Oct 282017
 
 October 28, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Stonehenge 1897

 

Spanish PM Dissolves Catalan Parliament And Calls Fresh Elections (G.)
Finland Prepares Parliamentary Vote To Recognize Catalonia (Exp.)
Catalonia Looks To Estonia’s E-Residency, Considers Cryptocurrency (IBT)
EU Economic Failures Are To Blame For Catalonia Mess – Steve Keen (Sp.)
Robert Mueller’s First Charges (Atlantic)
Large U.S. Cities Struggle With High Fixed Costs (BBG)
What You See Is Not What You Get in GDP (WS)
IRS Apologizes For Aggressive Scrutiny Of Conservative Groups (NPR)
J is for Junk Economics – Michael Hudson (Ren.)
New Zealand May Tighten Law That Allows Mega Wealthy To Buy Citizenship (G.)
Hopes Dashed For Giant New Antarctic Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

 

 

Vote for independence, get the opposite. A feature not a flaw in the EU.

Spanish PM Dissolves Catalan Parliament And Calls Fresh Elections (G.)

The Spanish government has taken control of Catalonia, dissolved its parliament and announced new elections after secessionist Catalan MPs voted to establish an independent republic, pushing the country’s worst political crisis in 40 years to new and dangerous heights. Speaking on Friday evening, the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said his cabinet had fired the regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and ordered regional elections to be held on 21 December. Rajoy said the Catalan government had been removed along with the head of the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra. The Catalan government’s international “embassies” are also to be shut down. “I have decided to call free, clean and legal elections as soon as possible to restore democracy,” he told a press conference, adding that the aim of the measures was to “restore the self-government that has been eliminated by the decisions of the Catalan government.

“We never, ever wanted to get to this situation. Nor do we think that it would be good to prolong this exceptional [state of affairs]. But as we have always said, this is not about suspending autonomy but about restoring it.” The actions came hours after Spain’s national unity suffered a decisive blow when Catalan MPs in the 135-seat regional parliament voted for independence by a margin of 70 votes to 10. Dozens of opposition MPs boycotted the secret ballot, marching out of the chamber in Barcelona before it took place and leaving Spanish and Catalan flags on their empty seats in protest. Minutes later in Madrid, the Spanish senate granted Rajoy unprecedented powers to impose direct rule on Catalonia under article 155 of the constitution. The article, which has never been used, allows Rajoy to sack Puigdemont and assume control of Catalonia’s civil service, police, finances and public media.

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Finland, Argentina, perhaps Scotland, who’s next?

Finland Prepares Parliamentary Vote To Recognize Catalonia (Exp.)

Finland could be the first country to officially recognise Catalonia as a republic state, in a move that would put the Scandinavian country in direct opposition to the EU. The country’s MP for Lapland Mikko Karna has said that he intends to submit a motion to the Finnish parliament recognising the new fledgling country. Mr Karna, who is part of the ruling Centre Party, led by Prime Minister Juha Sipila, also sent his congratulations to Catalonia after the regional parliament voted earlier today on breaking away from the rest of Spain. Should Finland officially recognise the new state of Catalonia this will be yet another body blow to the the EU which has firmly backed the continuation of a unified Spain under the control of Madrid. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned today that “cracks” were appearing in the bloc due to the seismic events in Catalonia that were causing ruptures through the bloc.

Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, said earlier today that for the EU nothing changes despite the Catalan parliament voting to breakaway from Spain. He said that the EU would continue to only speak with Spain. If Finland recognised Catalonia then this would make a mockery of the EU’s refusal to acknowledge the region’s new status. A statement from the European Union on October 2 read: “Under the Spanish Constitution, yesterday’s vote in Catalonia was not legal. [..] Argentina could also formally recognise the Republic of Catalonia and reject the intervention of the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who has moved to implement Article 155 which will permit Madrid to take over control of the semi-autonomous region. Socialist Left Argentine MP Juan Carlos Giordano, who represents Buenos Aires Province said that he would present a bill in parliament for the South American country to recognise Catalonia.

The Scottish Government has also sent a message of support, saying that Catalonia “must have” the ability to determine their own future. [..] “The European Union has a political and moral responsibility to support dialogue to identify how the situation can be resolved peacefully and democratically.”

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“Eva Kaili MEP, an advocate of fintech innovation who was a politician in Greece at the time of the crisis, recounts that the plan was taken seriously. “We talked about leaving the eurozone, finding another currency,” said Kaili. “There was even a ‘Plan B’, which involved essentially hacking into everyone’s accounts and replacing all their money with Bitcoin.”

Catalonia Looks To Estonia’s E-Residency, Considers Cryptocurrency (IBT)

As Spain is poised to seize control of the Catalan government and stop the region’s bid for independence, an initiative is underway to emulate Estonia’s innovative e-residency programme. Technology advocates in Catalonia, which is reputed to be ahead of the rest of Spain in areas like fintech, are also reportedly touting the possibility of a national cryptocurrency or digital token, something Estonia has also been considering. An article in Spain’s main daily newspaper El Pais reports that digital transformation experts working for the Government of Catalonia, the Generalitat de Catalunya, have visited Estonia several times to gather tips on how to implement an e-residency programme. Dani Marco, director of SmartCatalonia, who appears to be heading up the initiative, pointed out that the Estonians “started from scratch, with all the possibilities they were offered to build a model of economic development.”

The article goes on to namecheck Vitalik Buterin, inventor of the next generation public blockchain Ethereum, who was attending a technology conference in Barcelona. The takeaway was that Catalonia could follow Estonia’s proposal to issue some flavour of national blockchain tokens – a decentralised store of value in other words. Most of the time you hear about banks stating that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are only good for criminals, or that they are too slow, or volatile to be of any real use. However, issuing digital currency without the need for a central bank is undoubtedly a bona fide use case. Moreover, the mere mention of Estonia in this context is somewhat incendiary: the digitally advanced Baltic nation recently proposed issuing a national cryptocurrency – the so-called “Estcoin”.

This would make it the first nation to carry out an initial coin offering (ICO), a new way of funding technology projects by issuing tokens on a blockchain. A blogpost on the subject garnered so much interest and media attention that in the end ECB chief Mario Draghi publicly slapped down the proposal. “No member state can introduce its own currency; the currency of the eurozone is the euro,” he said. The other thing that Estonia has perfected across its 1.3 million e-residents is a secure and tamper-resistant e-voting system. [..] It was not widely reported, but during the years of punishing austerity that followed the banking bailouts, Greece considered a desperate measure called “Plan B”, which essentially involved switching from the euro to Bitcoin.

Eva Kaili MEP, an advocate of fintech innovation who was a politician in Greece at the time of the crisis, recounts that the plan was taken seriously. “We talked about leaving the eurozone, finding another currency,” said Kaili. “There was even a ‘Plan B’, which involved essentially hacking into everyone’s accounts and replacing all their money with Bitcoin. “Plan B was quite well drafted. Move all accounts into to Bitcoin, establish Bitcoin ATMs – it’s scary, and of course it goes against the ethos of Bitcoin and being in control of your own assets. But look what happened in Cyprus; sometimes you are not safe from your own government.”

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“..the European Union is about unifying Europe — this is a great example of it actually causing Europe to fragment.”

EU Economic Failures Are To Blame For Catalonia Mess – Steve Keen (Sp.)

Sputnik: Quite extraordinary scenes this afternoon in Catalonia. Are you surprised it’s come to this? Steve Keen: No, I am not. One thing that we tend to forget is that the last fascist dictator to die in his sleep was the last fascist ruler of Spain. So there’s a deep tendency for authoritarian reactions in that country. But in the meantime, the real story I think is the impact of the euro causing effectively depressions through southern Europe. And areas that were rich before the euro came are the ones that are leading revolts against it right now. Catalonia, of course, is the prime example!

Sputnik: People see this as a problem for Spain, but isn’t it a bit of a problem for the EU too? Steve Keen: Absolutely! The EU has completely sided with Spain, the only thing it did was acknowledge that the actual referendum was illegal. It didn’t make any mention of the heavy-handed treatment by the Spanish police and of the enforcing of that judgment. They should have been far more sensible simply ignoring it. The EU has aligned itself here with basically suppressing democratic tendencies inside its own member countries. Sputnik: Do you think that’s actually recognized by the European public? Or has it gone unnoticed?

Steve Keen: I think it’s gone unnoticed because the real reason to form the European Union was to bring about European unity. And that was, of course, a noble aim after the Second World War. But the mistake was the economic system into which it was imposed. And if you’re trying to bring about economic democracy of a continental level, when you don’t have a treasury at the same time and you don’t have a way of equalising the impact of trade imbalances, which is what removing the flexible exchange rates prior to the euro ended up causing, then you have a system which will end up causing crisis after crisis. Which is, of course, what happened with the global financial crisis leading to great-depression-levels of unemployment in Spain. And they’re still at 17% of the population. For everyone who thinks that the European Union is about unifying Europe — this is a great example of it actually causing Europe to fragment.

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It’s getting ugly. And murky.

Robert Mueller’s First Charges (Atlantic)

The special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation reportedly obtained a sealed indictment on Friday. It’s the end of the beginning for the Russia investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has reportedly filed the first criminal charges as part of the sprawling inquiry into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, CNN reported Friday night. Citing “sources briefed on the matter,” the network said a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., approved the charges, which have been sealed by a federal judge. CNN did not indicate who had been charged, how many people had been charged, or what charges had been filed by Mueller’s team. An arrest could come by Monday. Reuters subsequently confirmed CNN’s reporting.

John Q. Barrett, a St. John’s University law professor and former associate special counsel in the Iran-Contra affair, said that a sealed indictment itself is rare, as is its disclosure to the press. “It’s possible that this could come from sources in the Department of Justice or defense counsel, each of which would have been likely to know that charges were going to be sought and that a sealing order was going to be sought,” he explained. “It’s unusual and would be a serious violation,” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman under the Obama administration, said Friday night. “No one outside of the Justice Department or the court—including grand jurors, court reporters and such—should know, with the possible exception of the defendant’s attorney, who might have been briefed to arrange surrender.”

No matter who is indicted, the move will send shockwaves throughout the Trump administration and the nation’s capital. Until now, the Russia investigation has followed President Trump’s first year in office like a shadow, darkening his political fortunes without substantially altering them. A federal indictment of anyone connected to the Trump campaign or the White House would turn that theoretical danger into hard reality.

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The problems that crawl up on you in the dark of night.

Large U.S. Cities Struggle With High Fixed Costs (BBG)

Cities across the U.S. often feel the same pinch—trying to manage the typical costs of running a city, such as picking up trash and filling potholes, on top of ballooning retirement obligations and outstanding debts. Several major cities are struggling to keep up. The culprit: As employees age and retire, cities are on the hook for funding more pensions and health-care benefits. In 2016, local governments faced a pension investment gap of $3.7 trillion, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Their predicament only worsens when cities fall behind in making those payments or their investments lag. When you measure those fixed costs against a city’s operating budget, no major city is as embattled as Jacksonville, Florida. In the city of 881,000 people, fixed costs are 31.4 percent of expenses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

That’s driven by pensions, which made up almost 18 percent of expenses in fiscal 2016. Twenty-six other U.S. cities with populations of more than 250,000 have fixed cost ratios above 23 percent. They include Los Angeles and Houston, which could also be on the hook to pay Hurricane Harvey recovery costs that federal funds don’t cover. Smaller cities aren’t necessarily immune. City leaders in Hartford, Connecticut, where fixed costs are 27 percent of expenses, warned last month that the city wouldn’t be able to meet its financial obligations without additional help from the state. State lawmakers passed a budget with additional aid to the capital city on Thursday. Relief may not be around the corner for other areas. City revenues are expected to stagnate in 2017, on average, while expenditures are forecast to rise 2.1 percent, according to a Sept. 12 survey of 261 U.S. city finance officers by the National League of Cities.

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Awaiting revisions.

What You See Is Not What You Get in GDP (WS)

The US economy, as measured by “real” GDP (adjusted for a version of inflation) grew 0.74% in the third quarter, compared to the prior quarter. That was a tad slower than the 0.76% growth in Q2, but up from the 0.31% growth in Q1. GDP was up 2.3% from a year ago. To confuse things further, in the US, we cling to the somewhat perplexing habit of expressing GDP as an “annualized” rate, which takes the quarterly growth rate (0.74%) and projects it over four quarters. This produced the annualized rate of 2.99%, or as we read this morning all over the media, “3.0%.” This was the “advance estimate” by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The BEA emphasizes that the advance estimate is based on source data that are “incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency.”

These revisions can be big, up or down, as we’ll see in a moment. The BEA will release the “second estimate” for Q3 on November 28 and the “third estimate” on December 21. More revisions are scheduled over the next few years. So 2.99% GDP growth annualized, or 0.74% GDP growth not annualized, or 2.3% growth from a year ago… is pretty good for our slow-growth, post-Financial-Crisis, experimental-monetary-policy era, but well within the range of that era, that goes from 5.2% annualized growth in Q3 2014 to a decline of 1.5% in Q1 2011. So nothing special here:

[..] In other words, we won’t really know how the economy did in the last quarter until we have a lot more hindsight. Point one: It’s devilishly hard to estimate what’s going on in the vast and complex US economy. The BEA comes up with an “advance estimate” to give economy watchers a feel, but it concedes that there will be many and substantial revisions as more data become available, and that initial “feel” may be wrong. Point two: Equally complex economies, such as China’s, are equally hard to estimate. Yet China’s National Bureau of Statistics comes up with one big-fat figure that is always very near the number the central government had mandated earlier. It publishes its GDP number less than three weeks after the end of the quarter, and a week or more before the BEA’s advance estimate.

For example, on October 18, the National Bureau of Statistics reported that GDP in Q3 grew 6.8% year-over-year. And this figure – however hastily concocted, inflated, or just plain fabricated – becomes etched in stone. No one believes it. At least in the US, after many revisions and years down the road, GDP becomes a credible number. In China, you’ll never get there. And point three: GDP is a terrible measure of the economy. It measures what money gets spent on and invested in. It’s a measurement of flow. Among other shortcomings, it doesn’t include the source of money – whether it’s earned money or borrowed money. This leads to the distortion that piling on debt is somehow good for the economy, when in reality it’s only good for GDP but will act as a drag on the economy down the road.

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WTF?

IRS Apologizes For Aggressive Scrutiny Of Conservative Groups (NPR)

In a legal settlement that still awaits a federal judge’s approval, the IRS “expresses its sincere apology” for mistreating a conservative organization called Linchpins of Liberty — along with 40 other conservative groups — in their applications for tax-exempt status. And in a second case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots and 427 other groups suing the IRS also reached a “substantial financial settlement” with the government. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the two settlements Thursday. The Justice Department quoted him as saying of the IRS activity: “There is no excuse for this conduct. Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS. We hope that today’s settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated.”

It’s “a historic victory,” said Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative nonprofit legal group representing the Linchpins plaintiffs. Sekulow, who is also on President Trump’s personal legal-defense team, said the IRS agreed to stop “the abhorrent practices utilized against our clients.” The Linchpins case, in federal circuit court in Washington, D.C., has no monetary settlement. The two sides agreed to bear their own legal fees. The consent order says the IRS admits it wrongly used “heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays” and demanded unnecessary information as it reviewed applications for tax-exempt status. The order says, “For such treatment, the IRS expresses its sincere apology.” [..] The controversy began in 2013 when an IRS official admitted the agency had been aggressively scrutinizing groups with names such as “Tea Party” and “Patriots.”

It later emerged that liberal groups had been targeted, too, although in smaller numbers. The IRS stepped up its scrutiny around 2010, as applications for tax-exempt status surged. Tea Party groups were organizing, and court decisions had eased the rules for tax-exempt groups to participate in politics. Groups sought tax-exempt status as 501(c)(3) charities, where the organization and its donors get tax write-offs, and 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations, where donors’ contributions are not tax deductible. After the IRS confession in 2013, its top echelons were quickly cleaned out. Conservative groups sued. Congressional Republicans launched what became years of hearings, amid allegations the Obama White House had ordered the targeting.

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Economics is designed to distort our view of the economy.

J is for Junk Economics – Michael Hudson (Ren.)

The main goal of neoliberalism is to create an economic model for a parallel universe that seems plausible, says economist, Michael Hudson, Professor of economics at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and a researcher at the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. “It seems that it would work very nicely, if the world where that day,” he tells host and co-founder, Ross Ashcroft. “But economics does not have a relationship to the real world. “The function of neoliberal economics is to distract attention away from how the economy really works: Why it’s polarising, why people are having to work harder despite the fact that productivity is increasing, and why the economy is polarising between the 1% and the rest of the economy.” It’s classic cognitive dissonance.

And though there have been many economists who have accurately explained the world, the economist says very little empirical research has been factored into classical economic modelling. “Everyone from Adam Smith, through even Malthus and Ricardo – had the basic concepts of value and price theory correct, for instance” said Professor Hudson. “John Stuart Mill gets even better marks, though he was a little optimistic about where capitalism was going. Then Thorstein Veblen caps-it-off. These are people Americans haven’t heard very much of: The institutionalist, Simon Patton for instance, was the first Professor of Economics at America’s first business school – the Wharton School – who became the intellectual mentor of economics turning into sociology early in the 20th century.

“There is an enormous amount of analysis, all of it based on history, on empirical analysis, on statistical analysis – and all of that is excluded from the curriculum – so there’s no way to fit economic reality into the academic curriculum of neoclassical economics.” [..] “What happens is that people who criticise financialisation – for instance, modern monetary theorists – find that they can’t get published in the major refereed journals. And without that, they can’t get promoted within academia. Universities are systematically detouring students away from economic reality.” [..] When Professor Hudson was teaching at the New School 50 years ago, he said his graduate students were dropping out of economics because they couldn’t fit reality into the curriculum.

The economist, famed for sacking Alan Greenspan back before the days he was appointed to the Chair of the US Federal Reserve, criticised him for claiming he was “shocked” by the self-interest lending of institutions to protect shareholders equity. “He knew who paid him,” said Hudson. “When I was on Wall Street in the 1960s, banks were afraid to hire him because he was known for saying whatever the client wanted to be said. He’s a public relations person. “The fact is universities are teaching the economics of public relations for the corporate sector. That’s why, underlying this theory, is a theory of how an economy would work without government, or any governmental regulation, where taxation is seen as a burden.”

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It’ll be hard to keep the rich away.

New Zealand May Tighten Law That Allows Mega Wealthy To Buy Citizenship (G.)

New Zealand’s new Labour government will reconsider legislation that allows wealthy foreigners to effectively buy citizenship, the housing minister has said. In an interview with the Guardian about the housing shortage in New Zealand, Phil Twyford said the law that allowed Trump donor and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel to become a citizen and buy a bolt hole in the South Island would come under scrutiny. Since coming into power last week, Labour has said it will ban foreigners from buying existing homes, along with a slew of policies aimed at addressing the housing crisis, which has seen homelessness grow to more than 40,000 people. However, the ban will not apply to foreigners who gain citizenship in New Zealand – a loophole that billionaire Thiel used, after spending a total of 12 days in the country.

Thiel’s fast-tracked citizenship allowed him to buy multiple properties in New Zealand, even though he told the government he had no intention of living in the country, but would be an “ambassador” for New Zealand overseas instead, and provide contacts for New Zealand entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley. “That was a discretionary decision that was made at the time [Thiel’s citizenship], and we were very critical. Our policy, banning people would apply to everybody, regardless of how much money they have or what country they come from,” Twyford said. “We haven’t announced policy on that [tightening the investment immigration criteria] but I think it is probably something that we are likely to look at.” Twyford said New Zealand’s ban on foreign buyers was modelled on similar legislation in Australia, and was designed to ensure New Zealanders can once again achieve the Kiwi dream of owning their own home.

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We are the tragedy.

Hopes Dashed For Giant New Antarctic Marine Sanctuary (AFP)

Hopes for a vast new marine sanctuary in pristine East Antarctica were dashed Saturday after a key conservation summit failed to reach agreement, with advocates urging “greater vision and ambition”. Expectations were high ahead of the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – a treaty tasked with overseeing protection and sustainable exploitation of the Southern Ocean. Last year’s summit in Hobart saw the establishment of a massive US and New Zealand-backed marine protected area (MPA) around the Ross Sea covering an area roughly the size of Britain, Germany and France combined. But an Australia and France-led push this year to create a second protected area in East Antarctica spanning another one million square kilometre zone failed.

Officials told AFP that Russia and China were key stumbling blocks, worried about compliance issues and fishing rights. Consensus is needed from all 24 CCAMLR member countries and the European Union. Greenpeace called for “greater vision and ambition” in the coming year while WWF’s Antarctic program chief Chris Johnson said it was another missed opportunity. “We let differences get in the way of responding to the needs of fragile wildlife,” he said. Australia’s chief delegate Gillian Slocum described the failure as “sad”. She also bemoaned little progress on addressing the impacts of climate change which was having a “tangible effect” on the frozen continent. “While CCAMLR was not able to adopt a Climate Change Response Work Program this year, members will continue to work together ahead of the next meeting to better incorporate climate change impacts into the commission’s decision-making process,” she said.

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Sep 142017
 
 September 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Chop Suey 1929

 

Top Democrats Announce Deal With Trump To Protect ‘Dreamers’ (MW)
Fed Balance Sheet Reduction Will Reduce Funds Sent To Treasury (BI)
“You Should Take the Fed at Their Word” (WS)
“Markets Have Always Been Wrong” – Jamie Dimon (ZH)
10% of Global GDP Is Stashed In Tax Havens (BI)
Did You Know Housing Gets Counted Twice In GDP? (Murray)
The Real Earnings of Men (WS)
China’s Steel Mills Run at Full Tilt as Output Hits New Peak (BBG)
China’s Economy Cools Again (BBG)
US Senate Rejects Bid To Repeal War Authorizations (R.)
Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad? (Robert Parry)
Crisis Brings Sea Change To Greek Housing Market (K.)
More Austerity May Be Ahead (K.)

 

 

They dine together, close a deal, and then can’t wait to tell entirely different stories to the press. But Trump has forced them into action.

Top Democrats Announce Deal With Trump To Protect ‘Dreamers’ (MW)

Top Democratic leaders said Wednesday night that they had reached a compromise agreement with President Donald Trump to enact protections for the children of undocumented immigrants in exchange for increased border security measures that do not include funding for a wall — which the White House then disputed. “We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the president,” read a joint statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “The discussions focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.” But shortly after that statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed that border-wall funding was off the table. “Excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” she said.

Schumer, of New York, and Pelosi, of California, had dinner with Trump at the White House on Wednesday night. It was apparently the second bipartisan agreement between Democrats and Trump in the past week, after last week’s surprise deal that provided funding for Hurricane Harvey relief and extended the debt ceiling for three months, much to Republicans’ chagrin. Extending protections for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which were rescinded by the Trump administration last week, is a top priority for Democrats and many Republican lawmakers. Without new legislation, the 690,000 children of undocumented immigrants — so-called “Dreamers” — enrolled in the program could face deportation as their status expires over the next two years. Trump had said he may “revisit” the issue of Dreamers in six months if Congress didn’t act.

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It’s like driving into a dark and wet dead end alley.

Fed Balance Sheet Reduction Will Reduce Funds Sent To Treasury (BI)

The Federal Reserve is not expected to raise interest rates again until at least December, and even that increase is now in doubt given low inflation and high political uncertainty in the United States. That doesn’t mean the central bank has no plans to tighten monetary policy, however. Officials are widely expected to announce the start of a gradual reduction of the Fed’s $4.4 trillion balance sheet, which more than quintupled in response to the Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-2009. Policymakers are hoping the shrinkage, which they intend to accomplish by ceasing reinvestments of maturing bonds back into the central bank’s portfolio, will have minimal market impact. But a previous episode in 2013 known as the “taper tantrum,” when bond yields spiked sharply higher at the mere mention of a possible end to the Fed’s bond-buying program, offers a cautionary tale.

Regardless of immediate market impact, there will be a longer term effect on the government budget, currently the subject of heated debate, that most investors and politicians are ignoring. That’s because the Fed’s bond-buying program, in addition to lowering the government’s borrowing costs at a time when weak economic activity called for bigger budget deficits, created a stream of yearly returns of nearly $100 billion for the Federal Reserve which it then siphoned back to the Treasury. Sometimes these are referred to as the Fed’s “profits,” but that is a deceptive way of describing what is in effect an intra-government transaction. “As assets under management drop, so too will revenue on that portfolio. This will be a lost revenue source for the Treasury that will raise deficits and add to the Treasury’s financing” costs, writes Societe Generale Economist Stephen Gallagher in a research note to clients.

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Downward volatility.

“You Should Take the Fed at Their Word” (WS)

The markets have been brushing off the Fed and have done the opposite of what the Fed has set out to accomplish. The Fed wants to tighten financial conditions. It’s worried about asset prices. It’s worried that these inflated assets which are used as collateral by the banks, pose a danger to financial stability. It has mentioned several inflated asset classes by name, including commercial real estate, which backs $4 trillion in loans heavily concentrated at regional banks. And yet, markets have loosened financial conditions since the Fed started its tightening cycle in earnest last December. Markets are hiding behind “low” inflation, when the Fed is focused on asset prices. So longer-term yields have been falling even as short-term yields have moved up in line with the Fed’s target rate, and thus the yield curve has flattened.

The dollar has been falling. Equities have been soaring to new highs. And companies, if they’re big enough, are able to get funding for the riskiest projects at stunningly low rates. “I think there is maybe too much confidence that the Fed is not really going to do too much more on interest rates, that we’ll have one or two more rate hikes and that’s it,” Brian Coulton, chief economist for Fitch Ratings, told Reuters on Tuesday. Market participants are expecting “just one or two interest rate increases a year” despite the Fed’s stated expectation of seeing long-run interest rates at around 3.0%. “When the Fed says they’re going to engage in a gradual rate of interest rate increases, they mean three or four rate hikes every year and we think that’s what they’re going to do,” Coulton said. “We think that you should take them at their word and it may even be a little faster than that.”

This disconnect between market expectations and the Fed’s stated intentions could create volatility in fixed-income markets when markets finally catch up, he said. Volatility, when it’s used in this sense, always means downward volatility: a sudden downward adjustment in prices and spiking yields – a painful experience for the coddled bond market with big consequences for the stock market. “We think they’re going to be … getting more worried about some of the negative consequences of QE, the fact that it encourages risk taking and may create some issues for the banks,” he said. And he expects – this is “more of a personal view,” he said – that the Fed will continue with the rate hikes, or even accelerate them, even if consumer price inflation remains low.

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“There’s low volatility until they’re highly volatile.” Sounds like Minsky.

“Markets Have Always Been Wrong” – Jamie Dimon (ZH)

Oh, listen, markets are markets. There’s low volatility until they’re highly volatile. The stock market is high until it goes low. Markets therefore have always been wrong. And I think people are making mistakes. I can give you reasons why it might be low. We’ve had this fairly consistent, coherent, consistent growth. But forget the geopolitical noise and stuff like that. We’re chugging along, 2%. Europe is doing 2%. Russia – I mean, Japan is doing 1.5%, China’s doing their 6%. You know, earnings are doing okay. We’ve had a fairly benign economic environment. That’s a reason. I can give you another reason is that the Central Banks of the world that bought $12 trillion of securities. 12 trillion. Since they started doing QE. And that’s only just the U.S. That’s an awful lot of security purchases that might – in all things be equal, and remember things are never all equal – can reduce volatility.

And there may be other sides that are known. And once other sides happen, watch out. Then volatility goes way up. They’ll say they’re a genius, they figured out when it’s going to happened. I don’t guess on which kind of volatility. Like I said, we do a business. And we have to manage the volatility.” [..] The hurricanes are irrelevant. I wouldn’t have any policy matter as a function of hurricanes. Going to reduce GDP in the short run, they’ll probably increase it after that. I’ll let the economists figure it out. But almost a $20 trillion economy, that isn’t a reason to change monetary policy. It will create a lot of noise in the numbers, but I wouldn’t overreact to that. Advice, it’s very sympathetic. We’re doing – just so you know, we’re going to do a lot for affordable housing, get these people in these states 20,000 people in Florida, 6,000 in Houston. Most of the banks are waiving fees, delaying loan payments, offering special services for your employees and stuff like that.”

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Saw the graph before. Greece is the big one here.

10% of Global GDP Is Stashed In Tax Havens (BI)

The Panama Papers and other major leaks from offshore tax havens have helped shed light on just how much money the world’s wealthiest people are parking in untaxed obscurity, away from the authorities and, importantly, economic researchers. This new evidence has helped economists gain greater insight into just how steep disparities between the rich and the poor have become, because having actual data on offshore holdings tends to widen wealth gaps considerably. Three of these researchers have teamed up on two important papers that offer a more in-depth look at what the world’s worst tax-evading and -avoiding nations are, and they find that the existence of tax havens makes inequality much worse than it appears with standard, publicly available economic data.

“The equivalent of 10% of world GDP is held in tax havens globally, but this average masks a great deal of heterogeneity—from a few % of GDP in Scandinavia, to about 15% in Continental Europe, and 60% in Gulf countries and some Latin American economies,” Annette Alstadsæter at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Niels Johannesen of the University of Copenhagen, and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley write in the first of the two articles. Global gross domestic product is about $75.6 trillion, according to World Bank figures. They then apply these estimates to build revised series of top wealth shares in 10 countries accounting for nearly half of world GDP. “Because offshore wealth is very concentrated at the top, accounting for it increases the top 0.01% wealth share substantially in Europe, even in countries that do not use tax havens extensively,” the authors write. “It has considerable effects in Russia, where the vast majority of wealth at the top is held offshore.”

About 60% of the wealth of Russia’s richest households is held offshore, the economists estimate. “More broadly, offshore wealth is likely to have major implications for the concentration of wealth in many of the world’s developing countries, hence for the world distribution of income and wealth.” “These results highlight the importance of looking beyond tax and survey data to study wealth accumulation among the very rich in a globalized world,” they continue. They say that despite lip service to transparency, “very little has been achieved” in recent years. “With the exception of Switzerland, no major financial center publishes 18 comprehensive statistics on the amount of foreign wealth managed by its banks.”

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GDP is a lousy measure.

Did You Know Housing Gets Counted Twice In GDP? (Murray)

Your car gets counted once in GDP when it is built, not when it is driven. Your clothes, your bicycle, your furniture, all get counted once when they are manufactured, and not again when they are worn, ridden, or sat on. But homes are counted twice: Once when they are constructed, and again when they are occupied. The argument to include both housing construction (as a new capital investment good) and housing occupancy (as a consumption good) arises from a conceptual trick at the heart of national accounting. That trick is to separate out two types of ‘final’ goods when adding up the ‘value-added’ in the economy, which is what GDP does. One good is a consumption good. These are goods (and services) that households consume, like clothes, food, entertainment, and so forth. All the value added at intermediate stages in the production chain of these goods can be captured by looking only at the final retail value of the goods.

That value represents the total value-added across the economy to produce that good. The other type of good is an investment good. This is a good that lasts a long time and contributes to future production. A new rail line, for example, is classified a new investment good, and the value of its production is counted in GDP, even though households don’t get any value from it until it is used to run trains. Once the rail line is being used to run trains, the value of those travel services is also counted in GDP as a consumption good, which will include within it the value contribution of the rail line itself. Thus there is a type of double-counting when it comes to investment goods — you count them when they are made, and you count them again when they are used to make consumption goods.

This is intentional. The production of investment goods is a large share of GDP — between 20 and 40% in most countries. By ignoring this production, which is also the more volatile part of production over the business cycle, GDP loses much of its value as a measure of how economically active a country is. The construction of new homes is, therefore, an investment good, which gets counted in GDP. But then the occupancy of these same homes gets counted gain as a consumption ‘home rental’ good each period after. This applies to the 70% of households (in Australia at least) who own their own home, not just the renters. Although they don’t pay themselves rent to occupy their home, GDP is calculated as if they do by ‘imputing’ the rent that homeowners would have to pay themselves if they instead rented their home.

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” On this inflation-adjusted basis, men had earned more than that in 1972″
..

The Real Earnings of Men (WS)

For women who were working full-time year-round, median earnings (income obtained only from working) rose 0.7% on an inflation-adjusted basis from a year ago to $48,328, continuing well-deserved increases over the data series going back to 1960. The female-to-male earnings ratio hit a new record of 80.5%, after steady increases, up from the 60%-range, where it had been between 1960 and 1982. And while that may still be inadequate, and while more progress needs to be made for women in the workforce, it was nevertheless the good news.

Men in the workforce haven’t been so lucky. They have experienced the brunt of the wage repression over the past four decades, obtained in part via inflation, where wages inch up, but not quite enough to keep up with the Fed-engineered loss of purchasing power of the dollar. Median earnings for men who worked full-time year-round fell 0.4% in 2016, adjusted for inflation, to $51,640. On this inflation-adjusted basis, men had earned more than that in 1972 ($52,361). And it’s down 4.4% from the earnings peak in 1973 ($54,030). This translates into 44 years of real earnings decline:

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Just in time for the Party Congress. What a lucky coincidence!

China’s Steel Mills Run at Full Tilt as Output Hits New Peak (BBG)

Steel production in China chalked up a fresh monthly record as mills in the world’s top supplier increase output to profit from a rally in prices to six-year highs before government-ordered pollution curbs are implemented. Crude steel output climbed to 74.59 million metric tons last month, surpassing the previous peak of 74.02 million in July, and up from 68.57 million in August 2016, according to the statistics bureau Thursday. While that’s an all-time high for the month, daily output was less than the record in June. Production surged 5.6% to 566.4 million tons in the first eight months, also a record. Steel prices have been supercharged this year in the country that accounts for half of global output. A crackdown on illegal mills shuttered some supply, boosting the remaining producers, while demand has been underpinned by significant state-backed stimulus.

Investors are also eyeing signals that the government will press ahead with anti-pollution curbs over winter. “Steel mills have boosted output as profit margins are good,” said Helen Lau at Argonaut Securities in Hong Kong. “Production cuts won’t set in until September or October, so steelmakers are churning out as much as they can in the meantime.” Spot reinforcement bar in China, a benchmark product used in construction, hit 4,396 yuan a ton early this month, the highest level since October 2011. Prices have gained 30% this year. Steel output may drop in coming months as Asia’s top economy presses ahead with supply-side reforms. Hebei province, the center of China’s mammoth steel industry, has plans that’ll allow for winter output cuts of as much as 50% to reduce pollution. Citigroup Inc. has estimated daily production could shrink 8% because of the environmental crackdown.

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But wait! Same source, same day, opposite views.

China’s Economy Cools Again (BBG)

The pace of China’s economic expansion unexpectedly cooled further last month after a lackluster July, as factory output, investment and retail sales all slowed. • Industrial output rose 6.0% from a year earlier in August, versus a median projection of 6.6% and July’s 6.4%. That’s the slowest pace this year • Retail sales expanded 10.1% from a year earlier, versus a projection of 10.5% and 10.4% in July, also the slowest reading in 2017 • Fixed-asset investment in urban areas rose 7.8% in the first eight months of the year over the same period in 2016, compared with a forecast 8.2% rise. That’s the slowest since 1999.

The continued cooling of the world’s second-largest economy suggests that efforts to rein in credit expansion and reduce excess capacity are hitting home ahead of the key 19th Party Congress in October. Still, producer-price inflation and a manufacturing sentiment gauge both exceeded estimates earlier this month, signaling some resilience. The Shanghai Composite Index reversed earlier gains to fall 0.4%. “Today’s data shows that the economy clearly already peaked in the first half of this year,” said Larry Hu at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “Recently both property and exports are slowing down and that’s why the whole economy is slowing.” “Regulatory tightening in the financial sector is putting a squeeze on highly indebted firms reliant on shadow bank financing,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong.

“And officials are unlikely to take their foot off the regulatory brakes any time soon. Growth therefore looks set to weaken further into year end, as regulators step up their campaign to rein in shadow banking.” “That’s still on track to a gradual moderation,” Chang Jian, chief China economist at Barclays in Hong Kong, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The government has been closing capacity, especially those that don’t meet environmental standards, and enforcement this year has been much stricter in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress.”

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An empire built on war.

US Senate Rejects Bid To Repeal War Authorizations (R.)

The U.S. Senate rejected an amendment on Wednesday that would have forced the repeal of war resolutions used as the legal basis for U.S. military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and against extremists in Syria and other countries. The Senate voted 61 to 36 to kill the measure, which six months after it became law would have put an end to authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in 2001 and 2002. The legislation was offered by Republican Senator Rand Paul as an amendment to a must-pass annual defense policy bill, which lawmakers are using as a vehicle to gain a greater say in national security policy. Paul’s measure was aimed at asserting the constitutional right of Congress to approve military action, rather than the president.

Some of the other amendments address issues such as sanctions on North Korea and President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military. Many members of Congress are concerned the 2001 AUMF, passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks to authorize the fight against al Qaeda and affiliates, has been used too broadly as the legal basis for a wide range of military action in too many countries. The majority of support for the amendment came from Democrats, who joined Paul in arguing that it is long past time for Congress to debate a new authorization for the use of force. “We should oppose unauthorized, undeclared, unconstitutional war. At this particular time, there are no limits on war,” Paul said.

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Not really. They’re just chasing illusions.

Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad? (Robert Parry)

For those of us who have taught journalism or worked as editors, a sign that an article is the product of sloppy or dishonest journalism is that a key point will be declared as flat fact when it is unproven or a point in serious dispute – and it then becomes the foundation for other claims, building a story like a high-rise constructed on sand. This use of speculation as fact is something to guard against particularly in the work of inexperienced or opinionated reporters. But what happens when this sort of unprofessional work tops page one of The New York Times one day as a major “investigative” article and reemerges the next day in even more strident form as a major Times editorial? Are we dealing then with an inept journalist who got carried away with his thesis or are we facing institutional corruption or even a collective madness driven by ideological fervor?

What is stunning about the lede story in last Friday’s print edition of The New York Times is that it offers no real evidence to support its provocative claim that – as the headline states – “To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans” or its subhead: “Flooding Twitter and Facebook, Impostors Helped Fuel Anger in Polarized U.S.” In the old days, this wildly speculative article, which spills over three pages, would have earned an F in a J-school class or gotten a rookie reporter a stern rebuke from a senior editor. But now such unprofessionalism is highlighted by The New York Times, which boasts that it is the standard-setter of American journalism, the nation’s “newspaper of record.” In this case, it allows reporter Scott Shane to introduce his thesis by citing some Internet accounts that apparently used fake identities, but he ties none of them to the Russian government.

Acting like he has minimal familiarity with the Internet – yes, a lot of people do use fake identities – Shane builds his case on the assumption that accounts that cited references to purloined Democratic emails must be somehow from an agent or a bot connected to the Kremlin. For instance, Shane cites the fake identity of “Melvin Redick,” who suggested on June 8, 2016, that people visit DCLeaks which, a few days earlier, had posted some emails from prominent Americans, which Shane states as fact – not allegation – were “stolen … by Russian hackers.” Shane then adds, also as flat fact, that “The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled.”

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See my article yesterday.

Crisis Brings Sea Change To Greek Housing Market (K.)

“What we are experiencing is the end of the era of home ownership in Greece as households can no longer save to buy property,” says Nikos Hatzitsolis, chief executive at real estate firm CB Richard Ellis-Axies, underscoring the fundamental changes that the crisis has triggered in the Greek property market. This change, the experts explain, is not just evident in the case of those just flying the nest who wouldn’t be in any position to own their home anyway unless it was given to them by their family, but also existing homeowners who are opting to leave their property and rent it out or sell it. “Around 70% of homeowners are becoming renters because they choose to sell their property to pay off debts such as mortgages, late taxes or credit card debt,” says Lefteris Potamianos, vice president of the Athens-Attica Estate Agents Association.

“If any money is left over from the transaction, it is not reinvested in another property, as was the case in the past, but used to rent another home. Basically, the dream of ownership that drove past generations has come to an end.” A significant%age of homeowners choosing to rent out their home and lease a different property for themselves also consists of young people who see their accommodation requirements increasing, due to the birth of a child for example, or want to live in an area with better schools or security. “We are seeing more and more such cases in the property market,” says Potamianos. “Given that sales prices are very low and it is hard to find a buyer, many owners prefer to rent out their property and then rent another for themselves, as getting bank funding for a purchase is incredibly difficult. Some even move around to see which area suits them best. Renting has this flexibility, allowing you to relocate if you’re not happy.”

For the overwhelming majority, however, renting is the only option, as buying is seen as bringing no advantages whatsoever anymore. “Even from a purely economic perspective, it’s not worth owning a home today. In contrast, people who rent avoid all the additional tax costs and are not exposed to the instability of the tax framework for real estate assets, which has become a tool of politics and results in no taxpayer knowing what tomorrow will bring,” explains Hatzitsolis. “Previous generations believed that buying houses was a form of investment. This is no longer the case, as we’re seeing a completely different mentality in younger people.”

The expert also draws attention to the cases of people who are stuck with their properties. “I know an owner who inherited a house in [the upscale Athenian suburb of] Ekali and has to pay 80,000 euros a year in property tax,” he recounts. “At best, the house could fetch 50,000 euros a year in rent, which means that this man has to cover losses of 30,000 euros every year, something that is a complete dead end.” This owner has little choice but to sell, says Hatzitsolis, adding that such cases also explain why an increasing number of people are refusing their inheritances.

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Europe won’t rest until they have created their very own Somalia.

More Austerity May Be Ahead (K.)

Greek authorities will honor their commitments as laid out in the latest loan deal with international creditors, even if this results in the need for additional austerity measures next year, a top government official indicated Wednesday. In an unusual show of honesty and realism, the same official suggested that there might not be a “clean exit” for Greece after its third bailout expires next summer but something more restrictive. There are a range of possible scenarios between that of a clean exit, which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has heralded, and the prospect of a credit line for Greece, the official said. On the prospect of more austerity next year, the official said he believed that there would not be a big divergence in fiscal targets next year. “If there is, we’ll see what happens, but were are committed to a target of 3.5% of GDP,” the official said, referring to the primary surplus goal set by creditors.

The official also noted that, once a primary surplus target is reached, residual revenue will go toward boosting the Social Solidarity Income program for 2017 for Greeks who have been hardest hit by austerity but also toward paying off state debts to the private sector and to growth programs. Decisions on these matters are expected to be taken following talks with the mission chiefs representing Greece’s foreign lenders, who are expected to travel to Athens next month and to assess the progress of authorities in boosting tax collection and curbing spending. Although Greek officials have underlined the importance of completing the next bailout review by the end of the year, sources suggest that the process might drag into January.

The most important thing, the official noted, is “that we are not part of the problem” when important discussions about the future of the Greek program get under way in the first quarter of next year, touching on the participation (or not) of the IMF in Greece’s third bailout and relief for the country’s debt burden. Greek authorities are concerned about the IMF’s stance opposite Athens. Apart from the Fund’s traditionally tough position on fiscal matters, there are concerns too about its demands for a further recapitalization of Greek banks. The official, however, assumed the stance of the ECB on this issue, noting that there is no need for Greek banks to receive further capital. The official said that Greece planned to tap international bond markets in the next 6-9 months following a successful return in July.

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Aug 042017
 
 August 4, 2017  Posted by at 1:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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William Blake Europe Supported by Africa and America 1796

 

Earlier this week I was struck by the similarities and differences between two graphs I saw float by. And the thought occurred that they are as scary as they are interesting. The graphs show eerily similar trends. And complement each other. The first graph, which Tyler Durden posted, shows productivity, defined as more or less the same as GDP per capita. It goes all the way back to 1790 and contends that 2017 productivity is about back to the level it was at in 1790. In the article, Tyler suggests a link with the amount of time people spend on Instagram et al, but perhaps there is something more going on.

That is, America and Western Europe exported almost their entire manufacturing capacity to China etc. And how can you be productive if you don’t manufacture anything? Yeah, I know, ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘service economy’ and all that, but does anyone still really believe those terms? Sure, that may have worked for a while as others were still actually making stuff (and nobody really understood the idea anyway), but it’s a sliding scale. As productivity plunged, so did GDP per capita. We can all wrap our heads around that.

America’s Productivity Plunge Explained

For the first time since the financial crisis, US multifactor productivity growth turned negative last year, mystifying economists who have struggled to find something to blame for the fact that worker productivity is declining despite a technology boom that should make them more efficient – at least in theory. To be sure, economists have struggled to find explanations for the exasperating trend, with some arguing that the US hasn’t figured out how to properly measure productivity growth correctly now that service-sector jobs proliferate while manufacturing shrinks. But what if there’s a more straightforward explanation? What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?

To wit, Facebook has just released user-engagement data for its popular Instagram photo-sharing app. Unsurprisingly, the data show that the average user below the age of 25 now spends more than 32 minutes a day on the app, while the average user aged 25 and older. The last time Facebook released this data, in October 2014, its users averaged 21 minutes a day on the app. According to Bloomberg, “time spent is an important metric for advertisers, which like to hear that users are browsing an app beyond quick checks for updates, making them more likely to run into some marketing.” Maybe they should matter more to economists, too.

 

When asking the question “What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?”, a next question should be: what is the technology used for? And if the answer to that is not “for making things”, then what do you think could its effect on productivity could possibly be?

Tyler took that graph from an article posted August 22, 2015, also on Zero Hedge, by Eugen Bohm-Bawerk, who at the time had some interesting things to say about it:

Productivity In America Now On Par With Agrarian Slave Economy

[..] it is time to take a closer look at productivity measured in terms of GDP per capita. While this is not an entirely correct way to measure productivity, it does adhere to new classical growth model theories which posit that in a developed economy, reached steady state, the only way to increase GDP per capita is through increased total factor productivity. In plain English, growth in GDP per capita equals productivity growth. The reason we use this concept instead of more advanced productivity measures is to get a long enough time series to properly understand the underlying fundamental forces driving society forward.

In our main chart we have tried to see through all the underlying noise in the annual data by looking at a 10-year rolling average and a polynomial trend line. In the period prior to the War of 1812 US productivity growth was lacklustre as the economy was mainly driven by agriculture and slaves (slaves have no incentive to work hard or innovate, only to work just hard enough to avoid being beaten). From 1790 to 1840 annual growth averaged only 0.7%. As the first industrial revolution started to take hold in the north-east, productivity growth rose rapidly, and even more during the second industrial revolution which propelled the US economy to become the world largest and eventually the global hegemon [..]

Adjusting for the WWII anomaly (which tells us that GDP is not a good measure of a country’s prosperity) US productivity growth peaked in 1972 – incidentally the year after Nixon took the US off gold. The productivity decline witnessed ever since is unprecedented. Despite the short lived boom of the 1990s US productivity growth only average 1.2% from 1975 up to today. If we isolate the last 15 years US productivity growth is on par with what an agrarian slave economy was able to achieve 200 years ago.

[..] With hindsight we know that finance did more harm than good so we can conservatively deduct finance from the GDP calculations and by doing so we essentially end up with no growth per capita at all over a timespan of more than 15 years! US real GDP per capita less contribution from finance increased by an annual average of 0.3% from 2000 to 2015. From 2008 the annual average has been negative 0.5%!

In other words, we have seen a progressive (pun intended) weakening of the US economy from the 1970s and the reason is simple enough when we know that monetary policy broken down to its most basic is a transaction of nothing (fiat money) for something (real production of goods and services). Modern monetary policy thereby violates the most sacred principle in a market based economy; namely that production creates its own demand. Only through previous production, either your own or borrowed, can one express true purchasing power on the market place.

The central bank does not need to worry about such trivial things. They can manufacture the medium of exchange at zero cost and express purchasing power on the same level as the producer. However, consumption of real goods and services paid for with zero cost money must by definition be pure capital consumption. Do this on a grand scale, over a long period of time, even a capital rich economy as the US will eventually be depleted. Capital per worker falls relative to competitors abroad, cost goes up and competitiveness falls (think rust-belt). Productive structures cannot be properly funded and the economy must regress to align funding with its level of specialization.

Eugen gets close to what I said earlier about productivity. That is, you have to make stuff, to manufacture things, in order to have, let alone grow, productivity (aka GDP per capita). An economy based -too heavily- on services and finance is not going to do it for you. Because “the most sacred principle in a market based economy” is that “production creates its own demand.”

Now, combine that graph with the next one, from Lance Roberts, which unmistakably depicts the same trendline, though on a different -shorter- time scale. Lance’s graph shows more or less the same as Tyler’s, if you allow me that freedom, namely: GDP per capita growth equals productivity equals GDP growth, but it adds a crucial component (unless you ask someone like Paul Krugman): debt.

Together, the graphs show how we have ‘solved’ the issue of falling growth and productivity: with debt. It doesn’t get simpler than that. We exported our productive capacity to China, and now we can only afford to buy their products -which are mostly inferior in quality to what our ancestors once made- by getting into -more- debt. Big simplification, granted, but we’re doing broad strokes here.

 

 

All this is simple enough for a 6-year old to grasp. It’s actually likely easier for them than for most trained economists. Problem is, the 6-year olds are probably busy on Instagram. Tyler’s right on that one. But then, at least they’re not stuck in outdated modelling.

Ergo: we have a precipitous decline in productivity, which also translates into a decline in GDP. Even if we come up with all sorts of accounting tricks to hide this fact. And what do we do, or rather, what have we done? Enter central banks, stage right. That second graph inevitably raises the question: Without all the debt, where would the growth rate stand today? And I know what you want to say, because just like you, I am afraid to ask.

We’ve used all those trillions in new debt to, as far as productivity is concerned, run to not even stand still: productivity (GDP per capita) continues to decline despite all the debt. Why is that? Well, Bohm-Bawerk answers that question earlier: “.. consumption of real goods and services paid for with zero cost money must by definition be pure capital consumption.” In other words, as I said before, if you don’t use it to actually make things, you’re basically just burning it. Plus, in the process, as we see ever clearer in the effects of QE, you can grossly distort an economy, by blowing bubbles, propping up zombies etc.

Things would look different if we used the “zero cost money” for production instead of consumption. But that’s not what the central bank money is used for at all. The net effect of all that debt, be it QE or new mortgage debt, is less than zero. Quite a bit less, actually. How do we solve that problem? The answer is deadly simple, though not easy to put into practice: start making stuff again! Or put it this way: debt must be used to raise production, not consumption.

 

 

Apr 022017
 
 April 2, 2017  Posted by at 2:29 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on The American Dream, Twice Removed
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Vincent van Gogh Corridor In The Asylum 1889

 

Nicole Foss is in Christchurch, New Zealand right now for the Living Economies Expo, and sent me, I’m still in Athens, Greece, a piece written by yet another longtime Automatic Earth reader, Helen Loughrey (keep ’em coming!), who describes her efforts trying to find a rental home in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

The first thing that struck me is how effortless and global sending information has become (category things you know but that hit you anyway occasionally, which is a good thing). The second is that the fall-out of the financial crisis has followed the same path as the information ‘revolution’: that is, it’s spreading faster than wildfire.

And I can’t avoid linking that to earlier periods of American poverty (see the photos), times in which ‘leaders’ thought it appropriate to let large swaths of the population live in misery, so everyone else would think twice about raising their voices. A tried and true strategy.

But of course there are large differences as well today between the likes of Greece and Connecticut. In Athens, there’s a poverty problem. In Fairfield County, there’s a (fake) ‘wealth problem’. Ever fewer people can afford to buy a home, so the rental market is ‘booming’ so much many can’t even afford to rent.

We can summarize this as ‘The Ravages Of The Fed’, and its interest rate policies. Or as ‘The Afterburn of QE’. That way it’s more obvious that this doesn’t happen only in the US. Every country and city in the world in which central banks and governments have deliberately blown real estate bubbles, face the same issue. Toronto, Sydney, Hong Kong, Stockholm, you know the list by now.

Helen’s real-life observations offer a ‘wonderful’ picture of how the process unfolds. The demise of America comes in small steps. But it’s unstoppable. The same is true for every other housing bubble. When no-one can afford to buy a home anymore but a bunch of Russians and Chinese, rental prices surge. And then shortly after that the whole thing goes up in smoke.

Here’s Helen:

 

 

Helen Loughrey: I am getting a reminder about class systems and downward social drift while searching for a rental in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

First of all, I realize I am extremely lucky to be able to afford a home at all. More and more Americans increasingly cannot. I am very aware that my current socioeconomic status could be gone in an instant. And so I am more inclined to notice class issues. There, but for the grace of GDP, go I.

And as one who studies the economy, I know we are all destined to go ‘there’ in the not-so-distant future. Owners are downsizing to become tenants, occupancy rates may rise to depression era levels, and homelessness will continue to rise up through the social fabric like water wicking up a paper towel.  

This week, I rejected an unoccupied split level rental for the dilapidated condition of the heavily scuff-marked and dingy old wall paint and dirty carpets and peeling deck paint. The house screamed “I do not care about my tenants’ quality of life.” I told my real estate agent that it indicated the landlord would not be responsive to tenant needs. He replied, “Well, after all, it’s a *rental*.”

And that statement in its conventional wisdom summed up class assumptions: buyers deserve better than renters. Yet landlords expect renters to deposit $8,000 to $10,000 of their savings, to maintain excellent credit ratings, to pay more than they would for a monthly mortgage, and to increase payments over time by $100/month every year without commensurate capital improvements to maintain the quality of the premises.

I replied, “Well, renters are people too.” I was facing the fact that despite having been a conscientious homeowner and model tenant, I had lost significant socioeconomic status by becoming a renter.

 

Another anecdote: Our current rental is likewise being shown to potential tenants. This week an until-recently wealthy, brand new divorcée with a pre-teen visited while I was here. She needs to switch her daughter from private school to the public schools and to quickly obtain a separate town residence in order to register her daughter. 

I spiffed up the place for my landlord, put fresh flowers on every table, and told the prospect how marvelous it was to raise our daughter in this school district with the backyard pool available to her new friends, how the third bedroom was a cozy office/family room. She listened politely but she visibly recoiled at the drop in living standards that comes with renting after a divorce. Welcome to the Greenwich renters club, my dear.

 


Arthur Rothstein Low-cost housing. Saint Louis, Mo. 1936

 

I remember despairing in our 2013 rental search that we would not find a decent home by the time we had to register our daughter in the Greenwich school system. We had compromised on this residence. Granted, the New York regional prices are stratospheric compared to our southern Maryland experience. You must DOUBLE your housing costs and even then you get much less square footage for the money.

Second, even though Greenwich is notoriously about rich and famous estates in “back country”, nevertheless like any city there are a lot more resident middle class people in average homes and even less well-off poor living in lower quality public housing apartment complexes.

The options in our price range were deplorable when we arrived here. So we paid a lot more than we thought we could afford only to share a portion of a 1950’s era non-updated house with the resident owner living in the in-law apartment.

I tried not to compare it to the larger modern house we had owned in Maryland but on my depressed days, I let my mind wander through our old home for old times’ sake. (But even there during the real estate boom years, I remember thinking we could not afford to buy again in our own neighborhood.)

In 2013 we had offered less than the listed price for our current Greenwich rental but past the top of our affordability. We rationalized that there was a swimming pool bonus for our daughter to invite new friends over. Our offer was accepted. We incorrectly assumed that over the years, the monthly rent would not rise much.

The list price should have been a clue to us that the landlord would attempt to increase the price back to their higher monthly income expectations. Plus the landlord retired from his job and took out a home equity loan a year later.  

 


G. G. Bain Eviction in an East Side neighborhood of New York 1908

 

Four years later, the time has come for us to balk at any further increases. This 3 bedroom 2 bath “tear-down” house apartment now is listed at $5500 and in three years the landlord likely expects rent creep to provide the $6000 they want in monthly income. Well, good luck to the next tenant. So we are house-hunting again. We no longer require the public school system,  but since we are paying cash now for college, our options are still limited. (I could write another essay about skyrocketing college costs.)

We recently concluded that we are now priced-out of the Greenwich rental market for what we are seeking: my husband needs a home office. I want to get moving finally on a productive food garden and starting a Permaculture Design school home business.

Convincing a potential landlord to allow me to convert costly wasteful lawn space into productive perennial food garden space; and to accept all my pets, a well behaved 6 pound lapdog plus 24,000 to 140,000 honeybees …. does not endear me to the real estate agents here. (I could write another essay on entitled and controlling listing agents.)

Other factors also place upward pressure on rental pricing: The sales market is in a longterm slump. Fewer potential buyers qualify to enter the market because they have recently lost their life savings in the housing slump themselves or they are too young to have acquired any.

Bank lenders expect larger down payments than in the recent past, amounts which I expect will be forfeited to the banks anyway when the economy tanks and more “homeowners” are thrown out of work. (Tanked economy, thanks in part to those same banks betting their depositors money in declining real estate.)

Renters risk losing their deposits to unscrupulous thieving landlords but nothing beats a thieving bankster. That down payment you saved? Kiss it goodbye, you are very likely never getting it back. And banksters know this. It is why they demand high down payments.

They’re counting on the eventuality that a good portion of current mortgagees will have to forfeit in a depressed economy. But you would not know there is a sales market slump, let alone another looming crash, by reading glowing real estate -sponsored newspaper articles. It is no wonder many  sales are for cash not lien, to wealthy foreign buyers.

 


Carl Mydans Kitchen of Ozarks cabin purchased for Lake of the Ozarks project, Missouri 1936

 

Anyone buying housing today should expect an asset value loss to occur when the real estate market adjusts downward again. (Which is another reason we are not buying in this market.) However sellers, listening to advice from hopeful real estate agents and pollyannish economists, are holding out for *higher* prices to return.

They eventually remove their properties from the sales market in order to rent them after they still cannot find a buyer even though dropping the price continuously for two years. And because fewer people can afford buying than renting, the price of rentals is rising now while the price of real estate is dropping.

Landlords who are strapped with high mortgages from the boom years, and other landlords who may have owned their older houses outright but then took out home equity loans to finance eventual roofing or HVAC expenses, and even to afford replacement cars or family vacations, are placing expectations on their tenants to provide the income to pay for those bank loans.

Meanwhile town zoning laws still prevent the tenant cost savings of subletting; and prevent owners from contracting with simultaneous multiple tenants. Yet the pool from which to draw tenants who can afford a whole house or 3/4 of one is still shrinking.

Renters like us may eventually opt (and perhaps should be opting now) for smaller square footage multiple family apartment complexes. (But no food gardening amenities? Rental managers take note.) Whole houses, with high mortgages to cover, will remain vacant and become foreclosed.

And I get it, owning a mortgaged property is also costly. But while renters are seeing standards of living drop now, so too will landlords when their properties sit vacant due to aggregate inability of renters’ incomes to afford to support the mortgaged landlords in the manner to which they had once become accustomed.

There will be a resurgence in foreclosures. And then, if they are lucky to still have a job income, we’ll also welcome them to the renters club.

 

Jan 202017
 
 January 20, 2017  Posted by at 10:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Unknown Masterpiece 2016-7

Trump’s Tweets Are Little Different From FDR’s Fireside Chats (MW)
Fortress Washington Braces For Anti-Trump Protests, New Yorkers March (R.)
Executive Actions Ready To Go As Trump Prepares To Take Office (R.)
Mnuchin Says Long-Term Strength of US Dollar Is Important (BBG)
German Opposition Leader Calls For Security Union With Russia, End Of NATO (DW)
The ‘Ever Closer European Union’ Principle Is “Buried And Gone” (MT)
Chinese Growth Slips To 6.7% In 2016, The Slowest For 26 Years (AFP)
China GDP Beats Expectations But Debt Risks Loom (R.)
There’s an Unexplained $9 Billion Gap in India’s Cash Supply (BBG)
Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)
Stiglitz Tells Davos Elite US Should “Get Rid Of Currency” (Black)
US Government Caught Massively Fabricating Student Loan Default Data (ZH)
EU Migration Commissioner Urges NGOs To Manage Funds With Transparency (KTG)

 

 

Nice angle. Circumventing the press is nothing new.

Trump’s Tweets Are Little Different From FDR’s Fireside Chats (MW)

Donald Trump, arguably, has already changed the office of the presidency forever, with his prolific tweets, some of which, at least in the lead-up to his Friday inauguration, have endorsed specific companies, lashed out at impersonations and in some case even laid the groundwork for complex policies. Cabinet appointees have found themselves walking back his remarks with some regularity this week. Some observers embrace the transparency of the unfiltered Trump experienced on Twitter. The public wasn’t ruffled one bit when a newly elected Trump’s staff blew off the protocol for press pool reports and end-of-day signoffs. Trump’s delivery mechanism may be relatively new, but the motivation isn’t.

Circumventing the press, and even the carefully crafted press release, is a presidential tack that can be traced as far back as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “fireside chats,” which leveraged the radio medium to deliver Roosevelt directly into American living rooms, said Andrew Card, in an MSNBC interview. Card, White House chief of staff to the second President Bush, also served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. FDR delivered his first radio address on March 12, 1933, in the middle of the crisis of confidence over the U.S. banking system. The intent? Reassure the public as if the president had stopped by personally. It was only after the broadcast’s relative success that they eventually earned the “fireside chat” familiarity. Trump’s tweets are the president-elect’s way to get closer to Americans, too, said Card. And that’s not without risk. Trump’s words represent “empathy” but don’t always reflect “judgment,” said Card.

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Are they all protesting the same thing? Where were they 8 years ago?

Fortress Washington Braces For Anti-Trump Protests (R.)

Washington turned into a virtual fortress on Thursday ahead of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, while thousands of people took to the streets of New York and Washington to express their displeasure with his coming administration. Some 900,000 people, both Trump backers and opponents, are expected to flood Washington for Friday’s inauguration ceremony, according to organizers’ estimates. Events include the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and a parade to the White House along streets thronged with spectators. The number of planned protests and rallies this year is far above what has been typical at recent presidential inaugurations, with some 30 permits granted in Washington for anti-Trump rallies and sympathy protests planned in cities from Boston to Los Angeles, and outside the U.S. in cities including London and Sydney.

The night before the inauguration, thousands of people turned out in New York for a rally at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, and then marched a few blocks from the Trump Tower where the businessman lives. The rally featured a lineup of politicians, activists and celebrities including Mayor Bill de Blasio and actor Alec Baldwin, who trotted out the Trump parody he performs on “Saturday Night Live.” “Donald Trump may control Washington, but we control our destiny as Americans,” de Blasio said. “We don’t fear the future. We think the future is bright, if the people’s voices are heard.” In Washington, a group made up of hundreds of protesters clashed with police clad in riot gear who used pepper spray against some of the crowd on Thursday night, according to footage on social media. The confrontation occurred outside the National Press Club building, where inside a so-called “DeploraBall” event was being held in support of Trump, the footage showed.


JFK inaugural parade 1961

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Nice detail: “Trump plans on Saturday to visit the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia…”

Executive Actions Ready To Go As Trump Prepares To Take Office (R.)

Donald Trump is preparing to sign executive actions on his first day in the White House on Friday to take the opening steps to crack down on immigration, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border and roll back outgoing President Barack Obama’s policies. Trump, a Republican elected on Nov. 8 to succeed Democrat Obama, arrived in Washington on a military plane with his family a day before he will be sworn in during a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Aides said Trump would not wait to wield one of the most powerful tools of his office, the presidential pen, to sign several executive actions that can be implemented without the input of Congress.

“He is committed to not just Day 1, but Day 2, Day 3 of enacting an agenda of real change, and I think that you’re going to see that in the days and weeks to come,” Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said on Thursday, telling reporters to expect activity on Friday, during the weekend and early next week. Trump plans on Saturday to visit the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia. He has harshly criticized the agency and its outgoing chief, first questioning the CIA’s conclusion that Russia was involved in cyber hacking during the U.S. election campaign, before later accepting the verdict.

Trump also likened U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany. Trump’s advisers vetted more than 200 potential executive orders for him to consider signing on healthcare, climate policy, immigration, energy and numerous other issues, but it was not clear how many orders he would initially approve, according to a member of the Trump transition team who was not authorized to talk to the press. Signing off on orders puts Trump, who has presided over a sprawling business empire but has never before held public office, in a familiar place similar to the CEO role that made him famous, and will give him some early victories before he has to turn to the lumbering process of getting Congress to pass bills.

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The contradictions people seek don’t appear to exist.

Mnuchin Says Long-Term Strength of US Dollar Is Important (BBG)

Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers the long-term strength of the U.S. dollar is important and said President-elect Donald Trump’s comments that the currency was too high weren’t meant as a longer-run policy. The dollar’s “long-term strength – over long periods of time – is important,” Mnuchin said in response to questions at his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee in Washington. “The U.S. currency has been the most attractive currency to be in for very, very long periods of time. I think that it’s important and I think you see that now more than ever.” At the same time, he said the greenback is currently “very, very strong, and what you see is people from all over the world wanting to invest in the U.S. currency.”

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index extended its gains on Thursday. The currency has appreciated more than 5% since Trump won the Nov. 8 election on expectations he will boost economic growth through tax cuts and spending increases. Trump expressed concern about the dollar’s recent appreciation in an interview with the Wall Street Journal this month, saying the currency was “too strong.” That prompted speculation that his administration might reverse longstanding tradition in the U.S. to support a strong-dollar policy. “When the president-elect made a comment on the U.S. currency, it wasn’t meant to be a long-term comment,” Mnuchin said. “It was meant to be that perhaps in the short term the strength in the currency, as a result of free markets and people wanting to invest here, may have had some negative impacts on our ability in trade.”

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You can’t keep Germany vested against Russia for too long for opaque reasons. History says so.

German Opposition Leader Calls For Security Union With Russia, End Of NATO (DW)

The parliamentary leader of Germany’s largest opposition party has urged the dissolution of the NATO alliance. Her remarks come after US president-elect Donald Trump described it as “obsolete.” German opposition leader Sahra Wagenknecht on Tuesday added her voice to calls to dissolve NATO in the wake of US President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial remarks concerning the military alliance “NATO must be dissolved and replaced by a collective security system including Russia,” Wagenknecht told Germany’s “Funke” media group. Wagenknecht, who leads the opposition Left Party in parliament, added that comments made by the future US president “mercilessly reveal the mistakes and failures of the [German] federal government.”

In an interview published by German tabloid “Bild,” Trump described NATO as an “obsolete” organization. “I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago,” he said. “We’re supposed to protect countries. But a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States,” Trump added. Germany’s Left Party has previously called for warmer ties with Russia and scrapping the security alliance, measures which appear to be policy concerns for the incoming US administration. The Left Party is Germany’s largest opposition group in parliament, and holds seats in several state legislatures.

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Rutte is smart enough to feel the ghost of the times contradicting everything he ran on in the past, but he wants to use it to remain in power. Pragmatism?! It all plays into the hands of Wilders. 2 months to Dutch elections.

The ‘Ever Closer European Union’ Principle Is “Buried And Gone” (MT)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz clashed over the strategy to relaunch the Union, illustrating the deep division at Europe’s helm in front of the global audience of the World Economic Forum 19 January. Hundreds of business leaders and political figures attending the Davos forum witnessed how fundamentally disunited Europeans are when they are confronted with challenges and the solutions needed to overcome them. Schulz, who stepped down as president of the European Parliament this week, praised the achievements of the past and the need to push forward EU integration. But Rutte told the Socialists and Democrats (S&D group) MEP to “leave out those romantic ideas”, adding that “that is the fastest way to dismantle Europe”.

Europe needs a “pragmatic approach and to stop lofty speeches”, Rutte said. He called for tangible results on migration, security or the internal market in the effort to create jobs. He even went as far to say that the ‘ever closer union’ principle is “buried and gone”. The ‘ever closer union’ goal is seen as the driving force behind the EU project. It was enshrined in the founding Treaty of Rome that celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. While the Dutchman said that the experiences of Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand could not be “a model for the future”, Schulz punched back responding he was not a “romantic” but a “German”. He got an applause when he recalled how the emotional ties after World War II brought peace and prosperity to the continent.

The fight between the two started right from the get-go as Rutte insisted more efforts from France and Italy to reform their economies are needed to save Europe. He warned that if countries failed to meet their promises, it would be harder for Northern leaders like him to convince their citizens about the need to tighten their belts. “At the end, this will have a devastating impact on EU integration”, he warned. But Schulz told the Dutch leader to be “very prudent” about dictating to other countries what they should do, as this could further divide the European bloc. He said that it is the European Commission and Council, and not “several member states”, who are responsible for fiscal and macroeconomic recommendations made to national governments.

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Fake news.

Chinese Growth Slips To 6.7% In 2016, The Slowest For 26 Years (AFP)

China’s economy has grown at its slowest rate in more than a quarter-century as Beijing braces itself for an uncertain outlook that could see a trade stand-off with Donald Trump. After a tumultuous start to 2016, the country’s leaders used huge monetary stimulus to steer the world’s number two economy to hit their annual target and also record the first quarterly pick-up in two years. The Asian superpower is a crucial driver of global growth but Beijing is trying to reduce its heavy reliance on exports and state-backed investment and instead focus on domestic consumer spending to drive expansion. However, the transition has proved bumpy, with the crucial manufacturing sector struggling in the face of sagging global demand for its products and excess industrial capacity left over from an infrastructure boom.

This led to the economy growing 6.7% last year, in line with forecasts but down from 6.9% in 2015, and the worst reading since 1990. The government targeted 6.5-7.0%. The October-December increase of 6.8% also marked the first quarterly improvement since the final three months of 2014. The national statistics bureau called the figure a “good start” for the government’s goal of achieving 6.5% annual growth through to 2020. “China’s economy was within a proper range with improved quality and efficiency. However, we should also be aware that the domestic and external conditions are still complicated and severe,” the bureau said in a statement. It added that the coal and steel industries had cut overcapacity, but structural reform should be the “mainline” this year, urging policymakers to focus on “fending off risks” to stability.

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Beats expectations with a 26-year low. Wow.

China GDP Beats Expectations But Debt Risks Loom (R.)

China’s economy grew a faster-than-expected 6.8% in the fourth quarter, boosted by higher government spending and record bank lending, giving it a tailwind heading into what is expected to be a turbulent year. But Beijing’s decision to prioritize its official growth target could exact a high price, as policymakers grapple with financial risks created by an explosive growth in debt. China’s debt to GDP ratio rose to 277% at the end of 2016 from 254% the previous year, with an increasing share of new credit being used to pay debt servicing costs, UBS analysts said in a note. The fourth quarter was the first time in two years that the world’s second-largest economy has shown an uptick in economic growth, but this year it faces further pressure to cool its housing market, the impact of government efforts at structural reforms, and a potentially testy relationship with a new U.S. administration.

“We do not expect this (Q4 GDP) rebound to extend far into 2017, when a slowdown in the property market and steps to address supply shortages in the commodity sector ought to drag again on demand and output,” said Tom Rafferty, regional China manager for the Economist Intelligence Unit. The economy expanded 6.7% in 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday, near the middle of the government’s 6.5-7% growth target but still the slowest pace in 26 years. Economists polled by Reuters had expected 6.7% growth for both the fourth quarter and the full year. Housing helped prop up growth again in the fourth quarter, with property investment rising a surprisingly strong 11.1% in December from 5.7% in November, even as house prices showed signs of cooling in some major cities.

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The mayhem is far from over.

There’s an Unexplained $9 Billion Gap in India’s Cash Supply (BBG)

India’s unprecedented ban on high-denomination currency bills has led to a mismatch in cash supply that has flummoxed some economists and data crunchers. Indians withdrew about 600 billion rupees ($9 billion) more than the 9.1 trillion rupees of currency in circulation as of Jan. 13, according to a report submitted by the Reserve Bank of India to a parliamentary panel on Wednesday. A copy of the document was seen by Bloomberg News. “This is usually not the case,” said Sujan Hajra, chief economist at Anand Rathi Securities in Mumbai, who was a director at the RBI from 1993-2006. He added that cash with public should be lower than currency in circulation “but then you don’t have demonetization usually.”

Clarity will emerge only once the central bank reconciles and publishes final figures, he said. The central bank has refused to share the amount of invalidated bills that have been deposited and said on Jan. 5 that it is still counting the notes to eliminate errors. In a shock move late on Nov. 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi canceled 15.4 trillion rupees of the 17.7 trillion rupees in circulation and pledged to swap the worthless notes with fresh bills. Between Nov. 9 to Jan. 13, the RBI printed about 5.53 trillion rupees of new notes and put in circulation 25,197 million bank notes aggregating 6.78 trillion rupees, taking total currency in circulation to about 9.1 trillion rupees, according to the RBI’s document on Wednesday. As on Jan. 13 the public had withdrawn close to 9.7 trillion rupees from bank counters and cash-dispensing machines, the document said.

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Apples and oranges, but still. Amazon sucks money out of communities. Support your local dealer!

Amazon Is Going To Kill More American Jobs Than China Did (MW)

Amazon.com has been crowing about its plans to create 100,000 American jobs in the next year, but as with other recent job-creation announcements, that figure is meaningless without context. What Amazon won’t tell us is that every job created at Amazon destroys one or two or three others. What Jeff Bezos doesn’t want you to know is that Amazon is going to destroy more American jobs than China ever did. Amazon has revolutionized the way Americans consume. Those who want to shop for everything from books to diapers increasingly go online instead of to the malls. And for about half of those online purchases, the transaction goes through Amazon.

For the consumer, Amazon has brought lower prices and unimaginable convenience. I can buy almost any consumer product I want just by clicking on my phone or computer — or even easier, by just saying: “Alexa: buy me one” — and it will be shipped to my door within days or even hours for free. I can buy books for my Kindle, or music for my phone instantly. I can watch movies or TV shows on demand. But for retail workers, Amazon is a grave threat. Just ask the 10,100 workers who are losing their jobs at Macy’s. Or the 4,000 at The Limited. Or the thousands of workers at Sears and Kmart, which just announced 150 stores will be closing. Or the 125,000 retail workers who’ve been laid off over the past two years.

Amazon and other online sellers have decimated some sectors of the retail industry in the past few years. For instance, employment at department stores has plunged by 250,000 (or 14%) since 2012. Employment at clothing and electronics stores is down sharply from the earlier peaks as more sales move online. “Consumers’ affinity for digital shopping felt like it hit a tipping point in Holiday 2014 and has rapidly accelerated this year,” Ken Perkins, the president of Retail Metrics, wrote in a research note in December. And when he says “digital shopping,” he really means Amazon, which has increased its share of online purchases from about 10% five years ago to nearly 40% in the 2016 holiday season. It’s only going to go higher, as Amazon aggressively targets other sectors such as groceries and even restaurants with delivery services for restaurant-prepared meals.

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Important points by Simon Black.

Stiglitz Tells Davos Elite US Should “Get Rid Of Currency” (Black)

half a world away at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz made remarks earlier this week that the US should “get rid of currency.” He means paper currency, as in the US should not only get rid of $100 bills… but ALL paper currency– 50s, 20s, 10s, 5s, and even 1s. You guessed it. Stiglitz suggests that regular people don’t need paper money, and that it’s only useful for drug dealers, terrorists, tax evaders, and money launders. This thinking is so 20th century, and it’s simply wrong. ISIS is a great example. The US military has literally blown up more than a billion dollars worth of ISIS’s stockpiles of physical cash during airstrikes. But this hasn’t affected their terrorist activities one bit. That’s because the most notorious terrorist group on the planet famously uses both the world’s oldest currency (gold) and the world’s newest currency (Bitcoin).

Professor Stiglitz has likely never been anywhere near a terrorist, so he likely doesn’t have a clue how they conduct financial transactions. Stiglitz also relies on the old claim that cash facilitates illicit activity. Again, this thinking only highlights a Dark Ages mentality. In the today’s world, drug dealers and prostitutes accept credit cards. No matter what you’re selling on a street corner, whether it’s hot dogs or marijuana, there are plenty of solutions (like Stripe, Square, or PayPal) to easily allow anyone to accept credit card payments. But these intellectuals seem stuck in a Pablo Escobar fantasy that drug dealers have entire rooms filled with cash. What Stiglitz, and perhaps many law enforcement agencies, fail to realize is that one of the biggest tools in masking illegal activity is actually Amazon.com. Specifically, Amazon gift cards.

[..] These guys just don’t get it. Cash isn’t about tax evasion or illegal activity. It’s about having a choice. Any rational person who actually looks at the numbers in the banking system has to be concerned. In many parts of the world, banks are pitifully capitalized and EXTREMELY illiquid. This is especially the case in Europe right now where entire nations’ banking systems are teetering on insolvency. In the United States, liquidity is also quite low, and banks play all sorts of accounting games to hide their true financial condition. Plus, never forget that the moment you deposit funds at a bank, it’s no longer YOUR money. It’s the bank’s money. As a depositor, you’re nothing more than an unsecured creditor of the bank, and they have the power to freeze you out of your life’s savings without even giving you a courtesy call. Physical cash provides consumers another option. If you don’t want to keep 100% of your savings tied up in a system that’s rigged against you and has a long history of screwing its customers, you can instead choose to hold physical cash.

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Wonder what the new administration will make of this.

US Government Caught Massively Fabricating Student Loan Default Data (ZH)

Ever since 2012 we have warned that one of the biggest threats arising from the US student loan bubble – which is no longer disputed by anyone except perhaps members of the outgoing administration – is not that it is soaring at an unprecedented pace, that’s obvious for anyone with the latest loan total number over $1.4 trillion, rising at a pace of nearly $100 billion per year, but that the government – either on purpose or due to honest miscalculation – was not correctly accounting for the true extent of delinquencies and defaults. Today, we finally got confirmation that, as speculated, the US government was indeed fabricating student loan default data, making it appear far lower than it was in reality. An the WSJ reported overnight “many more students have defaulted on or failed to pay back their college loans than the U.S. government previously believed.”

The admission came last Friday, when the Education Department released a memo saying that it had overstated student loan repayment rates at most colleges and trade schools and provided updated numbers. This also means that the number of loan defaults in various cohorts is far greater than previously revealed. A spokeswoman for the Education Department said that the problem resulted from a “technical programming error.” And so, the infamous “glitch” strikes again. How bad was the data fabrication? When The Wall Street Journal analyzed the new numbers, the data revealed that the Department previously had inflated the repayment rates for 99.8% of all colleges and trade schools in the country. In other words, virtually every single number was made to appear better than it actually was. And people mock China for its own “fake data.”

According to an analysis of the revised data, at more than 1,000 colleges and trade schools, or about a quarter of the total, at least half the students had defaulted or failed to pay down at least $1 on their debt within seven years. This is a stunning number and suggests that the student loan crisis is far greater than anyone had anticipated previously. It also means that the US taxpayer will be on the hook for hundreds of billions in government-funded loans once attention finally turns to who is expected to foot the bill for years of flawed lending practices.

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Translation: the EU has no idea, none at all, where its hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds have gone. It’s how the aid industry is set up. And the refugees still suffer for no reason other than profit, politics and greed.

EU Migration Commissioner Urges NGOs To Manage Funds With Transparency (KTG)

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos urged non-governmental organizations involved in the care of refugees and migrants to manage funds with more transparency. “NGOs must manage available funds with transparency,” Avramopoulos said on Wednesday and called on international organizations operating in the country “to step up their efforts to provide immediate assistance to those in need in the islands.” Avramopoulos was visiting the hot spot of Moria and the refugee camp of Kara on Lesvos together with Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas and EU’s official responsible for NGOs funding, Philippe de Broers.

On his part, Mouzalas said “We covered 70% of the needs in the camps with less money than the money received by NGOs and institutional organizations.” Mouzalas added that the European Commission needed to take tight control of the funds given to NGOs for refugees and migrants. “We have asked the European Commission and the DG Echo (i.e. DG EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection)” for tighter control “and we have stated that we can not we control to this money” he said. Criticism against the NGOs and international organizations comes after a bad weather front left thousands of refugees and migrants exposed to extreme weather conditions with heavy snow fall and polar cold.

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Nov 082016
 
 November 8, 2016  Posted by at 4:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Joe Schwartz/Jewish Museum May Day Parade, New York City 1936

Neither candidate in the US presidential election has had many specifics to offer on their economic ideas and projected policies, and that may be a smart move for both. If only because none of the two has indicated any real understanding of what awaits America as per November 9. And I don’t mean where the stock markets will be tomorrow morning, or the price of gold, though short term volatility is obviously certain.

The November 7 rally on Wall Street made plenty clear where everyone’s bets are placed -on Hillary-, so much so that there’s not much of a rally left if she wins. A Trump win could well see some panic, downward pressure for the dollar and stocks, upward pressure for gold, but there’s no telling how long that would last.

It’s the medium to long term future that’s far more interesting. Because who wins makes no difference for the reality of the US economy. It’s been abysmal for years, and there are no plans available for turning that around. Government debt – across the board- and budget deficits don’t help, but they’re not the biggest deal; the US controls its own currency.

It’s private debt, consumer debt, that will offer the winner his or her poisoned chalice. With 94 million Americans not counted as part of the workforce, and untold million others in jobs that pay hardly or no living wage, with so many millions of jobs that no longer pay sufficient or even any benefits, consumer spending has nowhere to go but down.

In an economy where that spending is good for 70% of GDP -perhaps a bit less by now, a bad enough sign-, taking spending power away from people is deadly. The only way people have been able to either keep up appearances or even just make ends meet is going into debt.

 

 

This graph from Wolf Richter shouldn’t really need any explanation, but people have been so numbed by endless repetitions of sunny skewed data that it does. Sure, mortgage debt no longer looks as bad, thanks to foreclosures, jingle mail etc. So Wolf depicts debt without mortgages.

In just 9 years, from let’s say Bear Stearns to roughly this summer, consumer debt in America has gone up more than 50% ex-mortgages. And it’s not as if it was low in 2007, quite the contrary. The graph shows us what the American economy has survived on. It’s as plain vanilla as that. It’s the only graph you need, all the rest is just decoration. And it’s every inch as scary as it looks.

There was a time when America worked for its money, for its homes, for its cars, its healthcare, for the education of its children. There was a time when America produced and sold enough to be able to afford all that. Those days are long gone. Today, the prospect is one of borrowing more money to be able to pay back what you borrowed yesterday.

If and when interest rates start to rise, either in and of themselves or because the Fed has an epiphany, all that debt will get much harder, and much more expensive, to repay. Increasingly, Americans will unceremoniously and rapidly start to fall off the back end of the truck, and one by one lower consumer spending even more.

There’s nothing a new president can do about this. There is a slight difference, granted, in that Hillary largely thinks she can let things continue as they have -but look at that graph, they cannot continue!-, while Donald Trump wants to tear up international trade deals and bring back jobs to America.

Trump’s idea look a tad wiser, but so much manufacturing infrastructure has been obliterated that there’s no telling how fast it can be rebuilt. It’ll take years, for sure. Moreover, America cannot produce most items as cheap as many other countries can, so already squeezed consumers will get squeezed even more.

It’ll have to be back all the way to Henry Ford, paying people more so they can afford what they produce. But, again, look at that graph. If Americans didn’t have that debt burden, and again that’s ex-mortgages, the ‘Ford model’ might have been more feasible. It is not now.

Either of the candidates would have had to base their campaigns on a story of ‘we need to take a few steps back in order to do better later’, and that’s still a politically deadly message in today’s realm of eternal growth, fictional as it may be. People will vote for the better promise, not for the more realistic one. After all, how can they tell? It’s not as if the media will enlighten them.

There’s only one set of possible circumstances under which people will even just accept the ‘few steps back’ idea, and that’s wartime. Which is exactly what Hillary seems to be going for, judging from her neverending anti-Russia, anti-Putin and anti-Assad ‘utterances’ that look very hard to step back from. Maybe she understands America’s economic predicament better than I think?!

I like Wikipedia’s definition of a Pyrrhic victory, couldn’t hardly have put it better myself: “A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way. However, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit.”

That sounds about right. I just have the idea that Hillary would enjoy it a bit more, and more blindly, than the Donald would. But it wouldn’t make much difference regardless. Obama’s had the luck that he’s been able to hide the economic downfall on his watch behind a $10+ trillion increase in the Fed balance sheet and a multiple trillion, 50% increase in household debt.

The next president won’t have any such gift thrown into their laps. The new president will have to empty the poisoned chalice.

Imagine being -almost- 70 years old, well-off, and still wanting that job. What’s that make a body? In urgent need of a lifetime of therapy? Mariana Trench-deep unhappy?

And on top of that both candidates already know close to half the country hates their guts to begin with.

Remember, not even Socrates could beat the poisoned chalice.

 

 

Sep 192016
 
 September 19, 2016  Posted by at 1:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on China Relies On Property Bubbles To Prop Up GDP
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Carl Mydans Sharecropper’s family in Mississippi County, Missouri 1936

Lots of China again today. Most of it based on warnings, coming from the BIS, about the country’s financial shenanigans. I’m getting the feeling we have gotten so used to huge and often unprecedented numbers, viewed against the backdrop of an economy that still seems to remain standing, that many don’t know what to make of this anymore.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard ties the BIS report to Hyman Minsky’s work, which is kind of funny, because our good friend and Minsky adept Steve Keen is the economist who most emphasizes the need to differentiate between public and private debt, in particular because public debt is not a big risk whereas private debt certainly is.

And that happens to be the main topic where people seem to get confused about China. To quote Ambrose: “..Outstanding loans have reached $28 trillion, as much as the commercial banking systems of the US and Japan combined. The scale is enough to threaten a worldwide shock if China ever loses control. Corporate debt alone has reached 171pc of GDP..”

The big Kahuna question then becomes: should Chinese outstanding loans and corporate debt be seen as public debt or private debt, given that the dividing line between state and corporations is as opaque and shifting as it is? Even the BIS looks confused. I’ll address that below. First, here’s Ambrose:

BIS Flashes Red Alert For a Banking Crisis in China

The Bank for International Settlements warned in its quarterly report that China’s “credit to GDP gap” has reached 30.1%, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution. It is also significantly higher than the scores in East Asia’s speculative boom on 1997 or in the US subprime bubble before the Lehman crisis.

Studies of earlier banking crises around the world over the last sixty years suggest that any score above ten requires careful monitoring. The credit to GDP gap measures deviations from normal patterns within any one country and therefore strips out cultural differences. It is based on work the US economist Hyman Minsky and has proved to be the best single gauge of banking risk, although the final denouement can often take longer than assumed.

[..] Outstanding loans have reached $28 trillion, as much as the commercial banking systems of the US and Japan combined. The scale is enough to threaten a worldwide shock if China ever loses control. Corporate debt alone has reached 171pc of GDP, and it is this that is keeping global regulators awake at night. The BIS said there are ample reasons to worry about the health of world’s financial system. Zero interest rates and bond purchases by central banks have left markets acutely sensitive to the slightest shift in monetary policy, or even a hint of a shift.

Bloomberg commented on the same BIS report:

BIS Warning Indicator for China Banking Stress Climbs to Record

[..] the state’s control of the financial system and limited levels of overseas debt may mitigate against the risk of a banking crisis. In a financial stability report published in June, China’s central bank said lenders would be able to maintain relatively high capital levels even if hit by severe shocks.

While the BIS says that credit-to-GDP gaps exceeded 10% in the three years preceding the majority of financial crises, China has remained above that threshold for most of the period since mid-2009, with no crisis so far. In the first quarter, China’s gap exceeded the levels of 41 other nations and the euro area. In the U.S., readings exceeded 10% in the lead up to the global financial crisis.

 

Why am I getting the feeling that the BIS thinks perhaps just this one time ‘things will be different’? If the credit-to-GDP gap (difference with long-term trend) anywhere exceeded 10%, that was a harbinger of the majority of financial crisis. But in China to date, with a 30.1% print, ‘the state’s control of the financial system and limited levels of overseas debt may mitigate against the risk of a banking crisis’. That sounds like someone’s afraid to state the obvious out loud.

If you ask me there’s a loud and clear writing on the Great Wall. But regardless, I didn’t set out to comment on the BIS, I just used that to introduce something else. That is to say, early today, CNBC ran an article on the Chinese property market, seen through the eyes of Donna Kwok, senior China economist at UBS.

Donna sees some light in fast rising home prices (an ‘improvement’..) but also acknowledges they constitute a challenge. She mentions bubbles – she even sees ‘uneven bubbles’, a lovely term, and ‘selective pockets of bubbles’-, but she does seem to understand what’s going on, even if she doesn’t put it in the stark terminology that seems to fit the issue.

CNBC names the article “China Faces Policy Dilemma As Home Prices Jump In GDP Boost”, an ambiguous enough way of putting things. A second title that pops up but has apparently been rejected by the editor is: “Chinese Property Market Is Improving: UBS”. That would indeed have been a bit much. Because calling a bubble an improvement is like tempting the gods, or worse.

I adapted the title to better fit the contents:

China Relies on Housing Bubble to Keep GDP Numbers Elevated (CNBC)

Policymakers in China were facing the dilemma of driving growth while preventing the property market from overheating, an economist said Monday as prices in the world’s second largest economy jumped in August. Average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 9.2% in August from a year earlier, accelerating from a 7.9% increase in July, an official survey from the National Bureau of Statistics showed Monday. Home prices rose 1.5% from July. But according to Donna Kwok, senior China economist at UBS, the importance of the property sector to China’s overall economic health, posed a challenge.

It contributes up to one-third of GDP as its effects filter through to related businesses such as heavy industries and raw materials. “On the one hand, they need to temper the signs of froth that we are seeing in the higher-tier cities. On the other hand, they are still having to rely on the (market’s) contribution to headline GDP growth that property investment as the whole—which is still reliant on the lower-tier city recovery—generates…so that 6.5 to 7% annual growth target is still met for this year,” Kwok told CNBC’s “Street Signs.”

The data showed prices in the first-tier cities of Shanghai and Beijing prices rose 31.2% and 23.5%, respectively. Home prices in the second tier cities of Xiamen and Hefei saw the larges price gains, rising 43.8% and 40.3% respectively, from a year ago. Earlier, the Chinese government introduced measures aimed at boosting home sales to reduce large inventories in an effort to limit an economic slowdown. While the moves have boosted prices in top-tier cities with some spillover in lower-tier cities, there were still concerns of uneven bubbles in the market.

“We are seeing potential signs of selective pockets of bubbles appearing again, especially in tier 1 and tier 2 cities,” Kwok said. The Chinese government in the meantime was rolling out selective cooling measures in these cities to try to even out growth. “If it’s navigated in a such a way that the (positive) spillover to the adjacent tier 3 cities continues to spread further, then maybe that’s where you may get a first or second best outcome resulting,” she added.

To summarize: China can only achieve its 6.5 to 7% annual GDP growth target if the housing bubble(s) persist, and that’s the one thing bubbles never do.

If housing makes up -directly and indirectly, after ‘filtering through’- one third of Chinese GDP, which is officially still growing at more than 6.5%, then the effects of a housing crash in the Middle Kingdom should become obvious. That is, if the property market merely comes to not even a crash but just a standstill, GDP growth will be close to 4%. And that is before we calculate how that in turn will also ‘filter through’, a process that would undoubtedly shave off another percentage point of GDP growth.

So then we’re at 3% growth, and that’s optimistic, that would require just a limited ‘filtering through’. If the Chinese housing sector shrinks or even collapses, and given that there is a huge property bubble -intentionally- being built on top of the latest -recent- bubble, shrinkage is the least that should be expected, then China GDP growth will fall below that 3%.

And arguably down the line even in a best case scenario both GDP growth and GDP -the economy itself-, will flatline if not fall outright. Since China’s entire economic model has been built to depend on growth, negative growth will hammer its economy so hard that the Communist Party will face protests from a billion different corners as its citizens will see their assets crumble in value.

What at some point will discourage Beijing from keeping on keeping blowing more bubbles to replace the ones that deflate, as it has done for years now, is that China desperately seeks for the renminbi/yuan to be a reserve currency, it’s aiming to be included in ‘the’ IMF basket as soon as October 1 this year.

That is not a realistic prospect if and when the currency continues to be used to prop up the economy, housing, unprofitable industries etc. Neither the IMF nor the other reserve currencies in the basket can allow for the addition of the yuan if its actual value is put at risk by trying to deflect the most basic dynamics of markets, not to that extent. And not at that price either.

The Celestial Empire will be forced to choose, but it’s not clear if it either acknowledges, or is willing to make, such a choice. Still, it won’t be able to absorb all private debt and make it public, and still play in the big leagues, even if other major countries and central banks play fast and loose with the system too.

Jul 302016
 
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Jack Delano Street scene on a rainy day in Norwich, Connecticut 1940

US GDP Grew a Disappointing 1.2% in Q2 As Q1 Revised Down to 0.8% (WSJ)
Rescue Package In Place For Europe’s Oldest Bank, Weakest In Stress Tests (G.)
ECB Bond Buying Risks Blocking Debt Restructurings (R.)
Chinese Capital Outflows May Still Be Happening – But In Disguise (BBG)
Bank of Japan’s Quest for 2% Inflation (BBG)
The Bank of Japan Is At A Crossroads (BBG)
US Authorities Subpoena Goldman In 1MDB Probe (R.)
Australia Headed For Recession As Early As Next Year – Steve Keen (ABC.au)
‘Sell The House, Sell The Car, Sell The Kids’ – Gundlach (R.)
British Columbia Violates NAFTA With Its Foreign Property Tax (FP)
Another “Smoking Gun” Looms As Hillary Campaign Admits Server Hacked (ZH)
Greek Islands Appeal For Measures To Deal With Influx Of Refugees (Kath.)
England’s Plastic Bag Usage Drops 85% Since 5p Charge Introduced (G.)

 

 

Only positive is consumer spending. But without knowing how much of that is borrowed (let alone manipulated), it’s a meaningless number.

US GDP Grew a Disappointing 1.2% in Q2 As Q1 Revised Down to 0.8% (WSJ)

Declining business investment is hobbling an already sluggish U.S. expansion, raising concerns about the economy’s durability as the presidential campaign heads into its final stretch. GDP, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the U.S., grew at a seasonally and inflation adjusted annual rate of just 1.2% in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday, well below the pace economists expected. Economic growth is now tracking at a 1% rate in 2016—the weakest start to a year since 2011—when combined with a downwardly revised reading for the first quarter. That makes for an annual average rate of 2.1% growth since the end of the recession, the weakest pace of any expansion since at least 1949.

The output figures are in some ways discordant with other gauges of the economy. The unemployment rate stands at 4.9% after a streak of strong job gains, wages have begun to pick up, and home sales hit a post-recession high last month. Consumer spending also remains strong. Personal consumption, which accounts for more than two-thirds of economic output, expanded at a 4.2% rate in the second quarter, the best gain since late 2014. On the downside, the third straight quarter of reduced business investment, a large paring back of inventories and declining government spending cut into those gains. “Consumer spending growth was the sole element of good news” in the latest GDP figures, said Gregory Daco at Oxford Economics. “Weakness in business investment is an important and lingering growth constraint.”

Read more …

“This is a market operation that will reinforce the capital position of the bank and free it completely of bad loans…” If it’s that easy, do it all over the place, I’d think. Who do they think they’re fooling?

Rescue Package In Place For Europe’s Oldest Bank, Weakest In Stress Tests (G.)

A rescue package of the world’s oldest bank has been announced after a health check of the biggest banks across the EU showed that Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena’s financial position would be wiped out if the global economy and financial markets came under strain. The much-anticipated result of the stress tests – for which there was no pass or fail mark – of 51 banks showed that Italy’s third largest bank emerged weakest from the assessment. But the test – which exposed banks to headwinds in the global economy and dramatic movements in currency markets – also underlined the drop in the capital position of bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland and the hit taken by Barclays observed under the imaginary scenarios. Banks from Italy, Ireland, Spain and Austria fared worst.

Regulators said that the tests showed that the bank sector was much stronger than it had been at the time of the 2008 financial crisis, which led to the introduction of the stress tests. Even so, the European Banking Authority (EBA), which conducted the tests on lenders, acknowledged that more needed to done.Under the latest stress test scenario, some €269bn (£227bn) would be wiped off the capital bases of the banks. “The EBA’s 2016 stress test shows the benefits of capital strengthening done so far are reflected in the resilience of the EU banking sector to a severe shock,” said Andrea Enria, EBA chair. “This stress test is a vital tool to assist supervisors in accelerating the process of repair of banks’ balance sheets, which is so important for restoring lending to households and businesses.

“The EBA’s stress test is not a pass [or] fail exercise. While we recognise the extensive capital raising done so far, this is not a clean bill of health. There remains work to do which supervisors will undertake.” The bank that fared the worst was MPS, which suffered a dramatic 14 percentage point fall in its capital position. It had been expected to perform badly and talks had already been underway before the results of the stress tests were published to try to find a way to bolster its capital. New EU regulations prevented the Italian government from pumping any taxpayer money into MPS so efforts were needed to try to stop of tens of thousands of ordinary Italians – who had bought its bonds – losing their savings. Italy’s banks are in the spotlight as they are weighed down by €360bn of bad debts.

Italy’s finance minister, Pier Carlo Padoan – who as recently as Sunday said there was no crisis in Italy – endorsed the deal put together to raise €5bn from private investors and sell €9.2bn of bad debts. “The government is greatly satisfied with the operation [the deal] launched … by Monte dei Paschi of Siena,” he said. “This is a market operation that will reinforce the capital position of the bank and free it completely of bad loans. The operation will allow the bank to develop a solid industrial plan, thanks to which it will boost its support for the real economy through lending to families and businesses.”

Read more …

Unintended consequences. Hilarious, really.

ECB Bond Buying Risks Blocking Debt Restructurings (R.)

The European Central Bank could scupper future eurozone debt restructurings if it increases the amount of a country’s bonds it can buy under its economic stimulus program, a top debt lawyer warned. The problem, on the radar of European authorities suffering a hangover from the 2012 crisis, has been pushed to the fore by expectations the ECB will need to raise limits on its bond purchases to keep its quantitative easing scheme on track.

Kai Schaffelhuber, a partner at law firm Allen & Overy, said that if the ECB permitted itself to buy more than a third of a country’s debt it would make a restructuring of privately-held bonds more difficult, a move that could increase the likelihood of taxpayer rescues. In a debt restructuring, a quorum of investors has to agree the terms of a deal. The ECB cannot participate because it is forbidden from directly financing governments. “They (the ECB) should avoid a situation where they are holding so much (of a) debt that a restructuring becomes virtually impossible,” said Schaffelhuber, whose firm worked on Greece’s 2012 debt restructuring.

Read more …

Samoa….

Chinese Capital Outflows May Still Be Happening – But In Disguise (BBG)

When there’s a will to get money out of China, there’s a way: overpay. Authorities in the world’s second-largest economy have been able to pursue a policy of managed depreciation for the Chinese yuan without spooking markets and eliciting expectations of major foreign-exchange volatility, the way the one-off devaluation did last August. One big reason is that Beijing seems to have had success in cracking down on the flood of money leaving the country, which had been prompting sizable drawdowns in the central bank’s foreign currency reserves, to prop up the value of the yuan. But a report from a Nomura team led by Chief China Economist Yang Zhao says these capital outflows have merely taken another form: the over-invoicing of imports from select locales.

And this time, it’s not just a Hong Kong story. “A detailed breakdown by region shows imports from some tax haven islands or offshore financial centres surged” in the first half of the year, he writes, “against the backdrop of a large decline in overall imports.” Now, it may be the China’s appetite for copra and coconut oil, two key Samoan exports, has indeed surged. But Zhao has a different explanation. “This suggests to us that capital outflows may have been disguised as imports in China’s trade with these tax-haven or offshore financial centres, though the precise volumes are unknown,” according to the economist. “With stronger capital controls in place we believe continued capital outflows via the current account are likely.”

Read more …

Exposing the uselessness of the whole idea.

Bank of Japan’s Quest for 2% Inflation (BBG)

The U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the ECB are among the world’s monetary authorities that have set an inflation target right around 2%. Nowhere, though, does the quest for this special number carry drama like it does in Japan, where Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has vowed to do whatever it takes to stimulate prices. On Friday in Tokyo, the BOJ indicated there were risks to achieving this target anytime soon.

1. What’s so special about 2%? The BOJ set its current inflation target in January 2013, less than a month after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power with a plan to pull the economy out of two decades of stagnation. In Japan and many other developed economies, prices rising by 2% a year is seen as optimal for encouraging companies to invest and consumers to spend. It’s also thought to be low enough to avoid sparking the runaway inflation that crippled Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920s and Zimbabwe in more recent times.

2. How close has Japan gotten to 2% inflation? Not very. What Japan has had, on-and-off since the late 1990s, is deflation – inflation below 0% – with prices dropping across a wide range of goods.

3. What caused deflation? It began with the bursting of a real estate and asset-price bubble. Wounded banks curbed lending, companies focused on cutting debt, wages stagnated and consumers reined in spending. Households became accustomed to falling prices and put off purchases. The global financial crisis of 2008, and the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011, entrenched what Kuroda describes as a “deflationary mindset” among consumers and companies in Japan. The nation’s aging and shrinking population is now making matters worse.

Read more …

I think they passed that crossroads long ago. Just didn’t recognize it for what it was.

The Bank of Japan Is At A Crossroads (BBG)

After more than three years of pumping out wave after wave of cheap money that’s failed to secure its inflation target, the Bank of Japan has signaled a rethink. Instead of buying yet more government bonds, cutting interest rates or pushing further into uncharted territory, the BOJ disappointed some Friday when its policy meeting concluded with only a modest adjustment. Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, 71, and his colleagues declared it was time to assess the impact of their policies, which have variously spurred strong criticism from bankers, bond dealers and some lawmakers and former BOJ executives. The next gathering, on Sept. 20-21, offers a chance to either provide greater evidence that the current framework should continue, head further into uncharted territory, or scale back.

Regardless of the decision, this isn’t where one of the world’s most aggressive central bankers wanted to be in his fourth year in office. In early 2013, he expressed confidence the BOJ had the power to ensure its 2% inflation target could be reached within about two years. This year, with the shock adoption of a negative interest rate policy backfiring through a welter of warnings from commercial banks, there’s a growing perception monetary policy is losing effectiveness. “We are at a turning point” for the BOJ, because “it can no longer assume that stepping harder on the gas pedal would make this car go faster,” said Stephen Jen, co-founder of hedge fund SLJ Macro Partners and a former IMF economist. “Arrow 2 will take the lead now,” he said, in a reference to the three arrows of Abenomics – monetary, fiscal and structural-reform policies.

Read more …

Yeah, that’ll result in some jail time….

US Authorities Subpoena Goldman In 1MDB Probe (R.)

U.S. authorities have issued subpoenas to Goldman Sachs for documents related to the bank’s dealings with scandal-hit Malaysian state fund 1MDB, the Wall Street Journal reported late on Friday. Goldman received the subpoenas earlier this year from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission , the Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. The authorities also want to interview current and former Goldman employees in connection with the inquiries, but none of those meetings had occurred by Friday, WSJ said.

1MDB, which was founded by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 shortly after he came to office, is being investigated for money-laundering in at least six countries including the United States, Singapore and Switzerland. Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing. U.S. law enforcement officials are attempting to identify whether Goldman violated federal law after failing to flag a transaction in Malaysia, the Journal reported in June. New York state regulators have also asked the Wall Street bank for details about probes into billions of dollars it raised in a bond offering for 1MDB, Reuters reported in June, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Read more …

Note – Steve says: “I’ve said “as early as” 2017 and “between 20% & 70% fall” but all people hear is 2017 & 70%..”

Australia Headed For Recession As Early As Next Year – Steve Keen (ABC.au)

Australia’s credit binge will lead to a bust as soon as next year, with house prices to fall between 40 and 70% and unemployment to rise sharply, Professor Steve Keen says. The professor famously lost a bet when he predicted a catastrophic crash in Australian house prices following the GFC and had to walk from Canberra to Mount Kosciusko as a result. But he says, this time, he is right and does not have his hiking boots at the ready. “We have borrowed ourselves so much to the hilt that we are now dependent on that continuing to rise over time and it simply won’t,” he told the ABC’s The Business.

Many believe the Reserve Bank has been a steady guiding hand to the Australian economy in the years since the GFC, but Professor Keen believes it has guided the economy “straight toward the shoals” by encouraging households to borrow with low rates which has led to asset bubbles. “They don’t know what they’re doing,” he said. “Our debt level according to the Bank of International Settlements, private debt level, has gone from 150% of GDP to 210% of GDP.” He argued that means a large part of the growth that Australia has enjoyed since the GFC, while many other countries plunged into recession, has been fuelled by a 60% rise in household debt. “Ireland did the same thing when they called themselves the Celtic Tiger and they don’t call themselves that anymore,” he said.

“Spain was doing the same thing during its housing bubble and we’ve replicated the same mistakes. He believes the Reserve Bank will be forced to take rates down to zero from their current level of 1.75% as the economy continues to slow, but that will not stop the collapse of the credit binge that has kept the country afloat until now. “[Lower rates] will suck more people in, it will suck more people in for a while and the [Reserve Bank] can delay this for a while by cutting the rates,” he said. He said the catalysts for the recession were the declining terms of trade, the continued fall in investment into the economy and the Federal Government’s “stupid” pursuit of a budget surplus. “The Government is frankly stupid about the economy and is obsessed about running surpluses when it is bad economics.”

Read more …

“The stock markets should be down massively but investors seem to have been hypnotized that nothing can go wrong.”

‘Sell The House, Sell The Car, Sell The Kids’ – Gundlach (R.)

Jeffrey Gundlach, the chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, said on Friday that many asset classes look frothy and his firm continues to hold gold, a traditional safe-haven, along with gold miner stocks. Noting the recent run-up in the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index while economic growth remains weak and corporate earnings are stagnant, Gundlach said stock investors have entered a “world of uber complacency.” The S&P 500 on Friday touched an all-time high of 2,177.09, while the government reported that U.S. GDP in the second quarter grew at a meager 1.2% rate. “The artist Christopher Wool has a word painting, ‘Sell the house, sell the car, sell the kids.’ That’s exactly how I feel – sell everything. Nothing here looks good,” Gundlach said in a telephone interview.

“The stock markets should be down massively but investors seem to have been hypnotized that nothing can go wrong.” Gundlach, who oversees more than $100 billion at Los Angeles-based DoubleLine, said the firm went “maximum negative” on Treasuries on July 6 when the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note hit 1.32%. “We never short in our mainline strategies. We also never go to zero Treasuries. We went to lower weightings and change the duration,” Gundlach said. Currently, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note is 1.45%, which has translated into some profits so far for DoubleLine. “The yield on the 10-year yield may reverse and go lower again but I am not interested. You don’t make any money. The risk-reward is horrific,” Gundlach said. “There is no upside” in Treasury prices.

Read more …

The perks of trade agreements.

British Columbia Violates NAFTA With Its Foreign Property Tax (FP)

The British Columbia government has suddenly introduced a penalty tax forcing non-Canadian purchasers of residential real estate in the Greater Vancouver Regional District to pay a 15% tax on all purchases registered from Aug. 2, 2016. This penalty tax discriminates by definition against foreign investors buying residential real estate in the Greater Vancouver Area: Canadian citizens buying residential real estate are exempt; foreign buyers must pay the tax. That discrimination is a glaring violation of our trade treaties. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other Canadian trade agreements prohibit governments from imposing discriminatory policies that punish foreigners while exempting locals.

NAFTA’s national treatment obligation requires that citizens from other NAFTA partners investing in B.C. receive the same treatment from the government as the very best treatment received by Canadian investors. Americans and Mexicans forced to pay the 15% penalty tax would be able to pursue direct compensation for B.C.’s discriminatory tax from an independent international tribunal. [..] While the vast majority of Vancouver’s foreign property buyers might be Chinese, who were apparently the provincial government’s main target, enough investors from our dozens of treaty partners, comprising of hundreds of affected foreigners with trade rights, could be caught up in this tax, leading to mass claims. Those claims would be against the Canadian government, the signatory to NAFTA and the other international trade treaties, not B.C. Canadian taxpayers could be on the hook for hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars.

Read more …

Big kahuna remains: the classified mails on Hillay’s server(s).

Another “Smoking Gun” Looms As Hillary Campaign Admits Server Hacked (ZH)

In the third cyberattack on Democratic Party-related servers, Reuters reports that the computer network used by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign was hacked. This follows hacks of the DNC and the DCCC (the party’s fund-raising committee) in the past week. Who to blame this time? Well with US intelligence head Jim Clapper having exclaimed that he was “somewhat taken aback by the hyperventilation [blaming Russia]” by Democratic surrogates, we suspect another scapegoat will need to be found. The latest attack, which was disclosed to Reuters on Friday, follows reports of two other hacks on the Democratic National Committee and the party’s fundraising committee for candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The U.S. Department of Justice national security division is investigating whether cyber hacking attacks on Democratic political organizations threatened U.S. security, sources familiar with the matter said on Friday. The involvement of the Justice Department’s national security division is a sign that the Obama administration has concluded that the hacking was state sponsored, individuals with knowledge of the investigation said. The Clinton campaign, based in Brooklyn, had no immediate comment and referred Reuters to a comment from earlier this week by campaign senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan criticizing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and calling the hacking “a national security issue.”

It was not immediately clear what information on the Clinton campaign’s computer system hackers would have been able to access, but the possibility of more ‘smoking guns’ only rises with each hack. Of course the finger will inevitably be pointed at Vladimir Putin (and his media-designated puppet Trump) but even The Director of Nation Intelligence has urged that an end be put to the “reactionary mode” blaming it all on Russia…

“We don’t know enough to ascribe motivation regardless of who it might have been,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said speaking at Aspen’s Security Forum in Colorado, when asked if the media was getting ahead of themselves in fingering the perpetrator of the hack. Speaking on Thursday, Clapper said that Americans need to stop blaming Russia for the hack, telling the crowd that the US has been running in “reactionary mode” when it comes to the numerous cyber-attacks the nation is continuously facing. “I’m somewhat taken aback by the hyperventilation on this,” Clapper said, as cited by the Washington Examiner. “I’m shocked someone did some hacking,” he added sarcastically, “[as if] that’s never happened before.”

Of course that won’t stop the endless distraction and guilt-mongering to avoid any accountability for actual content of anything that is released. Finally, does it not seem a little “reckless” that so many Democratic servers have been hacked so easily?

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It’s starting to increase again.

Greek Islands Appeal For Measures To Deal With Influx Of Refugees (Kath.)

As the influx of migrants from neighboring Turkey continues – with a slight but noticable increase – regional authorities and tourism professionals are calling for measures to support communities on the Aegean islands. Over the past two weeks, following a failed coup in Turkey on July 15, the influx of migrants has increased, according to government figures. Overall, more than 1,000 migrants landed on the five so-called hot spots: Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros since the failed coup. Those islands are now accommodating 9,313 migrants in camps, many of whom have been there for several months awaiting the outcome of asylum applications or deportation.

In a letter to Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas and Alternate Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas, the governor of the northern Aegean region, Christiana Kalogirou, asked for immediate steps to decongest the islands. “We are seeing a constant and apparently increasing flow of migrants and refugees toward the islands of the northern Aegean,” she wrote, noting that the maximum capacity of state reception centers has been exceeded on all the islands. A representative of an aid agency working on Lesvos said that the increase in migrant arrivals on the island has not yet fuelled tensions in the camps. “But if they keep arriving at the same rate, we’ll have a problem soon,” according to the worker who asked not to be identified.

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That’s how hard that is. 5p.

England’s Plastic Bag Usage Drops 85% Since 5p Charge Introduced (G.)

The number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England has plummeted by more than 85% after the introduction of a 5p charge last October, early figures suggest. More than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, but this figure plummeted to slightly more than 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said. The data is the government’s first official assessment of the impact of the charge, which was introduced to help reduce litter and protect wildlife – and the expected full-year drop of 6bn bags was hailed by ministers as a sign that it is working.

The charge has also triggered donations of more than £29m from retailers towards good causes including charities and community groups, according to Defra. England was the last part of the UK to adopt the 5p levy, after successful schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries, but smaller shops and paper bags are not included. There are also exemptions for some goods, such as raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, seeds and flowers and live fish. Around 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds.

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Jun 032016
 
 June 3, 2016  Posted by at 8:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Happy News Cafe, “restaurant for the unemployed”, Washington, DC 1937

Bill Gross: Capitalism Doesn’t Work At 0% (CNBC)
Negative-Yielding Sovereign Debt Tops $10 Trillion (WSJ)
Japan’s Sovereign Debt Burden Is Quietly Falling the Most in the World (BBG)
Explosion in Quasi-Sovereign Bond Issuance Is Making Analysts Queasy (BBG)
US-China Trade Troubles Grow (WSJ)
One Third Of Americans Are ‘Just Getting By’ (NY Times)
OECD Sees ‘Dramatic And Destabilising’ End To Australia Property Boom (AFR)
Fed Likely To Avoid Rate Hike Before Britain Votes On Leaving EU (R.)
Draghi Insists ECB Stimulus Only Half Done (BBG)
Bank of France Cuts Inflation Outlook, 2017 GDP Forecast (WSJ)
Bundesbank Cuts German GDP Forecasts On Weaker Export Demand (R.)
President Obama, Pardon Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (G.)
Facial Recognition Will Soon End Your Anonymity (MW)
The Fat Lady Always Sings Twice (Jim Kunstler)
Fewer Than 500 of 163,000 Migrants Find Jobs In Sweden (BB)
Corruption Gripes Help Five Star Movement Top Italy Local Election Polls (G.)
US Announces Near-Total Ban On Trade Of African Elephant Ivory (AFP)

Central bankers seem to think it does, though.

Bill Gross: Capitalism Doesn’t Work At 0% (CNBC)

Bill Gross has some bad news for investors. In his June investment outlook released Thursday, the widely followed bond fund manager contended that bond and stock returns realized in the last 40 years are “a grey if not black swan event that cannot be repeated.” Investors should not expect 7% returns on bonds or returns in the high single digits or double digits on stocks, Gross told CNBC on Thursday. “The markets are entirely different and it would pay to travel to Mars as opposed to stay on Earth, because the returns here are very, very low,” the manager of the Janus Capital Unconstrained Bond Fund, said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch”. Gross said easy central bank policy could hold down bond returns. Central banks in Europe and Japan have adopted negative interest rates, while the Federal Reserve’s target rate is at 0.25 to 0.50%.

German and Japanese 10-year bonds currently have negative yields, while their 30-year bonds yield less than 1%. The U.S. 10-year Treasury note yield sat around 1.8% Thursday. Gross contended those rate trends can hurt not only savers but also the broader economy. He said Fed policymakers, who have signaled they could hike rates at least once this year, realize they need to normalize policy. “Ultimately, they have to move back up and I think a certain number of Fed governors realize that the normalization process is necessary in order to save business models and to save capitalism basically because capitalism doesn’t work at 0% and it doesn’t work at negative interest rates,” he said.

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Negative bonanza.

Negative-Yielding Sovereign Debt Tops $10 Trillion (WSJ)

The amount of global sovereign debt with negative yields surpassed $10 trillion for the first time in May, according to Fitch Ratings. The measure stood at $10.4 trillion on May 31, up 5% from $9.9 trillion on April 25, when the rating agency last measured the amount, according to a Thursday report. It is spread across 14 countries, with Japan by far the largest source of negative-yielding bonds. Of the total, $7.3 trillion was long-term debt and $3.1 trillion was short-term debt.

The amount of debt with yields below zero has increased sharply this year as global central banks have instituted unconventional policy measures, such as negative interest rates. The Bank of Japan in January surprised markets by driving its rates below zero, pushing Japanese government-bond yields sharply lower. Banks in the euro currency bloc have also increased demand for government debt to meet regulatory requirements, another factor weighing on yields, Fitch said. “Higher amounts of Japanese and Italian sovereign securities with sub-zero yields were the biggest contributors to the monthly changes,” said Fitch analysts, led by Robert Grossman.

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Because it’s shifting into private hands. The BOJ buys it all. Which allows the government to keep on borrowing with abandon.

Japan’s Sovereign Debt Burden Is Quietly Falling the Most in the World (BBG)

Japan for years has been renowned for having the world’s largest government debt load. No longer. That’s if you consider how the effective public borrowing burden is plunging – by one estimate as much as the equivalent of 15 percentage points of GDP a year, putting it on track toward a more manageable level. Accounting for the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented government bond buying from private investors, which some economists call “monetization” of the debt, alters the picture. Though the bond liabilities remain on the government’s balance sheet, because they aren’t held by the private sector any more they’re effectively irrelevant, according to a number of analysts looking at the shift. “Japan is the country where public debt in private hands is falling the fastest anywhere,” said Martin Schulz at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo.

While Japan’s estimated gross government debt is now over twice the size of the economy, according to Schulz’s calculations using BOJ data, the shuffle of holdings from private actors like banks and households to the central bank is having a big impact. It means debt in private hands will fall to about 100% of GDP in two to three years, from 177% just before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power in late 2012, he estimates. It’s not like Japan is slowing down on borrowing. Abe’s administration is now laying the groundwork for another burst of fiscal stimulus, which could be funded by selling bonds. He also announced Wednesday a delay to a sales tax hike planned for April 2017, rebuffing fiscal hawks who argued it was vital to raise revenue.

Finance Minister Taro Aso explained Tuesday that “the biggest problem is that private consumption hasn’t risen,” making now not a good time to raise the levy. Helping improve household sentiment could be one reason for making it explicit that at least some of the government bonds in the BOJ’s holdings will be written off. If Japanese consumers understand they’re not on the hook for all the gross debt outstanding, their mood could potentially perk up.

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What can we say but: Anything Goes!

Explosion in Quasi-Sovereign Bond Issuance Is Making Analysts Queasy (BBG)

Which fixed-income asset class is growing fast, outperforms similar debt issues, and rarely defaults? Emerging market ‘quasi-sovereign’ bonds, of course! At some $600 billion, debt sold by state-supported companies in emerging markets ranging from China to Oman has surpassed the amount of emerging market government debt outstanding, according to a new note from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Such quasi-sovereign debt issuance has helped propel the stunning growth of the overall bond market, with EM issuance accounting for 47% of the growth in global debt between 2007-14, compared to 22% in the previous seven years, according to S&P Global Ratings.

But the surge in ‘quasi’ bonds is making some feel, well, queasy. “Quasi-sovereigns are effectively a ‘contingent liability’ for a country,” write the BofAML analysts, led by Kay Hope. They note that quasi-sovereign issuance now makes up half of the $1.6 – 1.8 trillion euro- and dollar-denominated corporate bond market for emerging markets, which could put added pressure on strained emerging market coffers.

China, with its lumbering state-owned enterprises, accounts for a full quarter of this kind of debt — despite the Chinese sovereign itself lacking virtually any foreign-denominated bonds. Meanwhile, the amount of debt from Brazilian quasi-sovereigns has nearly quadrupled, according to BofAML, while that sold by Mexico’s state-owned companies has just about doubled. Much of the growth has been driven by companies in the energy and commodities sectors, with giants of industry including Pemex, Petrobras, China National Offshore Oil and Gazprom all tapping the market in recent years.

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There’s going to be trouble.

US-China Trade Troubles Grow (WSJ)

The U.S. and China, facing mounting political pressures at home, are seeing economic tensions flare to their worst point in years over currency and trade practices. China has pushed the yuan to a five-year low against the dollar, reviving charges from American firms of currency manipulation to gain a competitive advantage for Chinese goods. The Obama administration has fired off a series of trade complaints and levied duties on several Chinese industries, from chicken feet to cold-rolled steel used in appliances and auto parts. The friction between the world’s two largest economies could worsen as domestic politics collide with already weak growth.

The U.S., seeing heightened anti-China rhetoric in the presidential election, wants China to press ahead with promised policies to open up its markets and allow greater international investment. Chinese leaders, worried about a deeper economic slowdown, are trying to keep factories humming and prevent the kind of market unrest that gripped global investors over the past year. [..] Some analysts think President Xi Jinping, wanting to consolidate power in the Communist Party ahead of a leadership transition next year, has paused reform efforts and instead is revving up the old playbook of credit-fueled growth and infrastructure spending. His aim: Ensure economic stability and mollify rivals, they say.

An attempt last year by Beijing to allow markets to play a role in setting its exchange rate was mismanaged, adding to a summertime of woe for China’s financial markets and sparking global jitters. The reaction surprised Chinese officials and created a headache for reformers. The Chinese government is keeping steel mills, coal plants and a host of manufacturing industries afloat despite dwindling demand and a tumble in commodity prices that should have closed many. [..] By supporting excess production capacity, the Chinese government is “engaged in economic warfare against the U.S.,” said John Ferriola, chief executive of North Carolina steel giant Nucor Corp. “Thousands of hardworking Americans have lost their jobs because of these illegal, unfair trade practices.”

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“..nearly half of all respondents said they could not cover an unexpected expense of $400..”

One Third Of Americans Are ‘Just Getting By’ (NY Times)

In the United States, nearly one-third of adults, about 76 million people, are either “struggling to get by” or “just getting by,” according to the third annual survey of households by the Federal Reserve Board. That finding, dismal though it is, represents a mild improvement in general well-being last year, compared with the two years before. The improvement, however, was clearly too little to raise Americans’ spirits: The new survey, which was conducted in late 2015 and released last week, also shows that optimism about the future has tempered. The Fed policy committee should take the survey to heart when it meets this month to decide whether to raise interest rates.

Higher rates are a way to slow an economy that is at risk of overheating – a far-fetched proposition when tens of millions of Americans are barely hanging in there. Congress and other economic policy makers, as well as the presidential candidates, could also use the survey to get some insight into Americans’ real economic problems. Among them is deep insecurity. Nearly 70% of adults said they were “living comfortably” or “doing O.K.” — up a bit from previous years — but nearly half of all respondents said they could not cover an unexpected expense of $400, or could do so only by selling something or borrowing money. Americans seeking a path upward through education are staggering under a load of debt. The median debt load for someone with a bachelor’s degree was $19,162.

For a master’s, it was $36,000, and for a professional degree, $100,000. Many students with debt use deferments or other plans to delay or extend repayments, but in most cases that increases the balance they owe. For those making payments, the average monthly bill was $533. By all indications, however, they are the relatively lucky ones. Americans who had attended college accounted for most of the improvement reported in the survey. Financial stress was more prevalent among less-educated people who responded to the survey, as well as racial and ethnic minorities and adults making less than $40,000 a year.

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Please remember and compare to yesterday’s (also OECD): “We’re a little concerned about housing prices in the greater Vancouver area and Toronto..”

OECD Sees ‘Dramatic And Destabilising’ End To Australia Property Boom (AFR)

Australia may be on the cusp of a “dramatic and destabilising” end to the housing boom rather than a hoped-for soft landing because of the apartments building boom, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said. In its latest assessment of the threats to the economy, the Paris-based think tank said jitters over the federal election are adding to risks, and called for an increase in the goods and services tax. Somewhat paradoxically, the OECD appears particularly worried about how to interpret changes in the housing market – even as it notes simultaneously that risks of a boom appear to be receding which, it argues, provides leeway for even more official interest rate cuts.

“Domestically, the unwinding of housing market tensions to date may presage dramatic and destabilising developments, rather than herald a soft landing,” it said. Parts of the real estate industry have already warned about failed settlements as record numbers of new apartments come due for completion in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane this year and next. The warning, which is accompanied by graphs showing dwelling approvals retreating from a peak and house prices levelling out, appears to have been prepared ahead of more recent evidence of a rebound in both measures.

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First things first.

Fed Likely To Avoid Rate Hike Before Britain Votes On Leaving EU (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve may be forced to delay a rate hike at its June meeting because of mounting concern over the economic fallout from Britain’s vote on whether to leave the European Union. The geopolitical risk likely will push any rate increase until at least July, despite apparent consensus among Fed officials that a hike is warranted by stronger U.S. growth and tight labor markets. The Fed’s June 14-15 rate-setting meeting comes just a week before the British vote on June 23. A “leave” vote is expected to roil financial markets, cause credit spreads to widen, trigger a rush into safe assets and bolster the dollar. The dollar’s recent stability is one reason the Fed has become more comfortable with raising rates, and officials may want to let the threat of Brexit pass before moving to tighten financial conditions.

Fed Board Governor Daniel Tarullo on Thursday joined the chorus of those warning of his concerns over the British vote, telling Bloomberg that Brexit would be a “factor” he would consider at the Fed’s June policy meeting and said that the British vote’s impact on markets would be key. [..] If the Fed does indeed take a pass at its June meeting, officials have signaled they’ll be ready to move in July. Minutes of the Fed’s March policy meeting showed officials preparing the ground for higher rates sometime in the summer months. After July, the next option would be September, in the middle of a U.S. election campaign, in which the Fed and Yellen could well become targets of debate.

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The illusion gets expensive, as returns diminish.

Draghi Insists ECB Stimulus Only Half Done (BBG)

Mario Draghi’s insistence that his stimulus program is only half done brings with it a worrying thought. What if its best effects are already spent anyway? At least four times at Thursday’s press conference in Vienna, the European Central Bank president emphasized how policy makers need to see the “full impact” and must “focus on implementation” of their measures. That augurs a busy month ahead as officials keep hoovering up government debt, start buying corporate bonds and enact the first of four long-term loan offerings to banks. While Draghi’s remarks suggest the next major calendar point for the ECB’s assessment of its stimulus will be September – after the release of economic-growth data and coinciding with its fresh forecasts – the omens so far are weak.

Yet another report of negative consumer prices this week underscored the challenge of revitalizing an economy fatigued by years of debt crises and delayed reforms, and battered by global forces beyond the ECB’s control. “We’re getting to the point of radically diminishing effectiveness of these interventions,” Andrew Balls, Pimco’s global fixed income chief investment officer, said on Bloomberg Television. “If we get a recession, which is perfectly plausible over the next three to five years, there’s a real question in terms of how policy makers can respond.”

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France blames emerging economies.

Bank of France Cuts Inflation Outlook, 2017 GDP Forecast (WSJ)

The Bank of France cut its inflation forecasts and trimmed its 2017 economic growth forecast in a semi-annual economic outlook Friday. The Bank of France pared back its GDP forecast for 2017 to 1.5% from 1.6% in December as it expects weaker trade to drag on the French economy. Despite a stronger-than-expected first quarter, it kept its GDP forecast for the whole of 2016 at 1.4%. The softer forecasts indicate how weak oil prices and uncertainty over the outlook for the global economy are cooling eurozone economies just as they emerge from a long period of weak growth. “While global demand is dynamic, it will accelerate only slightly in 2016, due to a less favorable growth outlook than previously forecast in emerging economies,” the Bank of France said.

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Germany blames exports in general. Stingy Greeks?!

Bundesbank Cuts German GDP Forecasts On Weaker Export Demand (R.)

The Bundesbank cut its German inflation and growth forecasts on Friday citing weaker demand for exports, even as it predicted that robust consumer demand and a tightening labor market would keep the domestic economy buoyant. The euro zone’s biggest economy has been an outperformer in recent years, posting healthy growth and driving the currency bloc’s best run since the start of the global financial crisis almost a decade ago. Exporters have been forced to “surrender” some of their market share gained in recent years, however, and this trend may continue this year and offset strong domestic factors, the central bank said in a biannual economic outlook.

“This should probably be interpreted mainly as a correction of previous market share gains not explained by price competitiveness,” the Bundesbank said. “This process could continue further into 2016 according to Ifo and DIHK surveys, in which industrial firms reported subdued export expectations and only a comparatively moderate increase in exports this year,” it said. The bank now sees GDP growing at 1.7% this year, below a December projection for 1.8%, and 1.4% in 2017, down from 1.7% seen earlier. The growth rate would then rebound to 1.6% in 2018.

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Not going to happen.

President Obama, Pardon Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (G.)

As he wraps up his presidency, it’s time for Barack Obama to seriously consider pardoning whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Last week, Manning marked her six-year anniversary of being behind bars. She’s now served more time than anyone who has leaked information to a reporter in history – and still has almost three decades to go on her sentence. It should be beyond question at this point that the archive that Manning gave to WikiLeaks – and that was later published in part by the Guardian and New York Times – is one of the richest and most comprehensive databases on world affairs that has ever existed; its contribution to the public record at this point is almost incalculable. To give you an idea: in just the past month, the New York Times has cited Manning’s state department cables in at least five different stories.

And that’s almost six years after they first started making headlines. We know now that, despite being embarrassing for the United States, the leaks caused none of the great harm that US government officials said would come to pass. Even the government admitted during Manning’s trial that no one died because of her revelations, despite the hyperbolic government comments at the time, including that WikiLeaks had “blood on its hands”. (By the way, the US officials knew they were exaggerating in the media at the time.) Even if you think that she deserves some punishment for breaking the law, six years behind bars (and being tortured during her pretrial confinement) should be more than enough.

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Creepy.

Facial Recognition Will Soon End Your Anonymity (MW)

Nearly 250 million video surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the world, and chances are you’ve been seen by several of them today. Most people barely notice their presence anymore – on the streets, inside stores, and even within our homes. We accept the fact that we are constantly being recorded because we expect this to have virtually no impact on our lives. But this balance may soon be upended by advancements in facial recognition technology. Soon anybody with a high-resolution camera and the right software will be able to determine your identity. That’s because several technologies are converging to make this accessible. Recognition algorithms have become far more accurate, the devices we carry can process huge amounts of data, and there’s massive databases of faces now available on social media that are tied to our real names.

As facial recognition enters the mainstream, it will have serious implications for your privacy. A new app called FindFace, recently released in Russia, gives us a glimpse into what this future might look like. Made by two 20-something entrepreneurs, FindFace allows anybody to snap a photo of a passerby and discover their real name — already with 70% reliability. The app allows people to upload photos and compare faces to user profiles from the popular social network Vkontakte, returning a result in a matter of seconds. According to an interview in the Guardian, the founders claim to already have 500,000 users and have processed over 3 million searches in the two months since they’ve launched.

What’s particularly unsettling are the use cases they advocate: identifying strangers to send them dating requests, helping government security agencies to determine the identities of dissenters, and allowing retailers to bombard you with advertisements based on what you look at in stores. While there are reasons to be skeptical of their claims, FindFace is already being deployed in questionable ways. Some users have tried to identify fellow riders on the subway, while others are using the app to reveal the real names of porn actresses against their will. Powerful facial recognition technology is now in the hands of consumers to use how they please.

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American history 101.

The Fat Lady Always Sings Twice (Jim Kunstler)

That was the week Hillary began to look like the candidate who fell off a truck wearing a Nixon mask. Email-gate is taking on the odor of Watergate — the main ingredient of which was not the dopey crime itself but the stonewalling around it. The State Department Inspector General’s report saying definitively, no, she was not “allowed” to use a private, unsecured email server validated Donald Trump’s juvenile name-calling of “Crooked Hillary.” We may never hear the end of that now (if Trump is actually nominated). And, of course, there lurks the Godzilla-sized skeleton in her closet of the still-unreleased Goldman Sachs speech transcripts, the clamor over which is sure to grow. Meanwhile the specter of the California primary looms, a not inconceivable loss to Bernie Sanders.

And onto the convention in Philly which I contend will be even more fractious and violent than the 1968 fiasco in Chicago. I’ll say it again: Hillary is a horse that ain’t gonna finish. The Democrats better be prepared to haul Uncle Joe out of the closet, fluff up his transplanted hair, wax his dentures, give him a few Vitamin B-12 shots, and stick a harpoon in his fist for the autumn run against the White Whale (if Trump is actually nominated). The Republican convention in Cleveland is apt to be as bloody and violent a spectacle too (if Trump is actually nominated), with Black Lives Matters cadres having already promised to put on a show for global television and their Latino counterparts marching with Mexican Flags and cute signs saying: Trump: Chingate tu madre, perhaps garnished with the sobriquet pendejo.

In such a situation, Trump has enormous potential to make things worse with his childish snap-backs. Hubert Humphrey in 1968 at least had the good sense to keep his mouth shut about the moiling multitudes out on Michigan Avenue inveighing against him. The Vietnam War was a grave debacle, and it especially pissed off the young men subject to being drafted to fight in it, but the woof and warp of American life was otherwise intact. Blue collar workers still pulled in high wages in the Big Three auto plants, and women had not yet declared war on men, and the airwaves weren’t pornified, and there were still people in government with moral authority who loudly opposed official policy. The sobering martyrdoms of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy sanctified the opposition to the status quo.

Even Hubert Humphrey himself, a thoughtful man underneath his Rotarian clown mask, began to turn away from Lyndon Johnson’s war hawks. Nixon won. He surely benefited most not so much from the war issue and the riots in the streets as from the mass defection of Southern states from the long-entrenched domination of the Democratic Party — directly due to Johnson’s dismantling of the old Jim Crow laws. As a personality, Nixon was as much a pendejo as Donald Trump, but no one doubted his ability to run the machinery of government, if not the way they wanted to run it.

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” The figures of migrant unemployment follow a trend in Sweden of high unemployment for foreigners.”

Fewer Than 500 of 163,000 Migrants Find Jobs In Sweden (BB)

Sweden’s state-funded broadcaster has revealed that of 163,000 migrants who came to Sweden, less than 500 have found jobs. Sweden saw a record 163,000 applications for asylum last year as a result of the migrant crisis and many Swedes were assured that the new arrivals would contribute to the economy; but new research from Sweden’s state-owned SVT reveals that fewer than 500 migrants have found work. Using data from the Swedish employment agency and the Swedish migration authority, Migrationsverket, the network claims that only 494 asylum seekers are contributing to the economy, The Local reports. While in many countries asylum seekers are banned from formally working while their application is being processed, in Sweden there are exceptions.

The “at-und” is an exemption granted by Migrationsverket which allows asylums seekers access to the labour market. In an effort to explain the incredibly low number of migrants working, Lisa Bergstrand of Migrationsverket told SVT: “There was an incredible number of people applying for asylum in Sweden and so that we should be able to register them, we had to de-prioritise certain tasks, and that was the matter of jobs”. Of the migrants who claimed asylum in 2015 approximately one third of the men and women aged 20-64 were given the exemption to allow them to work, which is around 53,790 migrants. The figures of migrant unemployment follow a trend in Sweden of high unemployment for foreigners. The unemployment for those born in Sweden is at the lowest point since the 2008 financial crisis at around 4.8%, while foreign born unemployment is at 14.9%.

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Question to Italian readers: what effect has the death of Casaleggio had on Beppe?

Corruption Gripes Help Five Star Movement Top Italy Local Election Polls (G.)

Alessandro Aquilini had her by the hand. And he wasn’t letting go. Virginia Raggi, the woman tipped to be the next mayor of Rome, was hunting for votes in the street market in Boccea, a lower middle-class district of the Italian capital. Raggi’s trademark is exquisite courtesy – she proffers a slender hand even to reporters who approach her with hostile questions. At the butcher’s stall, though, she got more of a handshake than she bargained for. “We need help,” the 50-year-old Aquilini began. “Left. Right. Centre. We can’t take any more [of party politicians]. This country needs a bit more honesty.” Still gripping Raggi’s hand as he stretched across the slabs of veal, the burly butcher added: “We’re up to here with taxes and corruption.”

His monologue captured many of the reasons why Raggi, the candidate of the Five Star Movement (M5S), is leading the polls ahead of local elections in Rome and other Italian cities on Sunday. Unlike other non-traditional movements that have prospered in Europe, such as Syriza in Greece, the M5S’s protest is not so much against austerity as the corruption and cronyism of Italy’s mainstream parties. Nowhere has this been highlighted more vividly than Rome, where establishment politicians and officials are on trial alongside alleged mobsters, charged with conspiring to pocket millions of euros from rigged public contracts. All three of the final polls released before a ban took effect on 21 May put Raggi ahead by 3-6%age points in the mayoral race.

Run-offs between the two leading candidates in each town are slated for 19 June. Only then will it be known if the 37-year-old lawyer – almost unknown to the public until a few months ago – has won. A victory for Raggi would be a stinging reverse for Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who leads the centre-left Democratic party, and a dramatic breakthrough for the internet-based M5S. Founded less than seven years ago by the comedian Beppe Grillo and his digital guru, the late Gianroberto Casaleggio, the M5S is today Italy’s leading opposition party. Grillo has said he will set fire to himself in public if Raggi fails to win. But he may yet regret that pledge.

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Is there hope?

US Announces Near-Total Ban On Trade Of African Elephant Ivory (AFP)

US authorities announced a near-total ban on the trade of African elephant ivory Thursday, finalizing a years-long push to protect the endangered animals. “Today’s bold action underscores the United States’ leadership and commitment to ending the scourge of elephant poaching and the tragic impact it’s having on wild populations,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said. The new rule “substantially limits” imports, exports and sales of such ivory across state lines, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said. However, it does make exceptions for some “pre-existing manufactured” items, such as musical instruments, furniture and firearms that contain less than 200 grams of ivory and meet other specific criteria, according to the FWS.

Antiques, as defined under the Endangered Species Act, are also exempt. The new measures fulfill restrictions in an executive order on combating wildlife trafficking issued by President Barack Obama in 2013, the FWS said in its statement announcing the ban. It said that once illegal ivory enters the market it becomes virtually impossible to tell apart from legal ivory, adding that demand for elephant ivory, particularly in Asia, “is so great that it grossly outstrips the legal supply and creates a void in the marketplace that ivory traffickers are eager to fill.”

“We hope other nations will act quickly and decisively to stop the flow of blood ivory by implementing similar regulations, which are crucial to ensuring our grandchildren and their children know these iconic species,” Jewell said. The Wildlife Conservation Society welcomed the ban, calling it historic and groundbreaking. “The USA is shutting down the bloody ivory market that is wiping out Africa’s elephants,” WCS president and chief executive Cristian Samper said in a statement. “The USA is boldly saying to ivory poachers: You are officially out of business.” Some 450,000 elephants can be found on the African continent and it is estimated that more than 35,000 of these animals are killed each year.

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Mar 262016
 
 March 26, 2016  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Jack Delano Freight operations on the Indiana Harbor Belt railroad 1943

US Q4 GDP Rose 1.4% As Corporate Profits Plunged (ZH)
World Trade Collapses in Dollars, Languishes in Volume (WS)
Bank of Japan’s Latest PR Move: ‘Negative Rates in Five Minutes’ (WSJ)
Foreigners Dumped More Japanese Stocks This Week Than Ever Before (ZH)
Yuan’s Fall Drags Down Chinese Companies (WSJ)
Shanghai Rolls Out Tightening Measures To Cool Home Market (Reuters)
Affordable Housing Crisis Has Engulfed All Cities In Southern England (G.)
Radical Economic Ideas Grab Attention Amid Low-inflation Torpor (SMH)
Modern Monetary Theory Has Ardent Proponents (SMH)
Brazil Economic Woes Deepen Amid Political Crisis (WSJ)
The River: America’s 40-Year Hurt (BBC)
Hope Turns To Despair As Lesbos Camp Becomes Open-Air Prison (Ind.)

“The resilient consumer”. Sure.

US Q4 GDP Rose 1.4% As Corporate Profits Plunged (ZH)

While the final revision to Q4 2015 GDP was so irrelevant it was released on a holiday when every US-based market is closed, even the futures, it is nonetheless notable that according to the BEA in the final quarter of 2015 US GDP grew 1.4%, up from the 1.0% previously reported, and higher than the 1.0% consensus estimate matching the highest Q4 GDP forecast. The final Q4 GDP print was still well below the 2.0% annualized GDP growth reported in Q3.

 

The figure marks a slowdown from the 2.2% average pace in the first three quarters of 2015. For all of last year, the U.S. economy grew 2.4% matching the advance in 2014. The reason for the change was largely due to upwardly Personal Consumer Spending, which rose from a contribution of 1.38% to the annualized bottom line to 1.66%. In CAGR terms, personal consumption rose 2.4%, following the 3.0% increase in Q3, higher than the 2.0% previously estimated.

Stripping out inventories and trade, the two most volatile components of GDP, so-called final sales to domestic purchasers increased at a 1.7% rate, compared with a previously estimated 1.4% pace.  The rest of the GDP components were largely unchanged, with Fixed Investment adding 0.06% to the bottom line, up from 0.02% in the previous estimate, Private Inventories contracting fractionally more than previously estimated (-0.22% vs -0.14%), net trade subtracting 0.1% less from growth (-0.14% vs -0.25%), and finally government spending largely unchanged and hugging the unchanged line at 0.02%.

 

But while the “resilient consumer” once again carried the US economy in the fourth quarter, largely due to an estimated jump in spending on Transportation and Recreational services, which added an annualized $13 billion to the US economy vs the prior estimate, more disturbing was the drop in profits which we already knew courtesy of company reports and is known confirmed by the BEA whose GDP report also showed that corporate profits dropped in 2015 by the most in seven years. As Bloomberg writes, the earnings slump illustrates the limits of an economy struggling to gather steam at the start of this year. Some companies, encumbered by low commodities prices and sluggish foreign markets, are cutting back on investment while a firm labor market and low inflation encourage households to keep shopping.

Pre-tax earnings declined 7.8%, the most since the first quarter of 2011, after a 1.6% decrease in the previous three months. The estimate of nonfinancial corporate profits was reduced by a $20.8 billion settlement, considered a transfer to the government, between BP and the U.S. after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Profits in the U.S. dropped 3.1% in 2015, the most since 2008. Corporate earnings are being weighed down by weak productivity, rising labor costs and the plunge in energy prices. Economists at JPMorgan had expected a 9.5% drop in pre-tax earnings in the fourth quarter. “The pace of growth slowed as we ended 2015, though consumer spending is still the primary underpinning of this economic expansion,” Sam Bullard at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina, said before the report. “Any pickup we might see is still likely going to be capped given the overall global picture.”

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Globalization is ending.

World Trade Collapses in Dollars, Languishes in Volume (WS)

The Merchandise World Trade Monitor by the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, tracks global imports and exports in two measures: by volume and by unit price in US dollars. And the just released data for January was a doozie beneath the lackluster surface. The World Trade Monitor for January, as measured in seasonally adjusted volume, declined 0.4% from December and was up a measly 1.1% from January a year ago. While the sub-index for import volumes rose 3% from a year ago, export volumes fell 0.7%. This sort of “growth,” languishing between slightly negative and slightly positive has been the rule last year. The report added this about trade momentum:

“Regional outcomes were mixed. Both import and export momentum became more negative in the United States. Both became more positive in the Euro Area. Import momentum in emerging Asia rose further, whereas export momentum in emerging Asia has been negative for four consecutive months.” This is also what the world’s largest container carrier, Maersk Lines, and others forecast for 2016: a growth rate of about zero to 1% in terms of volume. So not exactly an endorsement of a booming global economy. But here’s the doozie: In terms of prices per unit expressed in US dollars, world trade dropped 3.8% in January from December and is down 12.1% from January a year ago, continuing a rout that started in June 2014. Not that the index was all that strong at the time, after having cascaded lower from its peak in May 2011.

If June 2014 sounds familiar as a recent high point, it’s because a lot of indices started heading south after that, including the price of oil, revenues of S&P 500 companies, total business revenues in the US…. That’s when the Fed was in the middle of tapering QE out of existence and folks realized that it would be gone soon. That’s when the dollar began to strengthen against other key currencies. Shortly after that, inventories of all kinds in the US began to bloat. Starting from that propitious month, the unit price index of world trade has plunged 23%. It’s now lower than it had been at the trough of the Financial Crisis. It hit the lowest level since March 2006:

This chart puts in perspective what Nils Andersen, the CEO of Danish conglomerate AP Møller-Maersk, which owns Maersk Lines, had said last month in an interview following the company’s dreary earnings report and guidance: “It is worse than in 2008.” But why the difference between the stagnation scenario in world trade in terms of volume and the total collapse of the index that measures world trade in unit prices in US dollars? The volume measure is a reflection of a languishing global economy. It says that global trade may be sick, but it’s not collapsing. It’s worse than it was in 2011. This sort of thing was never part of the rosy scenario. But now it’s here.

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‘Explaining’ what they don’t understand themselves.

Bank of Japan’s Latest PR Move: ‘Negative Rates in Five Minutes’ (WSJ)

The Bank of Japan launched a charm offensive Friday to win over spooked members of the public who have reacted negatively to negative interest rates. The central bank issued a booklet offering a crash course in the basic implications of negative rates, a move that demonstrates the strength of unease created by the introduction of a policy in a nation largely unfamiliar with the concept behind it. Written in a question-and-answer format and in a somewhat casual Japanese, the three-page booklet aims to explain negative rates “in five minutes” by covering 18 issues that have grabbed public attention. Negative rates have become a political hot potato ahead of July’s national elections, with opposition lawmakers accusing the central bank of creating anxiety among consumers. Some ruling party politicians, perhaps feeling uncomfortable about the prospect of explaining the policy to their constituents, are also feeling the jitters.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged Thursday that negative rates have made households nervous and it will likely take some time before people understand them. The Bank of Japan decided to start charging interest on some deposits held by commercial banks at the central bank in January. The policy is part of broader efforts to defeat deflation and create a stronger economy, but the central bank was ill-prepared for the public backlash the policy generated. One of the most common concerns over the policy is whether individuals with regular bank accounts will be charged interest on their deposits at the commercial banks. Opposition lawmakers have frequently quizzed BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda on this issue in parliament.

“Although the measure is called negative rates, it only involves imposing negative rates on a part of the money deposited at the BOJ by banks,” the booklet says. “Individuals’ deposits are different.” While addressing concerns over the new policy, the central bank also tries to convey the message that Japan must get rid of deflation, a negative cycle of price falls, adding that it has taken the right steps to do just that. “If prices don’t rise because of deflation, this means companies’ revenues don’t increase, and that’s why salaries don’t rise,” the booklet says. Since company earnings have improved a lot during the past three years of monetary easing, firms have started increasing basic pay, it says, adding that salaries will keep rising each year if deflation is overcome.

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“..weakness means weak Japanese economy means sell Japanese assets.. and we will soon see capital controls in the world’s largest debtor nation…”

Foreigners Dumped More Japanese Stocks This Week Than Ever Before (ZH)

USDJPY just had its best week in 2 months, funding bullish momentum and carry trades around the world in the midst of dismal economic data everywhere and tumbling earnings expectations. This "bullish" Yen strength, however, amid China's biggest weekly devaluation in almost 3 months, was ironically driven by drastic investment outflowsrecord sales of Japanese stocks by foreigners (sell JPY), and record purchases of foreign bonds by Japanese investors (sell JPY). Sooner, rather than later, it is obvious that the investment outflows will dominate the carry trades (see Thursday and Friday) and Kuroda and Abe will have a major problem.

Yen was dumped all week…

 

Which provided just enough juice for carry trades to lift Japanese stocks (despite the weakness in data and China's biggest weekly Yuan devaluation in almost 3 months)

 

But notice that the last two days have seen Japanese stocks decouple from USDJPY, perhaps the first glimpse of the investment outflows overwhelming any casino-based carry trades flows.

And this is why… Foreigners sold a record amount of Japanese stocks last week… (implicitly meansing Yen was sold)

 

And Japanese investors fled the insanity of record low yields in JGBs, buying a record amount of foreign bonds last week (implicitly selling Yen again)…

 

So the Yen weakness – which was so bullishly supportive of global equity markets via carry – was in fact a signal of massive investor anxiety fleeing the sinking ship. Peter Pan-ic indeed.

Abe and Kuroda will soon face a major problem as a weaker Yen will signal the exact opposite trade that has been so active since 2012 – weakness means weak Japanese economy means sell Japanese assets.. and we will soon see capital controls in the world's largest debtor nation.

And remember – the devaluation of The Yen has done nothing – NOTHING – to improve exports for Japan…

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It’s all about the dollar.

Yuan’s Fall Drags Down Chinese Companies (WSJ)

A weaker Chinese currency has roiled global markets and heightened worries about the state of the world’s second-largest economy. Now, some Chinese companies are reporting they’ve taken a hit from a depreciating yuan. The yuan fell 5% against the U.S. dollar in 2015, plunging after China’s central bank surprisingly devalued the currency in mid-August. A weaker currency helps the country’s exporters but hurts Chinese companies that pay for raw material in U.S. dollars or need to pay off loans in U.S. dollars. Among those negatively affected are firms that source from outside China, such as milk or food companies, as well as real estate companies that hold a lot of dollar-denominated debt, says Herald van der Linde at HSBC.

This was the case with Hengan International, one of the leading makers of tissue paper in China. The company said in a statement it saw $55.3 million in foreign-exchange losses in 2015 because it pays for raw material in U.S. dollars, holds U.S.-denominated debt and has Hong Kong-based yuan-denominated assets, which dropped in value. This contributed to a decline in tissue sales, it said. Weaker currencies also hurt China’s heavily-indebted real-estate developers. Shanghai-based property developer Shui On Land reported its 2015 profit dropped to 1.77 billion yuan ($272 million) from 2.49 billion yuan ($382 million) a year earlier in large part due to the depreciation of the company’s USD- and HKD-denominated debt. Then there are companies that suffer losses from selling to countries whose currencies have weakened.

Sourcing and logistics giant Li&Fung said 2015 revenue dropped 2.4% on year. The main reason? Foreign-exchange losses from weak European and Asian currencies, it said, since 38% of the company’s business is in non-U.S. markets but it accounts in U.S. dollars. In order to tackle the problem, some companies are looking to shed yuan — or at least get it out of the country. Hengan, the tissue company, has remitted the equivalent of several billion Hong Kong dollars from mainland China to Hong Kong in 2015, and another HK$2 billion in the first quarter of this year, said CFO Vincent Loo in Hong Kong. It is also negotiating with sources to pay them in less time — from 30 to 60 days rather than 90 — just in case the yuan continues to fall.

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Beijing’s ‘vision’ is now limited to short term only.

Shanghai Rolls Out Tightening Measures To Cool Home Market (Reuters)

Municipal authorities in Shanghai tightened mortgage down payment requirements for second home purchases on Friday, in a move to cool an overheating property market and reduce fears of a bubble. Senior Chinese leaders raised concerns about the country’s overheated housing market during an annual parliament meeting this month, and Shanghai is the biggest city to take action in the wake of the National People’s Congress, which ended a week ago. Under the new rules, home buyers will need to put down 50-70% of the price of a second home, compared to 40% previously, to qualify for a mortgage. “The new measure will have a big impact on market sentiment on both the primary and secondary market; new launches being sold out within one, two hours will not happen again,” said Joe Zhou, head of East China research at real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

With the new rules, Shanghai also made it harder for non-residents to buy homes in the city, according to a statement issued by the local government. Potential buyers who do not hold local residence permits, or hukou, must have paid social insurance or taxes in Shanghai for at least five years before they can purchase property. Previously the requirement was two years. Shanghai will also increase the supply of small- and medium-sized homes and crack down on property financing by informal financial institutions. Shanghai home prices gained 20.6% in February from a year ago, posting the second biggest gain in the country after the southern city of Shenzhen, where prices soared 56.9%, despite slowing economic growth.

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A world full of housing bubbles. Haven’t we understood how dangerous that is?

Affordable Housing Crisis Has Engulfed All Cities In Southern England (G.)

There is no longer a city in the south of England where house prices are less than seven and a half times average local incomes, according to analysis by Lloyds Bank that reveals how the home affordability crisis now stretches far beyond London. “The housing affordability gap has widened to its worst level in eight years,” said the Lloyds analysis, noting that the last time prices were so high was at the very top of the boom in 2008, just before the financial crisis struck. The Lloyds analysis is unique in that it compares local house prices with local earnings rather than national averages. On this measure, the worst house prices are not in London but in other parts of the south-east. Oxford is again identified as the least affordable city in the UK, with average prices at 10.68 times local earnings.

Winchester is a close second at 10.54, with London third at 10.06. Cambridge, Brighton and Bath all have prices that are now nearly 10 times local earnings, while cities such as Bristol and Southampton have prices close to eight times earnings. Wage growth has fallen far behind the rise in house prices, said Lloyds, with affordability worsening for the third successive year. The average home in a city in the UK now costs 6.6 times average local earnings, up from 6.2 last year. In the 1950s and 1960s, buyers could typically find homes with mortgages of three to four times their income. But the Lloyds figures show that there is now just one city in the UK that fits that profile: Derry in Northern Ireland. House prices in the city currently fetch 3.81 times local incomes.

While most of the “most affordable” cities in the Lloyds rankings are in the north, Scotland and Northern Ireland, buyers will still be stretched to afford a home from the local salaries on offer. Hull is widely regarded as a low house price area, yet local residents face having to pay 5.11 times average local incomes to buy a home. Meanwhile, York has joined the ranks of cities in the south in the unaffordability tables, with prices at 7.5 times incomes.

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When crazy ‘conventional’ ideas fail…

Radical Economic Ideas Grab Attention Amid Low-inflation Torpor (SMH)

Our economic guardians at Federal Treasury and the Reserve Bank sound increasingly uneasy about some policy choices being made offshore. Since the global financial crisis, quantitative easing has pumped trillions of dollars into major economies with limited success. More recently central banks in Europe and Japan have opted for negative interest rates in a bid to kick-start growth. On Tuesday the Treasury Secretary, John Fraser, pointed out that we’ve now been in an “experimental stage” with monetary policy for more than seven years. “A range of different interventions have been tried with, at least to date, mixed results,” he said. “Sadly, we will have to await the passage of years before we can pass final judgment.” What is clear, warned Fraser, is that these unusual policies “have had a pervasive and frankly quite worrying impact on the pricing of financial risk.”

Earlier this month the Reserve’s deputy governor, Philip Lowe, said it was “very rare” for central banks to worry that inflation is too low. “Yet today, we hear this concern quite often, and the ‘unconventional’ has almost become conventional,” he said. Lowe warned the abnormal monetary policies being adopted in some countries were “a complication for us” because they put upward pressure on exchange rate. But in a world where traditional economic remedies are proving ineffective a swag of other unorthodox policy suggestions are getting a hearing. One controversial option being canvassed by experts is for central banks to deliver “helicopter drops” of cash directly to citizens’ bank accounts in the hope they will spend it and revive growth. Even more radical is a proposal for governments to mandate an across-the-board pay rise for workers.

Olivier Blanchard, a former chief economist at the IMF, and Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, recently recommended the Japanese government try this approach to boost growth. The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, raised eyebrows last September when he argued abandoning cash altogether would make it easier for central banks to manage downturns. He warned that in future it might be necessary for central banks to opt for negative interest rates when depositors are charged for putting their money in the bank in a bid to encourage spending. One problem with that strategy, however, is that people are likely to convert deposits into cash. Eliminating cash and replacing it with a government-backed digital currency would remove that option. “This would preserve the social convention of a state-issued unit of account and medium of exchange… But it would allow negative interest rates to be levied on currency easily and speedily,” Haldane said.

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A second part from the article above.

Modern Monetary Theory Has Ardent Proponents (SMH)

As central banks struggle to revive growth, attention has shifted to fiscal policy the way governments use taxation and spending to influence the economy. Even the hard-heads at the IM have advised governments, including Australia’s, to spend more especially on infrastructure. The fund’s most recent assessment of our economy said “raising public investment (financed by borrowing, thus reducing the pace of deficit reduction) would support aggregate demand, take pressure off monetary policy, and insure against downside growth risks.” Amid these debates about fiscal policy, a radical school of thought called Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT, has gained more prominence. Proponents of this theory have been on the periphery of mainstream economics for more than two decades but their profile has been raised by this year’s US presidential race.

Academic economist Stephanie Kelton , a leading advocate of MMT, is an adviser to presidential hopeful, Senator Bernie Sanders. Kelton calls herself a deficit “owl” rather than a deficit hawk or dove. The hawks, of course, have a straightforward view of government finances: deficits are bad. The doves say deficits are necessary when economic times are tough but they should be balanced by surpluses over time. But deficit owls like Kelton have a far more radical take: deficits don’t matter. The starting point for Modern Monetary Theory is that a currency issuing government can keep printing and spending money but never go broke, so long as it doesn’t borrow in a foreign currency. The Australian Commonwealth, for example, will never run out of Australian dollars because it is a monopoly issuer of that currency.

It can always create the money it needs and, therefore, will always be able to service debts. The MMTers claim that in the modern era of floating exchange rates and deregulated financial markets, governments can, and should, run deficits whenever they are needed. There is a strong moral case for this: in a modern economy, there’s no good reason to have unemployed labour or capital. For the MMTers mass unemployment is a great evil and its daily, human cost dwarfs other economic challenges. They acknowledge there are limits to government spending. Resources in the real economy can be constrained and taxes are an essential tool to ensure demand for the currency and to cool the economy if it overheats. But there’s plenty of scope for governments to print and spend money without causing inflation or triggering a financial crisis. MMTers say sophisticated modern economies like the US and Australia are in no danger of the hyper-inflation which plagued Zimbabwe last decade or Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1930s.

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Barely functioning, politically nor economically.

Brazil Economic Woes Deepen Amid Political Crisis (WSJ)

Brazil’s economic crisis is as bad as its political one. Latin America’s biggest economy appears headed for one of its worst recessions ever. It stalled in 2014, shrank 3.8% last year and now faces a similar contraction this year. Unemployment rose to 9.5% on Thursday as wages fell 2.4%, both trends forecast to worsen. One in five young Brazilians is out of work, and Goldman Sachs says Brazil may be facing a depression. The deteriorating outlook forms a dire backdrop for Brazil’s political straits. President Dilma Rousseff, deeply unpopular, faces impeachment proceedings in Congress amid a widening corruption scandal surrounding the state oil company, Petróbras. That situation is consuming so much energy from policy makers and Congress that the economic downturn isn’t getting the attention it needs, observers say.

“The gravity of the situation is this: We have the kind of problems where if nothing is done, things will definitely get worse,” said Marcos Lisboa, a former finance ministry official who is now president of the Insper business school in São Paulo. “Pretty soon we could be talking about the solvency of the federal government.” Brazil fended off the results of the 2008 global downturn with stimulus spending, and is trying to again inject money into the economy to spur demand. In January, the Rousseff administration unveiled some $20 billion of subsidized loans from state-owned banks such as the BNDES to boost agriculture and builders of big infrastructure projects.

But this time, the country has less leeway to fund stimulus measures. Brazil’s tax take is diminishing, and the Planning Ministry said Tuesday the government needs to cut around $5.9 billion of spending to meet its budget target. On Thursday, Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa asked Congress to loosen the target to allow a bigger deficit in 2016. Some investors say stimulus policies such as cheap credits from state banks haven’t done much long-term good, because they produced big deficits and the money was often poorly invested in money-losing dams and refineries.

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“..very few people understood that an epochal change had taken place in the American economy. GDP would grow. Income wouldn’t.”

The River: America’s 40-Year Hurt (BBC)

Bruce Springsteen is coming to London with the River tour. At £170 for the cheapest pair, I can’t afford to see the Boss any more, even if my body could handle standing on Wembley Stadium’s pitch for three-and-a-half-hours in an early June drizzle. It’s interesting that Springsteen is re-exploring The River album again. Whenever the anger that simmers in America erupts and reminds the rest of the world that the country is troubled, he seems to be the cultural figure whose work offers an explanation. In late 1986, midway through Ronald Reagan’s second term of office, with the twin scourges of Aids and crack racing through American cities and New Deal ideas of economic and social fairness consumed by the Bonfire of the Vanities taking place on Wall Street, Britain’s Guardian newspaper ran an editorial that said, “for good or ill, [America] is becoming a much more foreign land”.

I had just celebrated my first anniversary as an ex-pat in London and wrote an essay trying to explain what America was like away from the places Guardian readers knew. I described the massive population dislocations that followed the long recession that had begun in the mid-70s. I referenced Springsteen. The piece ran under the headline “Torn in the USA”. Now America is going through even worse ructions. But there is nothing fundamentally new. What we are seeing is the continuation of a disintegration that began forty years ago around the time Springsteen was writing the title song of the album. The River, which came out in 1980, was very much about guys trying to kick back at father time and stave off the inevitable arrival of life’s responsibilities – wife, kids, job, mortgage – and the equally probable onset of life’s disappointments in wife, kids, job, mortgage, and in oneself.

The title track is a long, mournful story about that process and the narrator’s desire to reconnect to the person he was when younger and full of hope. “I come from down in the valley / Where mister, when you’re young / They bring you up to do/like your daddy done…” The key point is being brought up to be like your father. Work the same job, carry yourself in the same way, do the right thing. In the song this tie that binds is seen as restricting the choices you can make in life. Your daddy worked in a steel mill, you will work in a steel mill, or on the line at River Rouge, or down a mine. Today, what wouldn’t many of us give for the economic and social stability that gave resonance to Springsteen’s lyrics? A union job, 30 years of work, a pension. Sounds sweet. The narrator of the song goes on to tell us, “I got a job working construction at the Johnstown company / but lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy.”

Springsteen based the song on the struggle of his brother-in-law to stay employed during the bleak days after the Oil Shock of 1973: a half-decade of inflation and economic stagnation. At the time this stagflation was seen as a cyclical event, the economy would rebound soon. It would be boom time for all. The economy did rebound, but then went into recession in 1982, and rebounded and went into recession at regular intervals, until the near-death experience of 2007/2008. But very few people understood that an epochal change had taken place in the American economy. GDP would grow. Income wouldn’t. Median salaried workers’ wages stagnated. Those working low-wage jobs saw their incomes decline. As for job security, a perfect storm of automation, declining union power, and free-trade agreements put an end to that.

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All the time I’m thinking someone must stand up and say ‘till here and no further’. But instead, Europe tumbles to new lows on a daily basis.

Hope Turns To Despair As Lesbos Camp Becomes Open-Air Prison (Ind.)

Even before it became a holding pen, Moria was a pretty poor registration centre, unable to provide basic facilities and painfully slow to process the thousands of refugees and migrants who arrive on the shores of Lesbos every week. But since midnight on Sunday, when the new EU-Turkey migrant deal came into force, refugees have been picked up by the coastguard and transported directly to Moria by the Greek authorities. The camp has become an open-air prison, a compound of temporary buildings on a hill overlooking the coast of this island, not far from Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. It is to here that all arrivals must wait for the news their long struggle to reach Europe will almost certainly get them no further than the Greek islands.

They will be returned to Turkey, which the EU has now declared a safe country, in its bid to stem the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. The lightning fast implementation of the deal, signed last Friday, has stretched to the limit the capacity of the Greek government, which has no means to process the asylum claims that everyone who arrives has the right to make. Those who came looking for peace and a better life have instead found themselves locked up, and handed detention papers. In response, aid agencies have dropped out of their involvement at the centre one by one, refusing to be associated with the detention of migrants – among whom are more than 100 unaccompanied children. Oxfam this week said the development was “an offence” to Europe’s values.

“They have told us nothing,” says Naima Abdullah, 28, speaking through the chain link fence, her four-year-old daughter Mirna by her side. She paid $2,000 for herself, Mirna, and her one-month-old baby to cross the sea from Turkey after fleeing air strikes in rural Damascus three months ago. She arrived on Sunday, in the first boats after the deal came into force. But four days later, she still hadn’t been given an opportunity to register a claim for asylum. And as the numbers grow, observers worry the only possible outcome will be the mass expulsions Europe has promised to avoid. Nadine Abuasil, 25, said she came to Lesbos because life in Turkey since she fled Deraa in Syria a month ago was not worth living. Her family were blackmailed for money by local gangs, and there was no work in a country that is expensive to live in. “We cannot go back to Turkey,” she says simply.

She and her 23-year-old brother arrived on Sunday after a five hour boat journey during which two men died. They had apparently suffocated. She points to the ground of the detention centre. “We would rather die here than in Turkey.” Her brother, Mohammed, was no less emphatic when asked what he’d do if he was forced to return. “I don’t speak English,” he says. “But: kill myself, kill myself.” The deal has been decried by human rights groups and legal experts who question if Turkey can be considered a safe third country for the forcible return of migrants, and if Greece, which has floundered under the pressure of more than one million refugees arrivals in the past year, is capable of processing asylum claims – even with promised outside help.

“Greece has effectively been asked to build an asylum system in two weeks,” says Camino Mortera, a research fellow for the Centre for European Reform and a specialist in EU law. “The EU claims there won’t be returns en masse but if you are not able to process people in a regulated fashion, how else are they going to deal with this?”

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