating their resolve to resist Russian encroachment. For now, training is seen as being of more long-term value than supplying arms to Ukrainian troops, and less directly confrontational with Moscow. “I think it’s obvious that the prime minister was seriously stung by the domestic political response to his absence from the Minsk diplomacy, and therefore feels compelled to take a strong position,” said Shashank Joshi, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “I also think it reflects a not-unreasonable judgment that the Minsk agreement is breaking down, and that further coercive diplomacy is inevitable.

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Debt prison. The entire nation.

IMF Package for Ukraine: Some Pesky Macros (Constantin Gurdgiev)

Ukraine package of funding from the IMF and other lenders remains still largely unspecified, but it is worth recapping what we do know and what we don’t.Total package is USD40 billion. Of which, USD17.5 billion will come from the IMF and USD22.5 billion will come from the EU. The US seemed to have avoided being drawn into the financial singularity they helped (directly or not) to create. We have no idea as to the distribution of the USD22.5 billion across the individual EU states, but it is pretty safe to assume that countries like Greece won’t be too keen contributing. Cyprus probably as well. Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy – all struggling with debts of their own also need this new ‘commitment’ like a hole in the head.

Belgium might cheerfully pony up (with distinctly Belgian cheer that is genuinely overwhelming to those in Belgium). But what about the countries like the Baltics and those of the Southern EU? Does Bulgaria have spare hundreds of million floating around? Hungary clearly can’t expect much of good will from Kiev, given its tango with Moscow, so it is not exactly likely to cheer on the funding plans… Who will? Austria and Germany and France, though France is never too keen on parting with cash, unless it gets more cash in return through some other doors. In Poland, farmers are protesting about EUR100 million that the country lent to Ukraine. Wait till they get the bill for their share of the USD22.5 billion coming due.

Recall that in April 2014, IMF has already provided USD17 billion to Ukraine and has paid up USD4.5 billion to-date. In addition, Ukraine received USD2 billion in credit guarantees (not even funds) from the US, EUR1.8 billion in funding from the EU and another EUR1.6 billion in pre-April loans from the same source. Germany sent bilateral EUR500 million and Poland sent EUR100 million, with Japan lending USD300 million. Here’s a kicker. With all this ‘help’ Ukrainian debt/GDP ratio is racing beyond sustainability bounds. Under pre-February ‘deal’ scenario, IMF expected Ukrainian debt to peak at USD109 billion in 2017. Now, with the new ‘deal’ we are looking at debt (assuming no write down in a major restructuring) reaching for USD149 billion through 2018 and continuing to head North from there.

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Maybe the Russians will just do it and have the charade over with.

Kiev Cash-For-Gas Fail Could Cost EU Its Supply In 2 Days – Gazprom (RT)

Russia will completely cut Ukraine off gas supplies in two days if Kiev fails to pay for deliveries, which will create transit risks for Europe, Gazprom has said. Ukraine has not paid for March deliveries and is extracting all it can from the current paid supply, seriously risking an early termination of the advance settlement and a supply cutoff, Gazprom’s CEO Alexey Miller told journalists. The prepaid gas volumes now stand at 219 million cubic meters. “It takes about two days to get payment from Naftogaz deposited to a Gazprom account. That’s why a delivery to Ukraine of 114 million cubic meters will lead to a complete termination of Russian gas supplies as early as in two days, which creates serious risks for the transit to Europe,” Miller said.

Earlier this month, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak estimated Ukraine’s debt to Russian energy giant Gazprom at $2.3 billion. In the end of 2014, Kiev’s massive gas debt that stood above $5 billion, forced Moscow to suspend gas deliveries to Ukraine for nearly six months. On December 9, Russia resumed its supplies under the so-called winter package deal, which expires on April 1, 2015. [..] On Monday, Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz accused Gazprom of failing to deliver gas that Kiev had paid for in advance. Naftogaz says Russia has broken an agreement to deliver 114 million of cubic meters of natural gas to Ukraine by delivering only 47 million cubic meters.

During a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on February 20, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed concern about an increase in daily applications by Ukraine for the supply of gas, TASS reports. He noted that “Ukraine’s consumers have requested a larger supply; the volume has increased by 2.5 times. This means that the prepaid volumes left are enough for no more than two to three days.”

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Kiev is not capable of saying anything true.

East Ukraine Artillery Withdrawal In Focus – As Poroshenko Buys UAE Weapons (RT)

While the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine were meeting in Paris to talk about the Eastern Ukraine peace settlement, it was revealed that the Ukrainian president has struck a deal on arms supplies from the UAE. The four ministers agreed on the need for the ceasefire to be respected, as well as on the need to extend the OSCE mission in Eastern Ukraine, reinforcing it with more funding, personnel and equipment. It’s important for Kiev troops and the rebels to start withdrawing heavy weapons right now, without waiting for the time “when not a single shot is fired,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after the meeting.

He added that his German and French counterparts thought it a positive development that the Donetsk and the Lugansk rebels had started to pull their artillery back. “The situation has significantly improved, that was acknowledged by my partners,” Lavrov said. “However, sporadic violations are being registered by the OSCE observers.” The withdrawal of heavy weaponry by Kiev troops and the rebels is part of the ceasefire deal struck in Minsk earlier in February. The Donetsk militia has announced it is complying. “Today at 9 am our units continued the pullback of heavy weaponry from the separation line,” said Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Tass news agency reported. [..]

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has meanwhile reached an agreement on weapons supplies from the United Arab Emirates. That’s according to a Facebook post by advisor to Ukrainian Interior Minister, Anton Gerashchenko. The deal was struck with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. “It’s worth emphasizing that unlike Europeans and Americans, the Arabs aren’t afraid of Putin’s threats of a third world war starting in case of arms and ammunition supplies to Ukraine,” Gerashchenko wrote. He also said he believed the UAE blamed Russia for the drop in oil prices. “So, this is going to be their little revenge,” the adviser said.

Gerashchenko said the types of weapons to be delivered and the volume of the supplies could not be disclosed. The UAE supplying weapons to Ukraine could be part of a US covert operation, former US diplomat James Jatras told RT. “This discussion in Washington about supplying weapons has been going on for some time. Usually that indicates that some kind of a covert program is already in operation and that we already are supplying some weapons directly,” he said. Jatras added that it is hard to believe that UAE would sell these weapons to Ukraine “without a green light from Washington.”

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Nobody expects anything other than a stink on Wall Street anymore. Pecunia DOES olet.

Lure of Wall Street Cash Said to Skew Credit Ratings (Bloomberg)

Michelle Choi, an analyst for Moody’s Investors Service, gave a credit rating to bonds issued by a New Jersey town in September. In October, she switched sides and started working for the town’s underwriter, Morgan Stanley. Choi is one of hundreds of employees at Moody’s and other credit-rating companies, including Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, who’ve gone to work for Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis exposed the conflicts at the heart of the ratings business. While there’s no evidence that Choi’s job-hunting influenced the grade she gave Evesham Township’s debt, the rising number of job changes in the industry raises a question: can credit analysts be impartial about grading bonds while looking for employment at banks that underwrite them? The ratings companies say the answer is yes.

An academic study by longtime industry observers suggests otherwise. “The fact that analysts can get employed by the issuers is a problem and the SEC should be doing something about it,” said Marcus Stanley, policy director at Americans for Financial Reform, a Washington-based coalition of 200 advocacy groups. Ratings analysts can work for issuers immediately because there’s no rule about a waiting period like there is in other industries. Accountants, in some cases, must wait one year before working for a company they audited. Choi’s new job at Morgan Stanley is “an internal risk function and is not part of the underwriting group,” said Mary Claire Delaney, a Morgan Stanley spokeswoman. Since 2008, more than 300 analysts have left the major ratings companies for jobs at banks and other debt issuers, according to U.S. SEC data.

Last year alone, more than 80 people made the switch, the most since the SEC began compiling such data in 2006. That’s out of a total of about 4,000 analysts employed by the ratings firms, according to SEC data. The migration shows that the credit graders and Wall Street banks are as close as ever. Their symbiotic relationship first came to widespread attention in the aftermath of the 2008 credit bust, when Moody’s and S&P were accused of inflating the rankings of mortgage bonds in order to win and keep business from underwriters. The U.S. Justice Department has been investigating the role the two played in the fiasco, and this month S&P agreed to pay $1.5 billion, without admitting guilt, to settle cases with state and federal authorities. The investigation into Moody’s continues.

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More threats.

Militants, Migrants And The Med: Europe’s Libya Problem (BBC)

Islamic State militants in Libya have vowed to attack Europe. Meanwhile, boatloads of migrants flee the collapsing state for European shores. Could the Mediterranean migration mask an influx of militants? Italy and Egypt have warned that Islamic State (IS) militants could hide among thousands of migrants rescued by European patrols. Both countries are troubled by the situation in Libya and have an interest in influencing it. However, neither has given any evidence to support its warnings. The migrants are mostly from Syria and sub-Saharan Africa. The idea that they pose a threat evokes a vicious logic at odds with humanitarian imperatives: refugees bring conflict, as conflict breeds refugees. What threat do the migrant boats pose? And what – if anything – can be done about it? Last week, Libyan militants allied to IS released a video that appeared to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian prisoners. The choreography echoed videos shot in Iraq and Syria.

However, instead of desert, the prisoners were positioned on a beach, against the grey Mediterranean Sea. Addressing the camera, a masked man promised attacks in Europe. “And now we are south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya,” he said, “sending you another message.” The video is thought to have been filmed near Sirte, a Libyan coastal town where Islamic State has gained a foothold. A few miles off that coast last week, an Italian operation rescued some 2,000 migrants from stormy waters. As one of the empty vessels that had carried the migrants was being towed away, a speedboat swept off the Libyan shore. The men aboard it were armed with assault rifles and, according to Italian officials, they wanted their boat back. The confrontation was the latest sign that some of the armed groups thriving in the Libyan chaos are also involved in human-trafficking.

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Kudos to the man. A giant.

Lester Brown: ‘Vast Dust Bowls Threaten Tens Of Millions With Hunger’ (Guardian)

Vast tracts of Africa and of China are turning into dust bowls on a scale that dwarves the one that devastated the US in the 1930s, one of the world’s pre-eminent environmental thinkers has warned. Over 50 years, the writer Lester Brown has gained a reputation for anticipating global trends. Now as Brown, 80, enters retirement, he fears the world may be on the verge of a greater hunger than he has ever seen in his professional lifetime. For the first time, he said tens of millions of poor people in countries like Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Peru could afford to eat only five days a week. Most of the world was exhausting its ground water because of overpumping. Yields were flatlining in Japan. And in northern and western China, and the Sahel region of Africa – an area already wracked by insurgency and conflict – people were running out of land to grow food.

Millions of acres of were turning into wasteland because of over-farming and over-grazing. “We are pushing against the limits of land that can be ploughed and the land available for grazing and there are two areas of the world in which we are serious trouble now,” Brown said. “One is the Sahel region of Africa, from Senegal to Somalia. There is a huge dust bowl forming now that is actually stretching right across the continent and that dust bowl is removing a lot of top soil, so eventually they will be in serious trouble,” he said. In areas of China, villagers were abandoning the countryside because the land was too depleted to raise flocks or grow food. “At some point there will be a reckoning,” he said.

“They will be abandoning so much land, both for farming and for grazing, that it will restrict their efforts to expand food production.” The result would be far worse than anything America saw in the 1930s. “Our dust bowl was serious, but it was confined and within a matter of years we had it under control … these two areas don’t have that capacity.” Brown has previously used his broad vision and his fluency with data to identify and explain major developments in the global food system and environment – as a junior analyst for the US Department of Agriculture, founder of the first US environmental thinktank, the Worldwatch Institute, and now as founder and president at the Earth Policy Institute. This latest warning – that demand for food is fast outstripping supply – may be one of his last as an institutional insider.

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Great piece by Albert the Über-Hippie. I finally get to post something by him.

The Amherst Cauldron (Albert Bates at ClubOrlov)

Wall Street Bankers watch warily from their penthouse eyries the power that populist movements like Occupy is gaining, especially in Albany but also in the New England States. Determined to thwart them, lest a revolt gather momentum against their interests, they decide to funnel millions of dollars to right wing rabble, to cause massive trouble… and to then wrest order out of the ensuing chaos (this part of their plan was always a bit sketchy, but they couldn’t think of anything better). Unfortunately, the only psychologically normal right-wing rabble they can find wouldn’t pass the physical due to weight issues and is permanently glued to giant plasma TV screens with their mouths stuffed full of cheese doodles, and so they have to go with the rejects: skinheads, neo-Nazis, gun freaks and prepper wing-nuts.

A State Department official is tasked with feeding and herding these rejects together. After a sudden and severe downturn in the stock market, the economy goes into free-fall and events spin out of control. Anarchist rallies take place throughout New England. A prominent Goldman Sachs broker’s Connecticut estate is overrun and videos posted to YouTube show pearled chandeliers and gold faucets. Throughout New England, grassroots efforts drive legislators to enact sweeping reforms. A new “uniform code” of banking reforms, designed to break finance cartels and prosecute fraud, takes hold among the states, snatching the initiative away from the bureaucratic heel-draggers at the federal level.

Then comes the great day that changes everything. It starts as a small protest march in Albany, to which the State Police predictably overreact. But then a group of snipers, of unknown provenance, kill a hundred or so people, both protesters and police among them. After that incident, a group of rioters, some secretly in the pay of Wall Street and coordinated by the US State Department, seize the Capitol in Albany. Much to everyone’s surprise, the New York National Guard defects to the rebel side. Despite impassioned pleas from the Canadian Premier, Washington does not send in troops to restore order. In the anarchy that is Albany, a slate of fresh faces wins a statewide referendum and forms a new state government.

It is quickly endorsed by other parts of the emergent “New England Federation” of states, all of which want to push back against the Wall Street bankers and their corruption by enlarging the scope of the uniform code. But the federally-funded wing-nuts also move quickly to consolidate their power, pushing through a wide-reaching agenda of oppressive laws. Some states in New England try to distance themselves, while others serve as apologists. Maine surprises everyone when it decides that it wants nothing to do with any of this and votes to secede and join Canada. Washington vows to take Maine back but it is trying to walk a narrow line with Canada, whose fossil fuel resources it views as indispensable.

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David is right of course, but not everyone can afford his lack of patience.

Kick-The-Can Has Morphed Into A Blatant Farce (David Stockman)

Kick-the-can has morphed into a blatant farce. Everywhere in the world central banks and financial officialdom are engaging in desperate, juvenile maneuvers to buy time – amounting to hardly a few weeks at a go. Never before has the debt-saturated, speculation-ridden global casino rested upon such a precarious foundation. This week, for instance, Janet Yellen will again waste two days of Congressional hearings in forked-tongue equivocations about an absolutely stupid issue. Namely, the exact date when money market interest rates will be permitted to blip upward from the zero bound by even 25 basis points. But this “lift-off” drama is flat-out surreal.

How could it possibly matter whether ZIRP will have been in place by 80 months or 83 months from its inception point way back in December 2008? There is not a single household or business on main street America which will change its behavior in the slightest during the next year regardless of whether the federal funds rate is 5 bps, 30 bps or 130 bps. The whole Kabuki dance in the Eccles Building is about hand signals to Wall Street carry traders; its a reflection of the desperate fear of our monetary politburo that having inflated for the third time this century the mother of all financial bubbles, they must now keep it going literally one meeting at a time—lest it splatter again and destroy the illusion that an egregious spree of money printing has saved the main street economy.

Likewise, it now transpires that the bruising political war of words between the Germans and the “radical” Greek government has been suspended for another few weeks. And the reason is a pathetic fear that unites the parties despite their irreconcilable substantive policy differences. Namely, that the markets will crater upon even a hint that a real solution is on the table, and that the way to keep the beast at bay is to cover their eyes, kick-the-can and hope something turns up to avert the next crisis a few weeks down the road. Still, this is getting beyond juvenile. If there were any adults in the room they would focus on quickly shaping a workable Greek default and exist—-not on perpetuating the lie that Greece can ever recover from its debt servitude to the EU superstate and IMF.

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“We will remove from …”

“Remove From Governments The Ability To Interfere With [Our] Rights” (Snowden)

If people lose their willingness to recognize that there are times in our history when legality becomes distinct from morality, we aren’t just ceding control of our rights to government, but our agency in determing our futures. How does this relate to politics? Well, I suspect that governments today are more concerned with the loss of their ability to control and regulate the behavior of their citizens than they are with their citizens’ discontent. How do we make that work for us? We can devise means, through the application and sophistication of science, to remind governments that if they will not be responsible stewards of our rights, we the people will implement systems that provide for a means of not just enforcing our rights, but removing from governments the ability to interfere with those rights.

You can see the beginnings of this dynamic today in the statements of government officials complaining about the adoption of encryption by major technology providers. The idea here isn’t to fling ourselves into anarchy and do away with government, but to remind the government that there must always be a balance of power between the governing and the governed, and that as the progress of science increasingly empowers communities and individuals, there will be more and more areas of our lives where—if government insists on behaving poorly and with a callous disregard for the citizen—we can find ways to reduce or remove their powers on a new—and permanent—basis. Our rights are not granted by governments. They are inherent to our nature. But it’s entirely the opposite for governments: their privileges are precisely equal to only those which we suffer them to enjoy.

We haven’t had to think about that much in the last few decades because quality of life has been increasing across almost all measures in a significant way, and that has led to a comfortable complacency. But here and there throughout history, we’ll occasionally come across these periods where governments think more about what they “can” do rather than what they “should” do, and what is lawful will become increasingly distinct from what is moral. In such times, we’d do well to remember that at the end of the day, the law doesn’t defend us; we defend the law. And when it becomes contrary to our morals, we have both the right and the responsibility to rebalance it toward just ends.

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Brilliant article by Ian Martin.

London: A Set Of Improbable Sex Toys Poking Gormlessly Into The Air (Guardian)

I wonder what in 100 years from now it will be, London. The city that privatised itself to death. Abandoned to nature, maybe, the whole place a massive, feral version of that mimsy garden bridge over the Thames currently being planned by the giggling classes. Poor London, the ancient and forgotten metropolis, crumbling slowly into an enchanted urban forest. Imagine. In 2115, all the lab-conjured animals in Regent’s Park Jurassic Zoo are free to roam, reliving their evolution. A diplodocus there, grazing in the jungled Mall. Look, a stegosaurus asleep in the ruins of Buckingham Palace. High above the forest canopy, a lone archaeopteryx soars, where once hundreds of drones glided through YouTubed firework displays.

Perhaps eminent historians will study London in the early 21st century, see how its poorer inhabitants were driven out, observe how its built environment was slowly boiled to death by privatisation. And they will wonder why people tolerated this transfer of collective wealth from taxpayers to shareholders. And they will perhaps turn their attention to Eduardo Paolozzi’s fabled mosaics at Tottenham Court Road underground station. Back in 2015, a debate has bubbled briefly, after some of these lovely, publicly owned mosaic murals were quietly dismantled as part of the station’s thorough £400m Crossrail seeing-to. I say “debate”; it was really only that polarised quackbait thing we have now: Click If You Think The Mosaics Are Great, We Should Save What’s Left Of Them v Smash Them Up They’re Ugly, Anyway Who Cares It’s Just Patterns On A Wall.

Arguments about the aesthetics of Paolozzi’s mosaics missed the point, it seemed to me, which has less to do with the merit of the art itself and more to do with what, in the long run, it turned out the art was for. Paolozzi’s legacy had stood intact for three decades. Not just as 1,000 sq m of charming, optimistic art, but as 1,000 sq m of commercial retardant. You can’t paste an ad on to a wallful of public art. You can’t fix one of those irritating micromovies over it, telling a vacuous five-second story about investments or vitamins or hair. The Paolozzi mosaics went up as decorative art, just as privatisation was about to explode like a dirty bomb all over the public realm. What survives at Tottenham Court Road station is a brave, forlorn little seawall set against a stormtide of corporate advertising.

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Nov 022014
 
 November 2, 2014  Posted by at 1:40 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Dillon, Montana, trading center for a prosperous cattle and sheep country Aug 1942

Financial ‘Experts’ No Better At Finance Than Normal Humans (HuffPo)
Child Poverty Up In More Than Half Of Developed World Since 2008 (Guardian)
Did QE Work? (Zero Hedge)
History Will Surely See QE As A Major Mistake (Telegraph)
Beware The QE Bubble, This Feels A Lot Like 1999 (Zero Hedge)
‘Another, Bigger Market Selloff Coming’ (CNBC)
European Growth As Elusive As Quicksilver (Reuters)
The World Economy Is Flying With Only One Engine (Roubini)
Warning: Avoid This Corrupt, Third-World Country At All Costs (Simon Black)
UK Courts Islamic Finance Market (Reuters)
China’s Economy Goes From Bad To Worse (Zero Hedge)
Ukraine Rebels Hold Russia-Backed Polls Condemned by UN (Bloomberg)
Gazprom To Resume Gas Supply Once Ukraine Pays $2.2 Billion (Reuters)
Ukraine Fighting Flares After Gas Deal as Winter Nears (Bloomberg)

We already knew.

Financial ‘Experts’ No Better At Finance Than Normal Humans (HuffPo)

Knowing more about finance does not lead to better financial decisions. In fact, some of the most supposedly financially knowledgeable people – mutual-fund managers – don’t make better financial decisions than other people, according to a new study by Michigan State and Notre Dame researchers, as reported in The Atlantic. It’s the latest evidence that a years-long campaign to help normal Americans achieve “financial literacy” is ineffective at best and misguided at worst. As The Atlantic notes, expert stock-pickers in finance and forecasters in other fields have been derided for decades as no better than dart-throwing monkeys. When it comes to getting ordinary people to know more about finance, however, the consensus has been that this time it’s different. On the surface, it’s a well-intentioned and uncontroversial mission: Helping people help themselves by making better decisions. And there’s plenty of evidence that people have a scary lack of financial knowledge: One study found that just a third of Americans would correctly answer three simple financial questions.

And those questions are models of transparency compared with the opaque language consumers often face when making even the simplest financial decisions. The goal of making people financially literate seems to imply that it’s the individual’s responsibility to safely navigate what is often intentionally inscrutable financial language. The same companies who create the problem of financial products Americans can’t understand push financial literacy as the solution. For instance, Bank of America thinks the key is an online course. The financial industry’s self-regulatory organization has an entire foundation devoted to investor education. But financial literacy in this gauzy, generalized form simply doesn’t work. The Cleveland Fed found no “conclusive support that any benefit at all exists” from financial education as it is currently taught. Shocking no one who has been to high school, one study showed that taking a financial literacy class in high school does nothing to improve financial literacy.

And a study by researchers at the Brookings Institution could not find “strong evidence that financial literacy efforts have had positive and substantial impacts.” In a 2011 presentation titled “The Financial Education Fallacy,” Lauren Willis, a professor at Loyola Law School, shot down the idea that “ordinary consumers would have made better mortgage choices and would have accumulated sufficient precautionary savings to weather the recession” if they’d just been financially educated. Straightforward consumer protections, like putting limits on how many single stocks people can own in retirement accounts, are most effective. Financial education is no substitute for financial regulation, she argues.

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This is QE for you. 40.5% child poverty in Greece, 32% in the US.

Child Poverty Up In More Than Half Of Developed World Since 2008 (Guardian)

Child poverty has increased in 23 countries in the developed world since the start of the global recession in 2008, potentially trapping a generation in a life of material deprivation and reduced prospects. A report by Unicef says the number of children entering poverty during the recession is 2.6 million greater than the number who have been lifted out of it. “The longer these children remain trapped in the cycle of poverty, the harder it will be for them to escape,” it says in Children of Recession: the Impact of the Economic Crisis on Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries. Greece and Iceland have seen the biggest percentage increases in child poverty since 2008, followed by Latvia, Croatia and Ireland. The proportion of children living in poverty in the UK has increased from 24% to 25.6%. Eighteen of the 41 countries in the study have seen falls in child poverty, topped by Chile which has seen a reduction from 31.4% to 22.8%.

Norway has the lowest child poverty rate, at 5.3% (down from 9.6% in 2008), and Greece has the highest, at 40.5% (up from 23% in 2008). Latvia and Spain also have child poverty rates above 36%. In the US, the rate is 32%. “In the past five years, rising numbers of children and their families have experienced difficulty in satisfying their most basic material and educational needs,” says the report. “Unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s have left many families unable to provide the care, protection and opportunities to which children are entitled. Most importantly, the Great Recession is about to trap a generation of educated and capable youth in a limbo of unmet expectations and lasting vulnerability.” It adds: “The impact of the recession on children, in particular, will be felt long after the recession itself is declared to be over.”

The study’s authors asked people about their experiences and perceptions of deprivation, based on four indicators: not having enough money to buy food for themselves or their family; stress levels; overall life satisfaction; and whether children have the opportunity to learn and grow. In 18 of the 41 countries, scores showed a worsening situation between 2007 and 2013, revealing “rising feelings of insecurity and stress”. The percentage of households with children unable to afford a meal with meat, chicken, fish or a vegetable equivalent every second day more than doubled in four European countries – Estonia (to 10%), Greece (18%), Iceland (6%) and Italy (16%).

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It did for broke banks.

Did QE Work? (Zero Hedge)

This week saw not only the end of QE but an unending parade of told-you-so talking-head willing to proclaim not only QE’s success (unemployment ~6%, stocks at record highs, corporate profits at record highs) but to scoff at the naysayers warnings that post-QE stocks will slide since ‘the whole rally has been driven by central bank liquidity’ because “see, stocks are ripping higher post-FOMC.” Obviously they fail to see the link between extraordinarily low rates (enabling cheap-funded financial engineering), printed money (repressing investors into buying stocks), and the fact that stocks are surged after another central bank – the BoJ – unleashed another round of even bigger insanity.To those that suggest QE was a victory, we have words and pictures… If it was so successful, why did they stop? And does this look like the chart of a successful monetary policy action?

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“As UK state spending has surged over recent years, with our national debt doubling to £1,400bn since 2008, we’ve kept our public finances afloat only by effectively selling government debt back to the state …” You mean, the BoE is not ‘inedependent’?

History Will Surely See QE As A Major Mistake (Telegraph)

“The final word on quantitative easing will have to wait for historians,” wrote Ambrose Evans-Pritchard this week. Now the US Federal Reserve has apparently ended QE, I’d like to take a cue from my esteemed Telegraph colleague by suggesting what future historians might say. On Wednesday, the Fed terminated QE3 – the latest incarnation of its money-creation programme. The American version of this highly unorthodox policy began in late 2008, with the Fed creating virtual balances ex nihilo and purchasing assets such as government debt and mortgage-backed securities, often from bombed-out banks. The US authorities originally billed QE as a $600bn exercise. By unlocking frozen interbank markets, it was supposed to spur growth, breaking the credit crunch. As meaningful recovery remained elusive, though, QE2 was launched in 2010, with its successor two years later. In sum, the world’s most important central bank has fired $3,700bn from its monetary bazooka. America’s QE has been six times bigger than envisaged.

The Fed’s balance sheet has grown more than three-fold in just over half a decade – an unprecedented monetary expansion. And it’s not just America, of course. Launched in March 2009, British QE was presented as a £50bn program. It has since ballooned to £375bn, some 7.5 times the official prediction. The Bank of England’s balance sheet has quadrupled, with our QE focusing on gilt purchases. The Bank now holds over a third of all outstanding sovereign bonds. Ordinarily, governments borrow from pension funds, insurance companies and other long-term investors. As UK state spending has surged over recent years, with our national debt doubling to £1,400bn since 2008, we’ve kept our public finances afloat only by effectively selling government debt back to the state, using newly-created money. If that sounds like dubious circular financing, that’s what it is. Future historians will no doubt discuss this uncomfortable reality more than we do.

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“ … we are in the midst of a big bubble that will – down the line – be referred to as ‘The QE Bubble.”

Beware The QE Bubble, This Feels A Lot Like 1999 (Zero Hedge)

It appears few remember the epic failure of Japan’s first experiment with quantitative easing from 2001 to 2006 (that even the NY Fed can’t find a silver lining to crow about) and yet, not only is QE heralded as a success (or not) but additional QE seems to be something to celebrate (even when it’s shown to fail to achieve anything economically). How’s QE working out for Japan? [..] As Michael Chadwick notes in an oddly bearish interview on CNBC, where has Japan gone in the last 14 years (since its QE started), “absolutely nowhere,” and yet, he exclaims, “sadly, across the globe all central banks are following the same failed path.” Chadwick reflects on the explosion of central bank balance sheets and asks, rhetorically, “do we really need QE every time the market gets nervous?”

Chadwick, rightly proclaims: “At this point not much matters apart from central banker comments, QE, and political promises… I wanna know about valuations, I worry about the consumer; this feels a lot like 1999 to me.” “We have to wonder, are the central banks working together; our QE ends one day; Japan QE ramps up the next – you gotta wonder?” “Right now the world is a very vulnerable place… we are in the midst of a big bubble that will – down the line – be referred to as ‘The QE Bubble'”

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I don’t think -10% is a major sell-off, that’s just a correction.

‘Another, Bigger Market Selloff Coming’ (CNBC)

U.S. stocks rallied on Friday, with the Dow industrial average and S&P 500 closing at record highs. While the recent selloff may be in the rearview mirror, there’s a bigger one coming within the next three months, Empire Execution president Peter Costa told CNBC Friday. “The market has been on a tear for over five years. We had a small pullback of 8% I don’t think that’s enough. I think that the market needs to come back a little bit more than that for a longer duration,” Costa said in an interview with “Closing Bell.” In fact, he’s predicting a selloff of “probably” more than 10%.

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It’s not elusive, it’s simple gone and it’s not coming back.

European Growth As Elusive As Quicksilver (Reuters)

Data from both sides of the Atlantic will give clues in the coming week on just how bad the euro zone economy is and just how sustainable is its U.S. counterpart. Europe offers a rate meeting from the European Central Bank and a new slate of economic forecasts; the United States will release its influential monthly jobs data. Purchasing manager indexes for the past month will also show how businesses see things shaping up in the United States and Europe. One for China’s has already come in lower than expected. For many, the ECB meeting on Thursday will be the main money event – despite the fact that it is not likely to be one of action or suspense. As usual, the attention will be on ECB President Mario Draghi’s nuances at the news conference that follows the likely non-move on rates. When it comes to the ECB, the news is often all about the journey rather than the destination. This week’s inflation data let the ECB off the hook on taking any immediate additional action to combat the threat of deflation.

At 0.4% in October, inflation is worryingly slight, but it is higher than it was a month earlier. ECB policymakers are also in no rush to move on to something new when they have not yet seen how their targeted loans and purchases of asset-backed securities are doing. Many in financial markets would like to see the ECB move to a full quantitative easing (QE) asset-buying program like the one the U.S. Federal Reserve has just closed. But as these words from ECB Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny suggest, it is not likely. “I don’t think we should be pushed by the markets to produce a new program at every meeting we have.” The bank will also be looking at the U.S. Federal Reserve’s ending of QE and relatively hawkish tone for some spillover succour. The euro is down more than 1.5% against the dollar since the Fed meeting on Wednesday, and down more than 10% since May. A weaker euro not only boosts euro zone exports, it imports inflation, both of which the ECB wants to see.

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‘Germany continues to resist a much-needed stimulus to boost eurozone demand.’ Roubini’s just another geezer proclaiming: ‘if only they picked the right policies, we’d return to growth … ‘ Yawn. It’s boring, it’s stupid, it’s costly, it’s destructive and it’s utterlyuseless. Why can’t anyone think beyond that narrow notion? Where is the power of the human brain? Where did it go? We’re stuck in a broken record rut.

The World Economy Is Flying With Only One Engine (Roubini)

The global economy is like a jetliner that needs all of its engines operational to take off and steer clear of clouds and storms. Unfortunately, only one of its four engines is functioning properly: the Anglosphere (the United States and its close cousin, the United Kingdom). The second engine – the eurozone – has now stalled after an anaemic post-2008 restart. Indeed, Europe is one shock away from outright deflation and another bout of recession. Likewise, the third engine, Japan, is running out of fuel after a year of fiscal and monetary stimulus. And emerging markets (the fourth engine) are slowing sharply as decade-long global tailwinds – rapid Chinese growth, zero policy rates and quantitative easing by the US Federal Reserve, and a commodity super-cycle – become headwinds. So the question is whether and for how long the global economy can remain aloft on a single engine. Weakness in the rest of the world implies a stronger dollar, which will invariably weaken US growth.

The deeper the slowdown in other countries and the higher the dollar rises, the less the US will be able to decouple from the funk everywhere else, even if domestic demand seems robust. Falling oil prices may provide cheaper energy for manufacturers and households, but they hurt energy exporters and their spending. And, while increased supply – particularly from North American shale resources – has put downward pressure on prices, so has weaker demand in the eurozone, Japan, China, and many emerging markets. Moreover, persistently low oil prices induce a fall in investment in new capacity, further undermining global demand. Meanwhile, market volatility has grown, and a correction is still underway. Bad macro news can be good for markets, because a prompt policy response alone can boost asset prices.

But recent bad macro news has been bad for markets, owing to the perception of policy inertia. Indeed, the European Central Bank is dithering about how much to expand its balance sheet with purchases of sovereign bonds, while the Bank of Japan only now decided to increase its rate of quantitative easing, given evidence that this year’s consumption-tax increase is impeding growth and that next year’s planned tax increase will weaken it further. As for fiscal policy, Germany continues to resist a much-needed stimulus to boost eurozone demand. And Japan seems to be intent on inflicting on itself a second, growth-retarding consumption-tax increase. Furthermore, the Fed has now exited quantitative easing and is showing a willingness to start raising policy rates sooner than markets expected. If the Fed does not postpone rate increases until the global economic weather clears, it risks an aborted takeoff – the fate of many economies in the last few years.

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The land of the free and the home of the depraved.

Warning: Avoid This Corrupt, Third-World Country At All Costs (Simon Black)

John Anderson, an American tourist from San Clemente, California, was driving down a poorly-maintained highway when he saw flashing lights in his rearview mirror. After a brief exchange with the local police officer, Anderson was shocked when the cop started searching his vehicle. Anderson had $25,180 in US dollar cash in the car, which by the way was not a crime according to the local laws. When the cop saw it, he told Anderson that we would take it and threatened him with arrest if he protested. Anderson couldn’t believe it. This is the sort of stuff you always hear about in these third world countries—corrupt cops and state robbery. Ultimately Anderson gave in; the cop let him go and did not charge him with a crime, but took every last penny in the vehicle. And for the last two years, Anderson has been trying to unsuccessfully fight it in the country’s Kangaroo court system.

Clearly we should all avoid going to such dangerously corrupt third world countries. Except in this case, Anderson was in the United States of America. And he is far from being the only victim of this highway robbery known as Civil Asset Forfeiture. Since 9/11, police forces in the Land of the Free made over 62,000 seizures without charging anyone with any crime, stealing $2.5 billion in cash alone. The cost of taking legal action against the government is so high, that only about 17% of the victims actually challenged the seizures. And even then, only 41% of those that challenged have been able to get their money back. This means that the government has a better than 93% success rate in outright theft. This is worse than mafia—it’s blatant theft with impunity from the people that are sworn to protect and serve. It’s the kind of thing that is thought to only occur in heinously corrupt countries.

Here’s the good news: many people are waking up to the reality that they’re not living in a free country. They are starting to understand what I call ‘the criminalization of existence.’ Every last detail of our lives is regulated—what we can/cannot put in our bodies, whether we can collect rainwater or unplug from the grid, how we are allowed to educate our own children, etc. Driving this point home, a Tennessee woman was actually thrown in jail earlier this month for ignoring a city citation to trim some overgrown bushes in her yard. This isn’t freedom. The irony is that, even though many people are starting to realize this, they’re looking to the very institution that has enslaved them to solve the problem.

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Try that in Texas.

UK Courts Islamic Finance Market (Reuters)

The scope of Britain’s Islamic finance market is widening with several initiatives from the government and private sector, although the country is about to lose one of its six full-fledged Islamic banks. In June, Britain became the first Western country to sell sovereign sukuk (Islamic bonds), helping boost its industry credentials as competition intensifies among global financial centres for a slice of Islamic business. Britain has 22 firms that offer sharia-compliant financial products and they held an estimated $19 billion in assets last year, according to a report by lobby group TheCityUK. These include six full-fledged Islamic banks such as Bank of London and the Middle East, European Islamic Investment Bank, Gatehouse Bank and the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB).

Last week a government official said the central bank would look into developing a liquidity management tool for use by Islamic banks, while Britain’s export credit agency expects to guarantee sukuk for the first time next year, an issue by a customer of European plane maker Airbus. In May, the Bank of England widened the types of sharia-compliant debt instruments that Islamic banks can use in their liquidity buffers, under a policy statement known as PS4/14.

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We know.

China’s Economy Goes From Bad To Worse (Zero Hedge)

Prepare to once again hear the word “decoupling” a whole lot more. The reason is that while the US economy is supposedly on an upward tear after the 3.5% Q3 GDP print (thanks to the war against ISIS sending defense spending soaring and a very contradictory plunge in imports which suggest US tollers are seeing far less end-demand) and despite the immediate cut to Goldman’s Q4 GDP estimate from 3.0% to 2.2% after US consumer spending tumbled in September it is, for now at least – because GDP-crushing snow is just around the corner – doing better than Europe (where Germany just joined the ranks of Spain, Italy and Portgual in the deflation column), Japan, where the BOJ just crashed recovery hopes and unleashed more QE for the official reason that the economy is tanking once more due to the inability to keep inflation steady above 1%, and certainly China, whose economy – driven by the housing market slide now in its 5th month and which has sent Y/Y prices negative for the first time since 2012 – keeps contracting, as confirmed overnight by the latest official PMI data from the National Bureau of Statistics. The Chinese data in a nutshell: overnight the official NBS PMI report indicted the October manufacturing PMI printed at a disappointing 50.8, below the 51.1 in September, and well below the consensus hopes for a rebound and uptick at 51.2.

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Elections are not free.

Ukraine Rebels Hold Russia-Backed Polls Condemned by UN (Bloomberg)

Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine are holding elections today in their self-proclaimed people’s republics in defiance of the United Nations and governments from Kiev to Washington. Voters in rebel-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk will each select a head of government as well as a People’s Council, according to their websites. Voting was underway and was expected to end at 8 p.m. Both regions switched to Moscow time, one hour later than the rest of Ukraine, on Oct. 26. About 5.2 million people live in the conflict zones, according to the United Nations. Some 4.3 million and 2.2 million people, mainly Russian speakers, lived in Donetsk and Luhansk, respectively, before the uprising began. Seven months of fighting has displaced about 1 million people and claimed more than 4,000 lives, the UN says. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “deplores” the elections as a “breach of the constitution and national law,” according to the UN’s website. “These ‘elections’ will seriously undermine the Minsk protocol and memorandum, which need to be urgently implemented in full.”

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Neither is gas.

Gazprom To Resume Gas Supply Once Ukraine Pays $2.2 Billion (Reuters)

Russia could resume natural gas deliveries to Ukraine as soon as next week if Kiev pays $2.2 billion in debt and pre-payments, gas exporter Gazprom said on Friday, under a deal that also safeguards winter deliveries to Europe. Moscow, Kiev and the European Union reached an agreement on Thursday over the gas supplies despite tensions over a pro-Russian separatist rebellion in east Ukraine. Gazprom cut off Ukraine in June amid a bitter dispute over unpaid bills and pricing for the former Soviet republic, which is seeking closer ties with the West. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said Gazprom would restart the flow of gas within two days of Kiev covering part of its debt and pre-paying for deliveries in November. “Everything depends on when Ukraine makes this payment. We understand this can happen by the end of next week,” Miller told Russian state TV broadcaster Rossiya 24.

The Kremlin on Friday welcomed the deal as “an important step in the context of ensuring further uninterrupted gas transit to Europe”. The EU receives about a third of its gas from Russia and about half of that is piped across Ukraine. Speaking in Kiev, Ukraine Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said he was determined to ensure safe transit to the EU, a crucial partner for Kiev in dealing with Russia over the rebellion in the east and a creditor of Ukraine’s bankrupt economy. “Ukraine will safeguard the transit and … won’t give Russia a chance to blackmail Ukraine and Europe,” Yatseniuk said. Thursday’s agreement covers November through next March and calls for Ukraine to pay $1.45 billion. Miller put the pre-payment portion of that at $760 million. Kiev must also pay off $3.1 billion for past deliveries by the end of the year, or supplies will cease from 2015, according to the protocol from Thursday’s talks in Brussels published by the Ukrainian government on Friday.

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It’s the Ukraine that keeps shelling. At least until there’s so much snow and ice no-one can figure out what happened to MH-17. A bitter winter awaits Donetsk and Luhansk.

Ukraine Fighting Flares After Gas Deal as Winter Nears (Bloomberg)

Fighting flared in Ukraine’s easternmost regions hours after the conclusion of a natural gas deal with Russia, highlighting the challenges in reaching peace as the Red Cross warned about winter’s onset. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on his parliamentary party yesterday to support Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister, saying the country needs to be united “as never before” following Oct. 26 elections. “Despite the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, acts of indiscriminate shelling and security incidents continue to put civilians at risk,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement. “The approaching winter makes the situation of both residents and displaced people even more difficult.” While the pact brokered by the European Union on Oct. 30 is designed to keep homes warm through the winter, rebels still hold large chunks of Ukraine’s east and are planning a controversial election tomorrow. Crimea remains under Russian control and the Kremlin, bristling at an EU accord Ukraine signed, is testing NATO with daily airspace violations.

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