Jan 242019
 
 January 24, 2019  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Four elements – Air 1566

 

Russia And Key Allies Vow To Stand By Maduro In Venezuela Crisis (G.)
Trump Delays State Of The Union (ZH)
Julian Assange Launches Legal Challenge Against Trump Administration (G.)
US Prosecutors Press Witnesses To Testify Against Assange: WikiLeaks (R.)
Hundreds Of Companies To Flee UK Because Of Brexit (Ind.)
EU Will Never Accept Theresa May’s Brexit ‘Plan-B’ – Barnier (Ind.)
No-Deal Brexit ‘Poses Threat To Global Stability’ – CBI Head in Davos (G.)
Australia Heatwave Breaks All-Time Records (G.)
How The Clinton Machine Flooded The FBI With Trump-Russia Dirt (Solomon)
EU Commissioner Avramopoulos Says Greece-FYROM Name Deal ‘Is Problematic’ (K.)
Planetary Collision Created Moon, Seeded Earth With Life-Producing Elements (RT)

 

 

The CIA couldn’t get to Chavez, but the moment he passed this became inevitable. Why Trump supports an unelected puppet while Russia, China, and Venezuela’s own army do not is anyone’s guess. The power of Langley.

Russia And Key Allies Vow To Stand By Maduro In Venezuela Crisis (G.)

Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, has declared himself the interim president and has won the backing of the US, the EU and most of the regional bloc called the Lima Group – but a number of key allies remained steadfast in support of president Nicolás Maduro. Russia, a major Venezuelan ally, considers attempts to force Maduro from power to be illegal, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, was quoted as saying on Thursday by the Interfax news agency. Franz Klintsevich, a senator and retired colonel, has warned that Moscow could wind up its military cooperation with Venezuela if Maduro, who he called the legitimately-elected president, was ousted.

Other MPs criticised US actions against Maduro. “The US is trying to carry out an operation to organise the next ‘colour revolution’ in Venezuela,” said Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of parliament, using a term for the popular uprisings that unseated leaders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Another committee member, Vladimir Dzhabrailov, said: “I do not think that we can recognise this – it is, in essence, a coup.” Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, is heavily invested in the South American nation’s oil fields, which produce declining amounts of crude each month. [Turkish President] Erdogan telephoned Maduro and offered his support, a spokesman said on Thursday.

China has not yet publicly declared its support for Maduro but Venezuela has been one of Beijing’s closest allies in Latin America, and the largest recipient of Chinese financing, as much as £38bn in loans by 2017. China is Venezuela’s largest creditor, prompting concerns that as Venezuela’s economy spirals, state assets could fall into Chinese hands, as was the case with Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. Mexico, part of the 14-member Lima Group, departed from the regional bloc’s call for democratic transition and said it would stick to its “constitutional principles of non-intervention”. It joined with Uruguay – the only other prominent Latin American country still recognising Maduro – in calling for additional talks between the government and opposition to find a “peaceful solution”.

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And why not. Things are not ugly enough yet.

Trump Delays State Of The Union (ZH)

After more than a week of back-and-forth with the Democratic leadership, President Trump has called off his search for an alternative venue for the State of the Union according to a pair of tweets sent late Wednesday night. Instead, he will reschedule the speech after the shutdown has ended due to the difficulty in finding a venue “that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber!” Trump blamed the decision to reschedule on Pelosi, and rightfully so. The Democratic leader is refusing to pass a resolution needed to formally invite the president to give the address at the Capitol. But lest Americans accuse her of pursuing political ends, Pelosi argued that “security concerns” motivated her to cancel the speech ue to both the Secret Service and DHS being affected by the shutdown, though both have assured the president that security wouldn’t be an issue if the SOTU was allowed to move forward.

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It’s absolutely nuts that it’s the Guardian, never having apologized for its fake piece about Assange and Manafort in November, which now comes with this, and even cites its own involvement in Assange’s initial leaks.

It’s like nothing ever happened.

Julian Assange Launches Legal Challenge Against Trump Administration (G.)

Julian Assange, the fugitive WikiLeaks founder whose diplomatic sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy appears increasingly precarious, is launching a legal challenge against the Trump administration. Lawyers for the Australian activist have filed an urgent application to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) aimed at forcing the hand of US prosecutors, requiring them to “unseal” any secret charges against him. The legal move is an attempt to prevent Assange’s extradition to the US at a time that a new Ecuadorian government has been making his stay in the central London apartment increasingly inhospitable.

[..] The IACHR monitors human rights in the Americas and hears appeals on individual cases. The Trump administration, however, has boycotted its recent hearings. The 1,172-page submission by Assange’s lawyers calls on the US to unseal any secret charges against him and urges Ecuador to cease its “espionage activities” against him. Baltasar Garzón, the prominent Spanish judge who has pursued dictators, terrorists and drug barons, is the international coordinator of Assange’s legal team. He has said the case involves “the right to access and impart information freely” that has been put in “jeopardy”.

The Trump administration is refusing to reveal details of charges against Assange despite the fact that sources in the US Department of Justice have confirmed to the media that they exist under seal. “The revelation that the US has initiated a prosecution against Mr Assange has shocked the international community”, the legal submission to the IACHR states. The US government “is required to provide information as to the criminal charges that are imputed to Mr Assange in full”. The application alleges that US prosecutors have begun approaching people in the US, Germany and Iceland and pressed them to testify against Assange in return for immunity from prosecution. [..] In December, the New York Times reported that Ecuador’s new president, Lenin Moreno tried to negotiate handing over Mr Assange to the US. in exchange for “debt relief”..

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The Feds like traitors.

US Prosecutors Press Witnesses To Testify Against Assange: WikiLeaks (R.)

U.S. federal prosecutors have stepped up efforts to pressure witnesses to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, WikiLeaks said on Wednesday, in connection with what it said were secret criminal charges filed by the Trump administration. [..] A spokesman for the federal prosecutors’ office in Alexandria, Virginia, which has taken the lead for several years in investigations into WikiLeaks, did not respond to a request for comment on this story. According to the document filed to the human rights commission, one of the people contacted by Alexandria prosecutors was Jacob Appelbaum, a Berlin-based U.S. computer expert and hacker. Appelbaum told Reuters that while prosecutors offered him broad immunity from prosecution, he had no interest in cooperating or testifying before a grand jury.

Another potential witness targeted by U.S. prosecutors was David House, a Massachusetts computer programmer, the document said. House was involved in setting up a group to support Chelsea Manning, a U.S. soldier who passed on military communications to WikiLeaks and was jailed by U.S. authorities. House could not be reached. The American Civil Liberties Union which represented him in connection with the Manning case did not respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department also contacted American activist and computer scientist, Jason Katz. Katz, who has lived in Iceland since 2011, did not respond to a request for comment sent to that country’s Pirate Party, of which he was a founding member.

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“The Netherlands has sometimes appeared better prepared for Brexit than the UK..” Everyone is.

Hundreds Of Companies To Flee UK Because Of Brexit (Ind.)

More than 250 companies are in touch with the Dutch government about moving to the Netherlands because of Brexit, officials have said. The trade and investment arm of the country’s government has been soliciting moves from companies worried about access to the EU market, with Britain set to leave the single market and customs union. A number of high-profile companies have already announced a decision to cross the North Sea, most recently Japanese electronics giant Sony specifically citing Brexit. Last year Panasonic also announced it was moving to Amsterdam. Michiel Bakhuizen, a spokesman for the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), told the AFP news agency that the number of firms in talks was growing.

“The number of businesses we are in contact with for a possible arrival is growing. At the start of 2017 it was 80, at the start of 2018 150, and now it’s more than 250,” he said. [..] The Netherlands has sometimes appeared better prepared for Brexit than the UK, with advanced plans to recruit as many as 1,000 extra border officials to deal with potential disruption and extra bureaucracy caused by the UK’s exit. In addition to private businesses, the UK has also lost a key EU agency to Amsterdam: the European Medicines Agency, which employs around 900 highly skilled workers. The Netherlands is not the only country to benefit from the UK’s policies. The EY financial services tracker reported earlier this month that 80 out of the 222 finance companies it follows have publicly said they are considering or have confirmed the relocation of UK staff and operations to the continent.

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“..opposing a no deal will not stop a no deal from happening at the end of March..”

EU Will Never Accept Theresa May’s Brexit ‘Plan-B’ – Barnier (Ind.)

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has ruled out ever accepting Theresa May’s Brexit plan B, in a major blow to the prime minister’s bid to get MPs to back her plan. Michel Barnier said repeated requests for a time limit on the controversial backstop had already been discussed and rejected twice by EU leaders. But he also signalled there could be a way to avoid a hard border in Ireland in the event of a no deal, telling an EU committee on Wednesday: “We will have to find an operational way of carrying out checks and controls without putting back in place a border.” In a separate joint interview with continental newspapers Mr Barnier said “we cannot tie the backstop to a time limit” as suggested by the prime minister.

He said the withdrawal agreement on the table was “the only possible option” for Britain and also ruled out the possibility of a so-called “managed no deal” as advocated by some Tory Brexiteers. “In the case of no deal, action will of course be taken to ensure that planes can land but … the ‘no deal’ cannot be a sum of mini-deals and be a situation of ‘business as usual’,” he [said]. “Even an agreement for an ordered Brexit will cause disruptions and have serious consequences. The ‘no deal’ even more so.” At the committee the chief negotiator elaborated, warning that the only way to avoid the UK crashing was to endorse another option on the table. “There appears to be a majority in the Commons to oppose a no deal but opposing a no deal will not stop a no deal from happening at the end of March”, he told the committee. “To stop no deal, a positive majority for another solution will need to emerge.”

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The cold and snowy air gets to people’s heads.

No-Deal Brexit ‘Poses Threat To Global Stability’ – CBI Head in Davos (G.)

Fears are growing internationally that a no-deal Brexit poses a threat to the stability of the global economy, the head of Britain’s leading business body has warned. Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, said the failure to sort out Britain’s departure from the European Union was damaging Britain’s brand abroad and had joined a list of systemic risks to the world economy. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Fairbairn said there was mounting concern at the potential for a no-deal Brexit to cause damage well beyond the UK. The CBI held a private breakfast for UK business leaders in Davos attended by the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde. The UK chancellor, Philip Hammond, will address a CBI lunch on Thursday.

Fairbairn told the Guardian: “At my meetings at Davos, there is a recognition that the causes of vulnerability of the global economy now include Brexit.” The annual gathering of the WEF has been marked this year by anxiety about slowing growth and the trade dispute between the US and China. Fairbairn said Brexit had now catapulted up the list of worries. “It is everyone’s interest that Britain leaves the EU in a way that works for the British economy, the European economy and indeed the global economy,” she said.

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Port Augusta’s 49.5ºC is 121.1ºF.

Australia Heatwave Breaks All-Time Records (G.)

Temperature records have tumbled across South Australia, with the city of Adelaide experiencing its hottest day on record, as the second heatwave in as many weeks hit southern parts of Australia. Adelaide hit 46.6C on Thursday afternoon, the hottest temperature recording in any Australian state capital city since records began 80 years ago. The Red Lion, a pub in the city’s Elizabeth North suburb, promised to hand out free beers if the mercury rose above 45C. By 1pm, there was a line out the door and round the block.In Port Augusta, 300km north-west, an all-time record was also set, as the city hit 49.5C.

Last week, temperatures in Adelaide, home to 1.3 million people, hit 45C, sending homelessness shelters into a “code red”, and sparking fears of another mass fish death in the Menindee Lakes in the neighbouring state of New South Wales. In central and western Australia, local authorities were forced to carry out an emergency animal cull, shooting 2,500 camels – and potentially a further hundred feral horses – who were dying of thirst.

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As soon as I read Victoria Nuland’s name I know what is going on.

How The Clinton Machine Flooded The FBI With Trump-Russia Dirt (Solomon)

Then-senior State Department official Jonathan Winer, who worked for then-Secretary John Kerry, wrote that Steele first approached him in the summer with his Trump research and then met again with him in September. Winer consulted his boss, Assistant Secretary for Eurasia Affairs Victoria Nuland, who said she first learned of Steele’s allegations in late July and urged Winer to send it to the FBI. (If you need further intrigue, Winer worked from 2008 to 2013 for the lobbying and public relations firm APCO Worldwide, the same firm that was a contractor for both the Clinton Global Initiative and Russia’s main nuclear fuel company that won big decisions from the Obama administration.) When the State Department office that oversees Russian affairs sends something to the FBI, agents take note.

But Steele was hardly done. He reached out to his longtime Justice Department contact, Bruce Ohr, then a deputy to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. Steele had breakfast July 30, 2016, with Ohr and his wife, Nellie, to discuss the Russia-Trump dirt. (To thicken the plot, you should know that Nellie Ohr was a Russia expert working at the time for the same Fusion GPS firm that hired Steele and was hired by the Clinton campaign through Sussmann’s Perkins Coie.) Bruce Ohr immediately took Steele’s dirt on July 31, 2016, to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. When the deputy attorney general’s office contacts the FBI, things happen. And, soon, Ohr was connected to the agents running the new Russia probe.

Around the same time, Australia’s ambassador to London, Alexander Downer, reached out to U.S. officials. Like so many characters in this narrative, Downer had his own connection to the Clintons: He secured a $25 million donation from Australia’s government to the Clinton Foundation in the early 2000s. Downer claims WikiLeaks’s release of hacked Clinton emails that month caused him to remember a conversation in May, in a London tavern, with a Trump adviser named George Papadopoulos. So he reported it to the FBI. The saturation campaign kept building. Sometime in September, Winer and Nuland got another version of Steele-like research suggesting Trump-Russia collusion, this time from known associates of the Clintons: Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer. Again, it was sent to the FBI.

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A rare wiser voice: “..the government should have sought to achieve a national consensus”

Vote is later today, riots are certain. How bad is it going to get?

EU Commissioner Avramopoulos Says Greece-FYROM Name Deal ‘Is Problematic’ (K.)

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday described the name deal reached between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as “problematic,” arguing it favors the latter. “The Prespes agreement is not balanced, and therefore it is problematic. The geographic qualifier on which all [Greek] governments agreed on is one thing, but the historic qualifier, attempted through the agreement, is another,” he was quoted as saying by state-run news agency ANA-MPA. He said ethnicity and language constitute national identity and, in the case of the Prespes accord, they “open the way for irredentist, nationalist policies.” Avramopoulos said the government should have sought to achieve a national consensus on the name dispute before making the deal.

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And then I saw God.

Planetary Collision Created Moon, Seeded Earth With Life-Producing Elements (RT)

The elemental building-blocks of life arrived on Earth when it collided with a “Mars-sized planet” 4.4 billion years ago – an impact that also created the Moon, a new study has found. Carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and other volatile elements integral to life were transferred to Earth’s outer layers through collision with a slightly smaller planet rich in these elements at the beginning of its existence. This impact produced the moon and, eventually, gave rise to carbon-based life, according to a new model of Earth’s development devised by petrologists at Rice University. In a collision with Earth, the volatile materials could transfer from the Mars-sized planet to Earth’s surface, but wouldn’t permeate to its core, which does not interact with its outer layers.

This model solves a mystery that has puzzled geologists for decades regarding why these vital elements exist in all layers of Earth except its molten core. “The core doesn’t interact with the rest of Earth, but everything above it, the mantle, the crust, the hydrosphere and the atmosphere, are all connected,” explained Damanveer Grewal, lead author of the study, which was published in Science Advances. “Material cycles between them.” The collision theory resembles existing models in which a meteorite is responsible for seeding the volatile elements on Earth. Unfortunately, the carbon to nitrogen ratio in such meteorites (called carbonaceous chondrites) is much lower than the ratio found in Earth’s non-core material. Additionally, the collision theory explains why the moon and Earth have the same elemental composition – they were once part of the same sphere.


© Rasjdeep Dasgupta

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Jun 022015
 
 June 2, 2015  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Berrie pickers, Seaford, Delaware. ‘Seventeen children and five elders live here’ 1910

Velocity of Money Below Great Depression Levels (Martin Armstrong)
From Whence Cometh Our Wealth – Labor Or Printing Press? (David Stockman)
Fed’s QE Policy Helped Most Where Needed Least (MarketWatch)
The Winners and Losers of the Fed’s QE
“The Fed Has Been Horribly Wrong” Deutsche Bank Admits (Zero Hedge)
Easy Access to Money Keeps US Oil Pumping (WSJ)
Rate Hike Needed To Pop Bubbles: Robert Shiller (CNBC)
“By Almost Every Measure Stocks Are Overvalued” Warns Goldman (Zero Hedge)
China Stocks Nearly A Quarter Overvalued: Credit Suisse (CNBC)
Don’t Trust Asia’s Booming Stock Markets (Pesek)
Four Recent Bubble Warnings That You Need To Worry About (Jesse Colombo)
Robert Shiller: ‘There Is A Bubble Element To What We’re Seeing’
Goldman Sachs Asked Two Famous Economists If Stocks Are in a Bubble (Bloomberg)
Greece Said To Offer Pension Reform As Debt Talks Near Crunch (Reuters)
Greek Crisis: 2,400 Hours Of Brinkmanship (CNBC)
Audit: Dutch and EU Taxpayers Likely To Lose All Money Lent To Greece (NLTimes)
In Conversation With John Nash On Ideal Money (Yanis Varoufakis)
Russia Accuses EU of Stirring Political Tensions Over Blacklist (Bloomberg)
New York City Task Force to Investigate ‘Three-Quarter’ Homes (NY Times)
At Least 3,900 Medicare Millionaires Revealed in U.S. Data
HSBC Poised To Unveil Thousands More Job Cuts (Sky)
US Supreme Court Hands Defeat To Struggling Homeowners (MarketWatch)
Germany Dominance Over As Demographic Crunch Worsens (AEP)
Let God Be A ‘She’, Says Church Of England Women’s Group (Guardian)

“This is the destruction of Capitalism, and I fear the response against the banks on the next downturn will lead to authoritarianism.”

Velocity of Money Below Great Depression Levels (Martin Armstrong)

The New York banks have been my adversary, to say the least. Alan Cohen, the court receiver put in charge of running Princeton Economics, was simultaneously on the board of directors of Goldman Sachs. When the SEC said the contempt should end, Cohen lied to the court to keep the contempt going, without even receiving a complaint or charges since the original charges were dropped. The New York banks destroyed banking when Robert Rubin of Goldman Sachs managed to get the Clinton Administration to repeal Glass-Steagall. Even Mario Draghi, head of the ECB who is taking interest rates negative, was a vice chairman and managing director of Goldman Sachs International and a member of the firm-wide management committee (2002–2005). So, the tentacles of NY spread wide and far.

The corruption in New York controlling Congress, the Justice Department, and the courts, has allowed the NY bankers to rise to the top of the world from a power elite perspective. They even control much of the media and Hollywood. This power that has transformed banking has been emulated by other banks around the world, insofar as Transactional Banking has displaced Relationship Banking as the “new” way to make money. However, the banks outside the USA do not control their governments as fully as they do in the USA. Who does Hillary run to for money? The NY bankers. Yet, the battle over the banking industry’s reputation is emerging everywhere but New York. It intensified last Friday in Australia when two of Australia’s top regulators took a simultaneous shot at the “culture” at the heart of the nation’s largest financial institutions.

The banking industry suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which typically only affects 1% of the population, but they all seem to be working at the top of the banks. NPD is when someone has unrealistic fantasies of success, power, and intelligence. That seems to be a qualification to be on the board of the major New York banks. Ever since the repeal of Glass-Steagall by Bill Clinton in 1999, this “new” way of making money by transforming banking from Relationship to Transactional Banking has destroyed the economy in ways we are soon to discover. The VELOCITY of money has fallen to BELOW Great Depression levels. This is the destruction of Capitalism, and I fear the response against the banks on the next downturn will lead to authoritarianism.

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Stockman comments on the Shorpy picture I posted yesterday in the Debt Rattle.

From Whence Cometh Our Wealth – Labor Or Printing Press? (David Stockman)

It is hard to believe that in these allegedly enlightened times this question even needs to be asked. Are there really educated adults who believe that by dropping helicopter money conjured from thin air, the central bank can actually make society wealthier? Well, yes there are. They spread this lunacy from the most respectable MSM platforms. And, no, I’m not talking about professor Krugman and his New York Times column. At least, he pontificates from a Keynesian framework that has a respectable, if erroneous, intellectual heritage. What I am talking about here is the mindless bunkum issued by so-called financial journalists who swish around Wall Street and Washington exchanging knowing tidbits with policy-makers, deal-makers and each other.

Call it the bubble finance “narrative”, and recognize that its gets more uncoupled from economic facts, logic and plausibility with each passing day in the casino. The estimable folks at The Automatic Earth put a bright spotlight on this crucial matter this morning, even if not by design. Their trademark daily vintage photo was a 1911 picture of a family including all the kids picking berries in the field; they were making GDP the old fashioned way. In the usual manner the site’s “debt rattle” list of links to timely reads followed, and the first was a Bloomberg View opinion piece called“QE For The People: Monetary Policy For The Next Recession” by one Clive Crook. It was actually a case for literally dropping central bank money from the skies to enable policy-makers to better “support demand and keep their economies running”.

In thoughtfully supplying a photo of a helicopter in full flight to accompany Crook’s discourse, the Bloomberg graphics department crystalized the essential economic issue of our times. Namely, whether wealth is made by the Berry Pickers or the Money Printers.

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That’s what it’s designed for.

Fed’s QE Policy Helped Most Where Needed Least (MarketWatch)

The first round of the Federal Reserve’s controversial bond-buying program helped most in parts of the country that needed it least, new research released Monday showed. Conversely, metro areas hit hardest by the recession received the smallest amount of Fed stimulus. At issue was the Fed’s desire with its first round of asset purchases to boost mortgage activity. Mortgage originations, mostly refinancing existing loans, did boom after the Fed announced in November 2008 that it would purchase $500 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities and $100 billion of direct obligations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But the research, conducted by a team of economists from the University of Chicago and the New York Fed to be presented at a Brookings Institution conference, found mortgage refinancings increased mainly in parts of the country with the fewest underwater homeowners. Loan-to-value ratios varied widely across regions, the study found. Refinancing activity increased most in places where there were few mortgage holders with a loan-to-value ratio above 0.8%, areas including Buffalo, N.Y., and Philadelphia. Most places that experienced large declines in home prices had loan-to-value ratios well above that level, including Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando. So the smallest refinancing response for “QE1” took place in the locations that were hit hardest by the recession.

Areas where borrowers refinanced the most in early 2009 were the same areas in which car purchases increased the most. A separate paper to be presented at the Brookings conference said the Fed’s quantitative-easing programs did not exacerbate income inequality. Josh Bivens, research and policy director of the Economic Policy Institute, said it’s not even clear whether the Fed’s programs were slightly regressive or progressive. While stock-price gains benefited the top 1%, home prices increases helped the bottom 90%, he said. But Bivens warned that the Fed would foster inequality if it rushes to tighten monetary policy before the labor market returns to full employment. “The recent debate about the proper future path of Fed tightening in the next couple of years … is one in which distributional concerns should rightly be front and center,” Bivens said.

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Unbelievable: Carl Riccadonna, chief U.S. economist at Bloomberg Intelligence: “You had equity markets benefit from QE, but eventually QE also jump-started the broader recovery..” “Ultimately everyone’s benefiting.”

The Winners and Losers of the Fed’s QE

The jury’s still out on how history will treat the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented stimulus program. After the central bank pushed its main policy rate to zero in December 2008, it started buying hundreds of billions of government debt and mortgage-backed securities to keep longer-term interest rates low. That became known as quantitative easing. The real punch of the strategy wasn’t in the quantity of money the Fed was putting in the banking system. It was in the amount of bonds it was taking out of the market, which forced yields down. Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet today stand at $4.5 trillion compared with $891 billion at the end of 2007.

Some argue the policy brought the U.S. economy closer to full employment and helped stimulate growth. Others say it exacerbated inequality by inflating the prices of financial assets. At the very least, we can say it created some winners and losers, using data from a batch of papers released this morning from the Brookings Institution. (Ben S. Bernanke and Donald Kohn, the former Fed chairman and vice chairman, are both Brookings fellows.)

Who Wins
• Middle-aged, middle-class households, according to a paper by Matthias Doepke, Veronika Selezneva and Martin Schneider. These folks are more likely to have mortgages, and as borrowers they’d benefit from lower interest rates as well as policies that boost inflation. For example, a woman takes out a fixed-rate mortgage to buy a home. As inflation rises over time, the value of the house increases while the cost of the debt does not.
• The equity class. Households that owned financial assets, especially stocks, made out very well thanks to QE. Markets tend to react positively to expansionary policy, and lower interest rates also send more people into the stock market in search of higher returns. The stock market more than doubled from when the Fed started its first round of quantitative easing back in 2008 through the end of asset purchases in October. “Generally, the higher the income level, the greater the exposure to the financial markets in general and equity markets in particular,” said Carl Riccadonna, chief U.S. economist at Bloomberg Intelligence. [..]

To be sure, the issue is nuanced. In the end, the record will probably be kind to quantitative easing, said Bloomberg’s Riccadonna. “You had equity markets benefit from QE, but eventually QE also jump-started the broader recovery,” he said. “Ultimately everyone’s benefiting.”

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Depends what you think the intentions were.

“The Fed Has Been Horribly Wrong” Deutsche Bank Admits (Zero Hedge)

The reason why Zero Hedge has been steadfast over the past 6 years in its accusation that the Fed is making a mockery of, and destroying not only the very fabric of capital markets (something which Citigroup now openly admits almost every week) but the US economy itself (as Goldman most recently hinted last week when it lowered its long-term “potential GDP” growth of the US by 0.5% to 1.75%), is simple: all along we knew we have been right, and all the career economists, Wall Street weathermen-cum-strategists, and “straight to CNBC” book-talking pundits were wrong. Not to mention the Fed.

Indeed, the onus was not on us to prove how the Fed is wrong, but on the Fed – those smartest career academics in the room – to show it can grow the economy even as it has pushed global capital markets into a state of epic, bubble frenzy, with new all time highs a daily event across the globe, while the living standard of an ever increasing part of the world’s middle-class deteriorates with every passing year. We merely point out the truth that the propaganda media was too compromised, too ashamed or to clueless to comprehend. And now, 7 years after the start of the Fed’s grand – and doomed – experiment, the flood of other “serious people”, not finally admitting the “tinfoil, fringe blogs” were right all along, and the Fed was wrong, has finally been unleashed. Here is Deutsche Bank admitting that not only the Fed is lying to the American people:

Truth be told, we think the Fed is obliged to talk up the economy because if they were brutally honest, the economy what vestiges of optimism remain in the domestic sectors could quickly evaporate.

But has been “horribly wrong” all along:

At issue is whether or not the Fed in particular but the market in general has properly understood the nature of the economic problem. The more we dig into this, the more we are afraid that they do not. So aside from a data revision tsunami, we would suggest that the Fed has the outlook not just horribly wrong, but completely misunderstood. … the idea that the economy is “ready” for a removal of accommodation and that there is any sense in it from the perspective of rising inflation expectations and a stronger real growth outlook is nonsense.

And the kicker: it is no longer some “tinfoil, fringe blog”, but the bank with over €50 trillion in derivatives on its balance sheet itself which dares to hint that in order to make a housing-led recovery possible, the Fed itself is willing to crash the housing market!

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Textbook: How QE distorts markets and ends up destroying them.

Easy Access to Money Keeps US Oil Pumping (WSJ)

Wall Street’s generous supply of funds to U.S. oil drillers helped create the American energy boom. Now that same access to easy money is keeping them going, despite oil prices that are languishing around $60 a barrel. The flow of money into oil has allowed U.S. companies to avoid liquidity problems and kept American crude production from falling sharply. Even though more than half of the rigs that were drilling new wells in September have been banished to storage yards, in mid-May nearly 9.6 million barrels of oil a day were pumped across the country, the highest level since 1970, according to the most recent federal data. Helped by a ready supply of money, the flow of oil from the U.S. could keep crude prices low for the remainder of 2015 and beyond.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. As crude prices began to plunge last year, many energy experts predicted a repeat of 1986 when U.S. oil companies lost their funding and the industry collapsed into a yearslong bust. Without money, companies had to slow or even stop drilling for the crude that helped create a global glut. Many were forced to sell out to rivals or go bankrupt. But the gloomy scenario of that downturn hasn’t played out on a large scale this time. That is because banks, private- equity firms and institutional investors have continued to pour money into the sector even as oil companies slashed billions of dollars in spending from their budgets and laid off more than 100,000 workers. “What makes this downturn different is there is a lot more capital available,” says Pearce Hammond at investment bank Simmons & Co.

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Bubbles pop anyway. They always do.

Rate Hike Needed To Pop Bubbles: Robert Shiller (CNBC)

The U.S. Federal Reserve should consider lifting interest rates sooner rather than later to tackle speculative bubbles in the housing and stock markets, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller told CNBC on Monday. “I’m thinking they (Fed policy makers) ought to be considering that, because that is the mistake they made in the past,” the Yale University professor told CNBC Europe’s “Squawk Box” when asked whether he believed the Fed should raise interest rates soon or later on. “They didn’t deal with the housing bubble that led to the present crisis. There’s a suggestion in my mind that they should be raising rates now, (but) unfortunately the latest news looks a little weak on the demand side,” Shiller added.

Friday’s economic news painted a dim picture for the U.S. economy: gross domestic product declined at a 0.7% annual rate in the first quarter of the year compared with an initial estimate of 0.2% growth. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment for May, meanwhile, marked a fall and the May Chicago Purchasing Manager’s Index dropped unexpectedly. Against a weaker tone in economic data, markets have pushed back expectations for the first U.S. rate rise since 2006 from June to later this year. “If I was asked to testify before them (the Fed) I might reconsider, but there is a tendency for central banks to ignore speculative bubbles until it’s too late,” Shiller said, talking about the need for higher interest rates. “It may already be too late. Stock markets in the U.S. are quite high and prices in the real estate market are getting high.”

The Dow Jones hit a record high last month, lifted by a perception that disappointing economic news would encourage the Fed to keep interest rates low for longer than anticipated. Shiller said that some parts of the U.S. — such as San Francisco and California — were in “bubble territory,” with house prices growing rapidly. Shiller, who won the Nobel prize for economics two years ago for research that has improved the forecasting of long-term asset prices, said a recent boom around the world was driven by anxiety. “I call this this the ‘new normal’ boom – it’s a funny boom in asset prices because it’s driven not by the usual exuberance but by an anxiety,” said Shiller. “This is an anxiety driven world – the whole world is driven by anxiety. It is anxiety about the aftermath of the global financial crisis, it’s anxiety about inequality and about computers replacing jobs,” he added.

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Do you really need a hundred sets of numbers to figure that out?

“By Almost Every Measure Stocks Are Overvalued” Warns Goldman (Zero Hedge)

Over the weekend, we first reported that none other than Nobel prize winner Robert Shiller said that in his opinion, unlike 1929, this time everything – stocks, bonds and housing – was overvalued. Curiously, none other than Goldman’s chief equity strategist, David Kostin echoed this sentiment when in his latest weekly note to clients he said that “by almost any measure, US equity valuations look expensive. The typical stock in the S&P 500 trades at 18.1x forward earnings, ranking at the 98th%ile of historical valuation since 1976. For the overall index, the aggregate forward P/E multiple equals 17.2x, a rise of 63% since September 2011, compared with the median expansion of 48% during 9 previous P/E expansion cycles.

Financial metrics such as EV/EBITDA, EV/Sales, and P/B also suggest that US stocks have stretched valuations. With tightening on the horizon, the P/E expansion phase of the current bull market is behind us.” Don’t tell that to the SNB, the BOJ or any of the other central banks once again buying Emini futures hands over fist with freshly printed money and a complete disregard to cost basis or downside and losses. Of course, for Goldman to say all of this, it means either the bank is already full to the gills with ES puts, or is just hoping to buy up the S&P to 3000 and above. Here is what else Kostin says on record valuation: US equity valuations are also historically extended when adjusted for the extremely low interest rate environment.

For example, during the past 40 years when the real interest rate (10-year Treasury less core CPI) was between 0% and 1%, the S&P 500 forward P/E multiple averaged 11.2x, well below the current level. Moreover, since 1921 (94 years) when real interest rates have been 0%-1%, the trailing P/E multiple has averaged 13.5x, which is 27% below the current trailing S&P 500 index multiple of 19x. Valuation looks even more striking in the context of current profit margins—the highest in history. Since 2011, margins for S&P 500 (ex-Financials and Utilities) have hovered around the current 9% level. Information Technology has been the driving force for the overall margin expansion.

Profits are highly sensitive to small changes in margins: every 50 basis point shift in S&P 500 margin translates into a roughly $5 per share swing in EPS. Given the current P/E multiple, a $5 shift in EPS would translate into a swing of nearly 90 points to the valuation of the S&P 500. The current P/E expansion cycle has lasted 43 months, the second longest since 1982, but will likely end when interest rates rise. After each of the three prior “first” Fed hikes, P/E multiples contracted by an average of 8%. In the meantime, we expect the 2% dividend yield to generate the entirety of the total return we forecast the S&P 500 index will deliver during the next 12 months. We expect the market will rise to 2150 around mid-year but fade after Fed liftoff in September and end the year at 2100.

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The opposite of sound.

China Stocks Nearly A Quarter Overvalued: Credit Suisse (CNBC)

Whether China shares are in a bubble depends on which data bit catches the fancy, but the market has outstripped its fundamentals and is 23% overbought, Credit Suisse said. “Margins, profitability and value creation continue declining as productivity growth lags real wage growth and product selling prices are eroded,” Credit Suisse said in a note Friday. “Moreover, equity market price momentum has decoupled away from earnings revisions which remain deeply embedded in negative territory.” Its models indicate the market is 23% overbought and has potential downside of 15% in U.S. dollar terms by year-end. The mainland’s shares have rallied sharply this year, despite a brief drop into correction territory last week.

The Shanghai Composite is up around 50% year-to-date, even after last week’s one-day 6.5% plunge. The Shenzhen Composite is up around 111% year-to-date. Credit Suisse attributes the rally to factors including the People’s Bank of China injecting liquidity through its easing measures, retail investors re-allocating assets to stocks and away from bank savings, wealth management products and property. Apart from some restrictions on margin trading, the securities regulator also appears to be letting the rally ride, the bank noted. But is it a bubble? “The evidence for is largely participation and technicals related,” the bank said. “The evidence against is principally valuation related.”

Supporting the bubble view, new share-trading account openings remain elevated and the markets’ average daily trading value has surged to records, it noted. In addition, technical indicators such as deviations from the 200-day moving average and the relative strength index are now comparable to the 2007 A-share bubble, it said. The Shanghai Composite hit its all-time high of 6124 in October of 2007, as the Global Financial Crisis was brewing. However, while the current relative valuation of the mainland-listed A-shares and Hong Kong-listed H-shares is elevated, it remains far below peaks hit in 2008, Credit Suisse noted. Other metrics, such as earnings yield-to-bond-yield, price-to-earnings and price-to-book, are actually significantly more favorable than their 2007 levels, it noted.

Some are more certain about which indicator will call a bubble. “Looking at the market cap to GDP (gross domestic product) ratio as a measure of risk in equity markets, it now seems to us that the recent sharp rise in the Chinese market is the first sign of a bubble without the support of fundamentals,” Societe Generale said in a note Monday. The ratio grew by 124% over the past 12 months, similar to the climb in 2006-2007, it noted. “The Chinese equity market should therefore be closely monitored this summer,” it said.

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“..everyone caught in the same crowded trades needs to get out fast.” And won’t.

Don’t Trust Asia’s Booming Stock Markets (Pesek)

Could a lack of liquidity soon cause Asia’s stock markets to crash? That question might seem fanciful at first glance. Central banks in Frankfurt, London, Tokyo and Washington, by keeping policy rates near or below zero, have been responsible for the arrival of unprecedented waves of cash on Asian financial markets. It’s no accident that Shanghai stocks are up 137% over the last 12 months even as the Chinese economy has slowed; that the Nikkei stock exchange is up 41% surge even as deflation returns to Japan; and that South Korea’s Kospi index is near record highs even as that country’s exports are slumping. But, as economist Nouriel Roubini recently pointed out, macro liquidity, of the sort created by central banks, can easily be accompanied by illiquidity on financial markets.

And when that’s the case, he writes, it creates a “time bomb” by intensifying traders’ tendency toward adopting a herd mentality. Consider last week’s sudden 6.50% drop on the Shanghai stock market. Those panicky hours resembled other “flash crash” moments of recent years: a 10% plunge in U.S. stocks in less than one hour in May 2010; the Fed “taper tantrum” in spring 2013; the Oct. 14 jump in U.S. yields; and last month’s mini meltdown in 10-year German bonds. The common thread between each episode was a sudden wave of fear among traders that, even with unprecedented liquidity injections from central banks, markets might still be too illiquid. And today’s fears about market illiquidity are, in fact, justified.

As Roubini pointed out, “many investments are in illiquid funds and the traditional market makers who smoothed volatility are nowhere to be found.” High-frequency traders and their algorithmic programs account for a growing share of transactions, as do open-ended funds that can exit markets quickly. Meanwhile, banks, which traditionally intervened to stabilize financial markets, are playing a reduced role in trading. These shifts are turbocharging investors’ natural tendency to herd mentality. For now, central banks are reducing stock market volatility by keeping bond yields low. But when surprises occur, Roubini argues, “the re-rating of stocks and especially bonds can be abrupt and dramatic – everyone caught in the same crowded trades needs to get out fast.”

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I don’t need a warning.

Four Recent Bubble Warnings That You Need To Worry About (Jesse Colombo)

I’ve been sounding the alarm in recent years about dangerous new bubbles that have been inflating since the Global Financial Crisis. As I wrote in a viral report last month, I believe that record low interest rates and central bank stimulus programs are the main fuel behind these bubbles and that they will lead to a crisis that is even worse than 2008. In the meantime, these bubbles are creating artificial economic strength and activity that is manifesting itself in the form of our economic recovery. While it often feels lonely and frustrating to warn about such a poorly understood truth, I’m not the only person who has made these observations. Here are four recent bubble warnings made by prominent economists and businesspeople:

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Source: VectorGrader.com

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Huh? “I’m not sure that the current situation is a classic bubble because I’m not certain that most people have extravagant expectations.”

Robert Shiller: ‘There Is A Bubble Element To What We’re Seeing’

There isn’t a full-on stock market bubble breaking out, but it sort of looks like it. In an interview with Goldman Sachs’ Allison Nathan this weekend, Yale professor and Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller was asked if the stock market is currently in a bubble. Shiller wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re definitely in a bubble, but said there are some things about today’s current market that look an awful lot like one. Here’s Shiller: “I define a bubble as a social epidemic that involves extravagant expectations for the future. Today, there is certainly a social and psychological phenomenon of people observing past price increases and thinking that they might keep going. So there is a bubble element what we see. But I’m not sure that the current situation is a classic bubble because I’m not certain that most people have extravagant expectations.”

On Saturday, Business Insider’s Henry Blodget argued that stock prices right now look awfully high and said he thinks returns going forward are going to be lousy. In that post, Blodget cites Shiller’s CAPE ratio, or cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio, a measure of inflation-adjusted earnings over the last 10 years, which is currently at around its third-highest level ever. The only times Shiller’s CAPE ratio was higher was ahead of the 1929 and 2000 stock market crashes. The Shiller CAPE ratio is about equal where it was before the 2007 crash. In his comments to Goldman Sachs, however, Shiller again echoes something he’s said in the past, which is that the current stock market rally is driven in part by fear. And this behavior makes the current boom a bit different from a “classic bubble,” and is part of what keeps Shiller hedging when characterizing the current market environment.

Shiller again: “In fact, the current environment may be driven more by fear than by a sense of a new era. I detect a tinge of anxiety and insecurity now that is a factor in markets, which is quite different from other market booms historically.” In 2000, Shiller published the first edition of his famous book “Irrational Exuberance” right at the top of the Nasdaq bubble. And so when Shiller talks about bubbles people listen. It seems then, to Shiller, that though we’re not in a classic bubble, the US market is at levels where we should be worried, at least a little bit, about how expensive stock are right now.

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Because Goldman didn’t know?

Goldman Sachs Asked Two Famous Economists If Stocks Are in a Bubble (Bloomberg)

When asked how worried he is about the prospects for the market over the next six months, Professor Shiller says that his concern has risen with the market and that there could very well be a correction in the next year, although the timing of such market events is inevitably difficult. He advised people to both save more and diversify their investments because their portfolios probably won’t do as well as they had hoped — even over the longer-term. Next Goldman talks to Wharton Professor Jeremy Siegel, who has continued to be on the bullish side with his buy and hold strategy.

Professor Siegel says he believes stocks are only slightly above their historical valuations today and the level is “completely justified” due to low interest rates. To those that claim the stock market is in a bubble, Professor Siegel says he is in complete disagreement. “In no way do current levels that are nowhere near those highs (of March 2000) qualify as a bubble,” he says. Professor Siegel adds that there isn’t much that would dissuade him from holding equities over the medium term and recommended investors allocate 50% of their portfolios to the U.S., 25% to non-U.S. developed markets and 25% to emerging markets.

Of course Shiller and Siegel are also well-known friends so there is at least one place where they are in agreement and that is the bond market. Both economists said it was fair to say bonds are overvalued and some concern is justified, although neither of them would commit to calling it a bubble. Shiller said that historically, the bond market doesn’t tend to crash like the stock market. Siegel steered away from calling it a bubble due to his expectation that both short- and long-term rates will remain low.

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Something tells me Moscovici hasn’t been paying attention. Or this serves to discredit Syriza. Either way, there’s nothing new on the table.

Greece Said To Offer Pension Reform As Debt Talks Near Crunch (Reuters)

Greece’s leftist government has put forward first proposals for pension reform as debt talks with international creditors reach a crunch point this week with Athens’ cash running out, the European Union’s economics chief said on Tuesday. The report came after the leaders of Germany, France, the EC, the IMF and the ECB agreed at an emergency meeting in Berlin on Monday night to work with “real intensity” to try to wrap up the long-running negotiations in the coming days. [..] EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said in a radio interview the talks were making progress at last, citing what he said were new Greek proposals on pensions, a core issue for the creditors, who are demanding some cuts and a crackdown on early retirement to make the complex system financially sustainable.

“We are starting to work in depth on pensions. The Greek government has made some first proposals and the pros and cons are being considered,” Moscovici told France Inter radio. Greek officials played down talk of new pension proposals and EU officials close to the talks have said progress is very slow and they remain a long way from convergence. “Greece has been flexible for a long time on pension reform, willing to scrap incentives for early retirement and proceed with merging pension funds. This is what is still on the table,” a Greek government official said.

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2400 hours Greece could have spend improving its economy.

Greek Crisis: 2,400 Hours Of Brinkmanship (CNBC)

I frequently hear the point made that Tsipras’ support is dwindling. Support for his stance may have halved in recent polls, but we shouldn’t underestimate his popularity at home and the lack of appetite to accept further austerity. The opposition pro-Europe New Democracy party have not seen any gains in support even as the economy dwindles. Tsipras has got plenty of reasons to drag this out. European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Pierre Moscovici reiterated to CNBC that there is no Plan B. Maybe the European Commission don’t need to consider one but investors, governments and central banks do. Last week, ECB vice President Victor Constancio warned CNBC of the turbulence that will ensue if a deal isn’t reached quickly.

Even if you believe a Greek default or exit can be contained and the euro zone will survive, isn’t the greater fear here what this will mean for sentiment, risk assets and markets? U.S. equities are trading around record highs after a lackluster earnings season and as data on Friday confirmed U.S. GDP contracted by 0.7% in the first quarter. Second-quarter data is already showing signs of recovery but it follows Fed Chair Janet Yellen saying she’s still looking to raise rates this year in any case. We can’t rely on bad news being good news for stimulus any more. We should also consider whether Janet Yellen’s more afraid of potential market turbulence created by the start of rate rises or that something else like a Grexit blows any U.S. recovery off course and she’s not taken the opportunity to raise rates while she had it.

It isn’t just about the U.S. China’s Shanghai market snapped a seven-day winning streak on Thursday last week falling 6.5%. The tech-heavy Shenzhen Composite, which had more than doubled this year alone, lost 5.5% – its third-biggest fall in five years. The Chinese Central Bank providing liquidity to offset the growth slowdown with one hand and trying to temper enthusiasm with the other. Japanese equities meanwhile are also trading at 15 year highs despite the concerns regarding the efficacy of Abenomics. Japan’s central bank governor Haruhiko Kuroda told CNBC last week he’s not concerned about brewing bubbles.

That’s just the equity markets. Never mind for the bonds markets. With all the liquidity sloshing around you’d be forgiven for questioning investors ability to gauge fair value any more. Even without the Greek woes it is enough to make any risk taker cautious. So while investors grapple with value, economic recovery and the calibration of extraordinary monetary policy the question is whether Greece could trigger a more significant reassessment of current pricing? Maybe, maybe not. But each day these negotiations drag on that risk becomes more likely and investors would surely be wise to expect decent volatility while we wait.

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Note: “Research shows that only 11% of the bailout money ended up in the Greek economy..” Ergo: taxpayers should blame the banks and EU politicians, not the Greeks.

Audit: Dutch and EU Taxpayers Likely To Lose All Money Lent To Greece (NLTimes)

Dutch taxpayers will probably not recover any of the money used for Greece’s financial rescue, said Kees Vendrik, chairman of the Court of Audit in the Netherlands. Dutch people should be realistic about repayment given the current situation, Vendrik told on a television program Radar Extra. “As it now stands, I have to be honest, it’s going to be very difficult,” Vendrik said. In 2010, the former Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager expressed full confidence in Greece repaying the money with interst that the Netherlands lent. Greece received emergency assistance twice. The country received €110 billion in 2010 and €130 in 2012.

The Dutch contribution to the amount was €11.9 billion, according to Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Last year, Vendrik was chairman of the Dutch delegation that participated in an international program to support Greek investigators. In that role, he offered his Greeks colleagues assistance in audits there. Vendrik did not research the financial situation in Greece, but he understands the situation in which the country now finds itself, a spokesman for the organization said.

[From Algemeen Dagblad: Vendrik stated that in all likelihood the entire €240 billion in bailout money will not be paid back. Research shows that only 11% of the bailout money ended up in the Greek economy; the rest went to international banks who had loans outstanding in Greece]

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Behind the theory.

In Conversation With John Nash On Ideal Money (Yanis Varoufakis)

A conversation I was privileged to have with John Nash in June 2000 is posted below as a small tribute to a great man. (The conversation was motivated by a talk John Nash Jr gave in Athens in 2000 entitled IDEAL MONEY. The text of the conversation below was published in 2001 as a chapter in a volume, available only in Greek, entitled Game Theory: A volume dedicated to John Nash, edited by K. Kottaridi and G. Siourounis)

Yanis Varoufakis: Professor Nash, in your talk on Ideal Money, June 2000, at the Old Parliament House in Athens, you commented, in relation to the Eurozone, that membership of a club makes sense only if it is exclusive. (Greeks know this well enough since the earlier consensus among experts that Greece would not be allowed in, made the project of entry into the Eurozone particularly popular here.) Then you strengthened your claim by suggesting that if everyone joins an alliance, the alliance is absurd. But is it? Does a Grand Alliance not gain meaning if its establishment entails unanimous agreement by all members regarding its institutions? Is it not akin to a Grand Bargain over the precise mechanism for distributing gains? (Something like agreeing on the properties a cooperative solution should possess?) And if so, does a Grand Alliance not make sense as a framework for conflict resolution?

John Nash Jr: The words ‘club’ and ‘alliance’ do not have the same meaning. This is why in game theory we use a third word which also differs conceptually from the first two words: ‘coalition’ . It is of course true that it is possible to have a coalition between all the nations (or the states) of the world. The Universal Postal Union, with its Berne headquarters, is a good example. Mind you, it would be far fetched to refer to this union as a ‘club’ . I am not sure I can recall the precise phrase I used in my talk. Nevertheless, a truly Grand Coalition, that includes everyone , is an important and natural concept of game theory. It is the means by which an efficient (in the context of Pareto s definition) agreed resolution to disputes can be imagined following mutual concessions.

Yanis Varoufakis: Regarding your specific proposal (that is, a new Gold Standard based not on Gold but on a basket of suitably weighted material commodities), is your ‘ideal money’ meant as a proxy for transferable utility (such that the outcome of exchanges can become genuinely independent of the way payoffs are calibrated)?

John Nash Jr: The value of effective transferable utility is obvious. However, as far as contemporaneous transactions within the walls of a domestic economy are concerned, the transferability of values can be eased equally well by ideal and non-ideal money. But when it comes to inter-temporal, long-term transactions, e.g. mortgages, the difference between ideal money and typical European currencies would be somewhat intense, if not dramatic.

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Nothing new about the list. Political ploy.

Russia Accuses EU of Stirring Political Tensions Over Blacklist (Bloomberg)

Russia said it’s “deeply disappointed” by the EU’s response to being sent a blacklist of 89 people barred from entering the country. The list was sent “in confidence” to the EU’s permanent representative office in Moscow after “repeated requests” so that they could inform those banned after “several cases when we have been obliged to refuse entry,” Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov told reporters in Moscow on Monday. Russia began compiling the blacklist more than a year ago and “a separate decision was taken in each case, with concrete reasons,” Meshkov said. “The list was handed over at the technical level” through consular officials and “we didn’t consider it some sort of political step,” he said.

The European External Action Service, the 28-nation EU’s diplomatic arm, said in a statement on Saturday that Russia had responded to demands for transparency by providing the “confidential ‘stop list’” of 89 people barred from the country. The EEAS called the list “totally arbitrary and unjustified.” When the EU crosses “all boundaries” by its actions, “how can one trust such partners?” Meshkov said. The ban is in response to EU measures targeting officials from Russia imposed over the conflict in Ukraine, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said, accusing the bloc of seeking confrontation over the issue. Russia showed compromise by sharing the list and she was “shocked” at European efforts to make political capital out of it, she said on her Facebook account.

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That’s a moral low alright.

New York City Task Force to Investigate ‘Three-Quarter’ Homes (NY Times)

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday he had formed an emergency task force to investigate so-called three-quarter houses in New York City for potentially exploiting addicts and homeless people by taking kickbacks on Medicaid fees for drug treatment while forcing them to live in squalid, illegal conditions. Mr. de Blasio’s announcement came a day after The New York Times published an investigation examining the abuses of the operator of some of the most troubled three-quarter houses. The mayor also called on the state to increase the shelter allowance it gives single people receiving public assistance. The allowance, which has been $215 a month since 1988, has left many homeless people with no options beyond three-quarter housing.

“We will not accept the use of illegally subdivided and overcrowded apartments to house vulnerable people in need of critical services,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement on Sunday. Thousands of people live in three-quarter homes, which fall somewhere between regulated halfway houses and permanent housing. Also called sober or transitional homes, three-quarter homes are an offshoot of the murky world of outpatient substance abuse treatment for the poor. The number of such homes has grown over the past decade, as the administration of the previous mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, pushed to reduce homeless shelter rolls. No one has an exact number of three-quarter homes, which are considered illegal because they violate building codes on overcrowding.

And no government agency regulates them, even though the city Human Resources Administration pays landlords the monthly $215 shelter allowance and the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services pays millions of dollars in Medicaid money for the residents’ outpatient treatment. The Times story focused on one landlord, Yury Baumblit, a two-time felon accused by tenants and former employees of treating poor people as instruments for bilking the government. Tenants said that reputable hospitals and nonprofit organizations had referred them to Mr. Baumblit’s operations, as had city shelters.

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Transparency is a good thing.

At Least 3,900 Medicare Millionaires Revealed in U.S. Data

A small group of doctors accounted for a large chunk of Medicare payments once again, data released today by the U.S. government show. Medicare paid at least 3,900 individual health-care providers at least $1 million in 2013, according to a Bloomberg analysis of data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Overall, the agency said it released data on $90 billion in payments to 950,000 individual providers and organizations. On average, doctors were reimbursed about $74,000, though five received more than $10 million. The U.S. has been increasing transparency for Medicare, which accounts for the largest portion of federal spending after defense and Social Security.

CMS also released information Monday about $62 billion in Medicare payments to hospitals and outpatient facilities in 2013, reflecting more than 7 million discharges. Monday’s data exclude the privately run program known as Medicare Advantage, which accounted for about 30% of beneficiaries last year, and the drug prescription benefits of Medicare Part D. Payments in the drug program were released for the first time earlier this year. Some payments were sent to organizations rather than individuals. There are about 897,000 active physicians in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The two highest-paid doctors in 2013 are now under legal scrutiny. Cardiologist Asad Qamar, who was No. 1, has since been accused by the Justice Department of billing for unnecessary tests and cardiovascular procedures. He received about $15.9 million in payments in 2013. In a video released in January, Qamar called the government’s claims baseless. “I assure you that these accusations are a fiction,” he said.

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They will be free to seek honorable employment.

HSBC Poised To Unveil Thousands More Job Cuts (Sky)

HSBC will next week set out plans to cut thousands more jobs across its global workforce as it tries to reassure shareholders that its focus on costs remains undiminished after a series of reputational crises. Sky News understands that Stuart Gulliver, HSBC’s chief executive, will set out a revised target for headcount reductions that will be implemented by the end of 2017 at an investor day next week. The precise job cuts number that will be outlined by Mr Gulliver on June 9 was unclear on Monday, although insiders said that it was likely to be between 10,000 and 20,000. One source said the numbers were still being worked on and had yet to be finalised.

Europe’s biggest lender employed 258,000 people at the end of last year, but it has already abandoned a target set two years ago to reduce its employee base to between 240,000 and 250,000 by 2016 because of the fast-changing nature of bank regulation. It is understood that the headcount reductions figure announced next week will exclude the potential impact of the sale of HSBC’s operations in Brazil and Turkey, where the bank does not disclose how many people work for it. Sky News revealed in April that HSBC had hired Goldman Sachs to find a buyer for the Brazilian business, which is expected to be worth several billion dollars.

The new jobs figure will also not take account of a possible eventual separation of HSBC’s UK arm, which Mr Gulliver said last month was conceivable because of a requirement for big UK lenders to create separate ring-fenced entities by 2019. Shareholders will be anxious for an update next week on the methodology for reviewing the location of its headquarters, which will conclude by the end of the year. Hong Kong, where HSBC was domiciled until its takeover of the Midland Bank in the early 1980s, is seen by analysts as the likeliest destination if it does decide to relocate.

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“The true economic impact of the Supreme Court’s decision may not be seen until the next economic downturn..”

US Supreme Court Hands Defeat To Struggling Homeowners (MarketWatch)

Underwater homeowners who file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection are still on the hook for secondary loans tied to their properties, the Supreme Court said Monday. In a nine-to-zero decision, the court said in Bank of America, N.A. v. Caulkett that borrowers whose homes are completely underwater — debtors owe more on a mortgage than the home is worth — cannot void or “strip off” a junior lien when they file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A junior lien, such as a home-equity loan, is taken after a first mortgage, and uses a home as collateral. In the case, two borrowers each had two mortgages on their homes, with Bank of America holding the junior liens. Both borrowers were underwater and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy two years ago. The borrowers wanted to “strip off” the junior mortgages, shedding those debts.

On Monday the Supreme Court cited a decision from a prior case, Dewsnup v. Timm, finding that lenders still have a secured claim, “regardless of whether the value of that property would be sufficient to cover the claim.” The decision “is a clear victory for mortgage lenders” said Isaac Boltansky at Compass Point Research & Trading. “It clarifies the path to recoveries for second lien holders in bankruptcy,” “This decision will undoubtedly make the bankruptcy process more difficult for impacted borrowers.” [..] Given the current economy — home prices are rising and the labor market is strengthening — the court’s decision “is likely to be muted in the near-term,” Boltansky said. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences, he added. “The true economic impact of the Supreme Court’s decision may not be seen until the next economic downturn,” Boltansky said.

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Getting old fast. “The German government expects the population to shrink from 81m to 67m by 2060..”

Germany Dominance Over As Demographic Crunch Worsens (AEP)

Germany’s birth rate has collapsed to the lowest level in the world and its workforce will start plunging at a faster rate than Japan’s by the early 2020s, seriously threatening the long-term viability of Europe’s leading economy. A study by the World Economy Institute in Hamburg (HWWI) found that the average number of births per 1,000 population dropped to 8.2 over the five years from 2008 to 2013, further compounding a demographic crisis already in the pipeline. Even Japan did slightly better at 8.4. “No other industrial country is deteriorating at this speed despite the strong influx of young migrant workers. Germany cannot continue to be a dynamic business hub in the long-run without a strong jobs market,” warned the institute.

The crunch is aggravated by the double effect of a powerful post-war baby boom followed by a countervailing baby bust – the so-called “Pillenknick”. The picture in Portugal (nine) and Italy (9.2) is almost as bad. The German government expects the population to shrink from 81m to 67m by 2060 as depressed pockets of the former East Germany go into “decline spirals” where shops, doctors’ practices, and public transport start to shut down, causing yet more people to leave in a vicious circle. A number of small towns in Saxony, Brandenburg and Pomerania have begun to contemplate plans for gradual “run-off” and ultimate closure, a once unthinkable prospect. Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in a speech in Davos earlier this year that Germany will lose a net 6m workers over the next 15 years, shrinking gradually over the rest of this decade before going into free-fall.

The IMF expects the decline in the 2020s to be more concentrated – and harder to handle – than the gentler paces of decline seen in Japan so far. Britain and France are in far better shape, with an average of 12.5 births per 1,000 in from 2008-2013. The IMF expects both countries to overtake Germany in total GDP by the middle of century and possibly even by 2040, implying a radical shift in the European balance of power. Germany’s leaders are themselves acutely conscious that their current hegemonic position in Europe is largely a mirage, certain to fade as more powerful historical currents come to the fore.

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I’m all for it. A great idea. Male dominance leads to mayhem.

Let God Be A ‘She’, Says Church Of England Women’s Group (Guardian)

A group within the Church of England is calling for God to be referred to as female following the selection of the first female bishops. The group wants the church to recognise the equal status of women by overhauling official liturgy, which is made up almost exclusively of male language and imagery to describe God. Rev Jody Stowell, a member of Women and the Church (Watch), the pressure group that led the campaign for female bishops, said: “Orthodox theology says all human beings are made in the image of God, that God does not have a gender. He encompasses gender – he is both male and female and beyond male and female. So when we only speak of God in the male form, that’s actually giving us a deficient understanding of who God is.”

Stowell said discussions over terminology arose out of a Westminster faith debate on whether the consecration of female bishops would make a difference in the Church of England. The matter has been discussed within the transformation steering group, a body that meets in Lambeth Palace to “explore the lived experience of women in ordained ministry”. The group has issued a public call to bishops to encourage more “expansive language and imagery about God”. The Rev Emma Percy, chaplain of Trinity College Oxford and a member of Watch, said the effect of using both male and female language would be to get rid of “the notion that God is some kind of old man in the sky”. She said many people in the church had been having this debate for a long time. “It’s just the church moves slowly.

[The debate] caught the imagination now because we’ve got women bishops so in a sense the church has accepted that women are equally valued in God’s sight and can represent God at all levels. We want to encourage people to be freer, and we want to get the Liturgical Commission to understand that people are actually quite open to this and there is room for richer language to be used.” In her role at the university, Percy said she had noticed people had become more open to modern terminology. “In the last two or three years we’ve seen a real resurgence and interest in feminism, and younger people are much more interested in how gender categories shouldn’t be about stereotypes. We need to have a language about God that shows God can be expressed in lots of diverse terms,” she said.

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Feb 262015
 
 February 26, 2015  Posted by at 11:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Meyer School victory garden on First Avenue New York 1944

Oil Headed For $20-$30 As US Runs Out Of Storage Capacity (CNBC)
Yellen Fights Back as Lawmakers Intensify Push to Rein in Fed (Bloomberg)
Greece vs. Europe: Who Won? (Bloomberg)
Varoufakis Says Funding Problem Lies Ahead (Kathimerini)
Varoufakis Counts On ECB to Avoid Greek Default in March (Bloomberg)
European Banks vs. Greek Labour: Michael Hudson (TRNN)
Former Greek Finance Minister In Court For Tampering With Lagarde List (Guardian)
Greek Revenue Shortfall Came To €1 Billion In January (Kathimerini)
Noonan Says Greece Should Seek Irish-Style Solution to Debt Woe (Bloomberg)
Greek Energy Minister Opposes Privatization (NY Times)
Tsipras In Marathon Talks With SYRIZA MPs (Kathimerini)
Kiev Decision to Cut Gas to Donetsk ‘Bears Hallmarks of Genocide’ (Sputnik)
Ukraine Risks Losing IMF Support for Aid If War Escalates (Bloomberg)
China Drops Cisco, Apple And Others For State Purchases (Reuters)
China Central Bank Newspaper Warns Of Rising Deflation Risk (Reuters)
Naomi Klein: ‘The Economic System We Have Created Global Warming’ (Spiegel)
Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet? (Spiegel)
Nestle Pays $2.25 to Bottle and Sell a Million Litres of BC Water (Tyee)
Stock-Market Crash Of 2016: The Countdown Begins (Paul B. Farrell)
Together We Can Stop The Big Tax Evaders (Hervé Falciani via Beppe Grillo.it)
Keynes And The Puzzle Of Falling Prices (Skidelsky)
We’re Living Longer, Yes, But Why Not Healthier? (MarketWatch)
New Theory Could Prove How Life Began – And Has God ‘On The Ropes’ (Ind.)

“If you run out of space, prices tend to react a lot more violently to adjust that supply and demand imbalance and that’s what we expect over the next few weeks..”

Oil Headed For $20-$30 As US Runs Out Of Storage Capacity (CNBC)

Oil supply running ahead of demand hasn’t just pressured prices, it’s also filling up storage space, potentially pushing crude toward another leg down. “We’re going to see pretty fast inventory builds over the next few weeks,” Francisco Blanch, head of commodity research at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, told CNBC Wednesday, noting that global supply is running around 1.4 million barrels a day above demand. “If you run out of space, prices tend to react a lot more violently to adjust that supply and demand imbalance and that’s what we expect over the next few weeks,” he said, forecasting both WTI and Brent will fall toward $30 a barrel. Prices settled at $50.99 and $61.97, respectively, on Wednesday.

He cited fresh American Petroleum Institute (API) data which showed U.S. crude inventories climbed by a larger-than-expected 8.9 million barrels in the week ended Feb. 20, for a total of around 437 million barrels squirreled away. Around 50 million to 100 million barrels of crude oil may be gathering dust in floating storage by the end of the second quarter, compared with around 110 million barrels in April 2009, during the global financial crisis, he estimated. The supply build isn’t helped by an oil market that’s in contango, or when the “spot” price is lower than the price of the future contract. That makes it more profitable for traders to stick their oil in storage to sell at a higher price later. As much as 80% of the commercially available storage in the U.S. may already be utilized, Premasish Das, downstream analyst at IHS Energy Insight, told CNBC last week.

“As the oversupply increases again in the second quarter, the contango structure will widen. This will further incentivize crude storage,” Das said. Others are also concerned about how quickly space could run out. “Within around two months, [onshore storage will] be completely exhausted,” Ivan Szapakowski, a commodity strategist at Citigroup, told CNBC last week. “The only remaining storage globally will then be floating storage, tankers.” Citigroup is forecasting oil prices to fall toward $20 a barrel before recovering.

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The real problem is not the Fed’s independence from political parties, but its independence from Wall Street institutions.

Yellen Fights Back as Lawmakers Intensify Push to Rein in Fed (Bloomberg)

Janet Yellen sparred with Republican lawmakers in the most heated exchange in her yearlong tenure as Federal Reserve chair, highlighting the central bank’s exposure to growing demands for greater oversight from Congress. In testimony on Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee, Yellen forcefully rejected accusations from Republicans that she’s unaccountable to Capitol Hill and too closely aligned with the White House and Democrats. “The Fed already has been completely immersed and guided by partisan politics,” said Scott Garrett, a New Jersey Republican who has introduced one of the bills this year to give Congress more control over the Fed and curb its powers. Yellen called that a “complete mis-characterization.”

Republicans want to rein in the Fed’s expanded oversight of the financial industry while limiting its aggressive monetary policy. Yellen’s challenge is to push back against proposals that include Senator Rand Paul’s “Audit the Fed” bill, while trying to avoid damaging political fights. The confrontational hearing “is not business as usual,” said Allen Sinai, CEO of Decision Economics Inc. in New York. Yellen’s propensity “is to answer questions directly and clearly and not to mince words. That can get the chairperson in trouble in a hot political world.” Tension between the Fed and Congress is not new. Yellen’s predecessor, Ben S. Bernanke, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, endured bruising encounters with lawmakers during the financial crisis when the Fed became a lightning rod for public anger over Wall Street bailouts.

Yet Wednesday’s hearing was particularly combative. In Garrett’s exchange with Yellen, he accused the Fed of partisanship because she met with President Barack Obama at the White House a day before last November’s midterm congressional election and held a separate meeting later that month with labor and community organizers. “The more pressure there is to legislate, even if they don’t do so, the more the Fed has to open its ears and figure out how to be more responsive to these pressures,” said Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “This was a real partisan broadside.”

Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who has proposed requiring the Fed to follow a rule in setting interest rates, questioned Yellen’s regular meetings with Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew. “The Federal Reserve is independent,” Yellen countered, saying she doesn’t discuss future monetary policy actions with the secretary or with the White House. Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who last year led a series of hearings scrutinizing the Fed, set the tone for the three-hour hearing by telling Yellen he plans to “listen very carefully” to suggestions to overhaul the Fed. “Fed reforms are needed, and I, for one, believe Fed reforms are coming,” Hensarling said.

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Good comment by Clive Crook: “There was no need to let it happen. Greece could and should have been calmly granted a financial breathing space to negotiate a successor program weeks ago. It’s mismanagement on a remarkable scale. I admit I was wrong. I just hadn’t understood what Europe’s leaders were capable of.”

Greece vs. Europe: Who Won? (Bloomberg)

Some readers have reminded me about my recent post, “Why Europe Will Cave to Greece.” Europe didn’t cave, they smile – Greece caved to Europe. Well, it’s true, things haven’t gone as I expected when I wrote that post at the end of January. You can count on dysfunction in the European Union, but rarely to this degree. Still, it’s too early to say who caved to whom. The most one can say at the moment is that this is no way to run a monetary union. The outcome of the negotiations was prefigured at the end of last week by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who said he was asking Europe to meet him “not half-way but one-fifth of the way.” That’s about what happened – though in judging who gave way and how far, a lot depends on what was really at stake.

Before arriving at the recent impasse, Greece had already abandoned its demands for outright debt write-downs, deliverance from the “troika”], and a clean exit from its bailout program. That was capitulation of a sort, but not so consequential, because it was more about abandoning political postures than making real concessions. Substantively, less ground was yielded than you might think. Outright debt forgiveness? It would be better if the creditors granted this and, in the end, they probably will. But in the meantime there are other ways to provide relief (extended maturities, lower interest rates, yields linked to growth in gross domestic product, and so forth). These alternatives are still on the table. No more troika? Monday night’s proposals were indeed submitted to “the institutions,” but even here, notice that Monday’s letter from Varoufakis talks about doing things in agreement with the institutions, not about accepting their instructions. [..]

Here’s the main thing: This was a crisis, still unresolved, that was willed in the first place by the euro zone’s leaders. There was no need to let it happen. Greece could and should have been calmly granted a financial breathing space to negotiate a successor program weeks ago. It’s mismanagement on a remarkable scale. I admit I was wrong. I just hadn’t understood what Europe’s leaders were capable of.

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“Varoufakis suggested that the ECB could return profits of €1.9 billion it made from purchasing Greek bonds on the secondary market..” “The ECB recognizes that this is money we are owed. This is not borrowed money, it’s an overpayment to the ECB.”

Varoufakis Says Funding Problem Lies Ahead (Kathimerini)

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis admitted on Wednesday that Greece may face difficulties in finding the money to pay its obligations to the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank over the next few months. Greece has to repay €1.6 billion to the IMF next month and €6.7 billion to the ECB in the summer and Varoufakis said in an interview with Alpha Radio that making these payments would be a problem. “We are starting to negotiate this issue with our partners from today,” added the Greek finance minister. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Varoufakis suggested that the ECB could return profits of €1.9 billion it made from purchasing Greek bonds on the secondary market to help Athens pay its IMF loan next month.

“The ECB could simply hand over this money to the IMF as partial repayment,” he said. “The ECB recognizes that this is money we are owed. This is not borrowed money, it’s an overpayment to the ECB.” In another interview with CNBC, Varoufakis assured markets that Greece would overcome its short-term funding challenges. “They understand that when there is a cash flow problem, which is effectively a spike for a short space of time, but the long term seems quite good,” he said. “They can be confident that Europe is going to find a way of dealing with the cash flow problem. Can you imagine allowing the eurozone to fragment over a few billion euros?”

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“I find it very hard to imagine that Europe and the IMF will allow us to trip over what is a relatively small cash problem.” “In the elections of Jan. 25, he got more votes than any other candidate for the Greek parliament in any Greek district..”

Varoufakis Counts On ECB to Avoid Greek Default in March (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he’s counting on the ECB to help the country avert default when it runs out of money next month, while bank deposits are also starting to flow back. The ECB owes Greece almost €2 billion euros from the return of profits from its program of buying euro-region bonds to support the market, Varoufakis said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Athens. The government must make a payment to the IMF in March. “So it could hand over this money to the IMF as partial repayment,” he said on Wednesday. “I’m giving you examples, nothing has been decided. This is money we are owed. This is our money, an overpayment to the ECB.”

Euro-region finance ministers approved a package of Greek reforms, which include improved tax collection and tackling corruption, on Tuesday following a recommendation from creditor institutions. On the same day, about 700 million euros returned to Greek bank accounts, Varoufakis said. There were more than €20 billion of withdrawals since early December, according to estimates. “Yesterday, there was a deposit flight back into the Greek banking sector,” said Varoufakis, 53. “It’s a question of direction. Once you turn the tide, you hope.” ECB President Mario Draghi told the European Parliament earlier on Wednesday it was a popular misconception that it was up to the central bank to return any profit from buying bonds through the Securities and Markets Program.

“The profits are ready to be distributed if Greece obliges with the program,” Draghi said. “It’s a commitment by the member states, not by the ECB.” Creditor institutions – the European Commission, ECB and IMF – warned that the package of reforms were just the start of Greece needs to stick with its commitments. The measures, which also include maintaining state-asset sales, are a condition for extending the availability of bailout funds for another four months based on an initial agreement on Feb. 20. The current program, which has been keeping Europe’s most indebted state afloat since 2010, was scheduled to expire at the end of this month.

The next hurdle will come in April when the institutions and finance ministers review progress. That will come after the government has to service about €2.2 billion of debt, including repaying loans to the IMF. The figure doesn’t include rolling over Treasury bills. “I’m pretty confident we won’t have a cash-flow problem, because we all struggled very hard through long hours of discussions with our partners with institutions to come to this stage,” Varoufakis said. “I find it very hard to imagine that Europe and the IMF will allow us to trip over what is a relatively small cash problem. Varoufakis, an economics professor at the University of Athens, spoke from his office on the sixth floor in the finance ministry, which lies opposite the Greek Parliament in Syntagma square, scene of demonstrations during the economic crisis. In the elections of Jan. 25, he got more votes than any other candidate for the Greek parliament in any Greek district.

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“It’s not so much Germany versus Greece, as the papers say. It’s really the war of the banks against labor.”

European Banks vs. Greek Labour: Michael Hudson (TRNN)

Now joining us to discuss the tabled plan is Michael Hudson. He is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. So, Michael, these international banks represented by the finance ministers now in Brussels, when they were in crisis and we the public treasury bailed them out, they had no problem with that. Why are they now refusing to assist Greece at a time of need when in fact some politicians and even the troika is being more receptive to what Greece is saying?

HUDSON: Because what’s at issue really is a class war. It’s not so much Germany versus Greece, as the papers say. It’s really the war of the banks against labor. And it’s a continuation of Thatcherism and neoliberalism. The problem isn’t simply that the troika wants Greece to balance the budget; it wanted Greece to balance the budget by lowering wages and by imposing austerity on the labor force. But instead, the terms in which Varoufakis has suggested balancing the budget are to impose austerity on the financial class, on the tycoons, on the tax dodgers. And he said, okay, instead of lowering pensions to the workers, instead of shrinking the domestic market, instead of pursuing a self-defeating austerity, we’re going to raise two and a half billion from the powerful Greek tycoons. We’re going to collect the back taxes that they have. We’re going to crack down on illegal smuggling of oil and the other networks and on the real estate owners that have been avoiding taxes, because the Greek upper classes have become notorious for tax dodging.

Well, this has infuriated the banks, because it turns out the finance ministers of Europe are not all in favor of balancing the budget if it has to be balanced by taxing the rich, because the banks know that whatever taxes the rich are able to avoid ends up being paid to the banks. So now the gloves are off and the class war is sort of back. Originally, Varoufakis thought he was negotiating with the troika, that is, with the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the Euro Council. But instead they said, no, no, you’re negotiating with the finance ministers. And the finance ministers in Europe are very much like Tim Geithner in the United States. They’re lobbyists for the big banks. And the finance minister said, how can we screw up this and make sure that we treat Greece as an object lesson, pretty much like America treated Cuba in 1960?

PERIES: Hold on, hold on for one second, Michael. Let’s explain that, because Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister of Greece, is very well-briefed and very well-positioned to negotiate all of this. Now, why did he think he was negotiating with the troika when in fact he was negotiating with [crosstalk]

HUDSON: Because officially that’s who he’s negotiating with. He went and he took them at their word. And then he found out–and yesterday, Jamie Galbraith, who went with him to Europe, published in Fortune a description saying, wait a minute, the finance ministers are fighting with the troika. The troika don’t have their story straight. The troika and the finance ministers are all fighting among themselves over what exactly is to be done. And to really throw a monkey wrench in, the German finance minister, Schäuble, said, wait a minute, we’ve got to bring in the Spanish government and the Portuguese government and the Finnish government, and they’ve got to agree.

Well, all of a sudden the position of Spain, for instance, is, wait a minute, we’re in power, we’re a Thatcherite neoliberal party. If Greece ends up not going along with austerity and saving its workers, then Podemos Party in Spain, is going to win the next election and we’ll be out of power. We have to make sure that Varoufakis and the SYRIZA Party is a failure, so that we ourselves can tell the working class, you see what happened to Greece? It got smashed, and we’re going to smash you if you try to do what they do; if you try to tax the rich, if you try to take over the banks and prevent the kleptocracy, there’s going to be a disaster.

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Let them eat brioche?

Former Greek Finance Minister In Court For Tampering With Lagarde List (Guardian)

A new front in Greece’s unfolding economic drama has opened in Athens as the former finance minister George Papaconstantinou, was brought before a special tribunal accused of tampering with a public list of tax evaders and attempted breach of faith. Facing a panel of judges convened for the hearing, the man most associated with Greece’s first international bailout cut a lonely figure as he pleaded not guilty. “I am innocent, your honour,” he said addressing the presiding court judge seated on the uppermost bench of an antechamber of court officials. “I deny all the charges.” Greece had been waiting for this moment. Papaconstantinou, 53, stands accused of removing the names of three of his relatives from a catalogue of some 2,062 suspected tax evaders handed to him by Christine Lagarde, his French counterpart at the time.

Lagarde, now head of the IMF, had passed on the list of names – all account holders at the Geneva branch of HSBC – with the express purpose that the prospective offenders be pursued. At more than €20bn a year, tax avoidance is by far the biggest single drain on the country’s debt-stricken economy with Athens’ new leftist-led government vowing to crack down on it as never before. Papaconstantinou, who was finance minister between October 2009 and June 2011 under the socialist premier, George Papandreou, faces a life sentence if convicted. The alleged offences include the aggravating factor of being seen as crimes against the state. Dressed in a dark suit and flanked by lawyers on either side, the former politician – once regarded as the face of hope and reform in Greece – sat motionless as the court proceedings got under way.

He is the first politician to be tried before a special criminal court in over two decades. It was in the same wood-pannelled room in March 1991 that the then socialist premier Andreas Papandreou was also put on trial. Papaconstantinou, an urbane economist who spent more than half of his life abroad before returning to Greece to become involved in politics, claims he has been “framed” by an establishment desperate to be seen meting out punishment to politicians perceived to have brought the nation to the brink of economic collapse. During his 20 months in office, he says, he introduced some of the country’s most draconian tax legislation. But Athens also stands alone in failing to act on the so–called Lagarde list – initially stolen by a renegade bank clerk at HSBC before being seized by French police.

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The bottom?

Greek Revenue Shortfall Came To €1 Billion In January (Kathimerini)

The Finance Ministry is attempting to resuscitate state revenues after their major shortfall in January and the estimate by a top government official that the fiscal gap of the 2015-16 period will amount to between €5 and €7 billion. According to the definitive data on the execution of the state budget published on Wednesday, revenues both from income tax and value-added tax posted a major decline due to the political uncertainty and the inactivity of monitoring mechanisms. The revenue shortfall of more than €1 billion has taken the primary surplus to €443 million euros, against a target for €1.366 billion – i.e. €923 million below target.

Net revenues reached 3.49 billion, missing their target by 23.1% or €1.05 billion. Income tax revenues were off 49% while indirect tax revenues missed their target by 13.8%. VAT takings produced a 20.4% shortfall. Expenditure was €16 million within target, at €3.3 billion. The slump in public revenues is the reason why Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani wants to see the new payment schemes for expired debts to the state implemented. The bill containing this provision will be presented to the country’s creditors next week so that it can be tabled in Parliament as soon as possible.

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But Greece doesn’t have the same situation?! No domestic banks that went nuts… So to what extent does the comparison hold?

Noonan Says Greece Should Seek Irish-Style Solution to Debt Woe (Bloomberg)

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Greece should seek to reduce interest rates on its debts and push for later repayment dates rather than the “nuclear” options of leaving the euro area and writing off loans. “There’s a middle road and it’s along the lines of what we did in Ireland,” Noonan said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “You negotiate to make your debt more sustainable, even without getting debt write-offs.” Noonan and other euro-region finance ministers agreed on Tuesday to extend Greece’s bailout program for another four months after signing off on a reform plan proposed by the government in Athens. The Syriza party was elected to power last month on a platform that included writing off some debts and ending austerity.

Ireland, which sought a €67.5 billion international rescue in 2010 amid the worst property crash in western Europe, has emerged from an era of austerity, Noonan wrote in a column for the Irish Independent newspaper published Wednesday. The country has cut interest repayments by more than 10 billion euros through negotiations and reduced the amount it will have to borrow over the next decade by €20 billion by extending the maturities on some loans, he wrote. “There’s a number of moving parts,” Noonan said in the interview. “It’s a question of agreeing on the parts that move to make the debt more sustainable and it’s in that space the negotiations can take place.”

Based on the provisional agreement between Greece and its official creditors on Feb. 20, the approval of the list was a condition for extending the availability of bailout funds for another four months. The current program, which has been keeping Europe’s most indebted state afloat since 2010, was scheduled to expire at the end of this month. Approval of the Greek plans offered a short reprieve for the country, which risked defaulting on some of its liabilities as early as next month without further financing from the creditor institutions. Greece has until April to refine the details. Negotiations on Tuesday weren’t “heated,” Noonan said. Ireland and other nations that took international assistance in the wake of the financial crisis, including Portugal and Spain, would prefer Greece to solve its problems using similar measures, Noonan said.

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Good for him. No country should sell off their assets to anonymous dickheads.

Greek Energy Minister Opposes Privatization (NY Times)

Greece’s new plan to revamp its economy to satisfy eurozone creditors hit its first political snag on Wednesday, when the country’s energy minister publicly opposed efforts to sell off state assets as part of that program. “There will be no privatization in energy,” the minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads a radical-left bloc in Syriza, the party of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said in comments to the center-left Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea. Although Mr. Lafazanis would presumably not have the final say, his opposition could disrupt plans to sell stakes in the public gas corporation, the state-controlled electric company and Greece’s largest oil refiner. Bids were solicited for the gas company, DEPA, under the previous government, which had also promised to partly sell off the other two.

Mr. Lafazanis also opposed plans to privatize the power grid operator, in comments to another newspaper, Ethnos, claiming that the bids made to date “are not binding.” The Greek economic plan approved by eurozone finance ministers on Tuesday promised not to roll back any privatization projects already in the works. Moreover, Greece needs the few billion euros that those sales might raise. By late Wednesday, there had been no public response to Mr. Lafazanis from the government, but Mr. Tsipras might be hesitant to confront the energy minister because of his influence in the party. In a speech to Syriza lawmakers on Wednesday, Mr. Tsipras called for support of the government’s economic program but skirted the issue of privatizations. The government must move quickly to “detail” its overhauls and “build credibility” with its creditors, he said.

In comments to reporters afterward, the economy and infrastructure minister, Giorgos Stathakis, who is closer to the prime minister than Mr. Lafazanis is, said that no completed sell-offs would be reversed but that the terms of all privatization projects currently underway would be “reviewed.” Talks between Greece and its lenders have shifted to covering Greece’s financing needs as its cash reserves dwindle. But the release of a pending loan disbursement of €7.2 billion, will depend on Greece’s keeping its promises. In an interview with Greek radio on Wednesday, the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said Greece had no immediate threat to government liquidity but “will definitely have a problem” meeting its obligation to make a debt payment of about €1.5 billion next month to the IMF and around €7 billion in July and August to the ECB. Greece has proposed issuing Treasury bills to raise some of the money but would need the approval of the ECB to do so.

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Democrats.

Tsipras In Marathon Talks With SYRIZA MPs (Kathimerini)

SYRIZA MPs spent more than 10 hours behind closed doors Wednesday discussing the government’s agreement with its creditors after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras assured them that it was the best deal Greece could get at the moment. Tsipras briefed the party’s parliamentary group on the course of negotiations over the last few weeks as well as the implications of the agreement, which was clinched on Tuesday after Greece sent a list of reform proposals that was provisionally accepted by its creditors. Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis also spoke to the leftist MPs. “We secured a bridging agreement that managed to help us spoil the plan to choke the government in fiscal, funding and financial terms,” Tsipras told SYRIZA lawmakers, according to sources.

The prime minister indicated that the previous government had been hoping that the challenges facing its successor would be so great that they would lead to it not being able to last for long, the so-called “left parenthesis.” Tsipras urged his MPs to raise any questions they had but to also make it clear if they are going to vote for the four-month extension when it is submitted to Parliament. “I want to know whether you agree or disagree with the deal,” he said, according to sources. “If there is someone who will vote against it, I want them to say so now.” Production Reconstruction, Energy and Environment Minister Panayiotis Lafazanis was one of the most critical of the agreement with Greece’s lenders.

“There are parts of the letter [with reform proposals] that are reminiscent of the lenders’ language, not ours,” the leader of SYRIZA’s left-wing faction, the Left Platform, is reported to have said. In a newspaper interview earlier, Lafazanis said the government would not proceed with energy privatizations even though Greece has committed to seeing existing sell-off projects through. He said that since binding offers had not been received for the Public Power Corporation and other assets, the government could cancel the projects. However, Lafazanis also indicated that he will stick to his position to cancel the privatization of the former airport site at Elliniko, even though the deal went through last year. In contrast, Economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis said that the government would stick with the Elliniko agreement and the recent concession deal for 14 regional airports but would seek changes to the agreements.

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It does.

Kiev Decision to Cut Gas to Donetsk ‘Bears Hallmarks of Genocide’ (Sputnik)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to halt gas supplies to Donetsk amid the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe “bear hallmarks of genocide”. “As if hunger [in Donetsk and Luhansk] was not enough – the OSCE has already stated that the region is experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe – they had their gas supplies cut off. What would you call it? I would say this bears the hallmarks of genocide,” he said during a meeting with President of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades. “Apparently, some responsible leaders of the modern-day Ukraine are unable to understand the importance of humanitarian issues. It seems that the very notion of humanism has been forgotten,” he added.

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Ukrainian officials will have to explain to the IMF why the central bank tightened capital controls, as well as how the government plans to revive the economy in general..

Ukraine Risks Losing IMF Support for Aid If War Escalates (Bloomberg)

Ukraine risks losing support from IMF member countries for a proposed $17.5 billion bailout if the conflict in the former Soviet republic continues to escalate, according to two people familiar with the matter. The new four-year loan program is awaiting approval by the International Monetary Fund’s executive board, which represents the lender’s 188 member nations. Getting the panel’s consent will become more challenging if pro-Russia rebels continue their advance and seize territory such as the strategic port city of Mariupol, one of the people said. A second person said that while a worsening conflict would complicate approval, IMF country representatives are likely to maintain their support unless an open conflict with Russia breaks out affecting the majority of Ukraine. Both people asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

Any doubts over the IMF funds would increase pressure on Ukrainian allies including the U.S. and European Union to step up their own funding to prevent the country from becoming more vulnerable to Russian economic pressure and wider incursion by pro-Russia rebels. A worsening conflict would make it tougher for Ukraine to maintain economic commitments to the IMF and repay the money while deepening the fund’s involvement in the worst standoff in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Plugging Ukraine’s financing needs and stabilizing its economy amid an armed conflict will be an “enormous challenge,” said William Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009 who is now acting executive vice president at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “If they’re going to exist as a nation, they’re going to have to be able to defend themselves.”

Last year’s $17 billion, two-year bailout for Ukraine by the IMF had broad support from the fund’s board, overcoming concerns at the time about the security risks in the country, one of the people said. There have been many violations of the cease-fire agreed on in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on Feb. 12, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday. Ukraine and its allies in the EU and the U.S. accuse Russia of backing the militants in the conflict that has killed more than 5,600 people, according to United Nations estimates. Russia denies military involvement. Ukraine’s decision this week to tighten capital controls may also complicate the IMF plans. IMF staff members are revising their economic projections in light of the restrictions, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.

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Most expensive trade miss ever?

China Drops Cisco, Apple And Others For State Purchases (Reuters)

China has dropped some of the world’s leading technology brands from its approved state purchase lists, while approving thousands more locally made products, in what some say is a response to revelations of widespread Western cybersurveillance. Others put the shift down to a protectionist impulse to shield China’s domestic technology industry from competition. Chief casualty is U.S. network equipment maker Cisco , which in 2012 counted 60 products on the Central Government Procurement Center’s (CGPC) list, but by late 2014 had none, a Reuters analysis of official data shows. Smartphone and PC maker Apple as also been dropped over the period, along with Intel’s security software firm McAfee and network and server software firm Citrix.

The number of products on the list, which covers regular spending by central ministries, jumped by more than 2,000 in two years to just under 5,000, but the increase is almost entirely due to local makers. The number of approved foreign tech brands fell by a third, while less than half of those with security-related products survived the cull. An official at the procurement agency said there were many reasons why local makers might be preferred, including sheer weight of numbers and the fact that domestic security technology firms offered more product guarantees than overseas rivals.

China’s change of tack coincided with leaks by former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden in mid-2013 that exposed several global surveillance program, many of them run by the NSA with the cooperation of telecom companies and European governments. “The Snowden incident, it’s become a real concern, especially for top leaders,” said Tu Xinquan, Associate Director of the China Institute of WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. “In some sense the American government has some responsibility for that; (China’s) concerns have some legitimacy.”

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But they still pretend they have it under control..

China Central Bank Newspaper Warns Of Rising Deflation Risk (Reuters)

China is dangerously close to slipping into deflation, the central bank’s newspaper warned on Wednesday, highlighting increasing nervousness in policymaking circles as a sputtering economy struggles to pick up speed despite a raft of stimulus steps. The article, published in Finance News, quoted the secretary general of the China Urban Finance Society Chan Xiangyang as saying that risk of deflation is greater than many appreciate. The Society is a national academic group not directly affiliated with the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), but in many cases the publication of such pieces in the central bank’s newspaper indicates tacit approval of the message. As a slowdown in China’s economy over the past year was accompanied by a chill in global demand, Beijing has stepped up measures to prevent the Asian economic powerhouse from stumbling.

In November last year, the PBOC startled markets with an unexpected interest rate cut – the first since 2012 – and then followed up with a cut to banks’ required reserve ratio in early February. Analysts have speculated that the central bank will be forced to take more aggressive easing measures in the coming months if price and credit data continues to drift lower. Chan said the deteriorating macroeconomic environment, combined with enduring industrial overcapacity, widespread speculative and inefficient investment, and slowing foreign capital inflows are all weighing heavily on prices. That risks setting off a debilitating deflationary cycle in the world’s second-largest economy, similar to the “lost decades” experienced by Japan under similar – but not identical – circumstances that began in the 1990s, in which inexorable price declines discouraged investment.

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“We have systematically given away the tools. Regulations of any kind are now scorned. Governments no longer create tough rules that limit oil companies and other corporations. This crisis fell into our laps in a disastrous way at the worst possible moment.”

Naomi Klein: ‘The Economic System We Have Created Global Warming’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, why aren’t people able to stop climate change?
Klein: Bad luck. Bad timing. Many unfortunate coincidences.

SPIEGEL: The wrong catastrophe at the wrong moment?
Klein: The worst possible moment. The connection between greenhouse gases and global warming has been a mainstream political issue for humanity since 1988. It was precisely the time that the Berlin Wall fell and Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History,” the victory of Western capitalism. Canada and the US signed the first free-trade agreement, which became the prototype for the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: So you’re saying that a new era of consumption and energy use began precisely at the moment when sustainability and restraint would have been more appropriate?
Klein: Exactly. And it was at precisely this moment that we were also being told that there was no longer any such thing as social responsibility and collective action, that we should leave everything to the market. We privatized our railways and the energy grid, the WTO and the IMF locked in an unregulated capitalism. Unfortunately, this led to an explosion in emissions.

SPIEGEL: You’re an activist, and you’ve blamed capitalism for all kinds of things over the years. Now you’re blaming it for climate change too?
Klein: That’s no reason for irony. The numbers tell the story. During the 1990s, emissions went up by 1 percent per year. Starting in 2000, they started to go up by an average of 3.4 percent. The American Dream was exported globally and consumer goods that we thought of as essential to meet our needs expanded rapidly. We started seeing ourselves exclusively as consumers. When shopping as a way of life is exported to every corner of the globe, that requires energy. A lot of energy.

SPIEGEL: Let’s go back to our first question: Why have people been unable to stop this development?
Klein: We have systematically given away the tools. Regulations of any kind are now scorned. Governments no longer create tough rules that limit oil companies and other corporations. This crisis fell into our laps in a disastrous way at the worst possible moment. Now we’re out of time. Where we are right now is a do-or-die moment. If we don’t act as a species, our future is in peril. We need to cut emissions radically.

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In what way is that a question? How is it possible it is still asked?

Is Capitalism Destroying Our Planet? (Spiegel)

Humans are full of contradictions, including the urge to destroy things they love. Like our planet. Take Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Like everyone living Down Under, he’s extremely proud of his country’s wonder of the world, the Great Barrier Reef. At the same time, though, Abbott believes that burning coal is “good for humanity,” even though it produces greenhouse gases that ultimately make our world’s oceans warmer, stormier and more acidic. In recent years, Australia has exported more coal than any other country in the world. And the reef, the largest living organism on the planet, is dying. Half of the corals that make up the reef are, in fact, already dead.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also wants the best for his country and is loathe to see it damaged by droughts, cyclones and storm surges. Nevertheless, he is planning on doubling India’s coal production by 2019 in addition to importing more coal from Australia. It is necessary to do so, he says, to help his country’s poor. India is already the third largest producer of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States. But climate change is altering the monsoon season, with both flooding and drought becoming more common.
And who would accuse the majority of US Senators of being insensitive to the extreme shortage of water afflicting California? Yet the law-making body recently brushed aside everything science has learned about global warming and voted down two measures that attributed the phenomenon to human activity.

For Americans and foreign tourists alike, California is a magical place, famous for Yosemite National Park, its Pacific coastline, its golden light. The state also grows around a third of all US produce. For now. An historic drought that has been ongoing for over three years has forced farmers to abandon their fields and to slaughter their animals. Since 1880, when global temperatures began to be systematically collected, no year has been warmer than 2014. The 15 warmest years, with one single exception, have come during the first 15 years of the new millennium. Indeed, it has become an open question as to whether global warming can be stopped anymore – or at least limited as policymakers have called for. Is capitalism ultimately responsible for the problem, or could it actually help to solve it?

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Crazy tale.

Nestle Pays $2.25 to Bottle and Sell a Million Litres of BC Water (Tyee)

Have you ever paid $2.25 for a bottle of water? Of course, and you can pay a lot more than that if you go to a Vancouver Canucks game, a concert, movie theatre or restaurant. So what if you could pay $2.25 not for a 500-millilitre bottle, not for a big office cooler full, but for 1 million litres of water? Sounds ridiculous given the retail price, but that’s the unbelievably low rate the BC Liberal government has given to giant multinational firm Nestle and others to extract fresh, clean groundwater to bottle and sell for exorbitant profits. The price is so outrageous I have to repeat it. Nestle Waters Canada pays the province just $2.25 for every million litres of water. The total estimated price of all the water Nestle will bottle in B.C. over an entire year is – wait for it – $562 a year!

That’s an improvement, if you can believe it, because until recently they got it all for free. It must be nice to have an endless supply of potable water, where you can take as much as you like, sell it for an enormous profit, and pay a pittance for its use. Unfortunately, I must confess a terrible sin: I drink bottled water regularly, and mostly Nestle products. I pay about 50 cents a bottle. I know I should be drinking tap water in the metal refillable container that is currently gathering dust on a shelf in my house, but it’s so darn convenient to throw multiple bottles of Nestle water in my office and home fridges and pop them in my car when I head out.

Don’t bother lecturing me – at least I’m drinking healthy water and hydrating myself – but this farce makes me rethink my willingness to line their pockets. I feel apologetic, but Nestle doesn’t. “We’re investing millions of dollars in that plant. We employ 75 people [and] we pay millions of dollars in taxes,” said Nestle spokesman John Challinor in 2013. Cry me a river. And at $2.25 per million litres, they can bloody well afford it.

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Farrell’s in a league of his own. I’m pretty sure he’s also the guy in UP.

Stock-Market Crash Of 2016: The Countdown Begins (Paul B. Farrell)

It’s time to start the countdown to the crash of 2016. No, this is not a prediction of a minor correction. Plan on a 50% crash. Most investors don’t want to hear the countdown, will tune out. Basic psychology. They’ll keep charging ahead with a bullish battle cry, about how the Nasdaq will keep climbing relentlessly to a new record above 5,048 … smiling as they remember reading that a whopping 73 companies are now in the Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Start-up Club, with Uber ($41 billion), SpaceX ($12 billion) and Snapchat ($10 billion). Hearts race even faster reading in Bloomberg BusinessWeek that “China’s IPO Boom Mints Billionaires” and Jack Ma’s Alibaba fortune is now valued at $35.1 billion. Yes, technology IPOs are in the lead, and with all that good news, it’s easy to understand why investors tune out, don’t want to hear the warnings, no countdown to the 2016 crash.

But the crash of 2016 really is coming. Dead ahead. Maybe not till we get a bit closer to the presidential election cycle of 2016. But a crash is a sure bet, it’s guaranteed certain: Complete with echoes of the 2008 crash, which impacted on the GOP election results, triggering a $10 trillion loss of market cap … like the 1999 dot-com collapse, it’s post-millennium loss of $8 trillion market cap, plus a 30-month recession … moreover a lot like the 1929 crash and the long depression that followed. Plus cycles theorists warn that we dodged a crash in 2012-2013, thanks to the Fed’s stimulus and cheap-money polities. Or rather delayed it, which adds more power to the next one. Why not sooner, you ask? Why not in 2015? Yes, Mark Hulbert’s already warned that the “stock market risk is higher today than it was in the dot-com era.” Yes, a dip is possible. MarketWatch’s Sue Chang writes of a 10%-20% stock-market correction by July.

But we also know markets are typically up the third year of a presidency. So if no crash is in the cards this year, then why bother with warnings and a countdown? Why bother building up the 2016 elections with lots of dark early warning signs, and doom-and-gloom warnings for the next 18 months? Why? Simple, behavioral economists have long been telling us that investors will either choose to stay in denial till it’s too late, never having learned the lessons of history when the market collapsed in 2008, 2000 or 1929, when they collectively lost trillions. Or we know some investors really do want to heed the warnings, so they can plan ahead, avoid big losses, and take advantage of opportunities later, at the bottom.

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Falciani deserves far more attention than he gets. Far more.

Together We Can Stop The Big Tax Evaders (Hervè Falciani via Beppe Grillo.it)

Blog: What are the Falciani lists?”
Hervè Falciani: Above all they are clues gathered over many years that enable us to check up on the HSBC Bank: a prime example of an International offshore bank, one of the largest in the world, and that explains the workings of this network of banks that currently operate in the shadows and are hiding half of the world’s debt. That’s a fact. Half of the interest we are paying goes into the coffers of these banks.

Blog: After the scandal you have raised, what’s next?
Hervè Falciani: There are many little things to be done that will have a huge effect. For example, how the banks are controlled. The current controls are ineffective because the very people who are paid to do the controlling are controlling those that pay them. To avoid this we have to add something more to the control systems of the firms that do the controlling, namely members of the public. This will change everything! We will be able to put the fear of God into those that organise these tax evasion schemes within the banks and furthermore we will also be able to get our hands on information that is hidden.

The biggest problem we have is with politics that are unhelpful and often there are major conflicts of interest. The Directors are the very same businessmen that don’t pay their taxes. We have seen many examples of this. These days, when we talk about an archive dedicated to politicians, journalists, magistrates and even members of the public, it means that this archive will store traces of who does something and who doesn’t. That’s exactly what we are doing with this HSBC case and all the other cases too. The history of these traces will enable the public to use it whenever in order to change things since it is based on fact in a scientific manner.

Blog: Is there someone who has helped you in the past and is still helping you at the moment?
Hervè Falciani: There are various fields. For a number of years we have been working with the 5-Star Movement to explain things and point out where action must be taken. The 5-Star Movement’s programme is going in the very direction that is needed, in other words, how to implement these basic principles. That’s why I have always insisted, and continue to insist on the little things that will have a major effect. For example, the banks’ hearings on the control of citizens is something that is already included in the 5SM’s programme. As a matter of fact, we have already had the pleasure of starting to work with a number of 5-Star Movement’s deputies to do just that! To ensure implementation with little effort and thereby achieve huge results.

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The confusion inherent in both use of terminology and in pre-conceived notions is deafening. You reach the point where nothing means anything anymore.

Keynes And The Puzzle Of Falling Prices (Skidelsky)

In 1923, John Maynard Keynes addressed a fundamental economic question that remains valid today. “[I]nflation is unjust and deflation is inexpedient,” he wrote. “Of the two perhaps deflation is … the worse; because it is worse…to provoke unemployment than to disappoint the rentier. But it is not necessary that we should weigh one evil against the other.” The logic of the argument seems irrefutable. Because many contracts are “sticky” (that is, not easily revised) in monetary terms, inflation and deflation would both inflict damage on the economy. Rising prices reduce the value of savings and pensions, while falling prices reduce profit expectations, encourage hoarding, and increase the real burden of debt.

Keynes’s dictum has become the ruling wisdom of monetary policy (one of his few to survive). Governments, according to the conventional wisdom, should aim for stable prices, with a slight bias toward inflation to stimulate the “animal spirits” of businessmen and shoppers. In the 10 years prior to the 2008 financial crisis, independent central banks set an inflation target of about 2%, in order to provide economies with a price-stability “anchor”. There should be no expectation that prices would be allowed to deviate, except temporarily, from the target. Uncertainty relating to the future course of prices would be eliminated from business calculations.

Since 2008, the Federal Reserve Board and the European Central Bank have failed to meet the 2% inflation target in any year; the Bank of England (BoE) has been on target in only one year out of seven. Moreover, in 2015, prices in the United States, the eurozone, and the United Kingdom are set to fall. So what is left of the inflation anchor? And what do falling prices mean for economic recovery? The first thing to bear in mind is that the “anchor” was always as flimsy as the monetary theory on which it was based. The price level at any time is the result of many factors, of which monetary policy is perhaps the least important. Today, the collapse in the price of crude oil is probably the most significant factor driving inflation below target, just as in 2011 it was the rise in oil prices that drove it above target.

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Beacuse our societies have long preferred quantity over quality in a trillion ways (pun intended).

We’re Living Longer, Yes, But Why Not Healthier? (MarketWatch)

I often say that Americans are getting healthier and living longer. The living-longer part I am sure about. Life expectancy for men at 65 increased from 15.9 years to 18.3 years between the 2000 and 2014 reports issued by the Social Security Trustees. It’s true that virtually all the gains in life expectancy accrued to the better-educated, better-paid portion of the population, but the bottom line is that—on average—we are living longer. All the demographers agree this trend will continue; the only question is how fast life expectancy will continue to increase.

Given the improvement in life expectancy, I thought that people would report that they felt healthier. That does not appear to be the case. Since the early 1970s, the National Health Interview Survey has asked the question: “Would you say your health in general is excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?” A response of fair or poor is an indication of serious problems and is correlated with subsequent mortality. Pooling data for four time periods (1974-76, 1994-96, 2004-06, and 2011-13) shows a big decline in the percentage of respondents with fair or poor health between 1974-76 and 1994-96, then very little improvement thereafter (as the graph at the top of the column shows). Data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which includes an identical question, shows a clustering of responses from the mid-1990s through today.

Moreover, the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the gold standard for anyone examining the behavior of older Americans, presents a similar picture. The HRS follows people 50 and older, interviewing them every two years. The first group was interviewed in 1992, and additional cohorts have been added over time. Participants in the HRS are also asked to classify their health as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor. As the graph below indicates, the percentage of men between the ages of 55 and 65 classifying their health as fair or poor has remained virtually unchanged between 1994-1996 and 2010-12. Several other indicators, such as incidence of various diseases, also suggest little improvement in health. Interestingly, in contrast to the NHIS and the CPS, the percentage of HRS respondents reporting fair or poor health does not increase with age.

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Wow: “..when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy.”

New Theory Could Prove How Life Began – And Has God ‘On The Ropes’ (Ind.)

A new theory could answer the question of how life began – and throw out the need for God. A writer on the website of Richard Dawkins’ foundation says that the theory has put God “on the ropes” and has “terrified” Christians. It proposes that life did not emerge by accident or luck from a primordial soup and a bolt of lightning. Instead, life itself came about by necessity – it follows from the laws of nature and is as inevitable as rocks rolling downhill. The problem for scientists attempting to understand how life began is understanding how living beings – which tend to be far better at taking energy from the environment and dissipating it as heat – could come about from non-living ones. But a new theory, proposed by a researcher at MIT and first reported in Quanta Magazine, proposes that when a group of atoms is exposed for a long time to a source of energy, it will restructure itself to dissipate more energy.

The emergence of life might not be the luck of atoms arranging themselves in the right way, it says, but an inevitable event if the conditions are correct. “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said. Paul Rosenberg, writing this week on Richard Dawkins’ site, said that the theory could make things “a whole lot worse for creationists”. As Rosenberg notes, the idea that life could have evolved from non-living things is one that has been held for some time, and was described by the pre-Socratic philosophers. But England’s theory marks the first time that has been convincingly proposed since Darwin, and is backed by mathematical research and a proposal that can be put to the test.

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Dec 092014
 
 December 9, 2014  Posted by at 8:04 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


DPC North approach, Pedro Miguel Lock, Panama Canal 1915

And on the Seventh Day, God sold his shares? What do you think, is He short the market? Short oil? Oil does look up a tad, but then the dollar lost about a percent vs the euro, so that definitely feels like a headfake from where I’m sitting. The dollar lost more vs the euro than oil gained against the dollar. Gold and silver have somewhat more solid looking gains, but that’s against the same feverish buck, so what does it really mean? We’ll have to wait and see.

Now, be honest, who’s getting nervous yet? WTI oil yesterday fell 4.5% and tumbled through $63. $63, brother, you remember when it was $80 and you were thinking wow, that’s a long way down? That’s when you took that suit to the cleaners, and that feels like just yesterday, don’t it, and here we are, it’s down another 20%+. Anyone worried about their Christmas bonuses yet? New Year’s?

The central-bank-propped-up stock exchanges didn’t even like what they saw anymore either yesterday, let alone today. Greece down -13%, Shanghai -5.4%, Argentina -7.1%, Europe on average -2.5%. And that’s on a weak dollar day… Think we’ll have a lot of those days? Think God is short the greenback?

Is oil going to break the whole facade? What do YOU think? You think that maybe we’ve had enough of this charade? Is this the one God, let alone the Yellens and Draghis on this planet can’t manipulate from their comfy seats? The Fed can buy Exxon and Conoco, and Draghi can try and support Shell and BP, or maybe the Bank of England should, but oil is a global thing, it’s not like Treasuries or Greek debt that you can just buy a $1 trillion handful of every week or so.

But maybe God found a way to keep some more of the stuff in the ground. Who was it again that said nature developed man only to get rid of a carbon imbalance on the planet, to get it out of the soil and back into the atmosphere?

God’s representatives on earth anno 2014, central bankers, can’t control oil anymore than they can consumer spending. Anything else, they’re fine. But that makes them weak, it’s their Achilles heel, the things they can’t control. It didn’t used to be that way, but today central bankers are like movie stars. Exactly because they did everything they could to keep asset prices up. These days, you never leave home without one. Or as the Rolling Stones put it 40 years ago (when central banking was something entirely different from what it is now):

When your spine is cracking and your hands, they shake
Heart is bursting and you butt’s gonna break
Your woman’s cussing, you can hear her scream
You feel like murder in the first degree

Ain’t nobody slowing down no way
Everybody’s stepping on their accelerator crude oil tanker
Don’t matter where you are
Everybody’s gonna need a ventilator central banker

US Thanksgiving weekend spending was down 11%, and movie theatre box office no less than 20%. Sure online sales and Netflix went up a notch, but come on, a 16 year low Thanksgiving box office and the second installment of the Hunger Games trailing 25% behind the first, how does that spell recovery to you? Think God liked part 1 that much better?

Americans, like everybody else, are down and out. Their spines are cracking and their hands are shaking, and they don’t have a central banker on their side. Their central banker has sold all she could to the ‘other side’, and now she has no choice but to let oil prices kill millions of jobs, unless somehow an actual supply and demand market rises from its zombie state, the same market she has been very complicit in killing off.

If you don’t have real markets, and nobody knows anymore what anything’s worth, the only thing left to drive the financial world is herd mentality. Lemmings have that too. The world is going to regret letting Yellen et al destroy the market principle, and price discovery. Capitalism as a system cannot possibly work without price discovery. It leads to the few making out – literally – like bandits in the night, to the many left with nothing but debt, and to imploding societies.

Oil is the one substance that can make them implode. Because our entire societies are built on it. And from it, too. The industry that drives it, drives everything. And bringing down its revenues by 40% and falling will break that industry, and the society it designed and built. When oil was briefly at $40 in 2008, that was less of a factor, because their was some resilience still left in the whole global economic make-up. Today, it’s whole different story.

The American miracle idea of energy independence is fully reliant on a shale patch that went over $100 billion deeper into debt every year for years running just to produce that not-so-miracle. Take away 40%+ of what revenue it did take in, and there is no independence left. All that’s left is fracking fluids in your drinking water, and a few trillion in debt that the Big Kahuna lenders will seek to unload upon the real economy.

Oil prices at some point will rise again, but by then, and when is anyone’s guess, the price fall we see today may have done so much damage to the very structure of our economies that far fewer people will be able to afford it.

Those box office and holiday sales numbers are only a first red flag for where we’re going. As are the snap elections in Greece (spinned by Brussels) and Japan: incumbents who feel they have an edge for now, and decide to grab the opportunity.

It’s panic and fear and most of all it’s volatility. That’s our foreland. A weaker dollar for a day, which lets oil prices breath a little, which in turn lets gold sit pretty while it lasts. Tomorrow could be very different all over again. But most of all, looking at the trend in a wider context, this means a whole lot more trouble for the 95% of people who live in the real economy. Much much more. There’s nobody left to protect them from anything at all that goes on. They’ve been sold out to the highest bidder and the lowest common denominator.

And they can pray to God, but I hear he might be shorting them too.

Nov 202014
 
 November 20, 2014  Posted by at 10:10 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Colored drivers entrance, U.S. 1, NY Avenue, Washington, DC Jun 1940

It’s funny how things roll at times. When I wrote yesterday’s Making Money While The World Burns, and quoted Hugh Hendry, one of my heroes – well, close, he’s not Ali, but I love the man for his brain -, I hesitated, but thought his words were a great way to start a discussion on what people do when faced with certain conundrums. I certainly never meant to attack Hugh, though words can always be construed to mean things they were not meant to mean.

David Stockman picked up the essay (Jim Kunstler told me to use that word) and retitled it Making Money While The World Burns – The Troubling Case Of Hugh Hendry. Bless David for all the great work he does, and I would never even suggest he shouldn’t add that bit, that’s entirely his prerogative, but I myself would never call Hugh Hendry a ‘troubling case’.

I merely wanted to get a discussion going, and maybe to get people thinking about what they choose and why. Not to judge anyone, who am I to do that, but to get people to ask why they act the way they do, and what it is that makes them tick.

If I would want to judge anyone, it would be the politicians and central bankers who pretend they serve the public and then turn on a dime and screw that same public. Hugh Hendry doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not. However, I can still ask questions about why he chooses to do what he does, and use that as a mirror, for lack of a better term, to gauge where I stand, what I think, and put that out there for my readers.

But I’m not Hugh Hendry, I’m not a hedge-fund manager, and I don’t morally judge people or tell them what to do and what not. That would be like starting a religion, separating right from wrong for other people, and I have no design on that. I’ll admit I thought about that religion thing in the past, but that was because it seemed the greatest way to get girls, not because I want to tell anyone what to think or do. As things went, I started a band, and that worked just fine, thank you very much.

Short story long, Zero Hedge’s Tyler Durden today posted a video and text excerpts of Hugh explaining his mindset, and included snippets of my ‘essay’, saying “Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a different perspective on Hendry’s change of tack”. And I don’t even know that I do. I’m just less focused on the short term, and the potential financial profits involved, than Hugh is. As I said yesterday, I think about the 50% increase in homeless kids in the States and the 50%+ jobless rates in southern Europe, and wonder if that justifies the drive for monetary profits.

But that’s just me. And I find it curious enough that that moral divide is never being breached in all the stuff I read every single day. It seems so obvious to ask that question. But that’s not the same as saying I judge Hugh Hendry, or anyone else, for not bringing it up, let alone living up to any conclusions I draw from it for myself. If there’s anything we need around here, it’s independent minds and neurons, not identical replicas.

So, Hugh talks about how he was a ‘bear’ and saw the error of his ways and is now a bull. But that’s just in as far as his ‘duties’ towards his hedge-fund clients are concerned. It doesn’t say anything about his longer term expectations. Which, I venture, have not changed, but merely been relocated to more remote locations of his – pretty brilliant – mind. And the gist of my question is, I guess, how other people process that short vs longer term divergence, if they are smart enough to see what Hugh does.

What Hugh Hendry implies that he got ‘wrong’ is that a few years ago, he saw, and understood, what was happening, and acted on it. And it’s not that he misunderstood, but that his acting on it did not garner the short-term profits he claims he’s tasked with making – as a fund manager -.

Because the financial system – as Hugh knows – may be screwed three ways to Sunday, but central banks have prevented it from showing its – fatal – injuries, by dressing it in layer upon layer of gauge and band-aids made of and paid for by the real economy’s present and – especially – future wealth and labor.

In the end that means you’re making money off of other people’s misery, be it in the present or the future. And that is a stark choice. In my view. If an economy stops growing, the only profit opportunities left involve taking something away from someone. Obviously, there’s tons of people who’ll swear our economy is still growing, but they’ll find neither yours truly nor Hugh Hendry in their camp.

Here’s Tyler Durden’s piece, with Hugh Hendry video and partial transcript:

Hugh Hendry Live 1: “It Felt Like The Sun Only Rose To Humiliate Me”

In the first of three interviews with MoneyWeek’s Merryn Somerset Webb, Hugh Hendry, manager of the Eclectica Fund, talks about what it takes to be a good hedge fund manager – and how he learned to stop worrying and love central banks. Key excerpts (click link above for full transcript):

MSW: What makes a successful hedge-fund manager and whether you are, under that definition, a successful manager.

Hendry: I think I’ve always answered that question by relating back to the ability to conceive of a contentious posture. I think if I was to quote from Fight Club, I think there’s a famous saying “Would you rather…” my children would say ,“Would you rather upset God or have God just ignore you?” There’s a degree to which being a successful macro-manager is upsetting, not only God, but to the rest of the world, if you will. By being out there with the articulation of qualitatively intelligent argument, which just isn’t shared by the majority. But which can stand the test of time and come to actually define the future. That is what global macro is all about.

With regard to language the notion of ‘bullish’ and ‘bearish’, I think, does an injustice to the complexity of the arguments that are necessary to construct a global macro hedge fund. I think if I had my time again, I would have been saying that we’re actually, perhaps, guilty of the misconstruing of a bull market in equities, for what is actually the ongoing degradation in the soundness of the fiat monetary system. I think that’s what I was trying to say.

MSW: You had given in to a bull market that you had refused to accept previously.

Hendry: The last time I was really angry was late 2010-2011. Where the market, in its wisdom, had yet to configure the changing economic landscape, and it was perceiving that the economy in Europe and elsewhere was recovering. I thought that was just insane, that we weren’t capturing the kind of deflationary zeitgeist that was approaching. I have to say when I look back in the last three years it feels as if the sun only rose each day to humiliate me after that point.[..]

But the mea culpa, that I think is very necessary in that I found myself unable to forgive the Federal Reserve and the other central banks for, if you will, bailing out Wall Street from the excess of 2008. I just couldn’t get over it. I luxuriated in the polemics of Marc Faber and James Grant and Nassim Taleb, in our own country, Albert Edwards, et al. I luxuriated as they ranted and it was fine for them to rant. But I am charged with the responsibility of making money and not being some moral guardian and certainly not a moral curmudgeon. I had to get over that. So again, back to my infamous letter of last year.

That was cathartic for me to say “You know what? I get it.” I think if we’re going to try and explain the qualitative arguments behind why we are more receptive to the notion of not only left tails where markets can fall, but the right-hand tail of the expression, where markets can actually continue to rise if not to accelerate. [..] So I really feel very, very isolated from their view of the world. Arguably, we’re talking about the here and now and the future’s a long time. But in the future, I’m sure our paths can converge once more.

MSW: Why do you think that [macro funds] as whole is failing to make money? What’s going on there?

Hendry: I can reflect on my own difficulties, if you will. What I’ve found is that macro is distinguished, I believe, by superior risk control. It’s almost analogous to a disaster insurance programme. In 2008, all the good macro managers, they made you money. That’s what you pay them for. The world became profoundly unsettling and you cashed in your insurance policy. Today, I question the relevancy of that disaster insurance. In a world where the central banks seem to have your back, seem to be underwriting risks and global asset prices, do you require that intense scrutiny of risk?

MSW: So your basic point here is that if the central banks have your back, there’s no need to have the same kind of risk controls that you used to have.

Hendry: There is less need. Less need. I tell you, I was at a conference with some of the great and the good global macro managers in September in New York and I asked them all the question, “If the S&P is down 12% what do you do? Are you selling more or are you buying?” Guess what? They’re all buying. So the central banks have created a behavioural tic which is becoming self-reinforcing and I believe we saw another manifestation of that behaviour in October.

But Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a different perspective on Hendry’s change of tack…

Hendry, I think, is as bearish (or negative) about the – future of the – world as he has been for a long time, only he’s decided to see things from his fund manager point of view, and to ride the crest of the waves the central banks have tsunamied towards our shores. He’s chosen to make a buck off of them waves, even as he’s aware of the damage they’ll will do once they hit land. In the exact same way as a surfer who sees a tsunami as merely a set of great waves to ride on. And, no value judgment involved, but that’s not what I see.

He sees the world going to hell in a handbasket (and Hendry recognizes that very much, that’s not why he shifted gears from bear to bull) and his response is to grab as much money and wealth as he can (for his investors … ). [..]

Hugh Hendry sees the world in an extremely bearish way, he sees hell, the handbasket, brimstone and far worse. But he wants to profit – in name of his investors (?!) – from the very mechanism that drives the world there: the power central banks and governments have been allotted, and the way they use it to protect the interests of investors, banks, insurance companies and uber rich individuals, all at the expense of booting the 90% who make up the real world and the real economy, ever deeper into the mud.

Seeking to profit from that is a choice. Hendry makes it, and so do many others, even many inside the 90%. Who mistakenly dream they’ll be able to hold on to those profits (they’ll wake up yet, and wish they had before). The whole idea of scraping out what you can before the tsunami hits is not my thing.

I don’t think Hugh Hendry and I see the world through hugely different eyes at all. It’s just that since I don’t have uber rich clients I tell myself I need to make even richer, I have the liberty to wonder what Hendry’s choices mean for the bottom layers of society. And yes, I also think that societies cease to function if the poor get too poor. Not very Hobbesian or Darwinian, am I?

By all means, let’s keep the conversation going, and let everyone decide for him-her-self where (s)he stands. Hugh Hendry thinks in money terms, and I tend to feel that’s a waste of a brilliant mind. But that’s not a judgment. It’s merely a question. And a pretty well defined one at that: Is a brilliant mind better engaged making money for the rich or trying to alleviate the sorrows of the poor? I can’t answer that for you.

Nov 202014
 
 November 20, 2014  Posted by at 12:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Truck service station on US 1, NY Avenue, Washington DC Jun 1940

Growth Isn’t God in Indonesia (Bloomberg)
Federal Reserve In Easy Decision To End Stimulus (BBC)
Fed Debate Shifts to Tightening Pace After First Rate Increase (Bloomberg)
The Only Thing More Bullish Than Inflation Is …. Deflation (Zero Hedge)
Cheap-Oil Era Tilts Geopolitical Power to US (Bloomberg)
Oil Industry Risks Trillions Of ‘Stranded Assets’ On US-China Climate Deal (AEP)
Iron Ore’s Massive Expansion Era Is Finished: BHP Billiton (Bloomberg)
China’s Factory Activity Stalls In November (CNBC)
Distressed Debt in China? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (Bloomberg)
The Yen Looks Like It’s Ready To Get Crushed (CNBC)
BOJ Warns Abe Over “Fiscal Responsibility” While Monetizing All Debt (ZH)
Why UK Needs ‘Radical’ Change As Exports Fall (CNBC)
Michael Pettis: Spain Needs to Debate Leaving the Euro (Mish)
Eurozone PMI Falls To 16-Month Low In November (MarketWatch)
French Manufacturing Slump Deepens as Economic Weakness Persists (Bloomberg)
Pressure Mounts for EU Crackdown on Tax Havens (Spiegel)
Senator Slaps Plan For Low-Down-Payment Loans At Fannie, Freddie (MarketWatch)
Junk-Bond Banking Boom Peaks as Firms Drop off Deal List (Bloomberg)
Goldman Fires Staff For Alleged NY Fed Breach (FT)
Banking Industry Culture Promotes Dishonesty, Research Finds (Guardian)
New International Gang Of Thieves Make Somali Pirates Look Like Amateurs (Black)

Is there still hope and sanity in the world?

Growth Isn’t God in Indonesia (Bloomberg)

Joko Widodo’s rise from nowhere to Jakarta governor and then the presidential palace showed the wonders of Indonesia’s democracy. Now, he wants to democratize the economy as well, focusing as much on the quality of growth as the quantity. Sixteen years ago, Indonesia was cascading toward failed statehood. In 1998, as riots forced dictator Suharto from office, many wrote off the world’s fourth-most populous nation. Today, Indonesia is a stable economy growing modestly at 5%, with quite realistic hopes of more. There’s plenty for Widodo, known by his nickname “Jokowi,” to worry about, of course. Indonesia still ranks behind Egypt in corruption and near Ethiopia in ease-of-doing-business surveys. More than 40% of the nation’s 250 million people lives on less than $2 a day.

A dearth of decent roads makes it more cost-effective to ship goods to China than across the archipelago. Retrograde attitudes abound: to this day, female police recruits are subjected to humiliating virginity tests. But this week, Jokowi reminded us why Indonesia is a good-news story — one from which Asian peers could learn. His move to cut fuel subsidies, saving a cash-strapped nation more than $11 billion in its 2015 budget, showed gumption and cheered investors. Even more encouraging is a bold agenda focusing not just on faster growth, but better growth that’s felt among more than Jakarta elites. This might seem like an obvious focus in a region that’s home to a critical mass of the world’s extreme poor (those living on $1 or $2 a day).

But grand rhetoric about “inclusive growth” hasn’t even come close to meeting the reality on the ground. In India, for example, newish Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasts that he will return gross domestic product to the glory days of double-digit growth rates, as if the metric mattered more than what his government plans to do with the windfall. The “Cult of GDP,” the dated idea that booming growth lifts all boats, has long been decried by development economists like William Easterly. The closer growth gets to 10%, the more likely governments are to declare victory and grow complacent. In many cases rapid GDP growth masks serious economic cracks. In her recent book, “GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History,” Diane Coyle called the figure a “familiar piece of jargon that doesn’t actually mean much to most people.”

Read more …

Janet Yellen lives in virtual reality.

Federal Reserve In Easy Decision To End Stimulus (BBC)

Although the US Federal Reserve was worried about turmoil in emerging markets, the central bank reached an easy consensus to end its stimulus programme, its latest minutes reveal. Minutes from the central bank’s October meeting show officials were concerned about stock market fluctuations and weakness abroad. However, they worried that saying so could send the wrong message. Overall, officials were confident the US economy was on a strong footing. That is why they decided to end their stimulus programme – known as quantitative easing (QE) – in which the Fed bought bonds in order to keep long-term interest rates low and thus boost spending. “In their discussion of the asset purchase programme, members generally agreed … there was sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing progress toward maximum employment,” read the minutes, referring to the decision to end QE. US markets reacted in a muted way to the news, with the Dow Jones briefly rising before falling once more into the red for the day.

However, to reassure markets that the Fed would not deviate from its set course, the central bank decided to keep its “considerable time” language in reference to when the Fed would raise its short term interest rate. That interest rate – known as the federal funds rate – has been at 0% since late 2008, when the Fed slashed rates in the wake of the financial crisis. Most observers expect that the bank will begin raising that rate in the middle of 2015, mostly in an effort to keep inflation in check as the US recovery gathers steam. However, US Fed chair Janet Yellen has sought to reassure market participants that the bank will not act in haste and remains willing to change its timeline should economic conditions deteriorate in the US. The minutes also show that the Fed is still concerned about possibly lower-than-expected inflation, particularly as oil prices continue to decline and wage growth remains sluggish.

Read more …

They’re going to do it. Screw the real economy, it’s dead anyway.

Fed Debate Shifts to Tightening Pace After First Rate Increase (Bloomberg)

U.S. central bankers are weighing whether they should communicate more of their views about the probable pace of interest-rate increases after they lift off zero next year. “A number of participants thought that it could soon be helpful to clarify the committee’s likely approach” to the pace of increases, according to minutes of the Oct. 28-29 Federal Open Market Committee meeting released today in Washington. The discussion last month underscored how much officials will rely on forward guidance on the pace of tightening in the future. After bond purchases ended last month, guidance may be the most practical option left to assure investors that policy won’t become overly restrictive if officials decide to take a stand against inflation seen as too low. The pace of rate increases is “going to be slow until they are really convinced that inflation’s sustainably at target and the labor market’s in really, really good shape,” said Guy Berger, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities. “They are going to take their sweet time.”

The minutes showed that many FOMC participants last month felt the committee should stay on the lookout for signs that inflation expectations were declining. Declining expectations could herald an actual fall in prices. Such deflation does economic damage by encouraging consumers to delay spending in anticipation of lower prices in the future. The potency of the first rate increase could be diminished or increased, depending on what the FOMC says about how it views its subsequent moves, said Laura Rosner, U.S. economist at BNP Paribas SA in New York. “It isn’t just the timing of liftoff the Fed cares about, but the whole path of federal funds rate,” said Rosner, a former New York Fed staff member. “I think they do probably want to limit the extent of tightening that people expect, at least at the beginning.” While telegraphing the future rate path may be attractive to some officials, it may also be unpopular with those, such as Chair Janet Yellen, who recall the Fed’s experience in 2004 with language saying the pace of increases would be “measured.”

Read more …

“Positioning for a deflationary boom is a binary event.”

The Only Thing More Bullish Than Inflation Is …. Deflation (Zero Hedge)

Deflation. And not just deflation, but a deflationary bust! At least, such is the goalseeked logic of Cornerstone Marco, which has released a bullish (no really) note titled the Coming Deflationary Boom in the U.S. In it the authors throw in the towel on the most conventional concept in modern economics, namely that for growth one needs stable inflation which in turn causes earnings growth and is low enough not to pressure multiples too high. Well, according to the BLS’ hedonic adjustments and courtesy of Japan’s epic exporting of deflation, inflation is nowhere to be seen (except if one eats pork or beef, or drinks milks), so it is time to give ye olde paragidm shift a try. The paradigm that the only thing more bullish for stocks than inflation, is deflation. To wit:

The concept of a deflationary boom is a controversial one in economics. Truth be told it will not work in every economy. Indeed, a prerequisite for this to unfold is an economy driven by consumers. In that sense, it does not get more consumer-centric than the US. The second, and necessary, condition calls for a major decline in commodity prices ideally compounded by a strong currency to provide the fuel for growth. In essence, a decline in commodity and import prices creates disposable income the same way the Fed Funds rate cuts used to a decade ago.

Positioning for a deflationary boom is a binary event. After all, “deflationary” implies that stocks levered to lower inflation will have a powerful tailwind, these are what we like to call early cyclicals such as consumer, transports and other similar segments. Meanwhile, the “boom” part of the story implies that segments levered to growth, US growth in this case, also find a tailwinds. This should help the beleaguered financials to a better year in 2015 and also provides support for sectors like technology and some of the industrials. As we see it, “deflation” is going to become the operative word on the street … that and PE expansion since they typically go hand in hand. As always, we shall see.

Indeed we shall. Then again the only thing we will see is how every time there is deflation somewhere in the world, one after another central bank somewhere will admit its only mandate is to keep stocks at record highs and inject a few trillion in risk-purchasing power into what was once called a market.

Read more …

Wait till shale implodes, then we can talk again.

Cheap-Oil Era Tilts Geopolitical Power to US (Bloomberg)

A new age of abundant and cheap energy supplies is redrawing the world’s geopolitical landscape, weakening and potentially threatening the legitimacy of some governments while enhancing the power of others. Some changes already are evident. Surging U.S. oil production enabled America and its allies to impose tough sanctions on Iran without having to worry much about the loss of imports from the Middle Eastern nation. Russia, meanwhile, faces what President Vladimir Putin called a possibly “catastrophic” slump in prices for its oil as its economy is battered by U.S. and European sanctions over its role in Ukraine. “A new era of lower prices is being ushered in” by the U.S. shale oil and gas revolution, Ed Morse, global head of commodities research for Citigroup, said in an e-mail.

“Undoubtedly some of the geopolitical changes will be momentous.” They certainly were a quarter of a century ago. Plunging oil prices in the latter half of the 1980s helped pave the way for the breakup of the Soviet Union by robbing it of revenue it needed to survive. The depressed market also may have influenced Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade fellow producer Kuwait in 1990, triggering the first Gulf War. Russia again looks likely to suffer from the fallout in oil markets, along with Iran and Venezuela, while the U.S. and China come out ahead. Oil is “the most geopolitically important commodity,” said Reva Bhalla, vice president of global analysis at Stratfor.

“It drives economies around the world” and is located in some “usually very volatile places.” Benchmark oil prices in New York have dropped more than 30% during the last five months to around $75 a barrel as U.S. crude production reached the highest in more than three decades, driven by shale fields in North Dakota and Texas. Output was 9.06 million barrels a day in the first week of November, the most since at least January 1983, when the weekly data series from the Energy Information Administration began.

Read more …

Petrobras was aiming to be the world’s first trillion-dollar company. Now it’s the most indebted company in the world.

Oil Industry Risks Trillions Of ‘Stranded Assets’ On US-China Climate Deal (AEP)

Brazil’s Petrobras is the most indebted company in the world, a perfect barometer of the crisis enveloping the global oil and fossil nexus on multiple fronts at once. PwC has refused to sign off on the books of this state-controlled behemoth, now under sweeping police probes for alleged graft, and rapidly crashing from hero to zero in the Brazilian press. The state oil company says funding from the capital markets has dried up, at least until auditors send a “comfort letter”. The stock price has dropped 87pc from the peak. Hopes of becoming the world’s first trillion dollar company have deflated brutally. What it still has is the debt. Moody’s has cut its credit rating to Baa1. This is still above junk but not by much. Debt has jumped by $25bn in less than a year to $170bn, reaching 5.3 times earnings (EBITDA). Roughly $52bn of this has been raised on the global bond markets over the last five years from the likes of Fidelity, Pimco, and BlackRock.

Part of the debt is a gamble on ultra-deepwater projects so far out into the Atlantic that helicopters supplying the rigs must be refuelled in flight. The wells drill seven thousand feet through layers of salt, blind to seismic imaging. The Carbon Tracker Initiative says the break-even price for these fields is likely to be $120 a barrel. It is much the same story – for different reasons – in the Arctic ‘High North’, off-shore West Africa, and the Alberta tar sands. The major oil companies are committing $1.1 trillion to projects that require prices of at least $95 to make a profit. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says fossil fuel companies have spent $7.6 trillion on exploration and production since 2005, yet output from conventional oil fields has nevertheless fallen. No big project has come on stream over the last three years with a break-even cost below $80 a barrel.

“The oil majors could not even generate free cash flow when oil prices were averaging $100 ,” said Mark Lewis from Kepler Cheuvreux. They have picked the low-hanging fruit. New fields are ever less hospitable. Upstream costs have tripled since 2000. “They have been able to disguise this by drawing down legacy barrels, but they won’t be able to get away with this over the next five years. We think the break-even price for the whole industry is now over $100,” he said. A study by the US Energy Department found that the world’s leading oil and gas companies were sinking into a debt-trap even before the latest crash in oil prices. They increased net debt by $106bn in the year to March – and sold off a net $73bn of assets – to cover surging production costs. The annual shortfall between cash earnings and spending has widened from $18bn to $110bn over the last three years. Yet these companies are still paying normal dividends, raiding the family silver to save face.

Read more …

They’ve all invested for continuing huge growth numbers. And now growth is gone.

Iron Ore’s Massive Expansion Era Is Finished: BHP Billiton (Bloomberg)

Iron ore’s golden spending era is history. That’s the verdict of BHP Billiton, the world’s biggest mining company. BHP and rivals Rio Tinto and Vale are flooding the global iron ore market after a $120 billion spending spree to boost the capacity of their mines from Australia to Brazil. Now prices have slumped to the lowest in more than five years as surging supply coincides with a slowdown in China, the world’s biggest consumer. “Our company has been very clear that the time for massive expansions of iron ore are over,” BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie told reporters today after a shareholder meeting in Adelaide, South Australia. While BHP is still increasing production, the company last approved spending on an iron ore expansion in 2011.

It’s shifting investment into copper and petroleum, he said Global seaborne output will exceed demand by 100 million metric tons this year from 16 million tons in 2013, HSBC said last month. Prices, which are trading around $70 a ton in China, may drop to below $60 a ton next year, according to Citigroup forecasts. “At these prices, we still have a very decent business,” Mackenzie said. “We’ve been fairly clear that prices at about these levels were what we were expecting for the longer term.” Investments in copper may help BHP seize on rising demand for energy in emerging economies. Demand from China, the biggest metals consumer, will be supported by electricity grid expansion and greater adoption of renewable energy sources, all of which require more copper wiring, according to Citigroup.

The prospects for an expansion of BHP’s Olympic Dam copper, gold and uranium mine in Australia are looking more promising after testing of new processing technology shows early signs of success, Mackenzie said. Olympic Dam in South Australia is the world’s largest uranium deposit and fourth-biggest copper deposit. BHP is pilot testing a heap leaching extraction process used in its copper mines in Chile. If the tests “are successful, and they are showing considerable promise, we will use this technology and phased expansions of the underground mine to further increase Olympic Dam’s output,” Mackeznie told the meeting. In 2012, BHP halted a proposed expansion of Olympic Dam, estimated by Deutsche Bank AG to cost $33 billion. Mackenzie was addressing the first annual meeting held in the state since the decision.

Read more …

Flash PMI at zero growth.

China’s Factory Activity Stalls In November (CNBC)

China’s factory activity stalled in November as output shrank for the first time in six months, a private survey showed on Thursday. The HSBC flash Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for November clocked in at the breakeven level of 50.0 that separates expansion from contraction, compared with a Reuters estimate for 50.3 and following the 50.4 final reading in October. Overall, new orders picked up slightly but new export orders slowed markedly, dragging on activity. The factory output sub-index fell to 49.5, the first contraction since May.

The Australian dollar eased against the greenback on the news, trading at $0.8607. But shares in China and Hong Kong appear unaffected by the data. The reading is the latest evidence that the world’s second biggest economy continues to lose traction. Recent data on housing prices and foreign direct investments also missed forecasts. “China is slowing and we think it will continue to slow. A lot of it is structural, and in our view, growth will slow to about 4.5% over the next 10 years. We see some sectors that are very challenged; clearly real estate is one,” Robin Bew, MD of Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC.

Read more …

“They keep reporting such a low number for so many years, there’s only one way it can go – up …”

Distressed Debt in China? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (Bloomberg)

Bad debts in China are well underestimated because authorities persist in propping up weak companies and bailing out local investors, according to DAC Management. The Chicago-based asset management and advisory firm, which focuses on distressed credit and special situations in China, says the worst is yet to come, and that means lots of opportunities for the world’s biggest distressed debt traders. Nonperforming loans at Chinese banks jumped by the most since 2005 in the third quarter to 766.9 billion yuan ($125.3 billion), official statistics released earlier this month showed. The People’s Bank of China has injected 769.5 billion yuan into its banking system over the past two months to support an economy growing at the slowest pace in more than a decade.

“They keep reporting such a low number for so many years, there’s only one way it can go – up,” DAC co-founder Philip Groves said in an interview. “We’ve yet to see it because if you look at corporate defaults, they keep getting covered by the government. At some point, they can’t cover every single one.” DAC manages about $400 million of its own and clients’ money onshore in China. It first bought Chinese bad loans in December 2001 from China Orient Asset Management, one of four asset management companies created by the government to buy, repackage and onsell soured debt, Groves said.

While China’s bad loan ratio is relatively small versus other countries in Asia – soured loans are equivalent to 1.16% of total advances compared with 3.88% in Vietnam and 0.86% in South Korea – their total is still in an order of magnitude greater than the funds raised by distressed investors, Groves said. There hasn’t been enough capital to soak up the nonperforming debt and much ends up being reabsorbed by the government, he said. That’s why distressed activity in China has been “sporadic” over the past 10 years and why some large investors aren’t participating. “It never became a market where you could put a billion dollars to work in a year,” Groves said. “But if the wave of bad debt comes, and there are things to buy, the money will follow.”

Read more …

I’ve said it before, Japan is not going to be a nice place to be.

The Yen Looks Like It’s Ready To Get Crushed (CNBC)

Japan has slipped back into recession, with the economy shrinking 1.6% in the third quarter, surprising economists who forecast it would grow 2%. The takeaway? Double down on the dollar versus the yen. How weak can the yen get? Forecasters are lowering their already bearish targets after the new disappointing economic data. “I’d expect another 20% drop next year, which would take us north of 140,” said Peter Boockvar of the Lindsey Group about the dollar-yen rate. The team at Capital Economics raised their forecast for dollar-yen to finish next year at 140 as well, up from 120 previously.

Those are bold calls, because it’s unusual for any currency to move more than 5% to 10% per year. Also, the yen has already tumbled 14% in the past 12 months and 19% the previous year, making it the worst-performing major currency against the dollar both years. But when it comes to the yen right now, it seems, no forecast is too bearish. “When I started in the business, dollar-yen was 230,” recalled David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff. “For those that think this move is over, this is probably going to be a round trip, meaning that the dollar’s run-up against the yen has a lot further to go.”

Read more …

Japan is a state of panic.

BOJ Warns Abe Over “Fiscal Responsibility” While Monetizing All Debt (ZH)

If one were to look up the definition of hypocrisy, the image of BoJ head Kuroda should be front-and-center. Having tripled-down on his money-printing and ETF-buying largesse just last week, he came out swinging last night at the government’s fiscal irresponsibility blasting Abe’s policies by saying Japan’s fiscal health “is the responsibility of parliament and the government, not an issue for the central bank to be held responsible for.” Aside from the fact that he is directly monetizing all JGB issuance – thus enabling Abe’s arrogant fiscal stimulus plan (by issuing 30Y and 40Y debt), Bloomberg notes that “Kuroda is making it crystal clear the government has to tackle the debt problem and if fiscal trust is lost that’s not going to be on the BOJ.” The world has truly gone mad. Seemingly paying the same lip-service as Bernanke and Yellen in the US and Draghi in Europe, BoJ’s Haruhiko Kuroda is carefully positioning the blame for lack of growth and economic chaos on the government’s lack of growth-oriented policies… and not the central bank’s enabling experiments… (via Bloomberg):

Bank of Japan chief Haruhiko Kuroda emphasized the onus is on the government to strengthen its finances after PM Shinzo Abe postponed a sales-tax hike and outlined plans to boost fiscal stimulus. “It’s the responsibility of parliament and the government, not an issue for the central bank,” Kuroda said when asked about risks to Japan’s fiscal health. The BOJ’s job is to achieve its inflation target, he said at a press conference in Tokyo. Kuroda’s repeated comments at a press conference today on the importance of fiscal discipline indicate the governor is unhappy and may signal a change in strategy, said Credit Suisse economist Hiromichi Shirakawa. “Kuroda is making it crystal clear the government has to tackle the debt problem and if fiscal trust is lost that’s not going to be on the BOJ,” said Shirakawa, a former BOJ official. “This is true, but he used to highlight that the BOJ and the government were working together. Abe might have created an enemy by postponing the sales-tax hike.”

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This is how you expose the madness in all those nonsensical plans and targets.

Why UK Needs ‘Radical’ Change As Exports Fall (CNBC)

The U.K. government needs to make radical changes to halt the slide in export growth, the head of British Chambers of Commerce told CNBC. “Exports are tailing off, the rate of growth is tailing off — it’s the one part of the economy we are failing on,” BCC’s Director- General John Longworth told CNBC Europe’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday. “They always say that the definition of madness is carrying on doing the same thing as before and expecting a different result. We need to do something radically different as a country.” His comments come as the BCC published its third-quarter Trade Confidence Index on Thursday. The survey, carried out with delivery company DHL Express, measures U.K. exporting activity and business confidence of more than 2,300 exporting firms.

It found that in the latest quarter, fewer exporters reported increased sales: 29% of exporters stated that sales had increased in the third quarter of 2014, a sharp drop from 47% in the second quarter. Of those exporters no longer seeing an increase in export sales, most said that sales have remained consistent. “There has a slowdown in the U.K.’s export potential because of the slowdown global economic circumstances,” Longworth said, or government export targets would be missed. The U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said in his 2012 budget that he wanted the U.K. to double exports to £1 trillion ($1.5 trillion) by 2020. In order to achieve that, however, Longworth said the U.K. would have to see export growth of nearly 11% year-on-year growth every year. “So far since the beginning of the recovery in 2010, the total growth in those years has been 14%. So we’ve got a real issue and unless we do something different we’re not going to hit those targets.”

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And so must Italy, Greece, and many others. Let the people debate it, and give them alll the information, not just choice bits.

Michael Pettis: Spain Needs to Debate Leaving the Euro (Mish)

Michael Pettis has a very interesting article on the Spanish news site ABC regarding a possible default of Spain and the eventual breakup of the eurozone. [..] What follows is my heavily modified translation of key portions of Pettis’ article after reading both of the above translations.

In the Panic of 1837, two-thirds of the US, including several of the richest states, suspended payment of external debt. The United States survived. If the European Union is to survive, it will have to find a solution to the European debt. The more hope instead of action, the more likely there’s a permanent breakdown of the euro and the European Union. In a gesture more of faith than economic or historical data, Madrid assures us that with the right reforms, it will eventually be able to get out of debt. Other countries in debt crises have made the same promise, but the promise is rarely fulfilled. Excessive debt itself impedes growth. Even without the straitjacket of the euro, Spain probably cannot afford its debt. Even those who are against debt cancellation recognize that the only thing that shielded Germany from a Spanish default was the European Central Bank.

Despite their obnoxious policies, far-right parties across Europe flourish more than ever because the ECB protects the euro and European banks at enormous costs for the working and middle classes. These extremists exploit the refusal of European leaders to acknowledge their errors. The longer the economic crisis, greater their chances of winning, and then comes an end to Europe. The only thing that prevented a suspension of payments by Spain and other countries was the promise of the European Central Bank in 2012 to do “whatever it takes” to protect the euro. But debt continues to grow faster than GDP in Europe, and the ECB load increases inexorably month after month. There will come a time when rising debt and a weakening of the German economy will jeopardize the credibility of the guarantee of the ECB (which will be useless), little by little at first, and then suddenly later. In a matter of months Spain will suspend payments.

For now, with debt settlement postponed, German banks strengthen capital to protect themselves from bankruptcy that many predict. Berlin is playing the same game as Washington during the crisis in Latin America in the 1980s. Then US banks actively strengthened their capital, mainly at the covert expense of ordinary Americans, while insisting that Latin American countries needed further reforms and no debt forgiveness. However, multiple reforms led to extremely high rates of unemployment and enormous social upheaval throughout Latin America. From 1987 to 1988, when US banks finally had enough capital, Washington officially recognized that full payment of the debt in 1990 was impossible and forgave the debt of Mexico. In the years following, US banks forgave almost the entire debt of other Latin American countries.

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It’s getting painful. Stop the experiment, it’s failed beyond repair.

Eurozone PMI Falls To 16-Month Low In November (MarketWatch)

Activity in the eurozone’s private sector slowed in November, according to surveys of purchasing managers, an indication the currency area’s economy will continue to grow weakly, if at all, in the final quarter of the year. The surveys also found that businesses again cut their prices in the face of weak demand, a development that will concern the European Central Bank, which is struggling to raise the currency area’s inflation rate from the very low level it has settled at for more than a year. Data firm Markit on Thursday said its composite purchasing managers index – a measure of activity in the manufacturing and services sectors in the currency bloc – fell to 51.4 from 52.1 in October, reaching a 16-month low. A reading below 50.0 indicates activity is declining, while a reading above that level indicates it is increasing.

Preliminary results from Markit’s survey of 5,000 manufacturers and service providers also showed that a significant pickup in activity is unlikely in the coming months, with new orders falling for the first time since July 2013, while employment was unchanged. The surveys also found that businesses continued to cut their prices, although at a slightly less aggressive pace. “The deteriorating trend in the surveys will add to pressure for the ECB to do more to boost the economy without waiting to gauge the effectiveness of previously announced initiatives,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

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France toast.

French Manufacturing Slump Deepens as Economic Weakness Persists (Bloomberg)

French manufacturing shrank more than analysts forecast in November and demand fell, signaling that an economic rebound seen in the third quarter might be short lived. A Purchasing Managers Index fell to 47.6, the lowest in three months, from 48.5 in October, London-based Markit Economics said today. That’s below the 50-point mark that divides expansion from contraction and compares with the median forecast of 48.8 in a Bloomberg News survey. A separate index showed services also contracted, while new business across both industries fell the most in 17 months. The euro area’s second-largest economy has barely grown in three years and recent data suggests that 2014 will be little different. With unemployment near a record and the budget deficit widening, President Francois Hollande is under pressure to deliver on his promises of business-friendly reforms.

“The continued softness in private-sector activity signaled by the PMIs suggests an ongoing drag on growth during the fourth quarter,” said Jack Kennedy, senior economist at Markit. “Another round of job shedding by companies during November meanwhile provides little hope of bringing down the high unemployment rate.” An index of services activity rose to 48.8 this month from 48.3 in October, while a composite gauge for the whole economy increased to 48.4 from 48.2, according to today’s report. Employment across both manufacturing and services fell for 13th month, though the rate of decline slowed compared with the previous month. The French economy grew 0.3% in the three months through September as a jump in public spending offset a fourth quarterly decline in investment. The unemployment rate stood at 10.5% in September, more than double than Germany’s 5%, according to Eurostat. Hollande, whose popularity is among the lowest ever registered for a French president, has said he won’t run for a second term if he is unable to bring down joblessness.

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Please, let’s have some violent infighting in Brussels.

Pressure Mounts for EU Crackdown on Tax Havens (Spiegel)

In Luxembourg, corporate income taxes are as low as 1% for some companies. An average worker in Germany with a salary of €40,000 ($50,000) who doesn’t joint file with a spouse has to pay about €8,940 in taxes each year. At the Luxembourg rate, the worker would only have to pay €400. But some companies have even managed to finagle a tax rate of 0.1%, which would amount to a paltry €40 for the average German worker. As delightful as those figures may sound, normal workers will never have access to those kinds of tax discounts. That’s why it came across as obscene to many when Juncker defended Luxembourg’s tax arrangements on Wednesday as “legal”. They may be legal, but they are anything but fair. It also strengthens an impression that gained currency during the financial crisis – that capitalism favors banks and companies, not normal people, and that these institutions profit even more than previously known from tax loopholes.

But the Juncker case also sheds light on the two faces of European politics. Top Brussels politicians are recruited from the individual EU member states and, as such, have long representated their countries’ national interests. Then they move to Brussels, where they are expected to advocate for the European Union. At times like this, though, when dealings in Brussels are becoming increasingly politicized, the idea that these politicians are promoting the EU’s interests as a bloc loses credibility. And Juncker, the very man who had a hand in stripping Luxembourg’s neighbors of tax money, is supposed to be the main face representing the EU. It’s also very problematic that he, as the man who led a country that was one of the worst perpetrators of these tax practices, is now supposed to see to it that these schemes are investigated and curbed in the future.

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Kudos Crapo. Let’s cut the crap, not reintroduce it.

Senator Slaps Plan For Low-Down-Payment Loans At Fannie, Freddie (MarketWatch)

A controversial housing-finance proposal quickly came under fire during a Wednesday Capitol Hill hearing, with a top committee Republican questioning whether it’s a good idea to allow federally controlled mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to back mortgages with very low down payments. “I’m troubled,” said Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, the leading Republican member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, by a plan from the Federal Housing Finance Agency to enable Fannie and Freddie to buy mortgages with down payments as low as 3%. “After the problems we’ve seen” it could be risky for Fannie and Freddie to buy loans when borrowers have little equity, Crapo said.

In response, Mel Watt, who became FHFA’s director in January and was the sole witness at the agency-oversight hearing, told senators that mortgages with low down payments will require insurance, and that borrowers will be required to have relatively strong credit profiles otherwise. He added that FHFA will provide more details in December about the types of borrowers who would be eligible for such mortgages. “We are not making credit available to people that we cannot reasonably predict, with a high degree of certainty,” will make their mortgage payments, Watt said. Decisions over who can qualify for loans bought by Fannie and Freddie can have a large impact on the housing market. Together Fannie and Freddie back about half of new U.S. mortgages. The FHFA must carefully craft rules that support the housing market’s somewhat erratic recovery without creating too much risk.

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This could make plenty waves, it’s a high stakes game.

Junk-Bond Banking Boom Peaks as Firms Drop off Deal List (Bloomberg)

The explosion of brokers plowing into the lucrative junk-bond underwriting business may be fading. The number of firms managing U.S. high-yield bond sales isn’t growing for the first year since 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The ranks will likely thin in upcoming years as yields rise, making it more expensive for speculative-grade companies to borrow, according to Charles Peabody, a banking analyst at research firm Portales Partnersin New York. “You’re going to see fewer and fewer deals,” he said in a telephone interview. “Underwriting volumes are probably going to decline from here and you’re going to see more of a consolidation or exodus.” So far, the decline has been small, with 87 firms managing high-yield bond sales this year, down from the record 92 in the same period in 2013, Bloomberg data show.

The number of underwriters is still about twice as many as in 2009, when a slew of bankers founded their own firms to grab business from Wall Street firms that were shrinking as the credit crisis caused trillions of dollars of losses and writedowns. The new firms sought to win assignments managing smaller deals that bigger banks didn’t have the appetite for anymore. Five years later, the scene is changing. The least-creditworthy companies have borrowed record amounts of debt, spurred by central-bank stimulus that pushed borrowing costs to all-time lows. Now, the Federal Reserve is preparing to raise rates and junk-bond buyers are getting jittery.

The notes have declined 1.7% since the end of August as oil prices plunged, eroding the value of debt sold by speculative-grade energy companies, Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data show. While junk-bond sales are still on track for a new record this year, issuance has been choppy, with deals being canceled one week and then a flood of sales going through the next. For the past few years, high-yield underwriting has been a bright spot for banks, especially compared with flagging trading revenues. Speculative-grade companies have sold $1.2 trillion of dollar-denominated debt since the end of 2010 to lock in historically low borrowing costs. That’s also meant there have been a swelling number of firms elbowing each other out of the way for a chance to manage those deals, vying for fees that have been almost three times as much as those on higher-rated deals.

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Pot and kettle.

Goldman Fires Staff For Alleged NY Fed Breach (FT)

Goldman Sachs has fired an investment banker who allegedly accessed confidential information from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, his former employer. Goldman said it had fired Rohit Bansal, a junior employee, in September and then fired his supervisor Joe Jiampietro, a better-known senior banker in the financial institutions group, which advises other banks. Mr Jiampietro was himself a former government official – a top adviser to Sheila Bair when she was chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The New York Fed said: “As soon as we learned that Goldman Sachs suspected one of its employees may have inappropriately obtained confidential supervisory information, we alerted law enforcement authorities.”

The news, first reported by the New York Times, comes ahead of a congressional hearing on Friday that is examining whether there is too “cosy” a relationship between regulators and banks. Goldman has been nicknamed “Government Sachs” as the epitome of the “revolving door” between government and banking. Several of its employees formerly worked at government agencies, including the Fed and US Treasury. Hank Paulson, Goldman’s former chief executive, left the bank to become US Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush. On Friday, the Senate banking committee is due to examine allegations from a former New York Fed examiner, who says that she was fired because her bosses wanted her to water down criticism of Goldman. Bill Dudley, president of the New York Fed and himself a former Goldman employee, is due to testify.

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A little skimpy perhaps, but who would doubt the premise?

Banking Industry Culture Promotes Dishonesty, Research Finds (Guardian)

How do you tell if a group of bankers is dishonest? Simply by getting them all to toss a coin. That may not seem like in-depth research, but it is the basis of an academic paper published in Nature magazine this week, which investigates whether the financial sector’s culture encourages dishonesty – and concludes that it does. The academics from the University of Zurich used a sample of 128 employees of a large bank, and split them into two groups. The first set of bankers were primed to start thinking about their job, with questions such as “what is your function at this bank?”. They were then asked to toss a coin 10 times, in private, knowing which outcome would earn them $20 a flip. They then had to report their results online to claim any winnings. Unsurprisingly perhaps, there was cheating – with the percentage of winning tosses coming in at an incredibly fortunate 58.2% (although the research omitted to say how many bankers also trousered the coin).

Meanwhile, the second group completed a survey about their wellbeing and everyday life, that did not include questions relating to their professional life. They then performed the coin-flipping task, which threw up a quite astonishing finding: these bankers proved honest. Identical exercises in other industries did not produce the same skewing in results when participants were primed to start thinking about their work. The research does not reveal which institution took part in the survey, presumably to avoid it suing the authors for unearthing some decent behaviour among the cheating. “The effect induced by the treatment could be attributable to several causes,” the authors muse, “including the competitiveness expected from bank employees, the exposure to competitive bonus schemes, the beliefs about what other employees would do in the same situation or the salience of money in the questionnaire.”

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Anti-tax rant. Simon Black knows quite a bit about moving abroad.

New International Gang Of Thieves Make Somali Pirates Look Like Amateurs (Black)

This past month, a real-life guild of thieves was formed. With 51 governments pledging their support to each other for the protection of their ignoble craft of theft. And another 30 pledging to join by 2018. From day one, governments have been pilfering their citizens’ assets through taxation, claiming a monopoly on thievery. From the largest institution to the pettiest pickpocket, anyone else who tries to engage in theft is severely punished, as governments work to protect their exclusive right to steal. Frighteningly, they do this all out in the open, believing that they actually have a moral right to commit theft. You can see this delusion in the US government’s claims that last year they “lost out” on $337 billion from people avoiding taxes. As if they have some moral claim to the money they’d failed to pilfer. Nonetheless, they use this claim to justify actively hunting down and penalizing anyone who takes action to avoid being stolen from.

The ones that are doing this are the bankrupt countries, and the deeper they slide into debt, the more desperate they become. Which is why these broke governments are now joining forces, pledging to to collect and share information amongst themselves about citizens’ bank accounts, taxes, assets and income outside local tax jurisdictions. Basically – I’ll help you steal from your citizens if you help me steal from mine. Both the punishment and the likelihood of getting caught for tax evasion are growing. Don’t even bother trying. However that doesn’t mean that you have no choice but to sit there and let your self be stolen from. While there are still ways of legally reducing your tax burden from within a country, your best option is to move and diversify. Diversification is key, because if you have all your eggs in one bankrupt basket, you are really taking on extraordinary risk. Moving some assets abroad can legitimately reduce some of this risk. And an even greater strategy is considering moving yourself.

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