May 242017
 
 May 24, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Henri Matisse Nu Blue IV 1952

 

China Hit by First Moody’s Downgrade Since 1989 on Debt Risk (BBG)
Chinese Banks Are In Big Trouble (ZH)
American Exceptionalism – Population Growth vs Money Growth (Econimica)
Shiller: Stay In The Market, It ‘Could Go Up 50% From Here’ (CNBC)
German Police Search Daimler Facilities In Dieselgate Probe (DW)
Canada Must Deflate Its Housing Bubble (BBG Ed.)
The Violence of Austerity (OD)
IMF Wants More Realism In Eurozone Assumptions On Greece (R.)
QE Remains A Long Shot For Greece (K.)
In Germany, Syrian Man Wins Case Against Deportation To Greece (AP)
Elder Refugees Seeking Asylum in Europe Left Stranded in Greece – HRW (GR)
Tasmania Bans Super Trawlers From Its Waters (AAP)
Fossils Cast Doubt On Human Lineage Originating In Africa (R.)

 

 

Moody’s worries are the local government financing vehicles and state-owned enterprises, which are umbilically linked to the shadow banks.

You can’t run an entire economy from and in the shadows.

China Hit by First Moody’s Downgrade Since 1989 on Debt Risk (BBG)

Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating on China’s debt for the first time since 1989, challenging the view that the nation’s leadership will be able to rein in leverage while maintaining the pace of economic growth. Stocks and the yuan slipped in early trading after Moody’s reduced the rating to A1 from Aa3 on Wednesday, with markets paring losses in the afternoon. Moody’s cited the likelihood of a “material rise” in economy-wide debt and the burden that will place on the state’s finances, while also changing the outlook to stable from negative. It’s “absolutely groundless” for Moody’s to argue that local government financing vehicles and state-owned enterprise debt will swell the government’s contingent liabilities, according to a response released by the Ministry of Finance. The ratings company has underestimated the capability of the government to deepen reform and boost demand, the ministry said.

It wouldn’t be the first time a rating company was behind the curve, nor is such pushback unique – U.S. Treasury officials questioned the credibility of a 2011 downgrade from Standard & Poor’s. Still, the move underscores broader doubts over whether President Xi Jinping’s government can simultaneously cut excessive leverage and steady growth, all with a twice a decade reshuffle of top party posts looming later this year. “It is a psychological blow that China will not take kindly to and absolutely speaks to the rising financial pressures,” said Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC School of Business at Peking University in Shenzhen. That said, “it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things because so much of Chinese debt is held by state or quasi-state actors and minimal amounts are international investors.”

Total outstanding credit climbed to about 260% of GDP by the end of 2016, up from 160% in 2008. At the same time, China’s external debt is low by international standards, at around 12% of gross domestic product, according to the IMF, meaning that a downgrade isn’t likely to be as disruptive as it would be for nations more reliant on international funding. Overseas institutions’ holdings of onshore bonds dropped to 830 billion yuan ($121 billion) as of the end of March, from 853 billion yuan three months earlier, People’s Bank of China data show. That’s less than 1.5% of 63.7 trillion yuan of outstanding notes. Moody’s last cut China’s sovereign rating in 1989, when it downgraded the sovereign to Baa2 from Baa1, according to spokesperson, Manvela Yeung. Moody’s lowered China’s credit-rating outlook to negative from stable in March 2016, citing rising debt, falling currency reserves and uncertainty over authorities’ ability to carry out reforms.

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Starting to be painful. At some point, Beijing total control will come up empty.

Chinese Banks Are In Big Trouble (ZH)

That’s not supposed to happen… With the crackdown on financial system leverage underway, Chinese banks (and securities firms) are in big trouble. As we noted previously, China’s bond curve is inverted, yields are surging, and Chinese regulatory decisions shutting down various shadow-banking pipelines has crushed securities firms’ stocks. However, as Bloomberg points out, as China’s deleveraging efforts cut into banks’ profit margins, rising base funding costs and interbank credit risk concerns have pushed banks’ cost of borrowing beyond the rate they charge customers for loans for the first time in history. As the chart shows, the one-year Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate has exceeded the Loan Prime Rate, the first time this has happened since the latter was introduced in 2013. “This is probably just the beginning” and interbank funding costs will rise further amid the drive to reduce leverage, said Xu Hanfei at China Merchants Securities in Shanghai.

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Wonderful from Chris Hamilton.

American Exceptionalism – Population Growth vs Money Growth (Econimica)

Since 1971, and the disconnection of the dollar from a finite gold backing, the value of money (the dollar) has been determined by it’s purchasing power versus the inflation of the assets to be purchased. Thus printing more money has not necessarily created “wealth” if the assets to be purchased are rising as fast or faster than the purchasing power of the “money”. The Fed touts it’s dual mandate of full employment and stable prices…but the result in prices; not so stable. The primary global asset purchasable only in US dollars, crude oil, has told a story of wildly gyrating prices. Since the end of Bretton Woods and the subsequent Congressionally dual mandated roles bestowed on the Fed…crude oil prices have gone bezerk, twice climbing nearly 10x’s within a decade. This is the opposite of stable (particularly compared to the price stability from WWII’s end until the Fed took over).

Soooo, theoretically the growth of “money” should be linked to the growth of the population, to ensure an adequate and stable money supply exists for the growing population. In a moment I’ll show you anything but a stable money supply. But first, the chart below shows the total 25-54yr/old US population, those employed among them, and the value in dollars of all publicly traded US stocks (represented by the Wilshire 5000). Something far beyond population growth or employment growth is pushing up the value of dollar based assets, gauging by US stock markets accelerating appreciation.

With that in mind, the chart below shows the growth of M3 money (the broadest measure of US “money”) and the broader 15-64yr/old US population since 1971. The money supply has grown in excess of 20x’s (2,000%) vs. the working age population (15-64yr/olds) which has grown less than 1x (nearly 70% increase).

This results in a rising ratio of “money” on a per capita of the core population basis, as the chart below details. The total amount of “money” rose from approximately $5 thousand dollars per working age adult to todays $65 thousand dollars per adult…an increase of 13x’s (1.300%).

The annual growth of the 15-64yr/old core US population peaked in 2003 and annual core population growth has decelerated by 90% since…while annual M3 growth has doubled over the same time period. [..] The chart below from 2000 into 2017 shows the change in both core population and M3 money supply, showing the year over year change on a monthly basis…and the current fall in core population growth will continue downward, likely turning negative at times over the next year (yet another first for America).

The final chart is the growth in M3 money supply per the growth in the adult, working age population. I’m not an economist or expert on much of anything…but that doesn’t look particularly good to me (something to do with “hyper-monetization” or some such thing). All I can say is the appearance of hockey sticks typically aren’t a good or stable sign but their appearance, just like those of black swans, has become the “new normal”.

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It could also fall by 50%.

Shiller: Stay In The Market, It ‘Could Go Up 50% From Here’ (CNBC)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller believes investors should continue to own stocks because the bull market may continue for years. CNBC’s Mike Santoli spoke with Shiller in an exclusive interview for CNBC PRO. Santoli asked Shiller about his market outlook. “I would say have some stocks in your portfolio. It could go up 50% from here. That’s what it did around 2000, after it reached this level, it went up another 50%. So I’m not against investing in the stock market when you consider the alternatives. But I think if one wants to diversify, US is high in its CAPE ratio. You can go practically anywhere else in the world and it’s lower,” Shiller said. “We could even set a new another record high in CAPE, that’s not a forecast.”

Shiller developed the “cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio” (CAPE) market valuation measure, which is calculated using price divided by the index’s average historical 10-year earnings, adjusted for inflation. The economist’s research found future 10-year stock market returns were negatively correlated to high CAPE ratio readings on a relative basis. However, even though the current CAPE ratio is at 29, which is above the 17 historical average, the economist is not calling for a market decline. “I can see it as a real possibility that stocks prices and house prices would both keep going up for years, but I’m not forecasting that by any means,” he added.

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Dragging on.

German Police Search Daimler Facilities In Dieselgate Probe (DW)

German authorities have raided several locations associated with German premium carmaker Daimler. They acted on an initial suspicion of fraud involving misleading information about emission levels. Prosecutors in the southern German city of Stuttgart confirmed Tuesday they had searched about a dozen locations associated with the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars. The raids came as a result of the company being suspected of fraud and misleading advertising in relation to the selling of diesel-powered vehicles. Prosecutors have yet to provide further details on the raids. They only said the raids were carried out by well over 200 investigators across the country, with the focus of the search in progress on locations in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony, Saxony and the the city state of Berlin.

The carmaker said the investigations targeted “known and unknown employees of Daimler over suspicion of fraud related to the possible manipulation of exhaust gas emissions in passenger cars with diesel engines.” Daimler executives said they were not aware of any emissions scandal, adding that they were fully co-operating with investigators. The automaker had earlier agreed with Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority to “voluntarily” recall 247,000 vehicles to remove “potentially problematic technology,” which Daimler said had been installed to prevent engines from being damaged. Daimler has also been in the crosshairs of prosecutors in the US where it faces a number of class-action suits by car owners who have accused the company of not being accurate in stating emissions levels for a number of its diesel-powered models.

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You don’t say.

Canada Must Deflate Its Housing Bubble (BBG Ed.)

Canada’s housing market offers a case study in a contentious economic issue: If a central bank sees a bubble forming, should it act to deflate it? In this instance, the answer should be a resounding yes. A combination of foreign money, local speculation and abundant credit has driven Canadian house prices to levels that even government officials recognize cannot be sustained. In the Toronto area, for example, they were up 32% from a year earlier in April. David Rosenberg, an economist at Canadian investment firm Gluskin Sheff, notes that it would take a decline of more than 40% to restore the historical relationship between prices and household income. Granted, the bubble bears little resemblance to the U.S. subprime boom that triggered the global financial crisis.

Although one specialized lender, Home Capital, has had issues with fraudulent mortgage applications, regulation has largely kept out high-risk products. Homeowners haven’t been withdrawing a lot of equity, and can’t legally walk away from their debts like many Americans can. Banks aren’t sitting on the kinds of structured products that destroyed balance sheets in the U.S. Nearly all mortgage securities and a large portion of loans are guaranteed by the government. That said, the situation presents clear risks. As buyers stretch to afford homes, household debt has risen to 167% of disposable income – the highest among the Group of Seven industrialized nations. This is a serious vulnerability, and a big part of the rationale behind Canadian banks’ recent ratings downgrade. The more indebted people are, the more sensitive their spending becomes to changes in prices and interest rates, potentially allowing an otherwise small shock to result in a deep recession.

What to do? Administrative efforts to curb lending and tax foreign buyers have helped but haven’t solved the problem. That’s largely because extremely low interest rates are still giving people a big incentive to borrow. The Bank of Canada has held its target rate at 1% or lower since 2009, and at 0.5% since 2015, when it eased to counteract the effect of falling oil prices. That’s a very stimulative stance in a country where the neutral rate is estimated to be about 3% or higher. One can’t help but see a parallel with the low U.S. rates and the housing bubble of the early 2000s.

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The Violence of Austerity, edited by Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, is published by Pluto Press.

The Violence of Austerity (OD)

As we move towards the general election, we are paralyzed by what is probably the biggest single issue affecting ordinary people in the country: austerity. We are unable to fully understand both the economic madness of austerity and the true scale of the human cost and death toll that ‘fiscal discipline’ has unleashed. Since coming into power as Prime Minister, Theresa May has made a strategic decision not to use the word ‘austerity’. Instead she has adopted a more palatable language in a vain attempt to distance herself from the Cameron governments before her: “you call it austerity; I call it living within our means.” The experience of countless thousands of people is precisely the opposite: people are actively prevented from living within their means and are cut off from their most basic entitlement to: housing, food, health care, social care and general protection from hardship.

And people are dying as a result of these austerity effects. In February, Jeremy Corbyn made precisely this point when he observed the conclusions of one report that 30,000 people were dying unnecessarily every year because of the cuts to NHS and to local authority social care budgets. But this is really only the tip of the iceberg. The scale of disruption felt by people at the sharp end of these benefit reforms is enormous. Countless thousands of others have died prematurely following work capability assessments: approximately 10,000 according the government’s own figures. People are dying as a result of benefit sanction which has fatal impacts on existing health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Austerity is about dismantling social protection. The crisis we face in social care is precipitated by cuts to local authority funding.

In the first 5 years of austerity, local authority budgets were cut by 40%, amounting to an estimated £18bn in care provision. A decade of cuts, when added up, also means that some key agencies that protect us, such as the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency will have been decimated by up to 60% of funding cuts. Scaling back on an already paltry funding in these critical areas of regulation will lead to a rise in pollution related illness and disease and will fail to ensure people are safe at work. The economic folly is that austerity will cost society more in the long term. Local authorities are, for example, housing people in very expensive temporary accommodation because the government has disinvested in social housing.

The crisis in homelessness has paradoxically led to a £400 million rise in benefit payments. The future costs of disinvesting in young people will be seismic. Ending austerity would mean restoring our system of social protection and restoring the spending power of local authorities. It would mean, as all the political parties except the Conservatives recognise, taxing the rich, not punishing the poor in order to pay for a problem that has its roots in a global financial system that enriched the elite. It would also mean recognizing that the best way to prevent the worsening violence of austerity and to rebuild the economy is to re-invest in public sector jobs.

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The Greek government is being played for fools. Given how long this has been going on, one might suggest they are.

IMF Wants More Realism In Eurozone Assumptions On Greece (R.)

The IMF needs to see more realistic euro zone assumptions about Greece’s economy and more detail on planned debt relief measures to join a bailout, IMF’s European Department head Poul Thomsen said. Thomsen said the IMF and Greece’s euro zone lenders made progress in talks on Monday, but were not yet quite there. “We still think there is a need for more realism in assumptions and more specificity,” Thomsen said on Tuesday. The euro zone and the IMF agreed on Monday that Greece would have to keep a primary surplus – the budget balance before debt servicing – at 3.5% of GDP for five years after the bailout ends in 2018. But officials said the size of the surplus afterwards was still under discussion and there were also differences on economic growth assumptions, especially that forecasts used for debt relief plans spanned dozens of years. A group of euro zone countries led by Germany wants the IMF to join the Greek bailout, now handled by euro zone governments alone, to increase credibility. The IMF says that it will only join if Greece is granted debt relief.

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Greece will be declared eligible for inclusion in the ECB’s QE only AFTER the central bank says it will taper QE.

QE Remains A Long Shot For Greece (K.)

Greece is nowhere near a swift inclusion in the ECB’s QE program, according to senior officials at domestic banks. They argue that the issue of the national debt, and securing its sustainability in a way that would satisfy the IMF too, constitutes a particularly complex problem that may well be too hard to resolve by next month’s Eurogroup. They therefore consider Greece’s entry into the ECB’s bond-buying program this summer unlikely – instead expecting it to happen after the German election in the fall, either by the end of 2017 or in early 2018. Some go as far as expressing concern as to whether Greece will make it in at all before the program ends.

While there are more and more voices within the ECB speaking in favor of concluding the program earlier, Greece would like enjoy its benefits for more than two years. Greek banks are hoping a formula will be found at the next Eurogroup, on June 15, that will allow the disbursement of the next bailout tranche while putting off any decisions on the debt. The most optimistic observers note there is a chance of Greece entering QE between July and September and next month’s Eurogroup will be crucial to this end. The ECB argues that Greece’s inclusion in the bond-buying program requires the safeguarding of the debt’s sustainability.

In this context political statements or a mere reference to a series of measures will not suffice, as they will have to constitute legally binding pledges, which is highly unlikely before the German election. Goldman Sachs stated in an analysis that this country is not likely to fulfill the terms the ECB has set to join QE before the reduction of the monthly rate of bond purchases is activated. It also highlighted the high rate of bad loans as a point of concern that might also delay the decision for Greece to enjoy the benefits of QE. Similarly, Citi estimates that without an agreement on the easing of the debt, both inclusion in QE and a return to the bond markets would be quite difficult for Greece.

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In one and the same Union, laws and rights are widely divergent. That is not a union.

In Germany, Syrian Man Wins Case Against Deportation To Greece (AP)

Germany’s highest court has upheld a complaint by a Syrian whose asylum claim was rejected because he’d already been granted asylum in Greece. The man, whose name wasn’t released, arrived in Germany in 2015. He told officials he had already been granted protection in Greece but had been living on the street there and received no support from the Greek government. The man’s claim in Germany was rejected, meaning that he risked deportation to Greece. Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court said Tuesday that a lower court had wrongly failed to take account of a lack of welfare payments for refugees in Greece and to check whether there were assurances that the man would be given at least temporary housing. Judges sent the case back to the lower court to reconsider.

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Who cares about human rights declarations when elections are coming up?

Elder Refugees Seeking Asylum in Europe Left Stranded in Greece – HRW (GR)

There are many unnecessary delays and arbitrary barriers which keep older refugees and asylum seekers stranded in Greece, unable to reunite with family members who have legal status in the EU, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. According to their publication on Monday, EU: Older Refugees Stranded in Greece, one of the main issues that older refugees face is that family reunification does not focus on reuniting an entire family, but spouses and parents with minor children who are under the age of 18. Hundreds of older refugees and asylum seekers currently in Greece who have fled war zones and persecution are waiting to learn if they will be allowed to reunite with adult family members who have been granted residency in another EU country. Although EU law provides for family reunification for older people, lack of clarity or explicit provisions governing the process means that they can remain in limbo, far from their family for prolonged periods of time.

“These older people, already victims of conflict and persecution, hoped to find protection in the EU after treacherous journeys to Greece, and to be reunited with their family,” said Bethany Brown, researcher on older people’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “Now they don’t know if they will ever see their relatives again.” While several barriers are common to all asylum seekers, they can have a more significant impact on older people. Older people have been shown, in some contexts, to have significantly higher rates of psychological distress than the general refugee population, and often suffer from health issues, injuries and violence during displacement, and frailty that can be exacerbated by time and uncertainty.

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A little piece of news. But a good one.

Tasmania Bans Super Trawlers From Its Waters (AAP)

Tasmania’s parliament has passed laws banning super trawler fishing vessels from operating in the state’s waters. Legislation was given a green light on Wednesday, with Liberal government MP Mark Shelton confirming that any future attempts to allow freezer trawler vessels would require an act of parliament. “Our bill should give recreational fishers additional comfort that any future attempt to let super trawlers into the small pelagic fishery will be met with parliamentary hurdles,” he said.

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Graecopithecus freybergi.

Fossils Cast Doubt On Human Lineage Originating In Africa (R.)

Fossils from Greece and Bulgaria of an ape-like creature that lived 7.2 million years ago may fundamentally alter the understanding of human origins, casting doubt on the view that the evolutionary lineage that led to people arose in Africa. Scientists said on Monday the creature, known as Graecopithecus freybergi and known only from a lower jawbone and an isolated tooth, may be the oldest-known member of the human lineage that began after an evolutionary split from the line that led to chimpanzees, our closest cousins. The jawbone, which included teeth, was unearthed in 1944 in Athens. The premolar was found in south-central Bulgaria in 2009.

The researchers examined them using sophisticated new techniques including CT scans and established their age by dating the sedimentary rock in which they were found. They found dental root development that possessed telltale human characteristics not seen in chimps and their ancestors, placing Graecopithecus within the human lineage, known as hominins. Until now, the oldest-known hominin was Sahelanthropus, which lived 6-7 million years ago in Chad. The scientific consensus long has been that hominins originated in Africa. Considering the Graecopithecus fossils hail from the Balkans, the eastern Mediterranean may have given rise to the human lineage, the researchers said.

The findings in no way call into question that our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago and later migrated to other parts of the world, the researchers said. “Our species evolved in Africa. Our lineage may not have,” said paleoanthropologist Madelaine Böhme of Germany’s University of Tübingen, adding that the findings “may change radically our understanding of early human/hominin origin.” Homo sapiens is only the latest in a long evolutionary hominin line that began with overwhelmingly ape-like species, followed by a succession of species acquiring more and more human traits over time.

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May 232017
 
 May 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »
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Henri Matisse Bathers by a River 1910

 

Trump Seeks $3.6 Trillion in Cuts to Reshape Government (BBG)
The US Economy Has Left 10s Of Millions Of Forgotten Americans Behind (Snyder)
UK General Election Campaigning Suspended After Manchester Attack (G.)
US Healthcare Industry Blames Trump And GOP For Obamacare Rate Hikes (F.)
China Pushes Public to Accept GMO as Syngenta Takeover Nears (BBG)
China Spins a Global Food Web From Mozambique to Missouri (BBG)
Auto Lender Santander Checked Income on Just 8% in Subprime ABS (BBG)
Germany Commemorates The 500th Anniversary Of Luther’s Reformation (AFP)
Do You, Mr. Jones…? (Jim Kunstler)
Getting Julian Assange: The Untold Story (John Pilger)
EU Ministers Fail To Reach Greek Debt Deal, Delay Release Of Bailout (Tel.)
Macron Tells Tsipras France Hopes To Ease Greek Debt (K.)
German Government At Odds With Itself Over Greek Debt Relief (R.)
1.2 Million Greek Pensioners Live on Less than €500 a Month (GR)
Amnesty Urges Greece to Provide Safe Housing to Elliniko Refugees (GR)

 

 

Congress will never accept this.

Trump Seeks $3.6 Trillion in Cuts to Reshape Government (BBG)

President Donald Trump would dramatically reduce the U.S. government’s role in society with $3.6 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years in a budget plan that shrinks the safety net for the poor, recent college graduates and farmers. Trump’s proposal, to be released Tuesday, claims to balance the budget within a decade. But it relies on a tax plan for which the administration has provided precious little detail, the elimination of programs backed by many Republican lawmakers, and heavy use of accounting gimmicks. Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal has already been declared dead on arrival by many of his Republican allies in Congress. The plan would slash Medicaid payments, increase monthly student loan payments and cut food stamps and agricultural subsidies, each backed by powerful constituencies.

The administration is unbowed. “We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said. “We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off those programs and back in charge of their own lives.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he expects the Republican-led Congress to largely ignore the proposal, saying in an interview last week with Bloomberg News that early versions reflected priorities that “aren’t necessarily ours.” The president’s proposal would fulfill his campaign promise of leaving Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare untouched while increasing national security spending. He’s also proposing severe cuts to foreign aid and tighter eligibility for tax cuts that benefit the working poor. He also seeks cuts in food stamps and disability insurance.

The plan calls for some new domestic spending, including $25 billion over 10 years for nationwide paid parental leave – a cause championed by First Daughter Ivanka Trump – and an expansion of the Pell Grant program for low-income students. The Department of Homeland Security’s budget would increase $3 billion versus the final full year of President Barack Obama’s term, while the Pentagon’s budget would see a $6 billion increase over that same time. The sheer ambition of the president’s plan, which would cut domestic agencies by 10% in 2018 and by 40% in 2027, make the budget even less likely to gain traction on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers regularly flout the annual blueprint offered by the executive branch. But lawmakers are also likely to view some of the administration’s accounting gimmicks with extreme skepticism.

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Now add another financial crisis to that.

The US Economy Has Left 10s Of Millions Of Forgotten Americans Behind (Snyder)

The evidence that the middle class in America is dying continues to mount. As you will see below, nearly half the country would be unable “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”, and about two-thirds of the population lives paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time. Of course the economy has not been doing that well overall in recent years. Barack Obama was the only president in all of U.S. history not to have a single year when the economy grew by at least 3%, and U.S. GDP growth during the first quarter of 2017 was an anemic 0.7%. During the Obama era, it is true that wealthy enclaves in New York, northern California and Washington D.C. did thrive, but meanwhile most of the rest of the country has been left behind. Today, there are approximately 205 million working age Americans, and close to half of them have no financial cushion whatsoever.

In fact, a new survey conducted by the Federal Reserve has found that 44% of Americans do not even have enough money “to cover an unexpected $400 expense”… “Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. Specifically, the survey found that, in line with what the Fed had disclosed in previous years, 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it.” Not only that, the same survey discovered that 23% of U.S. adults will not be able to pay their bills this month…

“Just as concerning were other findings from the study: just under one-fourth of adults, or 23%, are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being grossly unprepared, indicating they had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.” But just because you can pay your bills does not mean that you are doing well. Tens of millions of Americans barely scrape by from paycheck to paycheck each and every month. In fact, a survey by CareerBuilder discovered that 75% of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time…

“Three-quarters of Americans (75%) are living paycheck-to-paycheck to make ends meet, according to a survey from CareerBuilder. 38% of employees said they sometimes live paycheck-to-paycheck, 15% said they usually do and 23% said they always do. While making ends meet is a struggle for many post-recession, those with minimum wage jobs continue to be hit the hardest. Of workers who currently have a minimum wage job or have held one in the past, 66% said they couldn’t make ends meet and 50% said they had to work more than one job to make it work.” So please don’t be fooled into thinking that the U.S. economy is doing well because the stock market has been hitting new record highs. The stock market was soaring just before the financial crisis of 2008 too, and we remember how that turned out.

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Politicians can only react to tragedies in regurgitated bland terminology. Only, they now do it on Twitter. Progress?

UK General Election Campaigning Suspended After Manchester Attack (G.)

Theresa May and the leaders of other political parties have suspended campaigning for the general election following the terrorist attack in Manchester, which has killed at least 22 people. The prime minister, who had been due to speak at a campaign event in southwest England, will instead chair a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee. May said the incident at Manchester Arena was being treated by police as an “appalling terrorist attack”. She added: “All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected.”

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was to have spoken in the West Midlands, said it was a “terrible incident”. He tweeted: “My thoughts are with all those affected and our brilliant emergency services.” In a later statement, Corbyn said: “I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services for their bravery and professionalism in dealing with last night’s appalling events. “I have spoken with the prime minister and we have agreed that that all national campaigning in the general election will be suspended until further notice.” The Scottish National party was due to unveil its election manifesto on Tuesday, but it has now postponed the event.

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Saved by the terror attack?

Theresa May Ditches Manifesto Plan With ‘Dementia Tax’ U-Turn (G.)

Theresa May has announced a U-turn on her party’s social care policy by promising an “absolute limit” on the amount people will have to pay for their care but is not planning to say what level the cap will be set at before the election. The prime minister’s decision came after Conservative party proposals to make people pay more of the costs of social care were branded a “dementia tax” – but she insisted it was simply a clarification. “Since my manifesto was published, the proposals have been subject to fake claims made by Jeremy Corbyn. The only things he has left to offer in this campaign are fake claims, fear and scaremongering,” she said, during a speech in Wrexham to launch the Welsh Tory manifesto. “So I want to make a further point clear. This manifesto says that we will come forward with a consultation paper, a government green paper. And that consultation will include an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs.”

The prime minister said key elements of her party’s social care policy – to limit winter fuel allowance to the poorest and take people’s properties into account in the means test for social care at home – would remain in place. It is understood that the party will not pre-empt the consultation with a figure, not least because the level will depend on where the means test is set for winter fuel allowance. But the Conservative manifesto and a briefing for journalists on the policy had made no mention of a cap, with the policy only announced after days of backlash and amid a slight tightening in the opinion polls. May immediately faced a string of difficult questions from reporters, with one saying the announcement amounted to a “manifesto of chaos”. A testy prime minister responded by insisting that there was always going to be a consultation and the “basic principles” of the policy were unchanged.

“Nothing has changed, nothing has changed,” she added tersely, raising her voice when asked towards the end of the session if anything else in the Tory manifesto was likely to be altered. The prime minister accused a Guardian journalist of borrowing a term from the Labour party after it was suggested that the “dementia tax” would still mean a wide disparity between the children of Alzheimer’s and cancer sufferers. “This is a system that will ensure that people who are faced by the prospect of either requiring care in their own home or go into a home are able to see that support provided for them and don’t have to worry on that month by month basis about where that funding is coming from. They won’t have to sell their family home when they are alive, and they will be able to pass savings on to their children,” she said.

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Yeah, curious.

US Healthcare Industry Blames Trump And GOP For Obamacare Rate Hikes (F.)

The healthcare industry is beginning to shift blame for Obamacare’s 2018 rate hikes and an unstable individual insurance market to Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress. An alliance of health insurers, doctors and employers are urging the Trump administration and Congress to fund cost-sharing subsidies for millions of Americans under the Affordable Care Act. Politico reported Friday that Trump is telling “advisers he wants to end key Obamacare subsidies.” If cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) aren’t funded through 2018, Trump and Republicans will be responsible for more insurers leaving public exchanges and a rate hike of nearly 20% on average, reports indicate.

The cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) are used to help 7 million Americans pay less out of pocket for healthcare services. “There now is clear evidence that this uncertainty is undermining the individual insurance market for 2018 and stands to negatively impact millions of people,” several powerful groups representing hospitals, doctors, patients, insurance companies and U.S. employers wrote in a letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

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The worst idea in a long time. But since they bought Syngenta, probably inevitable.

China Pushes Public to Accept GMO as Syngenta Takeover Nears (BBG)

China will carry out a nationwide poll next month to test the public’s acceptance of genetically-modified food, a technology the government says would boost yields and sustainable agriculture in a country that’s seen consumption soar. [..] China is the world’s fourth-largest grower of GMO cotton and the top importer of soybeans, most of which are genetically modified and used for cooking oil and animal feed for pigs and chickens. But public concern over food safety issues and skepticism about the effects of consuming GMO foods have made the government reluctant to introduce the technology for staple crops. A 2012 trial of so-called Golden Rice – a yellow GMO variant of the grain that produces beta-carotene – caused a public storm after reports that the rice was fed to children without the parents being aware that it was genetically modified.

“Many Chinese turn pale when you mention the GMO word,” said Jin in his small office. Some still believe GMO food can cause cancer and impair childbirth, due to misleading reports in newspapers and social media, he said. A recent decision by a local legislative body against growing GMO crops has added to public confusion, Jin said. The national survey aims to discover what the public’s concerns are so that the government can resolve the confusion, Jin said. “If the government pushes ahead before the public is ready to accept the technology, it would be embarrassing – like offering a pot of half-cooked rice to eat.” Jin said he expected the poll result to show that the general public’s perception of GMO is still negative, but “as more people get to know the technology, more would be willing to accept it.”

The lack of an authoritative scientific institution to answer questions, the widespread illegal cultivation of GMO crops, and public mistrust of government authorities after a series of food scandals have all contributed to skepticism about GMO, Jin said. [..] Syngenta, which produces genetically modified seeds for corn, is gearing up for rapid expansion in the country after shareholders accepted a $43 billion offer for the Swiss agribusiness by China National Chemical. The Chinese state-owned company is expected to complete the deal this month. The American Chamber of Commerce in China had complained that U.S. strains of GMO suffered from slower and less predictable approval for import into China. Chinese and U.S. officials have agreed to evaluate pending U.S. biotechnology product applications by the end of the month, including corn and cotton.

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The GMOs will be used globally.

China Spins a Global Food Web From Mozambique to Missouri (BBG)

Faced with a shrinking area of good arable land and a population of 1.4 billion people who are eating more, Chinese agriculture companies have been buying or leasing farms abroad for decades. After the world food crisis, when grain prices soared from 2006 to 2008, that investment went into overdrive. But many projects were plagued by corruption, mistrust, local resistance and trade restrictions. “By and large, they have not achieved the goals they have set,” said Shenggen Fan, an agricultural economist who grew up on a farm near Shanghai and now heads the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute. “The general conclusion was that it was not a good investment—it was too quick.”

[..] China will still need to source an increasing amount of food from overseas as its growing middle class eats more and demands better quality and variety. The nation already consumes about half of the world’s pork and whole milk powder, and about a third of its soybeans and rice. So, as the global food crisis abated, Chinese companies turned their attention elsewhere—to finding farms with quality producers in more developed countries whose products would sell for a premium in Shanghai and Beijing. “China is just getting started,” said Kartini Samon, who runs the Asia program for Grain, a non-profit focused on farmers’ rights that tracks Chinese farm deals. “They’re slowly building their power and their supply chains.”

Chinese firms have spent almost $52 billion on overseas agriculture deals since 2005 and food industry-related transactions have quadrupled over the past six years, according to data compiled by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. “More and more of what we’re seeing is Chinese companies wanting to buy really good food businesses, as opposed to buying any food businesses,” said Ian Proudfoot, the Auckland-based global head of agribusiness for KPMG. They include WH Group’s 2013 purchase of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s biggest pork producer, and China National Chemical’s $43 billion agreement to take over Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta.

In a key rural policy statement issued by the Communist Party in February, the government said it supports Chinese companies investing in agriculture overseas, from production and processing to storage and logistics. “They won’t just want the production facilities, they’ll be looking for the story and the brand,” said Proudfoot. Of the 17 agricultural deals made by Chinese companies over the past two years, only two were in developing countries—Cambodia and Brazil—and six were in Australia, according to the AEI/Heritage Foundation data. Shanghai Pengxin, which has dairy-farming interests in New Zealand and a Brazilian grain-trading business, is looking for well-known brands in developed countries that can generate fast returns in markets like Shanghai, said a spokesman..

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This is based on ‘findings’ by Moody‘s, but it rated Santander ABS as high as AAA as late as February. We’ve definitely seen this before.

Auto Lender Santander Checked Income on Just 8% in Subprime ABS (BBG)

Santander Consumer USA, one of the biggest subprime auto finance companies, verified income on just 8% of borrowers whose loans it recently bundled into $1 billion of bonds, according to Moody’s. The low level of due diligence on applicants compares with 64% for loans in a recent securitization sold by General Motors Financial’s AmeriCredit unit. The lack of checks may be one factor in explaining higher loan losses experienced by Santander Consumer in bond deals that it has sold in recent years, Moody’s analysts Jody Shenn and Nick Monzillo wrote in a May 17 report, which reviewed data required of asset-backed bond issuers that’s recently been made available. Limited verification of loan applicants’ stated incomes and employment “creates more uncertainty around whether borrowers will be able to afford their monthly payments, which becomes particularly important if they have poor credit records and risky loan terms,” the analysts wrote.

Andrew Kang, Dallas-based Santander Consumer’s treasurer, acknowledged Moody’s findings and said the company’s practice on income verification has been consistent over time even if it’s lower than levels reported among competitors. The higher losses in the loans backing the bonds have been visible to investors, Kang said. Investors have been protected because Santander Consumer included extra loans in the securities in case some went bad, for example, creating a buffer against losses, he said. The Moody’s analysts didn’t make any claim that noteholders were at risk as the bond-grader simply looked at the new data available in the deals to provide analysis on how lenders underwrite. Moody’s rated the Santander deal as high as Aaa in February. Investors who bought into the securities included Massachusetts Mutual Life, according to data.

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Martin Luther rubber duckies. Nothing is holy. Our crisis is spiritual too.

Germany Commemorates The 500th Anniversary Of Luther’s Reformation (AFP)

From burgers to rubber duckies to liquor, Wittenberg is cashing in on its 16th century resident, who changed Christendom forever. It is on a door of a church here that Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses in 1517, leading to a split with the Roman Catholic Church and giving birth to Protestantism. As Germany commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the seismic theological shift started by Luther, Wittenberg is decked out in full Luther regalia. On arrival at the town’s main train station, visitors are greeted with a giant rectangular block labelled “The Bible – Luther’s translation”. Walk a few metres and a billboard seeks to tempt the weary with a “Luther Burger”. In the display windows of shops running one kilometre through the centre of the old town, there is something for everyone – a toddler-sized Luther teddy bear, bags of Luther pasta and Luther tea.

Born in Eisleben on November 10, 1483, Luther moved to Wittenberg in 1511. It was in the eastern town where he married Katharina von Bora, became a father of six children, and published his ideas attacking papal abuses and questioning the place of saints. The theologian, who died in 1546, argued that Christians could not buy or earn their way into heaven but only entered by the grace of God, marking a turning point in Christian thinking. But Luther also came to be linked to Germany’s darkest history, as his later sermons and writings were marked by anti-Semitism – something that the Nazis used to justify their horrific persecution of the Jews. Yet the theologian’s part in reshaping the religious order has unequivocally secured his place as one of the most important figures in European history.

For the 500th Reformation anniversary, Germany has declared an exceptional public holiday on October 31. And tens of thousands of Christians from across the world are descending on the town of 47,000 inhabitants where history was made. [..] going by the number of tourists carrying jute bags featuring Luther’s image, or the steady stream of people picking up Luther cookies, it is clear that the crowd just can’t get enough of the theologian. The boom in Luther souvenirs has been driven by this year’s celebrations, Ruske noted. “There are Luther noodles, Luther tomatoes, Luther chocolate and also Luther coffee. There are many great products that we sell… but there are also bizarre souvenirs. But as long as the demand is there, there’ll always be offers,” said Ruske. The tourism office itself has been stocking 500 Playmobil figurines of Luther every month over the past year. “But they keep selling out,” she said.

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“The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible..”

Do You, Mr. Jones…? (Jim Kunstler)

In case you wonder how our politics fell into such a slough of despond, the answer is pretty simple. Neither main political party, or their trains of experts, specialists, and mouthpieces, can construct a coherent story about what is happening in this country — and the result is a roaring wave of recursive objurgation and wrath that loops purposelessly towards gathering darkness. What’s happening is a slow-motion collapse of the economy. Neither Democrats or Republicans know why it is so remorselessly underway. A tiny number of well-positioned scavengers thrive on the debris cast off by the process of disintegration, but they don’t really understand the process either — the lobbyists, lawyers, bankers, contractors, feeders at the troughs of government could not be more cynical or clueless.

The nation suffers desperately from an absence of leadership and perhaps even more from the loss of faith that leadership is even possible after years without it. Perhaps that’s why so much hostility is aimed at Mr. Putin of Russia, a person who appears to know where his country stands in history, and who enjoys ample support among his countrymen. How that must gall the empty vessels like Lindsey Graham, Rubio, Schumer, Feinstein, Ryan, et. al. So along came the dazzling, zany Trump, who was able to communicate a vague sense-memory of what had been lost in our time of American life, whose sheer bluster resembled something like conviction as projected via the cartoonizing medium of television, and who entered a paralysis of intention the moment he stepped into the oval office, where he proved to be even less authentic than the Wizard of Oz.

Turned out he didn’t really understand the economic collapse underway either; he just remembered an America of 1962 and though somehow the national clock might be turned back. The industrial triumph of America in the 19th and 20th century was really something to behold. But like all stories, it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and we’re closer to the end of that story than the middle. It doesn’t mean the end of civilization but it means we have to start a new story that provides some outline of a life worth living on a planet worth caring about.

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Pilger is the source to turn to.

Getting Julian Assange: The Untold Story (John Pilger)

Julian Assange has been vindicated because the Swedish case against him was corrupt. The prosecutor, Marianne Ny, obstructed justice and should be prosecuted. Her obsession with Assange not only embarrassed her colleagues and the judiciary but exposed the Swedish state’s collusion with the United States in its crimes of war and “rendition”.

Had Assange not sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, he would have been on his way to the kind of American torture pit Chelsea Manning had to endure. This prospect was obscured by the grim farce played out in Sweden. “It’s a laughing stock,” said James Catlin, one of Assange’s Australian lawyers. “It is as if they make it up as they go along”. It may have seemed that way, but there was always serious purpose. In 2008, a secret Pentagon document prepared by the “Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch” foretold a detailed plan to discredit WikiLeaks and smear Assange personally. The “mission” was to destroy the “trust” that was WikiLeaks’ “centre of gravity”. This would be achieved with threats of “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”. Silencing and criminalising such an unpredictable source of truth-telling was the aim.

Perhaps this was understandable. WikiLeaks has exposed the way America dominates much of human affairs, including its epic crimes, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale, often homicidal killing of civilians and the contempt for sovereignty and international law. These disclosures are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama, a professor of constitutional law, lauded whistle blowers as “part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal”. In 2012, the Obama campaign boasted on its website that Obama had prosecuted more whistleblowers in his first term than all other US presidents combined. Before Chelsea Manning had even received a trial, Obama had publicly pronounced her guilty.

Few serious observers doubt that should the US get their hands on Assange, a similar fate awaits him. According to documents released by Edward Snowden, he is on a “Manhunt target list”. Threats of his kidnapping and assassination became almost political and media currency in the US following then Vice-President Joe Biden’s preposterous slur that the WikiLeaks founder was a “cyber-terrorist”. Hillary Clinton, the destroyer of Libya and, as WikiLeaks revealed last year, the secret supporter and personal beneficiary of forces underwriting ISIS, proposed her own expedient solution: “Can’t we just drone this guy.” According to Australian diplomatic cables, Washington’s bid to get Assange is “unprecedented in scale and nature”. In Alexandria, Virginia, a secret grand jury has sought for almost seven years to contrive a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted. This is not easy.

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The Troika has no intention of solving the issue. They demand a 3.5% surplus for years to come, making sure Greece can’t grow.

EU Ministers Fail To Reach Greek Debt Deal, Delay Release Of Bailout (Tel.)

Eurozone finance ministers failed to agree on a deal which would have released vital rescue funds for Athens on Monday night, after Greece’s creditors rejected calls for an upfront commitment to reduce the country’s debt burden. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the Eurogroup of finance ministers, said the ministers had held an “in-depth discussion” on debt sustainability and said they were “very close” to an agreement. However, he added that they had “not reached an overall agreement on that part of the discussion”. “Tonight we were unable to close a possible gap between what could be done and what some of us had expected should be done or could be done. We need to close that by looking at additional options or by adjusting our expectations.”

“Both are possible and both perhaps should be done, and that I think will bring us to a more positive and definite positive conclusion at the next Eurogroup in June,” Mr Dijsselbloem said. Talks are expected to continue over the coming weeks ahead of the next meeting on June 15. Prior to the meeting, Eurozone finance ministers had said they were confident that a political agreement could be reached on Monday evening. This would have paved the way for a fresh tranche of financial aid to ensure Greece avoids a summer cash crunch. However, officials were at odds with the IMF over the critical issue of debt relief, which is a condition of the Fund’s participation in Greece’s third, €86bn bail-out. The IMF had stressed that debt relief was necessary to ensure the country can return to fiscal health, and had called for details on the scope and timing of relief before it joined the programme.

Ahead of the meeting in Brussels, Mr Dijsselbloem had said he was optimistic that creditors would release new loans to Athens after the Greek parliament passed fresh austerity measures last week, including pension cuts. Greece’s debt share currently stands at around 180pc of GDP, but Mr Dijsselbloem said detailed relief measures would not be thrashed out until 2018. Insiders said talks aimed at bridging the gap between the IMF and some of Greece’s creditors would be difficult. “Discussions are going to be long, and I am not sure they will be successful,” said one. Others said everyone was working hard to secure a deal that included the Fund. “If we lose the IMF now, we lose the IMF forever,” said one source.

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Macron is nothing but Merkel’s little helper.

Macron Tells Tsipras France Hopes To Ease Greek Debt (K.)

French President Emmanuel Macron says his new administration will push for an international debt relief deal for austerity-weary Greece. Macron’s office says that he spoke Monday with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and stressed “his determination to find an accord soon to lighten the burden of Greek debt over the long term.” The phone conversation was the first contact between the two since Macron’s election earlier this month. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, named last week, is joining EU finance ministers for talks Monday and Tuesday expected to focus on Greece’s debt problems. Athens hopes that the ministers will agree this week on a deal on easing Greece’s debt repayment terms. Successive Greek governments have slashed spending in return for bailout money to avoid bankruptcy.

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But no-one has the guts to stand up to Merkel and Schäuble.

German Government At Odds With Itself Over Greek Debt Relief (R.)

Germany’s coalition government split along party lines on Monday over the question of debt relief for Greece ahead of a crunch meeting in Brussels to tackle the thorny issue. Euro zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund are meeting to seek a deal on Greek debt relief that balances the IMF’s demand for a clear “when and how” with Berlin’s preference for “only if necessary” and “details later”. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, caused the divergence in views by demanding that the euro zone make a firm commitment on granting debt relief to Greece, effectively criticising conservative Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble’s tough stance. “Greece has been promised debt relief over and over again if reforms are carried out,” Gabriel told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung paper. “Now we must stand by this promise.” “This must not fail due to German resistance,” said Gabriel.

Without the deal no new loans can be granted to Athens, even though the bailout is now handled only by euro zone governments and Greece needs new credit to repay some €7.3 billion worth of maturing loans in July. Schaeuble later described reforms agreed by Greece as “remarkable” but said the Greek economy was not yet competitive and that Athens must press ahead with implementing its existing reforms-for-aid program. “We are not talking about a new program but the implementation of the program agreed in 2015,” Schaeuble said. “At the end of the program, in 2018, we will, if necessary, put in place additional measures that we have defined.” “It is about one goal – namely to help Greece become competitive,” Schaeuble said, adding Greece was not there yet. Speaking at a regular government news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said institutions such as the IMF and the EC were not far apart in their assessment on Greece. “Germany should have an interest in not isolating itself too much,” Schaefer said.

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So obviously, more cuts are needed to make Greece ‘competitive’ again. Contradiction in terms.

1.2 Million Greek Pensioners Live on Less than €500 a Month (GR)

The report of the Unified System of Control and Payment of Pensions “ILIOS” made public by the Labor Ministry shows that 1.2 million Greek pensioners live on less than €500 per month. The figures date from December 2016 and show analytical pension data after Greece’s creditors have asked that pension data calculated with the new methodology should be made public at regular intervals. According to the “ILIOS” report, the average main pension is €722 per month, the average supplementary pension is 170 euros and the average dividend to State pensioners is €97 per month. The report shows that there are 2,892,259 main pensions paid each month, 1,252,241 supplementary pensions and 409,620 dividends with a total cost of €2,342,431,276.95. The figures show that 1.2 million pensioners are paid less than €500 per month.

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Elliniko is the site of the former main airport. It’s horrific. But cynically, it is being evacuated not because of the refugees’ conditions, but because there are plans to develop the site from a consortium of Greek, Chinese and Arab investors.

Amnesty should address Berlin on this, not Athens.

Amnesty Urges Greece to Provide Safe Housing to Elliniko Refugees (GR)

Greek authorities must ensure that refugees and migrants expected to start being evacuated from three Elliniko camps on Tuesday, are provided with safe, adequate, alternative housing, Amnesty International said in a press release on Monday. “Whilst no one will mourn the closure of these uninhabitable, unsafe camps, the failure to provide people living there with information about their imminent removal has only served to increase their fears and anxieties,” said Monica Costa Riba, Amnesty International’s Regional Campaigner. “There has been no consultation with Ellinko residents who have been kept in the dark as to when and where they will be moved to. The authorities must urgently guarantee that no one will be rendered homeless or placed at risk as a result of the closure. Safe and secure adequate alternative housing which takes account of the particular needs of women and girls must be made available,” she said.

Speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, an Amnesty International member said: “All NGOs active in Elliniko were asked to leave the area, except the two that provide medical help.” Sources from the ministry of Migration Policy denied the report on an imminent evacuation, saying that authorities will instead begin an “information campaign for the people who live in Elliniko,” adding that “misinformation doesn’t help in the real handling of the issue.” Amnesty International had requested to visit the camps between May 21 and 23 but was refused, however, its researchers managed to interview residents outside the camp. One Afghan man told Amnesty International: “They don’t give us information, which creates a lot of anxiety…They want to confuse us so that we cannot decide and they’ll decide for us.” An Afghan woman said: “We talked with everyone but no one tells us anything. I am really worried about ending up on the street.”

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May 222017
 
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Pable Picasso Le Pengouin 1907

 

US Loan Creation Crashes To Six-Year Low (ZH)
UK Has All The Ingredients For A New Credit Crunch (G.)
Media To Trump: Only Cozy Up To The Right Dictators (FAIR)
America’s Cash Cow: ‘Trump Does Not Value The Saudis, Only Their Money’ (RT)
Nassim Taleb Tells Ron Paul: “We’ll Destroy What Needs To Be Destroyed” (ZH)
How Did Russiagate Start? (Matt Taibbi)
Jeremy Corbyn Defies His Critics To Become Labour’s Best Hope Of Survival (G.)
UK Labour Pledges To Abolish Tuition Fees As Early As Autumn 2017 (G.)
China’s Tide Of Internal Migration Is Shifting (BBG)
Commodity Traders Are Stuck in a World Where Everybody Knows Everything (BBG)
Interest-Only Loans Could Be ‘Australia’s Subprime’ (AFR)
Greek Creditors Seek to Break Impasse on Stalled Bailout Review (BBG)
Syphilis Is On The Rise Because Penicillin Isn’t Profitable (Qz)

 

 

Our economies cannot function without constant new money creation by banks on the back of mortgages and other loans.

US Loan Creation Crashes To Six-Year Low (ZH)

According to the latest Fed data, the all-important C&I loan growth contraction has not only continued, but over the past two months, another 50% has been chopped off, and what in early March was a 4.0% annual growth is now barely positive, down to just 2.0%, and set to turn negative in just a few weeks. This was the lowest growth rate since May 2011, right around the time the Fed was about to launch QE2. At the same time, total loan growth has likewise continued to decline, and as of the second week of May was down to 3.8%, the weakest overall loan creation in three years.

Another loan category that has seen a dramatic slowdown since last September, when Ford’s CEO aptly predicted that “sales have reached a plateau.” Since then auto loan growth has been slashed by more than 50% and at this runrate, is set to turn negative some time in late 2017. Needless to say, that would wreak even further havoc on the US car market. For a while, despite numerous attempts at explanation, there was no definitive theory why this dramatic slowdown was taking place. It even prompted the WSJ to inquire “who hit the brakes?” Well, after the latest Fed Senior Loan Officer Survey, we may have the answer.

First, recall that in late April we showed another very troubling trend: consumer credit card default rate as tracked by S&P/Experian Bankcard had surged to the highest level since June 2013, suggesting that contrary to reports otherwise, the US consumer is increasingly unwell. A quick look at the latest Fed Senior Loan officer survey revealed even more disturbing trends. According to the report, “banks reported tightening most credit policies on Commercial Real Estate loans over the past year…. On balance, banks reported weaker demand for CRE loans in the first quarter.” Even more troubling was the continued drop in demand for C&I loans among small, medium and large corporations, with “inquiries for C&I lines of credit remained basically unchanged” staying at a modestly depressed rate.

This stark admission that in addition to declining bank supply due to tighter standard (i.e., worries about further losses), there was less demand by businesses and consumers for loans, has explained once and for all the ongoing collapse in commercial bank loan creation, both total, C&I and auto. Of the two, the declining demand for loans businesses, is by far the most concerning aspect of an economy that is supposedly growing, and where companies should be willing to take out new credit to fund expansion (instead of merely issuing bonds to buyback their stock).

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Position very similar to US. And many others, obviously.

UK Has All The Ingredients For A New Credit Crunch (G.)

A credit crunch is brewing and when it happens, the UK is going to get hurt. That is the message emerging from senior executives in the financial services industry, who do not think Britain has changed that much since the 2008 credit disaster and the devastating crash that followed. Three developments lie at the heart of this disturbing analysis: spectacular growth in the sale of second mortgages, car loans and credit cards. Second mortgages are widely seen as a signal of consumers taking on risky levels of debt that leave them vulnerable to a downturn in the economy. It was the same before the last banking crash. Tens of thousands of households, many of them struggling to pay monthly mortgage payments, used second mortgages to bypass borrowing limits set by their mortgage lender.

The latest industry figures show the number of people opting to saddle themselves with a second mortgage leapt 22% in March to its highest level since 2008. Car loans are already on the regulator’s radar. Like second mortgages, they are considered secured credit on the basis that lenders have a claim against an asset when borrowers can no longer pay monthly instalments. But cars depreciate from the moment they are bought, so they rank low down the scale of secure credit. And loans have turned in recent years into leases that have customers renewing contracts every three years, keeping them in effect permanently hooked. The main consumer regulator for the financial services industry, the Financial Conduct Authority, is reviewing the market for car leasing, which now accounts for more than 90% of car sales, to check for mis-selling to poorer households who will be vulnerable to default.

The Bank of England is also on the case. More importantly, it is also looking at the big picture and what happens if unemployment suddenly rises and a large number of households default on payments. Officials at the Bank have a growing list of concerns. Not only is there the second mortgage problem and the number of car loans: figures show consumer spending on unsecured credit has also rocketed in the last year. In March alone, the amount UK consumers owed on loans and cards grew by £1.9bn, the highest figure in 11 years. Households are known to have increased their reliance on short-term unsecured loans to buy cars and furniture, and to kit out new kitchens. Some use them to maintain their lifestyle in the face of a decade of flat wages.

Unfortunately, another group use credit to pay the monthly rent. Shelter, the homelessness charity, says one in three renters – around half a million people – on low incomes are having to borrow money to pay the rent. It said the borrowing is often from family and friends, but also on credit cards and through loans.

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Why US mainstream media are on their last legs.

Media To Trump: Only Cozy Up To The Right Dictators (FAIR)

After a series of friendly gestures by President Donald Trump toward Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi over the past few months, US media have recoiled with disgust at the open embrace of governments that ostensibly had heretofore been beyond the pale. “Enabling Egypt’s President Sisi, an Enemy of Human Rights,” was the New York Times‘ editorial position (4/4/17)—followed by “Donald Trump Embraces Another Despot” (5/1/17). A week later, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) lectured Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the Times op-ed page (5/8/17) on “Why We Must Support Human Rights.” “How Trump Makes Dictators Stronger” was Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum’s lament (5/1/17). “Trump keeps praising international strongmen, alarming human rights advocates,” reported an upset Philip Rucker (Washington Post, 5/2/17).

Post contributor Tom Toles (5/2/17) added, “Trump invites ruthless dictators to the White House.” Trump had gone too far, was the media message, crossing a line with his enthusiastic outreach to brutal tyrants. So the Trump administration’s announcement of a plan for not just a friendly visit to Saudi Arabia—scheduled for May 20–21—but also the sale of up to $300 billion in weapons to the oppressive regime, must have provoked the same outcry from these critics, right? Actually, no. Thus far, the LA Times, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, ABC and CBS haven’t reported on Trump’s massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia, much less had a pundit or editorial board condemn it. Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen has killed at least 10,000 civilians, resulted in near-famine conditions for 7 million people and led to a deadly cholera epidemic—all made possible with US weapons and logistical support.

John McCain, whose New York Times op-ed was unironically shared by dozens of high-status pundits, aggressively backs Saudi Arabia’s brutal bombing of Yemen, and has called for increased military support to the absolute monarchy. The New York Times hasn’t written an editorial about Saudi Arabia since October of last year (10/1/16), when, for the second time in the span of a week, the paper defended the regime against potential lawsuits over its role in the 9/11 attacks. When the Times does speak out on the topic of Saudi Arabia, it does so to run interference for its possible connection to international terrorism.

Nice words to the wrong dictators unleash a torrent of outrage from our pundit class. Nice words to the right dictators—along with billions in military hardware, which unlike nice words will be used to continue to slaughter residents of a neighboring country and suppress domestic dissent–result in uniform silence. Not a word from Anne Applebaum, no condemnation from Philip Rucker, no moral preening from Sen. John McCain, no sense that any line had been crossed from the New York Times editorial board. The US’s warm embrace and arming of the Saudis is factored in, it’s bipartisan, and thus not worthy of outrage.

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NassimNicholasTaleb on Twitter:

“What @realDonaldTrump is doing: sucking in the last $100 billion before the bankruptcy of SaudiBarbaria. If anything, cruel to the Saudis.”

America’s Cash Cow: ‘Trump Does Not Value The Saudis, Only Their Money’ (RT)

RT: Trump signed a $110-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. How do you think this is going to be received in the US and in the wider international community?

Sharmine Narwani: Not very well. We’ve seen what the Saudis have done with arms in the last six years or so. To understand why this administration is upping arms sales to the Saudis, we have to go back a little bit. In 2010, 2011 at the start of the Arab Spring, the Saudis signed contracts for over $65 billion at that time, the largest ever. And then here we are a number of years later. And the numbers are 110, possibly up to $300 billion. And the reason behind this is basically after the failures of the US intervention in Iraq and invasion of Afghanistan, the Americans were no longer willing to sacrifice blood and treasure, and moving forward they were going to use local proxies to fight their wars. And Saudi Arabia is willing and able to fight wars in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen on behalf of the American administration. But unfortunately, to no avail; these are not winnable wars. And at this point, I think Trump is looking at them as a cash cow.

RT: Trump says he wants to help bring peace to the Middle East. But does striking such a huge arms deal right off the bat send the right signal?

SN: Peace is a relative term. What do the Americans and what does the Trump administration mean by peace, for starters? Peace means the status quo, it means the Americans continue to exercise hegemony over the region, and that is not possible with an empire in decline. So, I think right now what we are seeing with the Trump administration headed by Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, spearheading an effort to create what they are calling the Arab NATO, which is a peace deal struck over the Israel-Palestine conflict in which the Saudis and the Gulf States and other Sunni states will agree to some kind of a solution there in order to cooperate with Israel to target Iran. So, in fact, we are going to see an escalation, not peace.

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“We have today so many people sitting in the New York Times Washington office, in an air conditioned office, who can dictate foreign policy with zero risk.”

Nassim Taleb Tells Ron Paul: “We’ll Destroy What Needs To Be Destroyed” (ZH)

Just how homogenous is the U.S. foreign policy elite? Remember that through the end of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State in 2013, either a Bush or a Clinton held one of the three highest offices in the U.S. – the presidency, vice presidency or secretary of state – for eight straight terms. Another reason why interventionist foreign policy often fails is because federal-government bureaucrats and other outsiders don’t have “skin in the game” – an entrenched interest, financial or of another sort, in the conflict – and therefore, are incapable of achieving a comprehensive understanding of the situation. That goes for both elected leaders, beauracrats, and the media. “We have today so many people sitting in the New York Times Washington office, in an air conditioned office, who can dictate foreign policy with zero risk.”

Dr. Paul seized the opportunity to criticize the “Chickenhawks” who advocate interventionism, but avoided serving in the military during Vietnam. “I don’t fault them for trying to avoid the war, but I fault them for advocating war,” Paul said. Many still haven’t internalized the lesson of the 2007-2008 economic crash and how the monetary policy missteps made by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan helped cause the crash. As a result, throughout human history, “we’ve never had so many people transferring risk to others,” Taleb asserts. One reason these actors have been allowed to remain in power is that it’s difficult to assign blame to individuals when you’re dealing with “macro” conflicts like the Syrian conflict that involve many different state actors.

This is one reason the policy elite at the State Department – whom Taleb compared to doctors from ancient times, who inflicted more harm than healing on their patients – have managed to stay in power, while a modern-day doctor who was causing an unusual number of patient deaths would quickly be barred from practicing. Turning the conversation toward the asset bubbles that have continued growing since the last crisis, Taleb explained how Greenspan’s discovery that he could stabilize markets by slashing interest rates has led to our current struggle with unprecedented debt creation and a belief in “perpetual wealth and perpetual growth.” “Lowering rates in such a manner leads to distortions. If we didn’t have a Fed, we’d be better off because the price of money would be negotiated between people.”

[..] Whatever happens to the Federal Reserve -if it’s allowed to continue monetizing debt or not – it may not matter. Because digital currencies like bitcoin, which are quickly growing in popularity and value, could one day supplant the use of fiat currencies altogether, Taleb said. During the last U.S. election, people showed that they aren’t “victims of the New York Times.” Moreover, Twitter has helped upend the media power structure in favor of the people and independent thought. “Trump was elected in spite of 264 top newspapers wanting him to lose,” Taleb noted, adding that he believes the future will be “a libertarian dream.” “We will destroy what needs to be destroyed, and build what needs to be built,” he said.

Read more …

Taibbi is crawling back a little.

How Did Russiagate Start? (Matt Taibbi)

[..] there was no way to listen to the March 5th interview and not come away feeling like Clapper believed he would have known of the existence of a FISA warrant, or of any indications of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, had they existed up until the time he left office on January 20th of this year. Todd went out of his way to hammer at the question of whether or not he knew of any evidence of collusion. Clapper again said, “Not to my knowledge.” Here Todd appropriately pressed him: If it did exist, would you know? To this, Clapper merely answered, “This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.” That’s not an unequivocal “yes,” but it’s close. There’s no way to compare Clapper’s statements on March 5th to his interviews last week and not feel that something significant changed between then and now.

Clapper’s statements seem even stranger in light of James Comey’s own testimony in the House on March 20th. In that appearance, Comey – who by then had dropped his bombshell about the existence of an investigation into Trump campaign figures – was asked by New York Republican Elise Stefanik when he notified the DNI about his inquiry. “Good question,” Comey said. “Obviously, the Department of Justice has been aware of it all along. The DNI, I don’t know what the DNI’s knowledge of it was, because we didn’t have a DNI – until Mr. Coats took office and I briefed him his first morning.” Comey was saying that he hadn’t briefed the DNI because between January 20th, when Clapper left office, and March 16th, when former Indiana senator and now Trump appointee Dan Coats took office, the DNI position was unfilled.

But Comey had said the counterintelligence investigation dated back to July, when he was FBI director under a Democratic president. So what happened between July and January? If Comey felt the existence of his investigation was so important that he he had to disclose it to DNI Coats on Coats’ first day in office, why didn’t he feel the same need to disclose the existence of an investigation to Clapper at any time between July and January? Furthermore, how could the FBI participate in a joint assessment about Russian efforts to meddle in American elections and not tell Clapper and the other intelligence chiefs about what would seemingly be a highly germane counterintelligence investigation in that direction?

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If Corbyn doesn‘t beat May, it’ll be due to his own party members. Corbyn equals Sanders in many ways. Left wing parties, to avoid oblivion, must be drastically changed and rebuilt. But vested interests make that very hard in both the UK and US.

Jeremy Corbyn Defies His Critics To Become Labour’s Best Hope Of Survival (G.)

In 2009 the Greek Socialist party, Pasok, entered government with 44% of the vote; by 2015 it was down to seventh, with just 5%. The party’s demise coincided with, and was arguably precipitated by, the rise of the more leftwing Syrza, which went from 5% and fifth place to 36% and government within the same period. This dual trajectory gave rise to the term Pasokification: the dramatic decline of a centre-left party that is eclipsed by a more leftwing alternative. A word was needed for it because there’s a lot of it about. Earlier this month the French Socialist party came fifth in the first round of the presidential election with just 6% of the vote, while the hard left won 20%; back in 2012 the Socialists came first with 28% and went on to win the presidency. In Holland the PvdA, the mainstream social democratic party, won 6% in March and came 7th while the GreenLeft coalition won 9%; back in 2012 the PvdA came second, with 25%.

Less pronounced versions of the same dynamic have occurred across the continent. When parties created to represent the interests of working people in parliament decide instead to make working people pay for the crisis in capital they get punished, and ultimately may be discarded. Anyone who believes that Labour is immune from this contagion just needs to take a look at Scotland, where the party went from 41 seats in 2010 to just one in 2015, before Corbyn was elected leader. To understand the Labour party’s fortunes in this election outside of this trend would be like looking at each national uprising during the Arab spring in 2011, or the collapse of Eastern bloc dictatorships in 1989, as being somehow wholly discrete from each other.

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Bold move. But there’s only two weeks left.

UK Labour Pledges To Abolish Tuition Fees As Early As Autumn 2017 (G.)

New university students will be freed from paying £9,000 in tuition fees as early as this autumn if Labour wins the election, Jeremy Corbyn will say on Monday. The Labour leader and Angela Rayner, his shadow education secretary, will say tuition fees will be completely abolished through legislation from 2018 onwards. But students starting courses in September will have fees for their first year written off retrospectively so as not to encourage them to defer their studies for a year. Labour said it would seek to provide free tuition for EU students and push for reciprocal arrangements at EU universities as part of the Brexit negotiations. Students who are partway through their courses would no longer have to pay tuition fees from 2018, meaning those starting their final year of study in September would be the last cohort liable for the £27,000 of debts to be paid back when graduates pass an earnings threshold.

Labour said those students would be protected from above-inflation interest rate rises on their debts and the party would look for ways to reduce the burden for them in future. “The Conservatives have held students back for too long, saddling them with debt that blights the start of their working lives. Labour will lift this cloud of debt and make education free for all as part of our plan for a richer Britain for the many not the few,” Corbyn will say. “We will scrap tuition fees and ensure universities have the resources they need to continue to provide a world-class education. Students will benefit from having more money in their pockets, and we will all benefit from the engineers, doctors, teachers and scientists that our universities produce.”

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And then they run out of ‘cheaper’ areas. But at least there’s new space to build ghost cities in.

China’s Tide Of Internal Migration Is Shifting (BBG)

Growth in China’s economy has long centered on the coast, where Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta form some of the world’s most productive regions on their own. But now that tide of internal migration that drew hundreds of millions of workers from the farm to factory is shifting, and lifting the economic prospects of the country’s interior.As big-city living costs rise and job openings become less abundant, more migrants are now leaving China’s urban centers than new ones arriving, according to Oxford Economics. “Labor costs on the East Coast are now too high for industries further down the value chain to remain competitive internationally,” London-based economist Alessandro Theiss wrote in a report, citing an 8 million decline in the migrant population from 2014 to 2016.

The shift should benefit inland provinces, especially in southwest regions like Sichuan, as companies move production to take advantage of lower costs while remaining connected to coastal export hubs and industrial clusters, he said. Southern and northwestern provinces are are likely to keep expanding relatively fast as they benefit from catch-up growth, fiscal support and geographic location, while the northeast is likely to remain the slowest-growing region as population declines and coal mining consolidates more in inland provinces, according to Theiss. While the east coast was hit by slower global trade in recent years, conditions are now improving. Specialized manufacturing clusters and export hubs are innovating and moving up the value chain, and research activity is boosting the region.

That’s good news for some of China’s biggest drivers: Coastal Guangdong, Jiangsu and Shandong provinces each account for around 10% of national output and all had output last year that exceeded Mexico’s, Theiss said. The future looks favorable for east coast provinces with more mature economies, as well as those in central China.

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If “Everybody Knows Everything”, the markets must be rigged if anyone wants to make any money.

Commodity Traders Are Stuck in a World Where Everybody Knows Everything (BBG)

For commodity traders operating in the Information Age, just good old trading doesn’t cut it anymore. Unlike the stock market in which transactions are typically based on information that’s public, firms that buy and sell raw materials thrived for decades in an opaque world where their metier relied on knowledge privy only to a few. Now, technological development, expanding sources of data, more sophisticated producers and consumers as well as transparency surrounding deals are eroding their advantage. “Everything is transparent, everybody knows everything and has access to information,” Daniel Jaeggi, the president of Mercuria Energy Group, said on Thursday at the Global Trader Summit organized by IE Singapore, a government agency that promotes international trade.

Sitting next to him at a panel discussing ‘What’s Next for Commodity Trading: Drivers, Disruptors and Opportunities’, Sunny Verghese, the chief executive officer of food trader Olam International Ltd., lamented declining margins. “The consumers and producers are trying to eat our lunch. So we got to be smart about differentiating ourselves,” he said. As market participants’ access to information increases, the traders highlighted the need to more than simply buy and sell commodities as profits from arbitrage – or gains made from a differential in prices – shrinks. That means getting involved in the supply chain by potentially buying into infrastructure that’s key to the production and distribution of raw materials, and also providing financing for the development of such assets.

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Interest only loans are deadly weapons. Lots of them in various EU countries too.

Interest-Only Loans Could Be ‘Australia’s Subprime’ (AFR)

High-risk mortgage loans to young families, professionals and other over-extended borrowers amounting to more than six times household incomes could wipe out 20% of the major banks’ equity base, institutional investment fund JCP Investment Partners has warned. The fund manager’s study warns that official estimates of average household indebtedness are depressed by the sizeable number of mortgages that are effectively full paid off. In a proprietary study of the nation’s record high-and-growing household debt mountain, the Melbourne-based fund said Irish-style housing losses for the bigger-than-recognised pool of riskier borrowers could wipe out half of the banks’ equity capital.

Interest-only loans, said JCP – which is one of three Australian equities managers appointed by the Future Fund – could be “Australia’s sub-prime”. As regulators crack down on interest-only lending and the Turnbull government’s decision to introduce a bank levy drives up the cost of loans, “only time will tell if such households can afford the mortgages they have”. The dramatic warning echoes concerns raised by Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe this month that rising household debt had made the economy more vulnerable, and that it was unclear how stretched consumers might behave in a crisis.

It also follows a review by Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman Wayne Byres of bank capital requirements for housing exposures, given the “notable concentration in housing”, announced at The Australian Financial Review Banking and Wealth Summit last month. Among the biggest concerns is what may happen when households feel they can no longer service their loans, for instance, as borrowing costs are reset higher or those with interest only mortgages are forced to repay the principal as well. That creates a negative feedback loop – experienced by Ireland after the financial crisis – in which stressed borrowers slash their spending, in turn crunching the economy, driving up unemployment and adding to downward pressure on house prices.

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They seek to break Greece, not the impasse.

Greek Creditors Seek to Break Impasse on Stalled Bailout Review (BBG)

Euro-area finance ministers gather in Brussels on Monday to try to clinch a deal on easing Greece’s debt burden, which would resolve a stalled review of the country’s bailout and pave the way for a new set of rescue loans. While Greece and its bailout supervisors have agreed on economic overhauls, the completion of the country’s review has been held back by disagreements between key creditors over how much debt relief is needed. At the heart of the impasse lies the IMF’s reluctance to participate in a bailout unless the euro area takes further steps to ensure the country’s €315 billion ($353 billion) debt load becomes sustainable. Some nations like Germany, which is resisting changes to Greece’s debt profile, won’t release any new funds until the IMF joins the program. Athens needs its next aid installment of around €7 billion before it has to repay lenders in July.

A global agreement on Greek debt “is within reach and it’s vital,” EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said in an interview on France Inter radio on Sunday. Additional debt relief is also necessary for the ECB to include Greek bonds in its asset purchases program, which would ease the country’s access to bond markets. EU officials see chances for a deal on Monday at 50-50, and point to a meeting of euro-area finance ministry deputies ahead of the ministers’ gathering, which will determine the likelihood of an accord. A key issue of contention is the outlook for Greece’s economy after 2018, when the current bailout expires. The IMF has raised doubts about Greece’s ability to maintain such an optimistic budget performance for decades, while key creditors have been pushing for a more positive outlook. Less ambitious fiscal targets would increase the amount of debt relief needed.

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Celebrate capitalism. While you’re alive.

Syphilis Is On The Rise Because Penicillin Isn’t Profitable (Qz)

At least 18 countries, including South Africa, the US, Canada, Portugal, France, and Brazil, have faced shortages of benzathine penicillin G over the last three years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). With only a few companies in the world still manufacturing the medicine, countries can’t find enough supply of the drug that changed modern medicine 76 years ago. Penicillin was discovered in 1928, but it really took off during World War II. In the early 1940s, a US government-led program brought together around 20 commercial firms, plus government and academic research laboratories, who collaborated to scale up penicillin production to supply the military. The goal, according to the book Sickness and Health in America, was to have enough penicillin for the troops landing in France in June 1944.

In March 1945, penicillin was, for the first time, made available for consumers across the US. It’s efficacy made it popular: by 1949, the US annual production of penicillin was 1.3 trillion units—compared to the relative pittance of 1.7 billion units in 1944.\ Penicillin was one of the great achievements of modern medicine. It was the first drug of its kind, considered a miracle, and ushered in the era of antibiotics. Before penicillin, any cut could kill if it got infected; surgeries of any kind could be fatal; and bacterial infections such as strep throat could kill. Gonorrhea, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted illnesses were basically a death sentence. But a single shot of benzathine penicillin G was enough to kill the first stages of syphilis, which had plagued humankind for over 500 years. It could also cure gonorrhea and other infectious disease. Today, benzathine penicillin G is still the most effective drug against deadly diseases such as rheumatic heart disease and syphilis.

[..] Today, just four companies in the world still produce the active ingredient for benzathine penicillin G. Three are in China: North China Pharmaceutical; CSPC Pharmaceuticals; Jiangxi Dongfeng Pharmaceutical. Austria-based Sandoz is the only producer of the active ingredient for benzathine penicillin G in the Western world. Together, these producers have the capacity to deliver up to 600 metric tons of benzathine penicillin G a year, but they produce less than 20% of that. “There is no money in penicillin,” says Amit Sengupta, the New Delhi-based global coordinator of the People’s Health Movement. A shot of benzathine penicillin G typically costs between $0.20 and $2.00, and usually all you need is one—strep throat and syphilis are both cured with a single injection of penicillin.

Read more …

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Alfred Buckham Tower of London and Tower Bridge c1920

 

Trump’s $115 Billion Saudi Weapons Deal Ratifies US Support For Yemen War (WE)
A Quarter Of Americans Can’t Pay All Their Monthly Bills (ZH)
U.K. Threatens to Quit Brexit Talks If It Faces Massive Bill (BBG)
Tory Support Wobbles as Labour Attacks May’s Pensioner Plans (BBG)
May’s Plan To End Free School Lunches ‘To Hit 900,000 Struggling Families’ (O.)
Theresa May’s Tory Manifesto Scraps The Ban On Elephant Ivory Sales (EP)
Comey Has Changed His Mind On Trump Trying To Influence Him (ZH)
The Fallacy of Demonizing Russia (CN)
CIA Incompetence Allowed China To Murder A Dozen CIA Assets (ZH)
Those Exposed By WikiLeaks Should Be Investigated, Not Assange (RT)
Varoufakis Reveals Worst Kept Secret In Europe: EU Is A German Empire (MW)
Germany Limits Refugee Family Reunions From Greece (DW)
Schäuble: Germany Will Not Accept Any Greek Debt Cut at Present Time (GR)
Greek State Debt Rises To €326.5 Billion (GR)

 

 

Crazy. In America it is still considered OK to kill people for profit. Has been for ages.

But look at what’s not even being said: talking about Saudi Arabia without mentioning its support for Salafi religion and terrorism paints only part of the picture. To make a buck, and to create more chaos, the US supports the very terrorists it claims to be fighting.

Trump’s $115 Billion Saudi Weapons Deal Ratifies US Support For Yemen War (WE)

President Trump’s newly announced arms agreement with Saudi Arabia ratifies an Obama administration policy that has drawn criticism from a voluble, bipartisan minority of senators. Saudi Arabia, armed with American weapons, fought a proxy war with Iran in Yemen, where the government was overthrown by a rebel group tied to the Iranians. Allegations that Saudi Arabia has bombed civilians and committed other human rights abuses compromised what would otherwise tend to be unanimous U.S. support for the conflict. A $1.15 billion arms deal last year turned controversial, but that pact is dwarfed by the $110 billion pact signed Saturday. “[M]any of the armaments we’re providing to Saudi Arabia will help them be much more precise and targeted with many of their strikes, but it’s important that pressure be kept on the rebels in Yemen,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters following meetings in Riyadh.

But Saudi Arabia has attacked civilians intentionally, according to Senate critics of such agreements, rather than by mistakes borne of imprecise airstrike technology. “[T]he country is on the brink of famine in part because the Saudis have intentionally destroyed transit hubs and key bridges, and blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid into Yemen,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., wrote in a piece published by the Huffington Post. “By selling the Saudis these precision-guided weapons more — not fewer — civilians will be killed because it is Saudi Arabia’s strategy to starve Yemenis to death to increase their own leverage at the negotiating table. They couldn’t do this without the weapons we are selling them.”

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., wanted Tillerson to make a series of demands on the Saudis designed to ease civilian suffering in Yemen, such as ending delays on humanitarian aid at a port city held by the rebels. “First, renounce any intention to conduct a military operation against the Port of Hudaydah,” Young, a former Marine who sits with Murphy on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week during a colloquy on the Senate floor with the Connecticut Democrat. “Second, redouble efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution. Third, end any delays to the delivery of humanitarian aid caused by the Saudi-led coalition. And, fourth, permit the delivery of much-needed U.S.-funded cranes to the Port of Hudaydah that would permit the quicker delivery of food and medicine. I said it before, with more than 10 million Yemenis requiring humanitarian assistance there is no time to waste.”

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Reports of poverty in America won’t stop coming in.

A Quarter Of Americans Can’t Pay All Their Monthly Bills (ZH)

There was some good news and some not so good news in the Fed’s latest annual Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households. First the good news. The report, based on the Board’s fourth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking conducted in October 2016, presents a “picture of improving financial well-being among Americans”, at least according to the report (read on to see if this is merited). Overall, 70% of the more than 6,600 respondents said they were either “living comfortably” or “doing okay,” up 1% from 2015 and up 8% from the first survey results in 2013. Not surprisingly, the highest percentage, or 92%, of those who responded they were “living comfortably” was among the group with more than $100,000 in family income.

For Americans making less than $40,000 the breakdown was almost evenly split with 49% saying they are “just getting by.” According to the same study, 28% of respondents said that their income in the last 12 months was less than $25,000, and 40% report that their income was less than the key $40,000 cutoff, which suggests that roughly 4 in 10 Americans are “finding it difficult to get by.” The improvements in well-being as reported by the survey respondents were concentrated among high-income adults, with at least some college education, and prompted the WSJ to write that “U.S Household financial health improved in recent years.” Even so, most of the changes reported in the survey were relatively modest, “reflecting a slowly improving economy and an unemployment level at or below 5% throughout 2016.”

Now, the not so good news. Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. Specifically, the survey found that, in line with what the Fed had disclosed in previous years, 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it. Troubling as this statistic remains, the overall share of adults who would struggle to come up with $400 in a pinch has declined by 2% from the last survey conducted in 2015, and down 6% since 2013. Of the group that could not pay in cash, 45% said they would go further in debt and use a credit card to pay off the expense over time. while a quarter would borrow from friends of family, and another 27% just couldn’t pay the expense. Others would turn to selling items or using a payday loan.

The breakdown was largely by education attainment: 79% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree said they would still be able to pay all of their other bills in full if hit with a $400 charge. Just 52% of those with no more than a high school diploma said the same. Just as concerning were other findings from the study: just under one-fourth of adults, or 23%, are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being grossly unprepared, indicating they had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.

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Election talk.

U.K. Threatens to Quit Brexit Talks If It Faces Massive Bill (BBG)

The U.K. will quit Brexit talks unless the EU drops its demands of a divorce payment of €100 billion ($112 billion), Brexit Secretary David Davis said. Britain’s negotiations on leaving the EU would otherwise be plunged into “chaos,” and even a £1 billion settlement would be “a lot of money,” Davis said in an interview published in the Sunday Times. The size of Britain’s exit bill, and which types of negotiations can begin before it has been agreed, has been a source of debate for weeks. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the U.K. will have to pay about £50 billion, while Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has signaled a figure between €40 billion and €60 billion. The Financial Times estimated the cost could balloon to €100 billion, while a study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales put the cost at as little as £5 billion ($6.5 billion).

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has said it will meet its commitments to the EU, but has questioned how the EU’s preliminary estimates have been reached. “We don’t need to just look like we can walk away, we need to be able to walk away,” Davis said. “Under the circumstances, if that was necessary, we would be in a position to do it.” In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, May said that “money paid in the past” by the U.K. into joint EU projects and the European Investment Bank ought to be taken account in the final divorce bill. “There is much debate about what the U.K.’s obligations might be or indeed what our rights might be,” she said. “We make it clear that we would look at those both rights and obligations.”

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Is there enough time left for May to alienate enough people? She certainly tries.

Tory Support Wobbles as Labour Attacks May’s Pensioner Plans (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of boosting her parliamentary majority suffered a blow on Saturday, as Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party edged closer in the polls and Conservatives faced a backlash over proposed changes to social care. Labour cut the Tories’ lead in the latest Opinium Research survey to 13 points from 15 points a week earlier, and a new YouGov survey in the Sunday Times put Corbyn’s party nine points behind. The last time Labour managed a single-digit deficit in the YouGov series was in September. The tightening polls mark a setback for May as she seeks to strengthen her position ahead of upcoming Brexit negotiations. In another blow, 47% of respondents in a Survation poll said they opposed May’s plan to require people to tap into assets above £100,000 ($130,000), excluding the value of their homes, to pay for the costs of their old-age care.

Attacking May’s social care pledge and manifesto promises to pensioners, a demographic that traditionally votes Conservative, Corbyn labeled the Tories a “nasty” party in a speech in Birmingham on Saturday. He reiterated the accusation in an emailed statement and set out five pledges for how his party would help older voters. “Theresa May and the Conservatives won’t stand up for pensioners,” Corbyn said in the statement. “Their only concern is their billionaire friends.” Labour’s pledges to older voters include preserving a so-called triple lock on pension payments for five years, under which the government guarantees pensions will rise annually by whichever is greatest: the rate of inflation, the rise in earnings, or 2.5%. The Tories say they’ll drop the 2.5% provision starting in 2020.

Corbyn’s party also says it will guarantee winter fuel subsidies for all pensioners, and will not raise the state pension age beyond 66. The Conservative manifesto, unveiled by May on Thursday, would scrap the fuel payments for well-off pensioners, and said the state pension age should reflect increases in life expectancy. In a lengthy Facebook post Saturday, May warned that a lot is “at stake” in the election and said the U.K. has “great challenges,” including the need to provide “security for older people while being fair to the young”. “If I lose just six seats I will lose this election, and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors of Europe,” May wrote. Labour’s leader would “bring chaos to Britain,” she said.

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It’s plenty bad enough that it’s needed. And then scrap it? Scrapping it merely confirms that Britain is a third world country run by a cynical elite. Good thing there’s an election right ahead.

May’s Plan To End Free School Lunches ‘To Hit 900,000 Struggling Families’ (O.)

About 900,000 children from struggling families will lose their right to free school lunches under a cut unveiled in the Conservative manifesto. The total includes more than 600,000 young children recently defined as coming from “ordinary working families”, according to analysis for the Observer by the Education Policy Institute. It means that the surprise measure risks undermining Theresa May’s pledge to prioritise families that are “just about managing” – those who are in work, but struggling to make ends meet. May opted to end universal free school lunches for infants, introduced under the coalition government, and replace them with free breakfasts. The money saved will be used to see off a looming Tory rebellion over school funding.

The move risks punishing exactly the kind of families the prime minister has promised to help and will cost families about £440 for every child hit by the cut. It is likely to save about £650m a year. However, the Conservatives pointed to recent evidence that free breakfasts were more cost-effective, adding that the poorest children would still receive a free lunch. After a week in which the parties released their election manifestos, more Tory candidates expressed private reservations about their party’s plan to make people pay for their old-age home care through their estates.

With the large Tory poll lead closing slightly in recent days, some nervous candidates are urging the leadership to make another attempt to explain the policy to voters, while others are planning to lobby for concessions after the election. May has insisted it is a fair measure that ensures only those with estates worth more than £100,000 will pay. Jeremy Corbyn attempted to exploit the row by accusing the Tories of provoking a “war between generations”. He accused May of drawing up an “anti-pensioner package” that weakened protections for the state pension, removed the winter fuel allowance from many and forced thousands to pay huge amounts for home care. Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, said May’s social care policy would “go down as her poll tax”.

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“Interestingly, this policy puts the Tories in direct conflict with Prince William, who has been a vocal supporter of a total ban on ivory sales. Will we see the Duke of Cambridge campaigning for Labour – which has pledged to introduce the total ban the Prince has been lobbying for?”

Theresa May’s Tory Manifesto Scraps The Ban On Elephant Ivory Sales (EP)

After heavy lobbying from wealthy antiques dealers, Theresa May has sneakily dropped the proposed outright ban on elephant ivory sales from the Tories’ 2017 manifesto. Following bans in both the US and China, David Cameron had pledged in the 2015 Conservative manifesto to put a complete ban on all ivory trading. However, after huge pressure from rich and powerful antiques dealers, Theresa May has conveniently decided to completely scrap the plans altogether. The Tories did not decide to implement the ban during the two years after it was announced by David Cameron, and even their staunch supporters in the British press were writing negative pieces about the Tories reticence in pushing through the much-needed legislation.

A quote from a Daily Mail article written in March entitled “Tories’ shame over blood ivory”, said: “A much more likely reason (for the Tories dropping the ivory ban) is that they are being swayed by the powerful antiques industry, which fears it will lose millions of pounds if antique ivory sales are stopped, and whose figurehead happens to be Victoria Borwick, Conservative MP for Kensington, and president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association.” The most powerful UK antique traders association is The British Antiques Dealers’ Association, and their President, Lady Victoria Borwick (also the Conservative MP for Kensington) can be seen shaking hands with Theresa May in the image above.

The only mention of the subject in the Conservative Party’s latest 2017 manifesto is a general pledge to work with international organisations to protect endangered species and the marine environment. Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto has specifically pledged to introduce a “total ban on ivory trading”. An elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes on average, and their numbers have fallen by almost a third in Africa since 2007. So as well as being in favour of bringing back fox hunting, Theresa May also couldn’t really care about elephants being killed either. Are you seriously going to vote for a woman who bows to lobbyists over a practice as disgusting as elephant poaching?

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Should be quite the event, that Senate testimony of his.

Comey Has Changed His Mind On Trump Trying To Influence Him (ZH)

Clearly disappointed to have been left out of the headline heroics from Friday night (courtesy of The Washington Post and The New York Times), CNN has decided that anon-sourced perspectives on officials’ feelings now warrants reportage. The latest in the sad sage of mainstream media’s downward spiral, as The Hill reports, is that former FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify that he believes President Trump was deliberately trying to meddle in the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election, according to a report late Friday. Despite swearing under oath that he “had never” been influenced during an investigation, and further that if he had he would have reported it immediately… CNN now reports that, according to a source, Comey has come to believe the president intended to influence him…

Former FBI Director James Comey now believes that President Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe, a person familiar with his thinking says, but whether that influence amounts to obstruction of justice remains an open question. “You have to have intent in order to obstruct justice in the criminal sense,” the source said, adding that “intent is hard to prove.” Comey will testify publicly before the Senate intelligence committee after Memorial Day, the panel’s leaders announced Friday. The central question at that blockbuster hearing will be whether Comey believed the President was trying to interfere with his investigation.

Sources say Comey had reached no conclusion about the President’s intent before he was fired. But Comey did immediately recognize that the new President was not following normal protocols during their interactions. So to clarify, a disgruntled fired employee, who previously said no effort to influence was undertaken, has now changed his mind, according to sources, and thinks his former boss was trying to influence him (according to sources).

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The west has rewritten WWII history from the start.

The Fallacy of Demonizing Russia (CN)

We entered the monument to the siege of Leningrad from the back. There is a large semi-circle with eternal flame torches at intervals and embedded sculptures of Lenin’s face, and other symbols of the Soviet era. The monument was built in the post-war period so the Soviet iconography is understandable. In the middle is a sculpture of a soldier, a half-naked woman looking forlorn into the distance, and another woman collapsed on the ground with a dead boy in her arms. There are several concentric steps that follow the semi-circle and I sat down on one of them and took in the feel of the area. Classical style music played in the background with a woman’s haunting voice singing in Russian. It was explained to me that it was a semi-circle instead of a full-circle to represent the fact the city was not completely surrounded and ultimately not defeated.

I finally got up and went through the opening in the semi-circle and came out to the front where a tall column with 1941 and 1945 on it stood with a large statue of two soldiers in front of it. There are several statues on either side of the front part of the monument of figures, from soldiers to civilians, who labored to assist in alleviating the suffering of the siege and defending the city. Soldiers and civilians helped to put out fires, retrieve un-exploded ordnance from buildings, repair damage, and built the road of life over a frozen body of water to evacuate civilians and transport supplies. The siege lasted 872 days (Sept. 8, 1941, to Jan. 27, 1944), resulting in an estimated 1.2 million deaths, mostly from starvation and freezing, and some from bombing and illness.

Most were buried in mass graves, the largest of which was Piskarevskoye Cemetery, which received around 500,000 bodies. An accurate accounting of deaths is complicated by the fact that many unregistered refugees had fled to Leningrad before the siege to escape the advancing Nazi army. According to Wikipedia, by the end of the siege: “Only 700,000 people were left alive of a 3.5 million pre-war population. Among them were soldiers, workers, surviving children and women. Of the 700,000 survivors, about 300,000 were soldiers who came from other parts of the country to help in the besieged city.”


sculpture commemorating the defense of Leningrad during World War II. (courtesy of saint-petersburg.com.)

I told Mike that I didn’t think the average American could even begin to fathom this level of suffering. With the exception of a very small percentage of the population sent to fight our myriad and senseless conflicts, war is something that happens to other people somewhere else. It’s an abstraction – or worse yet, fodder for entertainment. [..] it all made me ponder how spoiled Americans have been in this respect, with a vast ocean on either side and weak or friendly neighbors to the north and south. We have not experienced a war on our soil since the 1860’s and have not suffered an invasion since 1812. I can’t help but think that this, along with our youth, goes a long way toward explaining our lack of perspective and humility as a nation. Only those without wisdom would characterize themselves as “exceptional” and “indispensable.”

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Under Obama and Clinton.

CIA Incompetence Allowed China To Murder A Dozen CIA Assets (ZH)

You know what they say about biting the hand that feeds. The NYT just dropped its latest deep-state scoop, and boy is it a doozy. But instead of using the information as more leverage to attack President Trump, the leaks reveal allegedly extreme incompetence at the highest levels of the CIA, what NYT’s “current and former government sources” characterized as the worst intelligence breach in decades. These officials revealed that “the Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.”

The sheer number of U.S. assets lost rivaled those lost to the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen during the 1980s and 1990s, the NYT noted. The timing of the scoop is also curious: Instead of dropping it during the market day, standard practice for anti-Trump revelations from WaPo, NYT and CNN, this story appeared at noon on a Saturday, when global markets were shuttered – almost guaranteeing it won’t dominate the cable-news cycle, which will likely be laser-focused on Trump’s first trip abroad. One possible reason: the head of the CIA from 2010 to 2013 was Mike Morell, an outspoken supporter of Hillary Clinton, who in August of 2016 penned “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.”

That is explainable: after all Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the time when, as we now learn, China was killing CIA spies. Beginning in 2010, CIA operatives meant to collect information on the innerworkings of the Communist Party started disappearing. The NYT reports that between the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the CIA’s sources. According to three sources, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building – a grisly killing meant to send a message to any others who might have been working for U.S. intelligence. Still others were imprisoned. All told, the Communist Party killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the CIA’s sources.

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Every country is willing to break every law, domestic or international, if it suits them.

Those Exposed By WikiLeaks Should Be Investigated, Not Assange (RT)

Prominent jurist and head of Julian Assange’s legal team Baltasar Garzon told RT that the US has been secretly conducting an investigation into his client and WikiLeaks, arguing that those implicated in crimes should face legal action instead. Garzon, a renowned human rights judge who sat on Spain’s central criminal court and once indicted Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, said in an interview to RT Spanish that while Sweden dropping charges against the WikiLeaks co-founder is a welcome step, the main threat to his freedom comes from Washington. “He [Assange] is satisfied, but, in his own words, the war only begins now. We understood that Sweden was merely a tool in the fight against the freedom of speech. This [role] is the main occupation of the US,” Garzon said.

Assange’s legal team has been preparing to use all means available to gain the upper hand in a possible legal battle, including UN resolutions and international law “in the hopes that this country, despite all its power, admits that neither Julian Assange, nor WikiLeaks, nor freedom of speech advocates are to blame for its woes,” Garzon said. Those who should be held accountable are not whistleblowers and their sources, he argued, but those “ham-fisted leaders who neglected their responsibility to protect freedom and security in the society.” The ones who should be “investigated and persecuted” are “those who were exposed by WikiLeaks,” he said.

Not much is known about the clandestine proceedings allegedly underway in Virginia, Garzon said, noting that all the scant data they managed to obtain was received through information leaks and that they continue to be in the dark about the status of the proceedings. “Since 2010, the US has been carrying out a secret investigation against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for revealing secret materials, for the fight for the freedom of speech and information,” Garzon said, adding that as far as he is aware, no charges have been brought against his client at this point.

As for the UK police warning that Assange would be arrested for failing to surrender to the British courts back in June 2012, Garzon believes it only serves as a pretext to limit his freedom of movement, barring him from leaving the embassy. “I believe that it is against the law, because he did not breach any pre-trial restrictions. He was on the embassy’s territory, because he was granted political asylum. He obtained refugee status. That is to say, this situation goes against the law,” the lawyer said. He went on to say that the British police failed to inform Assange that this sort of proceedings had been opened against him during his five-year stay in the embassy.

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A ‘secret’ I’ve only mentioned 1000 times.

Varoufakis Reveals Worst Kept Secret In Europe: EU Is A German Empire (MW)

Forget all the claims and protestations about “families of nations” and a “new Europe” and “the European project.” The European Union, and especially the eurozone, is a German empire. The new capital of Europe is not Brussels — let alone Strasbourg, the home of the European Parliament — but Berlin. The ultimate power of the EU is not the president of the European Commission, but the chancellor of Germany. That’s the takeaway from “Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment,” the sensational memoir by the ill-fated, but colorful, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. His account of his role in the Greek debt crisis of early 2015 is the talk of the town in London, where it has just been published. And it has been tossed into the middle of the Brexit war of words with the EU, and the British election, like a grenade.

Varoufakis gives a detailed and candid account of the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes as he tried, and failed, to prevent the Greek debt crisis from bringing the country to its knees. He doesn’t spare himself, and he comes across — to his own admission — as politically naive and diplomatically inept. It’s a staggering tale of endemic lying in Brussels and corruption in Athens. But what is most fascinating is how, in the end, all roads lead to Berlin. When a roadblock is thrown up to a Greek debt deal, even in a meeting in Brussels or London or elsewhere, it almost always turns out to be the work of Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s hard-line finance minister.

[..] Most astonishingly, and outrageously, Varoufakis reveals that Berlin actually went behind the scenes to scupper a rescue deal struck between Athens and Beijing. The Germans didn’t want to let the Greeks off the hook. It was late March 2015. Greece was on the rack. It had just days left before literally running out of money and shutting the banks. And then, miraculously, Beijing stepped in with the offer of help. The Chinese wanted to get their exports to the heart of Europe faster. So they were offering to make major investments in the Athenian Port of Piraeus, and in Greek railways, as part of a “new Silk Road,” or commercial route. And along with the deal, they were willing to buy short-term Greek paper to keep the country afloat.

The Chinese were awash with surplus euros and dollars that needed a home, and Greece’s entire budget shortfall was chicken feed to them anyway. But days after agreeing to the deal, they suddenly, and mysteriously, pulled back. Varoufakis was shocked when they virtually sat out two auctions of short-term Greek government debt. He then discovered that the Chinese ambassador was also surprised, and this was a decision taken secretly at the highest levels in Beijing. Varoufakis recalls: “I told Alexis [Tsipras, the prime minister] what had happened and suggested strongly that he contact the Chinese prime minister. “The next day Alexis relayed the news from Beijing. Someone had apparently called Beijing from Berlin with a blunt message: Stay out of any deals with the Greeks until we are finished with them.”

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Germany wants chaos in Greece. Breaking laws and treaties won’t stop one second.

Germany Limits Refugee Family Reunions From Greece (DW)

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has reduced the number of asylum-seeker family members allowed into the country from Greece to 70 a month, German news group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland reported on Friday. The group of local papers said the information was provided by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government following a request from the Left Party. In its response, the Interior Ministry said the decrease in numbers had to do with “limited support and accommodation capacities,” as well as the “considerable logistical coordination effort by state and federal authorities.” Left lawmaker Ulla Jelpke described the explanation as a “miserable excuse,” and accused the government of shirking its responsibilities under the EU’s Dublin regulation.

The law stipulates that separated refugee and asylum-seeking families are entitled to a legal reunion once an immediate relative arrives in a country covered by the Dublin rule. “The federal government is trampling all over EU law and child welfare,” Jelpke said, adding that the cap should be removed because there was a need for as many as 400 refugee family members per month to be reunited with their loved ones in Germany. The EU took in some 1.6 million refugees and migrants – most of them from Syria – between 2014 and 2016. The majority arrived in Germany via frontline states like Italy and Greece. But the scale of the influx prompted many countries to introduce extra controls and to close their borders, blocking the so-called Balkan route and leaving tens of thousands of people stranded in Greece’s refugee camps.

According to information published by Greek newspaper “Efimerida ton Synakton”, around 2,000 refugees are waiting in Greece to be reunited with their families in Germany. It reported that Germany received only 70 Dublin transfers from Greece in April under the new cap, compared to 540 in March and 370 in February.

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This will not stop. It’s a feature of German and therefore Troika behavior.

Schäuble: Germany Will Not Accept Any Greek Debt Cut at Present Time (GR)

“At the present time, Germany will not accept any Greek debt reduction,” said a spokesperson for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking to Bild. The German official also told the German newspaper that Berlin will not accept extending the debt repayment period, neither will accept that the European Stability Mechanism acquires the International Monetary Fund loans to Greece. The representative of Schaeuble said that on Monday the euro zone finance ministers would examine in detail what the Greek government has voted. “We welcome the ratification of the measures, it is an important step. At the Eurogroup on Monday we will look in every detail of what the Greek government has voted on. The goal is to close the second evaluation, but we can not prejudge the outcome of a comprehensive agreement,=” the German official said.

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After years of ever more severe austerity, the debt only keeps going up. How is that possible? What’s the way out? The Troika makes sure there’s no way out. All exits are blocked.

Greek State Debt Rises To €326.5 Billion (GR)

Greece’s central government debt went up in 2017, from €326,258 billion in December to €326,528 billion in March, according to data released on Friday by the Public Debt Management Agency. The Greek government cash reserves stood at €2,908 billion at the end of March, compared with 2,791 billion at the end of December. Two thirds (67.6%) of the total debt has a variable interest rate. The Greek government wants to “lock” that at a fixed interest rate, in view of the new debt settlement. In this case, it will be protected in the long run from the risk of rising interest rates, but in the short term there will be a burden in relation to the very low variable rate of 1% of the bailout loans. Of the total soverign debt, €56.6 billion is in state bonds and 14.9 billion in short-term securities.

To these, must be added another €13.6 billion from public authorities’ repos. Repos increased by €2.3 billion in three months, a trend that shows that the Greek government is pumping from every source of liquidity in the public sector, but with a rather costly interest rate. A total €254.9 billion are loans, mainly from the European Stability Mechanism, received under the country’s economic rescue plans. The average duration of the Greek debt is 18.19 years, but the government seeks to restructure the debt and extend maturities. In 2017, payments for loans and bonds amount to about €8.5-9 billion. According to the medium term debt repayment plan, in 2017 and 2018 the public debt should be reduced to €319-320 billion.

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May 202017
 
 May 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Minor White Windowsill Daydreaming Rochester NY 1958

 

The Housing Moment Investors Dread Is Here (DDMB)
Home Ownership Among Young UK Families Halves In 20 Years (TiM)
A Monster Eating the Nation (Jim Kunstler)
Democrats Are Falling For Fake News About Russia (Vox)
Harvard Study Reveals Extent of Anti-Trump Media Bias (HeatSt.)
Comey’s 2007 Brush With Scandal: Jim’s Loyalty Was More To Chuck Schumer (SD)
Constitutional Crisis In Washington? More Like Attempted Coup (David Goldman)
Brazil Plea-Bargain Testimony Says President Took $4.6 Million In Bribes (R.)
Maduro to Trump: ‘Get Your Dirty Hands Off Venezuela!’ (R.)
Theresa May To Create New, Government Controlled Internet in UK (Ind.)
Arctic Stronghold of World’s Seeds Flooded After Permafrost Melts (G.)
Varoufakis Claims Tsipras Pressured Him To Accept Creditors’ Demands (K.)
‘They Stole My Money’: Greek Dreams Of Retirement Turn Sour (AP)
Teen Refugees Trapped In Greece Turn To Prostitution (Spiegel)

 

 

Cracks in the mirage.

The Housing Moment Investors Dread Is Here (DDMB)

Amid the carnage in the auto sector, economists have sought solace in the comforts of home, sweet home. A recent Census release suggests that Millennials, long sidelined, have finally started to tiptoe into the home-buying market. The reception to the data was so effusive that other reports, suggesting housing has reached a much different sort of turning point, were lost in the fray. The good news is that the trend is unequivocal, based purely on supply and demand. The bad news is in the actual message. The May University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey showed a six-year low among those who think it’s a good time to buy a house and a 12-year high among those who say it’s a good time to sell. Disparities of this breadth tend to coincide with break points and that’s just where we’ve landed in the cycle.

The beginning of May officially marked the advent of a buyers’ market, defined simply as sellers outnumbering buyers by a wide enough margin to trigger falling prices. Yes, it’s the moment buyers have been waiting for. It is also the moment private equity investors, those who’ve crowded out natural buyers, have been dreading. Three factors determine home sales: interest rates, unemployment and prices. The recent decline in interest rates has provided some semblance of relief; purchase applications have bounced off April’s levels, when they were down four% over last year. April and May are obviously critical to the spring sales season. The low unemployment rate would seem to be a huge plus if it wasn’t for the stress building around thousands of layoff announcements across the retail and auto sectors that won’t find their way into this most lagging of economic indicators for months.

That is not to say those getting pink slips don’t know their fate, which should influence home sales going forward. Price is the one bright spot, with one glaring caveat: Falling home prices tend to be associated with a negative macroeconomic backdrop, which does not bode well for any buyer of, well, anything. Dig into the Federal Reserve’s recently released first quarter Senior Loan Officer Survey and you will see nothing of note on the residential mortgage side – banks reported that both loan demand and lending standards remained unchanged in the first three months of the year. But that is the here and now. Demand and supply in the auto sector, where pricing has been under pressure for some time, looked quite similar to that for houses several months back.

According to the Fed survey, at minus 13.3%, demand for auto loans flat-lined in deeply negative territory, as was the case in last year’s fourth quarter, the worst levels of the current expansion. This data point corroborated the Michigan survey, which showed that those who said it was a good time to buy a car fell to the lowest level since August 2014. Meanwhile, demand for credit card loans slid to minus 10.2% from minus 8.3% in the last three months of last year. In the event you’re detecting a trend, households are sending out distress signals that have just begun to be picked up in housing, even as household debt levels recapture their pre-crisis highs.

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A radical change to an entire society, and one that will take decades to absorb.

Home Ownership Among Young UK Families Halves In 20 Years (TiM)

The number of young family owning their own homes has halved across large parts of the country in the space of a generation, and the struggle to get on the housing ladder is not restricted to the South East. Research by The Resolution Foundation found that 31% of 25 to 34-year-olds surveyed were home owners in 2016, compared to 58% in 1994. Regionally, 30% of those surveyed in West Yorkshire owned homes last year, compared to 61% in 1994. Similarly, in Greater Manchester, home ownership levels fell to 29% from 59% over the same 22-year period. The South West also suffered a decline, to 36% last year from 62% in 1994, while East Anglia fell to 34% from 61% in the same period. The decrease was most pronounced in outer London, where home ownership dropped to 20% in 2016 from 55% in 1994.

Big falls were also recorded in other areas of the South East including Brighton, Southampton, Reading and Milton Keynes, with home ownership in the younger age group bracket declined from to 34% last year from 64% in 1994. The Resolution Foundation argued that such a ‘seismic shift’ in home ownership puts the younger generation in a very different position from that of the older, baby boomer generation, leaving many more young families living in the private rented sector. Lindsay Judge, a senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: ‘London house prices always dominate the headlines, but with all eyes on the capital we’re missing the bigger picture. ‘From Bristol to East Anglia and up to West Yorkshire, large swathes of young families across the country simply cannot afford to buy their own home.’This has implications for their living standards in the here and now, but also in the future when their children grow up and they approach retirement without this key asset to draw upon in old age.

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“Why do you suppose nations employ foreign ministers and ambassadors, if not to conduct conversations at the highest level with other national leaders? And might these conversations include matters of great sensitivity, that is, classified information?”

A Monster Eating the Nation (Jim Kunstler)

Is there any question now that the Deep State is preparing to expel President Donald Trump from the body politic like a necrotic organ? The Golden Golem of Greatness has floundered pretty badly on the job, it’s true, but his mighty adversaries in the highly politicized federal agencies want him to fail spectacularly, and fast, and they have a lot of help from the NY Times / WashPo / CNN axis of hysteria, as well as such slippery swamp creatures as Lindsey Graham. There are more problematic layers in this matter than in a Moldavian wedding cake. America has been functionally ungovernable for quite a while, well before Trump arrived on the scene. His predecessor managed to misdirect the nation’s attention from the cumulative dysfunction with sheer charm and supernatural placidity — NoDrama Obama.

But there were a few important things he could have accomplished as chief exec, such as directing his attorney general to prosecute Wall Street crime (or fire the attorney general and replace him with someone willing to do the job). He could have broken up the giant TBTF banks. He could have aggressively sponsored legislation to overcome the Citizens United SOTUS decision (unlimited corporate money in politics) by redefining corporate “citizenship.” Stuff like that. But he let it slide, and the nation slid with him down a greasy chute of political collapse. Which we find embodied in Trump, a sort of tragicomic figure who manages to compound all of his other weaknesses of character with a childish impulsiveness that scares folks. It is debatable whether he has simply been rendered incompetent by the afflictions heaped on by his adversaries, or if he is just plain incompetent in, say, the 25th Amendment way.

I think we’ll find out soon enough, because impeachment is a very long and arduous path out of this dark place. The most curious feature of the current crisis, of course, is the idiotic Russia story that has been the fulcrum for levering Trump out of the White House. This was especially funny the past week with the episode involving Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak conferring with Trump in the White House about aviation security around the Middle East. The media and the Lindsey Graham wing of the Deep State acted as if Trump had entertained Focalor and Vepar, the Dukes of Hell, in the oval office. Why do you suppose nations employ foreign ministers and ambassadors, if not to conduct conversations at the highest level with other national leaders? And might these conversations include matters of great sensitivity, that is, classified information? If you doubt that then you have no understanding of geopolitics or history.

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The writer starts off quite right, but then veers off into this incomprehensible stuff: “There are even legitimate reasons to believe that Trump’s campaign worked with Russian hackers to undermine Hillary Clinton. That may or may not turn out to be true, but it is least plausible and somewhat supported by the available evidence.”

Legitimate reasons that may not be true? “Somewhat” supported by evidence? That’s where I stop reading.

Democrats Are Falling For Fake News About Russia (Vox)

President Donald Trump is about to resign as a result of the Russia scandal. Bernie Sanders and Sean Hannity are Russian agents. The Russians have paid off House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz to the tune of $10 million, using Trump as a go-between. Paul Ryan is a traitor for refusing to investigate Trump’s Russia ties. Libertarian heroine Ayn Rand was a secret Russian agent charged with discrediting the American conservative movement. These are all claims you can find made on a new and growing sector of the internet that functions as a fake news bubble for liberals, something I’ve dubbed the Russiasphere. The mirror image of Breitbart and InfoWars on the right, it focuses nearly exclusively on real and imagined connections between Trump and Russia. The tone is breathless: full of unnamed intelligence sources, certainty that Trump will soon be imprisoned, and fever dream factual assertions that no reputable media outlet has managed to confirm.

Twitter is the Russiasphere’s native habitat. Louise Mensch, a former right-wing British parliamentarian and romance novelist, spreads the newest, punchiest, and often most unfounded Russia gossip to her 283,000 followers on Twitter. Mensch is backed up by a handful of allies, including former NSA spook John Schindler (226,000 followers) and DC-area photographer Claude Taylor (159,000 followers). There’s also a handful of websites, like Palmer Report, that seem devoted nearly exclusively to spreading bizarre assertions like the theory that Ryan and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell funneled Russian money to Trump — a story that spread widely among the site’s 70,000 Facebook fans. Beyond the numbers, the unfounded left-wing claims, like those on the right, are already seeping into the mainstream discourse.

In March, the New York Times published an op-ed by Mensch instructing members of Congress as to how they should proceed with the Russia investigation (“I have some relevant experience,” she wrote). Two months prior to that, Mensch had penned a lengthy letter to Vladimir Putin titled “Dear Mr. Putin, Let’s Play Chess” — in which she claims to have discovered that Edward Snowden was part of a years-in-the-making Russian plot to discredit Hillary Clinton. Last Thursday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) was forced to apologize for spreading a false claim that a New York grand jury was investigating Trump and Russia. His sources, according to the Guardian’s Jon Swaine, were Mensch and Palmer:

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First, media exposure was a main factor in winning Trump the election. Now, not so much.

Harvard Study Reveals Extent of Anti-Trump Media Bias (HeatSt.)

A major new study out of Harvard University has revealed the true extent of the mainstream media’s bias against Donald Trump. Academics at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzed coverage from Trump’s first 100 days in office across 10 major TV and print outlets. They found that the tone of some outlets was negative in as many as 98% of reports, significantly more hostile than the first 100 days of the three previous administrations:

The academics based their study on seven US outlets and three European ones. In America they analyzed CNN, NBC, CBS, Fox News, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. They also took into account the BBC, the UK’s Financial Times and the German public broadcaster ARD. Every outlet was negative more often than positive. Only Fox News, which features some of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters and is often given special access to the President, even came close to positivity. Fox was ranked 52% negative and 48% positive. The study also divided news items across topics. On immigration, healthcare, and Russia, more than 85% of reports were negative. On the economy, the proportion was more balanced – 54% negative to 46% positive:

The study highlighted one exception: Trump got overwhelmingly positive coverage for launching a cruise missile attack on Syria. Around 80% of all reports were positive about that.

The picture was very different for other recent administrations. The study found that President Obama’s first 100 days got a good write-up overall – with 59% of reports positive. Bill Clinton and George W Bush got overall negative coverage, it found, but to a much lesser extent than Trump. Clinton’s first 100 days got 40% positivity, while Bush’s got 43%. Trump has repeatedly claimed that his treatment by the media is unprecedented in its hostility. This study suggests that, at least when it comes to recent history, he’s right.

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Comey has a past.

Comey’s 2007 Brush With Scandal: Jim’s Loyalty Was More To Chuck Schumer (SD)

[..] the current episode is not the first time Comey and his associates plotted to oust a sitting Republican official through highly orchestrated political theater and carefully crafted narratives in which Comey is the courageous hero bravely fighting to preserve the rule of law. To understand how Comey came to be FBI director in the first place, and how he operates in the political arena, it is important to review the last scandal in which Comey had a front-row seat: the 2007 U.S. attorney firings and the fight over the 2004 reauthorization of Stellar Wind, a mass National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program designed to mitigate terrorist threats in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The pivotal scene in the Comey-crafted narrative, a drama that made Comey famous and likely paved the road to his 2013 appointment by President Barack Obama to run the FBI, occurred in a Beltway hospital room in early 2004.

In Comey’s view, Comey was the last honest man in Washington, the only person standing between a White House that rejected any restraints on its power, and the rule of law protecting Americans from illegal mass surveillance. A former White House counsel and attorney general with extensive first-hand experience dealing with Comey, however, paints a very different picture of what happened in that hospital room, and disputes numerous key details. In this account, Comey’s actions showcase a duplicitous, secretive schemer whose true loyalties were not to the officials to whom he reported, but to partisan Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). To fully understand and appreciate Jim Comey’s approach to politics, the writings and testimony of Alberto Gonzales, who served as both White House counsel and attorney general during the events in question and is intimately aware of Comey’s history of political maneuvering, is absolutely essential.

Gonzales’s descriptions of his interactions with Comey, included in his 2016 book “True Faith And Allegiance,” are detailed and extensive. While his tone is measured, the language he uses to describe Comey’s actions in 2004 and 2007 leaves little doubt about the former top Bush official’s views on Comey’s character. Gonzales’s opinion is clearly colored by the fact that Comey cravenly used him to jumpstart his own political career by going public with surprise (and questionable) testimony that Gonzales had attempted to take advantage of a deathly ill man in order to ram through authorization of an illegal surveillance program. Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft had taken ill and was in the hospital at a pivotal time. The legal authorization of a surveillance program meant to find and root out terrorist threats was days from expiring.

What happened in Ashcroft’s hospital room in March of 2004 later became political fodder for a hearing in which Senate Democrats used Comey to dredge up the 2004 hospital meeting to tar Gonzales’ credibility and suggest he was unfit to continue serving as attorney general. As the 2004 and 2007 sagas show, Comey is clearly no stranger to using the unarguably legal dismissal of government employees as the backdrop for casting himself as the story’s protaganist standing up to the forces of corruption. “[I] told my security detail that I needed to get to George Washington Hospital immediately. They turned on the emergency equipment and drove very quickly to the hospital,” Comey testified. “I got out of the car and ran up — literally ran up the stairs with my security detail.” “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey said.

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It’s a politics and media crisis.

Constitutional Crisis In Washington? More Like Attempted Coup (David Goldman)

This is NOT a Constitutional crisis, contrary to press hype, but an attempted coup, as a senior Republican statesman told a private briefing this week. As Prof. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University wrote yesterday at TheHill.Com, the much-ballyhooed Comey memo is “pretty thin soup” as far as obstruction of justice is concerned. “Encouraging leniency or advocating for an associate may be improper,” Prof. Turley added, but it doesn’t come close to the legal threshold for impeachment, especially because no criminal proceedings were underway or even contemplated against Gen. Flynn. What exactly is going on? The Democrats never accepted the Trump election victory, and neither did the McCain wing of the Republican Party, which was humiliated and sidelined by Trump. The Wall Street Journal editorial page published a signed op-ed yesterday claiming that Trump’s alleged leak of covert intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov showed his unfitness for office.

Presidents and Cabinet members leak secret intelligence frequently, but whether they are held to account for it is a political matter. Obama and his then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta leaked the fact that Seal Team 6 had killed Osama bin Laden as well as the fact that a Pakistani physician had tipped the US off to his whereabouts, life-threatening leaks for which Obama was given a free pass. The object of all of this, said the Republican statesman, is to persuade a sufficient number of Republican congressman and senators to abandon Trump and declare him “unfit” for office. Nothing quite like this ever has happened in American politics. Trump will NOT be caught in an impeachable offense, but his detractors will NOT give up–so a prolonged “cold civil war” (Prof. Angelo Codevilla’s phrase) is likely to paralyze policy-making in Washington for some time. That can’t be good for the stock market.

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He shouldn’t last the weekend.

Brazil Plea-Bargain Testimony Says President Took $4.6 Million In Bribes (R.)

Brazil’s top court released plea-bargain testimony on Friday accusing President Michel Temer and his two predecessors of receiving millions of dollars in bribes, the most damaging development yet in a historic political corruption probe. The testimony made public by the Supreme Court is from executives of the world’s largest meatpacking company, and raises serious doubts about whether Temer can maintain his grip on the presidency. The scandals that have engulfed Brazil’s political class and many business elites reduce the chances that Temer, a conservative who took office after leftist former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached last year, can push through economic reforms crucial for Latin America’s biggest country to recover from its worst recession on record.

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it approved an investigation of Temer for corruption and obstruction of justice. Calls for his resignation intensified, including an editorial in the O Globo newspaper, which is normally criticized by leftists for backing conservative politicians. “This is easily the worst moment in Brazil since we returned to democracy,” said Claudio Couto, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a top university, calling the claims “the mother of all plea bargains.” “This testimony is hitting everyone, all the major political players and, most importantly, a sitting president,” he added.

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How is it possible that in no western media reports on Venezuela the CIA is ever mentioned? Think they left when Chavez died? Think the country implodes like this all by itself?

Maduro to Trump: ‘Get Your Dirty Hands Off Venezuela!’ (R.)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blasted Donald Trump on Friday after a fresh round of U.S. sanctions and strong condemnation of his socialist government from the U.S. leader. “Enough meddling … Go home, Donald Trump. Get out of Venezuela,” Maduro thundered in a speech carried on live TV. “Get your dirty hands out of here.” The Trump administration imposed sanctions on the chief judge and seven other members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Thursday as punishment for annulling the opposition-led Congress in a series of rulings this year. The new sanctions package was aimed at stepping up pressure on Maduro and his loyalists following a crackdown on street protests and efforts to consolidate his rule of the South American oil-producing country. At the White House on Thursday, Trump expressed dismay at how once-booming Venezuela was now mired in poverty, saying “it’s been unbelievably poorly run” and calling the humanitarian situation “a disgrace to humanity.”

Maduro had initially urged the world to give Trump a chance after he was elected in November but his government unleashed its strongest condemnation to date of the Republican president. “President Trump’s aggressions against the Venezuelan people, its government and its institutions have surpassed all limits,” said a government statement that accused Washington of seeking to destabilize Venezuela and foment foreign intervention. The statement also accused Washington of financing the Venezuelan opposition while ignoring problems at home like income inequality and rights violations. “The extreme positions of a government just starting off only confirmed the discriminatory, racist, xenophobic, and genocidal nature of U.S. elites against humanity and its own people, which has now been heightened by this new administration which asserts white Anglo-Saxon supremacy,” the statement said.

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Classic. Using fear, of terrorism, of pornography, etc., to clamp down on everyone’s freedom, according to a certain party’s views. No privacy for you, guys. Use your votes wisely.

Theresa May To Create New, Government Controlled Internet in UK (Ind.)

Theresa May is planning to introduce huge regulations on the way the internet works, allowing the government to decide what is said online. Particular focus has been drawn to the end of the manifesto, which makes clear that the Tories want to introduce huge changes to the way the internet works. “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet,” it states. “We disagree.” Senior Tories confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the phrasing indicates that the government intends to introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online. The plans will allow Britain to become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet”, the manifesto claims.

It comes just soon after the Investigatory Powers Act came into law. That legislation allowed the government to force internet companies to keep records on their customers’ browsing histories, as well as giving ministers the power to break apps like WhatsApp so that messages can be read. The manifesto makes reference to those increased powers, saying that the government will work even harder to ensure there is no “safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online”. That is apparently a reference in part to its work to encourage technology companies to build backdoors into their encrypted messaging services – which gives the government the ability to read terrorists’ messages, but also weakens the security of everyone else’s messages, technology companies have warned.

The government now appears to be launching a similarly radical change in the way that social networks and internet companies work. While much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn’t published, the manifesto suggests.

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They never thought about this?

Arctic Stronghold of World’s Seeds Flooded After Permafrost Melts (G.)

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel. The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide “failsafe” protection against “the challenge of natural or man-made disasters”. But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling.

“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault. “A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in,” she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C. But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes. “It was supposed to [operate] without the help of humans, but now we are watching the seed vault 24 hours a day,” Aschim said. “We must see what we can do to minimise all the risks and make sure the seed bank can take care of itself.”

The vault’s managers are now waiting to see if the extreme heat of this winter was a one-off or will be repeated or even exceeded as climate change heats the planet. The end of 2016 saw average temperatures over 7C above normal on Spitsbergen, pushing the permafrost above melting point. “The question is whether this is just happening now, or will it escalate?” said Aschim. The Svalbard archipelago, of which Spitsbergen is part, has warmed rapidly in recent decades, according to Ketil Isaksen, from Norway’s Meteorological Institute. “The Arctic and especially Svalbard warms up faster than the rest of the world. The climate is changing dramatically and we are all amazed at how quickly it is going,” Isaksen told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.

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I don’t know if they still talk.

Varoufakis Claims Tsipras Pressured Him To Accept Creditors’ Demands (K.)

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on Friday hit out at Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, claiming that the premier had tried to scare him into yielding to creditors’ demands. “In the summer of 2015 Alexis Tsipras told me that I should fear a new Goudi,” Varoufakis told VICE magazine, referring to a military coup that took place in Greece in 1909 amid simmering social tensions. The former minister, who has launched his own party, DiEM25, said the alleged statement struck him as a threat aimed at forcing him to agree with Tsipras’s decision to give in to creditors. In a Skai TV interview last week, Varoufakis said Greece “will become Kosovo, a protectorate run by an employee of the European Union.”

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Greece’s problem is public debt, not private debt. The people did not cause the crisis, they only pay for it.

‘They Stole My Money’: Greek Dreams Of Retirement Turn Sour (AP)

It was supposed to be a time to look forward to. After decades of work, retirement was for many meant to provide a chance to slow down and enjoy life. A holiday, an evening out with old friends, the odd fishing trip. Instead, many Greek pensioners say they are struggling to get by. The government has repeatedly cuts old age benefits as part of the country’s three international bailouts and many retirees now say they are at breaking point financially. Some have unemployed children they try to help on shrinking pensions, others are seeing rising taxes eat into lifetime savings. A new austerity bill approved in parliament early Friday cuts their pensions even further, putting their plight in focus.

Greece once had a generous pension system – too generous to be sustainable, especially with an aging population. Retirement was possible from as early as the age of 55 after 30 years of work. Many had extra perks: public sector employees could retire as early as 52. Some women with young children could retire with a reduced pension at 50. But the financial crisis left Greece reliant on international creditors, who pushed for economic change – not least to pensions. The standard retirement age is now 67. Many early retirement provisions have been abolished. Including pensions, incomes have dropped 40% over the last seven years of crisis. Here is a look at the problem through the stories of four pensioners.

Mina Griva, 78, widow and former factory worker Griva’s husband, who worked in a steel plant in Greece, died eight years ago. Her initial widow’s pension of €998 ($1,110) and a €300 supplementary pension have been cut to €560 and €150 respectively. “They’ve destroyed us,” said Griva, who now helps out daily at a municipal care center for the elderly. “Pensioners are crying.” A mother of five, she uses her pension to help her son, who’s been unemployed for five years. She moved out of her small Athens apartment to give it to him, and lives in a single room on the last floor of the building. Now, she avidly watches political talk shows on TV to figure out how much further her pension will drop.

Griva left Greece in 1964 and worked for 15 years in Germany, initially as a cleaner in a cheese factory and later working an ironing press in a clothing factory. Times were tough in Greece then, and she worked double eight-hour shifts to send money home to her family. She saved, and eventually had enough to secure homes for her children, and a small apartment for herself. She thought she was securing her family’s future. “We left here to build something,” said Griva. Instead, the austerity measures ate into their lives, with new property taxes, layoffs and income cuts. “Now you can’t even buy a bread ring for your grandchildren,” she said. “I don’t know where this will go. Things are very, very hard.”

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Damn you, Brussels. Damn you, Merkel, Rutte, Hollande, Cameron, Renzi. You created this.

Teen Refugees Trapped In Greece Turn To Prostitution (Spiegel)

Mohammed is approached by a middle-aged man wearing greasy beige pants, a blue shirt and a blue baseball cap. Although the man speaks Greek, the 17-year-old boy from Afghanistan knows exactly what he wants. “No,” Mohammad repeatedly says in English, his voice cracking and his eyes filling with tears. But the man keeps pushing. “Come with me. I will give you food, pay you.” The man only stops when he realizes he is being watched. He then grudgingly walks away and sits down on a nearby bench. From there, he starts scouring the field again, searching for another boy. It was broad daylight on a sunny Tuesday morning on Victoria Square in the heart of Athens. The square has been a meeting place and a makeshift home for thousands of migrants since the refugee crisis hit Greece two years ago – and now it is increasingly becoming a prostitution hub for underage refugees.

Mohammad hasn’t gone that far yet, but he says it is only a matter of time until he goes home with a man. He has just 30 euros left in his pocket, and he is quickly losing hope. “When this money runs out, I fear I will have no other choice but do what the others are doing. Have sex with these older men. What should I do? I have no place to stay, nothing to eat. Should I just die in the park?” he says, finally bursting into tears. Mohammed says he lost his parents in an attack in Afghanistan. He has been in Athens for a month, he says, after fleeing his home alone and reaching the Greek island of Lesbos last February, where he registered as a minor. He then claimed to be an adult to escape the violence in the island’s notorious Moria camp. Since then, despite looking very much like a teenager, with pimples, a small stature and thin voice, he has been turned away from shelters for minors.

When night comes, Mohammad rolls himself up in a blanket on a corner of the square. His only possession is a yellow envelope that he guards closely. Inside, he keeps his refugee registration papers and a single-page CV. According to Mohammad’s papers, he applied for asylum in Lesbos in November 2016. The date set for his interview is January 4, 2018. It is mostly boys from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria – who either came alone or were separated from their families along their perilous journey to Europe – who are now waiting for their refugee claims to be processed in Greece. In the meantime, the authorities are supposed to look after them, but there are only 53 shelters with 1,272 spots. Of the approximately 2,000 registered minors, about 800 are housed in large camps, are in police custody or are homeless.

[..] Everyone – the authorities, the NGO workers, the police – know what is going on. But nobody seems willing or able to do anything about it. And this despite the fact that the adult clients are breaking the law, despite the fact that various institutions have devoted themselves to protecting young refugees. But prostitution is booming because the system is failing. Because Greece doesn’t have the resources to take care of underage refugees. Because the processing of asylum applications is chaotic and authorities from one agency don’t know what authorities from other agencies are doing. And because the boys need to file criminal complaints before their clients can be prosecuted.

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May 192017
 
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Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled 1982

 

Swedish Prosecutors Drop Julian Assange Rape Investigation (AP/R.)
Australia Economy Among ‘Walking Dead Of Household Debt’ – Steve Keen (NCA)
US Household Debt Hit Record in First Quarter (WSJ)
Why Government Surpluses Is A Terrible Idea – Steve Keen (Renegade)
How Can The Greeks Save More Money? A Monetary Parable. (Steve Keen)
Greek Parliament Approves More Austerity Measures Amid Protests (DW)
Trump Aims to Balance Budget With Deep Cuts, Bullish Growth Projections (WSJ)
Get Ready for Quantitative Tightening (Rickards)
ECB Tapering to Cause “Disorderly Restructuring” of Italian Debt, Return to Lira (DQ)
Russia-US Relations Have Become ‘Extremely Paranoid’ – Sberbank CEO (CNBC)
Western Democracy – As Represented By The US – Is Crumbling (Global Times)
Secret Plans To ‘Protect’ France In The Event Of Le Pen Victory Emerge (G.)
What Jeremy Corbyn Whispered In My Ear (Ind.)
Study Of Healthcare Quality In 195 Countries Names The Best And Worst (AFP)
50 Years Since Indigenous Australians First ‘Counted’, Little Has Changed (G.)

 

 

Time for legal action against Sweden and the prosecutors.

Swedish Prosecutors Drop Julian Assange Rape Investigation (AP/R.)

Swedish prosecutors said on Friday they would drop a preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, bringing to an end a seven-year legal standoff. “Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange,” the prosecutors office said in a statement. Assange, 45, has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, after taking refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden over the allegation of rape, which he denies. He has refused to travel to Stockholm, saying he fears further extradition to the US over WikiLeaks’ release of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2015 lawyers for Julian Assange have claimed victory after a Swedish prosecutor bowed to pressure from the courts and agreed to break the deadlock in the WikiLeaks founder’s case by interviewing him in London.

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“Stop making housing into an asset.” “Make housing a place for people to actually live.”

Australia Economy Among ‘Walking Dead Of Household Debt’ – Steve Keen (NCA)

Australia has become the “walking dead of debt” due for a financial reckoning that could shock the housing market “bubble” within months. That’s according to “anti-economist” Professor Steve Keen who defines Australia as a “zombie to be” given soaring personal debt that has created a government-induced property bubble ripe to burst. “Australia has simply delayed its day of reckoning,” he told news.com.au in reference to the global financial crisis that shocked many countries around the world from 2008 but left the lucky country relatively unscathed after a series of government interventions. The Kingston University Professor claims first homeowners grants rolled out by successive governments have artificially kept prices high creating a form of “instant prosperity” that politicians are loath to stop.

“The housing bubble makes the politicians look good because A, people are feeling wealthier, and B … people are borrowing money to spend,” he said. “Then the government runs a balanced budget and looks like it really knows what it’s doing” “It hasn’t got a f***ing clue frankly, because what’s actually happening is the reason it’s making that money is credit is expanding,” he said. “It’s the old classic story, you’re criticising a party because someone’s laced the punchbowl. You try to take the punchbowl away from the party you’re a very unpopular person but you need to because what’s actually happening is people are getting intoxicated with credit”. His latest book, Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? argues Australia, along with Belgium, China, Canada and South Korea, is a “zombie” economy sleepwalking into a crunch that could come between 2017 and 2020.

“Both [Australia and Canada] will suffer a serious economic slowdown in the next few years since the only way they can sustain their current growth rates is for debt to continue growing faster than GDP,” he writes. [..] For Prof Keen, the solution for governments to an overheated housing market is obvious: “Stop making housing into an asset.” “Make housing a place for people to actually live. So you go back to saying ‘what’s desirable is affordable houses’ and affordable means it doesn’t cost a first homebuyer more than three or four years’ income to get a property,” he said. As for those struggling to get on the ladder in the meantime? “The only thing you can do in the middle is say I’m just not going to join in, and if it happens on a collective level …. it’s game over for the bubble because the bubble only works if more people keep taking out more leverage.”

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Wait till house prices start falling.

US Household Debt Hit Record in First Quarter (WSJ)

The total debt held by American households reached a record in early 2017, exceeding its 2008 peak after years of retrenchment against a backdrop of financial crisis, recession and modest economic growth. Much has changed over the past 8.5 years. The economy is larger, lending standards are tighter and less debt is delinquent. Mortgages remain the largest form of household borrowing but have become a smaller share of total debt as consumers take on more automotive and student loans. “The debt and its borrowers look quite different today,” New York Fed economist Donghoon Lee said. He added: “This record debt level is neither a reason to celebrate nor a cause for alarm.” The total-debt milestone, announced Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was a long time coming.

Americans reduced their debts during and after the 2007-09 recession to an unusual extent: a 12% decline from the peak in the third quarter of 2008 to the trough in the second quarter of 2013. New York Fed researchers, looking at data back to the end of World War II, described the drop as “an aberration from what had been a 63-year upward trend reflecting the depth, duration and aftermath of the Great Recession.” In the first quarter, total debt was up about 14% from that low point as steady job gains, falling unemployment and continued economic growth boosted households’ income and willingness to borrow. The New York Fed report said total household debt rose by $149 billion in the first three months of 2017 compared with the prior quarter to a total of $12.725 trillion.

The pace of new lending slowed from the strong fourth quarter. Mortgage balances rose from the final three months of 2016, while home-equity lines of credit were down. Automotive loans rose, as did student loans, but credit-card debt fell along with other types of debt. The data weren’t adjusted for inflation, and household debt remains below past levels in relation to the size of the overall U.S. economy. In the first quarter, total debt was about 67% of nominal gross domestic product versus roughly 85% of GDP in the third quarter of 2008. Balance sheets look different now, with less housing-related debt and more student and auto loans. As of the first quarter, about 68% of total household debt was in the form of mortgages; in the third quarter of 2008, mortgages were roughly 73% of total debt. Student loans rose from about 5% to around 11% of total indebtedness, and auto loans went from roughly 6% to about 9%.

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Can we finally try to understand this, all of us?

Why Government Surpluses Is A Terrible Idea – Steve Keen (Renegade)

In this Renegade Short, Professor Steve Keen explains why the government isn’t supposed to balance its accounts like a household.

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TomDickHaria.

How Can The Greeks Save More Money? A Monetary Parable. (Steve Keen)

The EU’s “Stability and Growth Pact” has as one of its primary rules that “The Member States undertake to abide by the medium-term budgetary objective of positions close to balance or in surplus…” I explore what this objective implies in the context of a model of the economy of “TomDickHaria”: what happens to its collective GDP where one member tries to achieve the surplus goal set out in the “Stability and Growth Pact?

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The Troika makes sure Greece will keep drowning.

Greek Parliament Approves More Austerity Measures Amid Protests (DW)

All 153 lawmakers in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ governing coalition backed the legislation that includes new pension cuts and lower tax breaks, which are expected to save Greece €4.9 billion ($5.4 billion) until 2021. All opposition lawmakers present in the 300-seat chamber rejected the package required by international lenders before the release of more aid. Athens needs the bailout funds to repay €7.5 billion of debt maturing in July this year. Relief measures will only kick in if Greece meets fiscal targets stipulated by its creditors. “Our country is being turned into an austerity colony,” leading opposition conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during debate on the bill, describing added cuts as a “nightmare” for low-earners.

Tsipras countered that its passage would enable Greece from summer next year to stand on its own feet, without the intervention of creditors such as the IMF. He accused the opposition of constantly warning of a catastrophe that “hasn’t come.” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Skai TV that Greek creditors the IMF and Germany were “in the final stretch of very tough negotiations” over a compromise that should allow Greece to return to bond markets in 2018. Thursday’s austerity package lowers the income tax exception from €8,600 down to about €5,700 but increases benefits for low-income tenants, parents with children and subsidies for child care. Public stakes are to be reduced through sales of holdings in Greece’s PPC electricity utility, railways, Athens’ international airport and the Thessaloniki port.

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Same as it ever was. Fantasy numbers have ruled the day for many years.

Trump Aims to Balance Budget With Deep Cuts, Bullish Growth Projections (WSJ)

President Donald Trump next week will propose the U.S. can balance the federal budget over 10 years with substantial cuts to safety-net programs such as food stamps and other anti-poverty efforts, combined with a tax and regulatory overhaul that speeds up the nation’s economic growth rate, a senior White House budget official said. The president’s budget, due for release Tuesday, will spare the two largest drivers of future spending—Medicare and Social Security—leaving trillions in cuts from other programs. That includes discretionary spending cuts to education, housing, environment programs and foreign aid already laid out by the administration, in addition to new proposed reductions to nondiscretionary spending like food stamps, Medicaid and federal employee-benefit programs.

The budget release, which will be unveiled while Mr. Trump is visiting Europe and the Middle East, shows how his economic policy team is trying to forge ahead on his agenda even as distracting political controversies, such as the recent firing of FBI director James Comey, swirl around Washington. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified on Capitol Hill, his first such appearance since his February confirmation, where he expressed confidence Congress could advance a revamp of the tax code this year. House Republicans held their first hearing on the proposed tax overhaul, following a series of meetings between lawmakers and top administration officials Wednesday.

The White House’s budget proposal next week builds upon an earlier outline in March that called for a nearly 10% boost in defense funding next year, offset by around $54 billion in cuts for nondefense programs. [..] Among the more controversial elements of the budget will be the administration’s growth forecasts. The White House projects the nation’s economic growth rate will rise to 3% by 2021, compared with the 1.9% forecast under current policy by the Congressional Budget Office. It’s unusual to see the White House’s growth forecasts differ from the CBO and other blue-chip projections by such a large margin over such a long stretch of the 10-year budget window.

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Another crazy experiment by the Fed bookworms.

Get Ready for Quantitative Tightening (Rickards)

Despite yesterday’s market sell-off, the Fed is still on track to raise interest rates in June. Wednesday’s action is no more than a speed bump for the Fed. It will not stop the Fed from moving forward with another 0.25% rate increase. The Fed is embarking on a new path, a path that started several years with QE (quantitative easing). QE is the name for the method the Fed uses to ease monetary conditions when interest rates are already zero. Conventional monetary policy calls for interest rate cuts to stimulate growth and inflate asset prices when the economy is in a recession. What does a central bank do when interest rates are already at zero and you can’t cut them anymore? One solution is negative interest rates, although the evidence from Japan and Europe indicates that negative rates do not have the same effect as rate cuts from positive levels. The second solution is to print money! The Fed does this by buying bonds from the big banks.

The banks deliver the bonds to the Fed, and the Fed pays for them with money from thin air. The popular name for this is quantitative easing, or QE, although the Fed’s technical name is long-term asset purchases. The Fed did QE in three rounds from 2008 to 2013. They gradually tapered new purchases down to zero by 2014. Since then, the Fed has been stuck with $4.5 trillion of bonds that it bought with the printed money. When the bonds mature, the Fed buys new ones to maintain the size of its balance sheet. But now the Fed wants to “normalize” its balance sheet and get back down to about $2 trillion. They could just sell the bonds, but that would destroy the bond market. Instead, the Fed will let the old bonds mature, and not buy new ones. That way the money just disappears and the balance sheet shrinks. The new name for this is “quantitative tightening,” or QT. You’ll be hearing a lot about QT in the months ahead.

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Tapering, QT, it’s all just more ‘uncharted territory’.

ECB Tapering to Cause “Disorderly Restructuring” of Italian Debt, Return to Lira (DQ)

Here’s the staggering scale of the Italian government’s dependence on the ECB’s bond purchases, according to a new report by Astellon Capital: Since 2008, 88% of government debt net issuance has been acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019. But now there’s a snag. Last month, the size of the balance sheet of the ECB surpassed that of any other central bank: At €4.17 trillion, the ECB’s assets have soared to 38.8% of Eurozone GDP. The ECB has already reduced the rate of purchases to €60 billion a month. And it plans to further withdraw from the super-expansionary monetary policy. To do this, according to Der Spiegel, it wants to spread more optimistic messages about the economic situation and gradually reduce borrowing.

[..] By the halfway point of 2018 the ECB would have completed tapering and it would then use the second half of the year to move away from negative interest rates. So far, most current ECB members have shown scant enthusiasm for withdrawing the punch bowl. The reason most frequently cited for not tapering more just yet is their lingering concern about the long-term sustainability of the Eurozone’s recent economic turnaround. The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe, while merely serving to paper over the cracks that began forming — or at least became visible — in some Eurozone economies during the sovereign debt crisis. In many places the cracks are even bigger than they were back then. This is the elephant in the ECB’s room, and by now it’s too big to ignore.

In one country alone, the cracks are so large that they could end up fracturing the entire single currency project. That country is Italy. Astellon Capital’s report on Italy’s dependence on ECB bond purchases poses the question: If the ECB tapers its purchase of Italian bonds further, who would pick up the slack? The Italian banks, which are themselves deep in crisis mode and whose balance sheets are already filled to the gills with Italian bonds? Hardly. When QE ends, the banks are more likely to become net sellers, rather than net buyers, of Italian debt. The only way for the game to continue is if over the next six years non-banks increase their purchase activity up to seven times that of the past nine years. In other words, the very same investors who have used QE as the perfect opportunity to offload the immense risk of holding Italian liabilities onto the Bank of Italy’s, and then onto the Eurosystem’s, would need to step back into the market in a massive way, just at a time that the country in question is on the verge of a full-blown banking crisis.

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No kidding.

Russia-US Relations Have Become ‘Extremely Paranoid’ – Sberbank CEO (CNBC)

Diplomatic relations between America and Russia have deteriorated to such an extent that contacts between the two countries have become extremely paranoid of one another, the chief executive of Russia’s largest bank has told CNBC. “From what we see here in Russia and from the programs we see from the U.S., the unfolding situation is fairly complex. And there are certain signs of a certain… paranoid attitude to Russia and to every single contact with Russia real or imagined,” Herman Gref, Sberbank CEO, said via a translator. [..] When asked whether Gref harbored any concerns about the consequences of having met with Trump in the past, he replied, “I think the situation has become extremely paranoid for one to suspect that these sort of contacts could lead to political consequences.”

Speaking in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Sberbank’s CEO had predicted the Trump administration could re-establish close ties with the Kremlin and expressed his hope the newly-elected U.S. president could mark a “new beginning” for the two countries. On Friday, Gref suggested it was still too early to judge the success of Trump’s presidency however conceded that, for the time-being at least, relations between American and Russia were unlikely to change for the better. Moscow is currently enduring the sharp end of tough international sanctions from Washington[..] . “Well, I have to say that this has had an effect on us in the last two years… The inability to access international markets is painful for us,” Gref said. “You know, sanctions were put in place for political reasons and most likely their removal will also be motivated by politics…

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China’s official government paper.

Western Democracy – As Represented By The US – Is Crumbling (Global Times)

The American elite still refuse to accept Trump after his 100 days in the Oval Office. He is at odds with the mainstream media; insiders have constantly leaked information to the media. Now some commentators have compared the exposure of the Comey memo to the Watergate scandal. As Congress is under Republican control, few believe there will be a move to impeach the president, but these latest revelations will certainly further erode Trump’s presidential authority. At the beginning of the corruption scandal, few believed that South Korean president Park Geun-hye would be impeached either. Could this be a reference for Trump’s case? But evidence of Park’s illegal activities was solid, while it will be more complicated to make determinations over whether Trump obstructed justice and leaked classified intelligence.

To impeach Trump will need more evidence from further investigation. To completely discredit Trump among voters, the present scandal is not enough as it does not add to the negative image of Trump. Many just think Trump often speaks off the cuff, which ends up in silly blunders. If there is a major substantive scandal over and above him speaking out of turn then that will be another thing. But this is not the case at the moment. Every country has its own troubles. The US model represents Western democracy, but it is crumbling, and the resulting social division has become more and more serious. The US Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into link between Russia and the 2016 US presidential election and related matters on Wednesday.

More juicy details will continue to appear and the rifts may become wider. Trump will become one of the most frequently accused Americans. The US won’t be engulfed by chaos if its president is caught in a lawsuit. Someone has pointed out that no matter how chaotic the White House and Capitol Hill are, the overall operation of the US will not be a major problem as long as the enterprises and social organizations in the country are stable. This is seen as an advantage of the American system. Although American society is relatively stable, the political tumult can’t be taken as an advantage of the US system. The fact is that US politics is in trouble, and the benefits brought by its system are being squandered.

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Democracy as a threat to the state.

Secret Plans To ‘Protect’ France In The Event Of Le Pen Victory Emerge (G.)

It was never written down and never given a name, but France had a detailed plan to “protect the Republic” if far right leader Marine Le Pen was elected president, French media have reported. “It was like a multi-stage rocket,” an unnamed senior official told l’Obs magazine. “The philosophy, and the absolute imperative, was to keep the peace, while also respecting our constitutional rules.” [..] L’Obs cited three anonymous sources with knowledge of the emergency plan that would have been put into effect had Le Pen reached the Elysée palace, saying it was devised by a small group of ministers, chiefs of staff and top civil servants. The magazine said the plan was aimed mainly at preventing serious civil unrest and “freezing” the political situation by convening parliament in emergency session and maintaining the outgoing prime minister in office.

Police and intelligence services were particularly concerned by the threat of “extreme violence” from mainly far left protesters in the event of a Le Pen victory as the country would have found itself “on the brink of chaos”. Even before the first round of voting on 23 April, a confidential note drawn up by the intelligence services announced that “without exception, every local public safety directorate has expressed its concern”, Le Parisien reported. Regional police chiefs were asked on 21 April to detail their crowd control and deployment plans, l’Obs said. Under France’s ongoing state of emergency, more than 50,000 police and gendarmes and 7,000 soldiers were already on duty. On 5 May, two days before the second round that Macron won by 66% to Le Pen’s 34%, the national public safety directorate warned in another note that protesters were ready to use “fireworks, mortars and incendiary bombs”.

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“If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.”

What Jeremy Corbyn Whispered In My Ear (Ind.)

When I shook his hand, I told him that I work for a charity and freelance as a journalist, writing on politics and social justice issues. I expressed my disappointment that Labour (and particularly Corbyn himself) doesn’t get a fair hearing from many news outlets. He spoke in my ear: “If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.” The unveiling of Labour’s manifesto today was a display of strength. Labour is promising a Britain that works for everyone, where whole swathes of society aren’t left behind. The transformative manifesto will take the financial burden from the shoulders of those who can least afford to carry it, and place it upon the top 5% of earners and arrogantly tax-dodging corporations.

The Britain we currently live in is untenable for young people, university students, teachers, NHS workers, policemen, the disabled, people with long-term illnesses, people who can’t find work, first-time buyers, and those living in rented accommodation. Britain is working for a wealthy few, and Labour’s manifesto highlights the fact, often forgotten, that this is not inevitable. At Bradford University, a huge cheer went up when Corbyn promised to scrap tuition fees and end hospital parking charges. The scandal of zero hours contracts would be a thing of the past under Labour, as will NHS cuts and rises in VAT and income tax for 95% of earners. The manifesto is a document filled with long-overdue, common sense policies.

It addresses the important questions that accompany the Brexit process, including concerns about the protection of jobs and hard-won workers’ rights. It puts children and young people first, promising to invest in them through a National Education Service rather than rely on the failed academies experiment or a ridiculous and divisive reintroduction of grammar schools. In-work poverty is unacceptable. My partner and I both work two jobs and we struggle to make ends meet. We don’t indulge in avocado toast but finding enough for a deposit on a mortgage is sadly out of reach. The pledge to build one million new homes and introduce a £10 living wage by 2020 is crucial for young couples and for anyone working in poorly paid or part-time jobs, notably in care work and service industry roles. If Labour’s manifesto and the promise of more public ownership will transport us to the 1970s, where do we currently live? 1870, perhaps?

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Single payer rules. Supreme.

Study Of Healthcare Quality In 195 Countries Names The Best And Worst (AFP)

Neither Canada nor Japan cracked the top 10, and the United States finished a dismal 35th, according to a much anticipated ranking of healthcare quality in 195 countries, released Friday. Among nations with more than a million souls, top honours for 2015 went to Switzerland, followed by Sweden and Norway, though the healthcare gold standard remains tiny Andorra, a postage stamp of a country nestled between Spain (No. 8) and France (No. 15). Iceland (No. 2), Australia (No. 6), Finland (No. 7), the Netherlands (No. 9) and financial and banking centre Luxembourg rounded out the first 10 finishers, according to a comprehensive study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

Of the 20 countries heading up the list, all but Australia and Japan (No. 11) are in western Europe, where virtually every nation boasts some form of universal health coverage. The United States – where a Republican Congress wants to peel back reforms that gave millions of people access to health insurance for the first time – ranked below Britain, which placed 30th. The Healthcare Access and Quality Index, based on death rates for 32 diseases that can be avoided or effectively treated with proper medical care, also tracked progress in each nation compared to the benchmark year of 1990.

Virtually all countries improved over that period, but many – especially in Africa and Oceania – fell further behind others in providing basic care for their citizens. With the exceptions of Afghanistan, Haiti and Yemen, the 30 countries at the bottom of the ranking were all in sub-Saharan Africa, with the Central African Republic suffering the worst standards of all. “Despite improvements in healthcare quality and access over 25 years, inequality between the best and worst performing countries has grown,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and leader of a consortium of hundreds of contributing experts.

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“Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people”

50 Years Since Indigenous Australians First ‘Counted’, Little Has Changed (G.)

Sol Bellear, a former rugby league player for South Sydney Rabbitohs and Aboriginal rights activist, sits in the soft autumn sunshine at a cafe intersecting Redfern Park and the oval that remains the spiritual home of his beloved club. He sips a Red Bull “heart starter” and English breakfast tea. And he shakes his head while contemplating the anniversaries of what ought to have been transformative moments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – starting with the 1967 “citizenship” referendum that first made their existence in Australia “official”. “Things should be so much better for Aboriginal people. I think the country saw 1967 as the end of the fight,” Bellear says.

“Before 1967, we weren’t counted in the census or anything as people. Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people.” Indigenous people had never previously been officially included among the Australian citizenry, nor counted in the Commonwealth census – so the federal government could not legislate for them. But on 27 May 1967, more than 90% of the Australian electorate voted at the “citizenship” referendum to effectively bring Indigenous people into the Commonwealth. “After the referendum, though, it was like the work was done for the rest of the country and governments – when it was actually just the bloody beginning,” Bellear says. “Every little thing we’ve won since, we’ve had to fight for.”

2017 is also the 25th anniversary of two more critical moments in the story: the Mabo decision – a High Court ruling that led to native title land rights, and former prime minister Paul Keating’s landmark “Redfern speech” (“We committed the murders – we took the children from their mothers”). It was Bellear who introduced Keating at Redfern Park. This was the first time an Australian prime minister had frankly, without qualification, acknowledged the violence, sickness, dispossession and ongoing oppression that colonialism had imposed on Indigenous people. Yet a quarter of a century on, Bellear says his country remains deaf to all the non-government reports into Indigenous lives – and to the savage critiques of Commonwealth policies that purported to make them better.

[..] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders constitute some 3% of the country’s overall population – yet in 1991, they comprised 14% of Australia’s prisoners. A quarter of a century later, that figure was up to 27% – while more than 150 Indigenous people had died in custody in the intervening 25 years. In some parts of Australia, many more young Indigenous men complete prison terms than high school. The Indigenous rate of imprisonment is 15 times the age-standardised non-Indigenous rate. As Thalia Anthony pointed out in her 2015 book Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment, rates of Indigenous incarceration in Australia today match those of black imprisonment in apartheid South Africa.

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May 182017
 
 May 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Paul Klee Fire at Full Moon 1933

 

‘Bobby Three Sticks’ Mueller to Probe Russia-Trump imbroglio (R.)
Trump To Announce $350bn Saudi Arabia Arms Deal – One Of Largest Ever (Ind.)
America’s Reign of Terror: A Nation Reaps What It Sows (Whitehead)
Investors Supercharge Bet Amazon Will Destroy US Retail (BBG)
Fed’s Kashkari Says Don’t Use Rate Hikes To Fight Bubbles (R.)
US Banks Tighten Auto Lending as More Borrowers Fall Into Default (BBG)
Canadian Officials Say Housing Risks Are Contained (BBG)
Prosecutor To Label Deutsche Bank An International Criminal Association (BBG)
Germany Asks US For Classified Briefing On Lockheed’s F-35 Fighter (R.)
Brazil: Explosive Recordings Implicate President Michel Temer In Bribery (G.)
Get Ready For The Franco-German Revival (Pol.)
Greek Parliament Committee Finds Salary, Pension Cuts Unconstitutional (GR)
Deal On Greece Is Touch And Go (K.)
Traffickers, Smugglers Exploit Record Rise In Unaccompanied Child Refugees (G.)

 

 

The echo chamber expands. It’s ironic to see how everyone praises Mueller’s independence, yet many are sure he will be Trump’s undoing. What flack will he get when he doesn’t do what the MSM demand?

‘Bobby Three Sticks’ Mueller to Probe Russia-Trump imbroglio (R.)

Former FBI director and prosecutor Robert Mueller, known for his independence in high-profile government investigations, is taking on a new challenge in the midst of a crisis that threatens the presidency of the United States. Mueller, 72, was named on Wednesday by the Justice Department to probe alleged Russian efforts to sway November’s presidential election in favor of Donald Trump and to investigate whether there was any collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Moscow. President Trump said in a statement there was no collusion between his campaign and “any foreign entity.” Mueller is known by some as “Bobby Three Sticks” because of his full name – Robert Mueller III – a moniker that belies the formal bearing and no-nonsense style of the former Marine Corps officer who was decorated during the Vietnam War.

Democrats and Republicans alike praised his appointment and hailed his integrity and reputation. Mueller was named to the post by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His investigation will run in parallel to those being carried out by the FBI and the U.S. Congress. It would be difficult to fire Mueller, and past special counsel appointments have shown that the job comes with independence and autonomy. Chicago federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed during the George W. Bush administration in 2003 to a similar role to investigate the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer whose husband had criticized Bush administration policies. Fitzgerald indicted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Bush granted Libby clemency from a prison sentence before he left office.

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If you want to protest Trump, protest this….

Trump To Announce $350bn Saudi Arabia Arms Deal – One Of Largest Ever (Ind.)

Donald Trump will use his upcoming Saudi Arabia trip to announce one of the largest arms sales deals in US history – somewhere in the neighbourhood of $98bn to $128bn worth of arms. That could add up to $350bn over ten years. The deal will be what the Washington Post said is a “cornerstone” of the proposal encouraging the Gulf states to form its own alliance like the NATO military alliance, dubbed “Arab Nato.” Nato is comprised of 28 countries including the US. Mr Trump been an outspoken critic of the organisation but after a face-to-face meeting with Nato Secretary General Jens Stollenberg, he said the alliance was “no longer obsolete.” The White House said the president will propose it as a template for an alliance that will fight terrorism and keep Iran in check.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began negotiations on this deal shortly after the 2016 US election when he sent a delegation to Trump Tower to meet with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is serving as a senior advisor of sorts to Mr Trump. The idea of an Arab Nato is not new. There was talk in 2015 of a “response force” in Egypt, comprised of approximately 40,000 troops from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other Gulf nations. The “response force” would have had a Nato-like command structure, with soldiers paid for by their own countries and the Gulf Cooperation Council made up of wealthy oil economies finance operations and management of the force.

President Barack Obama’s administration brokered more arms sales than any US administration since World War II – estimated at $200bn. They sold Saudi Arabia alone $60bn in arms, which sparked criticism by Democrats concerned with Saudi Arabia’s alleged human rights violations. Mr Trump benefits by bringing about a more “fair” deal; he has claimed several times that Nato is unfair to the US because of the amount of contributions and support provided by the US compared to countries like Germany. If Arab Nato succeeds, the White House official said the US could shift the responsibility for security to those in the region and create jobs at home through the arms sales.

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…because that Saudi arms deal is a further expansion of this long-term insanity. Military industrial complex.

America’s Reign of Terror: A Nation Reaps What It Sows (Whitehead)

Who designed the malware worm that is now wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers internationally by hackers demanding a king’s ransom? The US government. Who is the biggest black market buyer and stockpiler of cyberweapons (weaponized malware that can be used to hack into computer systems, spy on citizens, and destabilize vast computer networks)? The US government. What country has one the deadliest arsenals of weapons of mass destruction? The US government. Who is the largest weapons manufacturer and exporter in the world, such that they are literally arming the world? The US government. Which is the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon in wartime? The United States. How did Saddam Hussein build Iraq’s massive arsenal of tanks, planes, missiles, and chemical weapons during the 1980s? With help from the US government.

Who gave Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida “access to a fortune in covert funding and top-level combat weaponry”? The US government. What country has a pattern and practice of entrapment that involves targeting vulnerable individuals, feeding them with the propaganda, know-how and weapons intended to turn them into terrorists, and then arresting them as part of an elaborately orchestrated counterterrorism sting? The US government. Where did ISIS get many of their deadliest weapons, including assault rifles and tanks to anti-missile defenses? From the US government. Which country has a history of secretly testing out dangerous weapons and technologies on its own citizens? The US government. Are you getting the picture yet? The US government isn’t protecting us from terrorism. The US government is creating the terror. It is, in fact, the source of the terror.

Just think about it for a minute: almost every tyranny being perpetrated against the citizenry—purportedly to keep us safe and the nation secure—has come about as a result of some threat manufactured in one way or another by our own government. Cyberwarfare. Terrorism. Bio-chemical attacks. The nuclear arms race. Surveillance. The drug wars. In almost every instance, the US government has in its typical Machiavellian fashion sown the seeds of terror domestically and internationally in order to expand its own totalitarian powers.

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Let’s celebrate progress.

Investors Supercharge Bet Amazon Will Destroy US Retail (BBG)

Investors who think Amazon.com Inc. is about to destroy the retail industry as we know it have figured out a way to supercharge that bet – by buying the online giant’s stock and pairing it with a short position in the SPDR S&P Retail ETF, symbol XRT, a foundering fund that primarily holds bricks-and-mortar stores. “If you are long Amazon, wouldn’t it make sense to be short the stocks Amazon will look to decimate?” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research for S3 Partners. “It’s going long the ‘best of the breed’ and shorting the ‘worst of the breed.’” Traders are building up short positions in anticipation of XRT dropping to $40 or $41, Dusaniwsky said. The fund, which is down more than 5% this year, closed at $41.74 on Tuesday.

XRT’s top holdings include furniture stores, supermarkets and groceries, electronics chains and media streaming, all areas where Amazon is spending heavily, Dusaniwsky said. “If Amazon succeeds, it will be at the expense of companies like Wayfair, Sprouts Farmers Market, Whole Foods, Best Buy and Netflix,” Dusaniwsky said. These five companies make up around 7% of XRT, which also holds $3.37 million of Amazon stock, making it 1.2% to the portfolio. So far Amazon is holding up its end of the bet. The world’s largest online retailer beat profit and revenue estimates in the first quarter and said sales may top projections in second quarter, according to an April 27 statement. The stock’s up 28% this year, as the company continues to add subscribers to its $99-a-year Prime program, locking in loyalty and building a moat against competitors.

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Is Kashkari denying the existence of bubbles?

Fed’s Kashkari Says Don’t Use Rate Hikes To Fight Bubbles (R.)

Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari on Wednesday warned against using interest-rate hikes to address unwanted asset bubbles, saying that bubbles are hard to identify and such hikes would likely do more harm than good. Kashkari is a voting member this year on the U.S. central bank’s policy committee, and in March was the lone dissenter on a Fed vote to raise rates for the third time since the Great Recession. He has previously said he opposed the rate hike because he felt keeping rates low would result in more jobs for Americans who want to work. Some Fed officials have worried that keeping rates too low for too long could create asset bubbles that could set the U.S. economy up for another recession.

But the main reason Fed chair Janet Yellen and others have given for raising rates is not to tamp down bubbles, but to keep a now nearly fully employed economy from going into overdrive. Kashkari’s latest essay argues that keeping a sharp eye out for potential bubbles and using supervisory powers to protect banks from failures are better options than raising rates. “Given the challenges of identifying bubbles with any confidence and the costs of making a policy mistake, I believe the odds of circumstances ever making sense to use monetary policy to try to slow asset prices down are very low,” he wrote. “I won’t say never but a whole lot of evidence would have to line up just right for it to be the prudent course of action.”

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Horse. Barn.

US Banks Tighten Auto Lending as More Borrowers Fall Into Default (BBG)

Lenders are tightening the spigot on new auto loans, making it harder for U.S. consumers with weak credit to buy a car, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show. New car loans for subprime borrowers fell in the first quarter to $25.9 billion, the lowest in two years, according to the New York Fed’s quarterly report on household debt and credit. Drivers with credit scores below 620 now comprise less than 20% of new loans, down from almost 30% a decade ago. Borrowers with the highest credit scores – 760 or more – made up nearly a third of new auto loan originations in the first quarter as lenders target the safer deals. Banks including Fifth Third Bank have been trimming their loan books and cutting back on riskier credit as delinquent auto loan balances surge.

The share of auto debt more than 90 days overdue rose to 3.82% in the first quarter, the highest in four years. While caution may be good for banks’ balance sheets, it doesn’t offer much relief for automakers, who relied on cheap credit to fuel a seven-year stretch of booming sales. Now they’re boosting discounts and cutting production to address swelling inventory on dealer lots. Ford said Wednesday it’s cutting 1,400 jobs in North America and Asia to improve profits as the U.S. auto industry recorded a fourth straight drop in monthly sales in April, after eking out a record year in 2016. Tighter credit “is a big impediment to future strength in auto sales,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, senior U.S. economist for Bloomberg Intelligence. “A lot of this demand was driven by loose lending standards.”

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Not helping.

Canadian Officials Say Housing Risks Are Contained (BBG)

Canadian government officials delivered a vote of confidence in the country’s housing sector and banking system, telling lawmakers that Vancouver and Toronto’s real estate markets are supported by fundamentals that leave risks well-contained. Senior officials from Canada’s Finance Department testified Wednesday evening to the Senate finance committee, fielding questions about the stability of the housing market, risks posed by high household debt levels in Canada and the recent downgrade of banks by Moody’s Investors Service Inc. The hearing came amid questions about the future of Home Capital and any knock-on effect that a potential failure there could have on Canada’s housing sector, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto.

The core message from the officials was Canada’s market was stable and, despite some risks, policy makers’ measures are taking effect. “We don’t think there’s any systemic risk across the country,” said Phil King, a director at the economic and fiscal policy branch at Finance Canada. “There are specific pockets of concern, which seem to have ameliorated somewhat in the very-near term but we’re keeping a very close eye on those.” Vancouver and Toronto have “very, very strong fundamentals” supporting prices including immigration, strong job creation, strong income gains and high wealth, he said. King described a national housing market with distinct regions — surging Toronto and Vancouver, soft markets in energy-producing regions such as Calgary, and other cities like Montreal and Ottawa where policy makers have “no concerns whatsoever.”

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As Goldman Sachs should be for its activities in Greece.

Prosecutor To Label Deutsche Bank An International Criminal Association (BBG)

Deutsche Bank, on trial in Milan for allegedly helping Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena conceal losses, must face accusations that it was running an international criminal organization at the time. Prosecutors used internal Deutsche Bank documents and emails to persuade a three-judge panel to consider whether there were additional, aggravating circumstances to the charges the German lender already faces related to derivatives transactions. The material included a London trader’s “well done!” message to a banker who is now on trial, evidence seen by Bloomberg shows. Allowing prosecutors to argue that the alleged market manipulation crimes were committed by an organization operating in several countries could lead to higher penalties if they win a conviction.

Giuseppe Iannaccone, a lawyer for Deutsche Bank and some of the defendants, sought to block the move at Tuesday’s hearing, saying there wasn’t a clear connection between the original charge of market manipulation and the alleged aggravating circumstances. “The trial for Deutsche Bank managers becomes more problematic after the judge’s decision,” said Giampiero Biancolella, an attorney specializing in financial crime who isn’t involved in the case. “If proven, the aggravating circumstance may increase the eventual jail sentence for the market manipulation to a maximum of nine years.” The German bank and Nomura went on trial in Milan in December, accused of colluding with Monte Paschi to cover up losses that almost toppled the Italian lender before its current battle for survival. Thirteen former managers of Deutsche Bank, Nomura and Monte Paschi were charged for alleged false accounting and market manipulation.

Deutsche Bank and Nomura are accused of using complex derivative trades to hide losses at the Italian lender, leading to a misrepresentation of its finances between 2008 and 2012. After the deals came to light in a 2013 Bloomberg News report, Monte Paschi restated its accounts and tapped shareholders twice to replenish capital. Deutsche Bank and six current and former managers were indicted in Milan Oct. 1 for allegedly helping falsify the Siena-based lender’s accounts through a deal known as Santorini. The prosecution’s request to label Deutsche Bank an international criminal association hinged on events that occurred in other parts of the globe, including the possible manipulation of an index, which isn’t the subject of charges in the Milan case.

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History’s biggest ever financial boondoggle. And nobody dares stop it.

Germany Asks US For Classified Briefing On Lockheed’s F-35 Fighter (R.)

The German Air Force this month sent the U.S. military a written request for classified data on the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet as it gears up to replace its current fleet of fighter jets from 2025 to 2035. The letter, sent by the Air Force’s planning command and seen by Reuters, makes clear that the German government has not yet authorized a procurement program and is not committed to any particular aircraft to replace its current warplanes. It said the defense ministry would carry out “an in-depth evaluation of market available solutions, including the F-35, later this year,” with a formal “letter of request” to be issued in coming months.

Germany’s interest in the F-35 – the Pentagon’s most advanced warplane and its costliest procurement program – may surprise some given that it is part of the four-nation consortium that developed the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon, which continues to compete for new orders. The Eurofighter is built by Airbus as well as Britain’s BAE Systems and Leonardo of Italy. Germany will need to replace its current fleet of fourth-generation warplanes – Tornadoes in use since 1981 and Eurofighters – between 2025 and 2035. The F-35 is considered a fifth-generation fighter given stealth capabilities that allow it to evade enemy radars.

Berlin’s letter also comes amid growing tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, with NATO officials saying that Russian naval activity now exceeds levels seen even during the Cold War. Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and Italy – key NATO allies of Germany – are already buying the F-35 fighter jet to replace their current aircraft, and other European countries such as Switzerland, Belgium and Finland are also looking at purchasing the fifth-generation warplane. Germany’s gesture may be aimed at strengthening its hand in negotiations with its European partners over the scale and timing of development of a next generation of European fighters. Any moves to buy a U.S. built warplane could run into political resistance in Germany, which has strong labor unions.

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Just turn parliament into a prison building. Most effective solution.

Brazil: Explosive Recordings Implicate President Michel Temer In Bribery (G.)

Angry crowds and outraged members of Brazil’s congress have demanded the impeachment of President Michel Temer following reports he was secretly recorded discussing hush money pay-offs to a jailed associate. The tapes were presented to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain by Joesley and Wesley Batista, brothers who run the country’s biggest meat-packing firm JBS, according to O Globo newspaper. They are said to contain conversations that incriminate several leading politicians, including the former presidential candidate Aecio Neves and the former finance minister Guido Mantega. Temer is alleged to have talked with Joesley about cash payments to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House who has been jailed for his role in the sprawling Petrobras corruption scandal.

Cunha is in the same ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party as Temer and initiated the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff that allowed him to take over the presidency. He has alluded to the many secrets he knows about his former colleagues. In covert recordings made during two conversations in March, Joesley tells Temer he is paying Cunha to keep him quiet, to which the president allegedly replies: “You have to keep it going, OK?” According to Globo, police also have audio and video evidence that Temer’s aide Rocha Loures negotiated bribes worth 500,000 reais (US$160,000) a week for 20 years in return for helping JBS overcome a problem with the fair trade office.

No audio or transcripts were released. The supreme court has refused to comment on the validity of the alleged leak – but the news has enraged the public. Shouts and pot-banging (a traditional form of protest in Latin America) could be heard when the allegations were aired on TV. Crowds also gathered outside the presidential palace chanting “Fora Temer” (Temer out). Two congressmen submitted impeachment motions in the lower house.

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Macron falls in line with what Berlin wants as much as Hollande did. Where’s the difference? Merkel and Schäuble like it, because now no-one will dare speak up anymore.

Get Ready For The Franco-German Revival (Pol.)

With none of the previous three presidents Merkel has sat across from in the past 12 years did the cautious chancellor achieve the deep mutual understanding and political serendipity that powered European integration in the eras of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, or Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. Macron promised to be a “frank, direct and constructive partner” for Berlin. If he can convince Merkel to revive the frequent, unscripted, plain-speaking meetings between French and German leaders of the past, it will be a crucial step toward setting a joint agenda for Europe. July’s joint cabinet session — where both defense and the economy will be on the agenda — will be a first test of the promised Franco-German revival.

Macron has made it clear he intends to use France’s major contribution to European defense and security as a lever to help secure progress in the eurozone. But his influence in Berlin, as he acknowledged, will depend on his ability to break the rigidities in the French labor market and put the country’s young people to work. He will need to overcome deep-seated resistance to eurozone intervention in national budget policies. The last Socialist government was as defiant as its Gaullist predecessors when the European Commission repeatedly criticized France’s excessive deficits, high tax burden on business and employment, and generous welfare and pension systems. But Macron is committed to the right track. Honoring commitments to EU-supervised economic reforms are part of his vision for a more integrated eurozone, he said in Berlin.

[..] When it comes to the eurozone, Germany will have to end its resistance to further risk-sharing to complete the EU’s banking union. And here progress is likely to be difficult. Macron will need Berlin to lift its blockade on common deposit insurance and a joint fiscal backstop for the European bank resolution fund. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble — who has expressed support for some of Macron’s ideas — will hold both steps hostage at least until after the German general election in September. Schäuble is holding out for a very different form of eurozone governance, in which an inter-governmental (i.e. German-controlled) European Monetary Fund, built on the existing European Stability Mechanism, would impose automatic debt restructuring and an austerity program on any eurozone country that needed assistance.

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Can Tsipras impose cuts when they violate his constitution? Can the Troika?

Greek Parliament Committee Finds Salary, Pension Cuts Unconstitutional (GR)

The Parliamentary Scientific Committee in its new report that accompanies the new omnibus bill expressed concern over the constitutionality of the provisions of Law 4387/2016 that calls for new cuts to pensions and special salaries. According to Professor and former SYRIZA lawmaker Alexis Mitropoulos, the report was posted on the parliament site shortly after midnight on Tuesday. Mitropoulos spoke on Ant1 television on Wednesday saying that, “After the recent Court of Audit decision, and following a long meeting, the committee found that the cuts in special wages, pensions and taxation were found to be unconstitutional.”

The new bill includes deep cuts in pensions and slashes in salaries of army and police personnel, sectors where special salary regulations apply. “The proposed reductions disrupt the balance that must exist between, on the one hand, the pension as a personal asset, which is protected by Article 1 and, on the other, of the public interest,” the report says regarding the pension cuts. As for cuts in special salaries, the report argues that, the cuts “are part of a wider fiscal adjustment program containing a package of measures to revive the Greek economy and consolidate public finances” but their implementation “is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the constitutionality of these cuts.”

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A child can tell that this is nonsense:

Growth predicted at “..2.1% this year and 2.5% in 2018, and continuing at a similar pace until 2060(!)..”. While the demanded budget surplus is 3.5% for the next 5 years. Which guarantees the growth predictions won’t be achieved.

Deal On Greece Is Touch And Go (K.)

A senior eurozone official put on Wednesday the chances of a complete agreement on Greece being reached at this Monday’s Eurogroup meeting at 50%, while many issues remain open and the negotiation battle at this stage is mainly between Berlin and the IMF. The official also reiterated that there will be no tranche disbursement without the IMF agreeing to participate in the Greek program. There are three scenarios on the negotiating table, according to two eurozone officials who took part in last Monday’s Euro Working Group. All three provide for the primary budget surplus to remain at 3.5% of GDP until 2022, showing that this is not negotiable anymore.

The main obstacle to an agreement among Greece’s creditors is that they disagree on the rate of Greek growth in the coming years, a key parameter for the extent of Greek debt easing. The first scenario provides for growth to match the European Commission’s estimates for 2.1% this year and 2.5% in 2018, and continuing at a similar pace until 2060. If there is a primary surplus of 2-2.6% of GDP, then the measures agreed last May will suffice to make the Greek debt sustainable. According to the second scenario, growth will be below even the IMF forecast and will not exceed 1% per year in the long term. That should take the primary surplus down to 1.5% of GDP from 2023, and more measures will be needed to render the debt sustainable. The third scenario is similar to the second, but the growth forecast is slightly higher, at 1.25%.

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Forget about hoping Brussels is looking for a solution NOT located in southern Libya. Just imagine what you would do if this was your child.

Traffickers, Smugglers Exploit Record Rise In Unaccompanied Child Refugees (G.)

A record increase in the number of refugee and migrant children travelling alone has left many exposed to sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of traffickers and opportunists. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in 80 countries in 2015-16, a rise of almost 500% on the 66,000 documented in 2010-2011, according to a Unicef report published on Wednesday. The central Mediterranean passage is one of several migration routes identified as particularly dangerous for children. More than 75% of the 1,600 14- to 17-year-olds who arrived in Italy reported being held against their will or forced to work.

“One child moving alone is one too many and yet, today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said Unicef’s deputy executive director, Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.” The sheer number of migrant and refugee arrivals has left states struggling to cope, with children often falling through the cracks.

Border closures, aggressive pushback measures, overcrowded shelters, makeshift camps and heavy-handed authorities have only served to exacerbate the risk of child exploitation, encouraging unaccompanied minors to take highly dangerous routes in a desperate bid to reach their destinations. One 17-year-old girl from Nigeria told Unicef that she was trapped in Libya for three months and sexually assaulted by her smuggler-turned-trafficker as she attempted to travel alone to Italy. “Everything [he] said – that we would be treated well and that we would be safe – it was all wrong. It was a lie,” she said of the man who offered to help her. “He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him, he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.”

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May 152017
 
 May 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Fred Stein Ballfield NY 1946

 

Global Property Bubble Is Ready To Pop (MF)
3 Cities Push Canada To Another Record On House Prices (HPo)
Cyber Attack Aftershocks Disrupt Devices Across Asia on Monday (R.)
Lessons From Last Week’s Cyberattack (Microsoft)
The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It? (NYT)
Peak China: Chinese Data Misses Across The Board (ZH)
Why India Is Cool Towards China’s Belt And Road (SCMP)
China’s Silk Road Summit: India Skips, Warns Of “Unsustainable Debt” (ZH)
Number of Chinese Tourists Visiting Greece to Rise 10-Fold (BBG)
New Zealand Slashes Chinese Tourism Forecast, Denting Outlook (BBG)
Fed Officials Test New Argument for Tightening: Protect the Poor (BBG)
Marc Cohodes, The Scourge Of Home Capital, Reveals His Latest Short (ZH)
Eyes on Euro Fighter Macron (K.)
Germany Will Not Rush Into Euro Area Fiscal Union (CNBC)
What Germany Owes Namibia For Genocide (Econ)

 

 

Only real question: will they all fall together like dominoes?

Global Property Bubble Is Ready To Pop (MF)

Ever since interest rates were slashed to near zero in the wake of the financial crisis, the world has gone property mad. Residential house prices from Abu Dhabi to Zurich have spiralled as hot money travelled the world looking for a home. For those who got in early it has been incredibly rewarding, even if – whisper it – stock markets have actually done far better. The global property bubble cannot blow much bigger. The best we can hope is that it deflates slowly… but it could burst. Property is still going crazy in China, where prices have been pumped up by yet another bout of government stimulus. Guangzhou, close to Hong Kong on the Chinese mainland, leapt a whopping 36% in the past 12 months, according to Knight Frank. Prices rose around 20% in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as in Toronto, Canada.

Seoul in South Korea continues to boom, as does Sydney and Stockholm, both up 10.7% over the last year. Berlin (8.7%), Melbourne (8.6%) and Vancouver (7.9%) are also performing strongly. In most other global cities, property is finally starting to slow. Hong Kong rose a relatively modest 5.3% while Singapore grew 4%, and thereafter price hikes trail away. Half of the 41 countries in the report grew by less than 2%, while nearly one in three saw prices fall, by up to 8.3%. Prime central London was the world’s raciest property market but is now leading the charge in the other direction, falling 6.4%. Former hotspots Zurich, Moscow and Istanbul fell 7% or more over the last 12 months. Cheap money has driven prices ever higher for eight years but is finally losing traction, as affordability is stretched again. Interest rates cannot go any lower and could start rising if the US Federal Reserve continues to tighten. Regulatory authorities are looking to rein in overheated markets, with China only the latest to tighten borrowing requirements. The glory days are over.

Investing in property has one major benefit over stocks and shares – you can leverage up borrowing money to fund your purchase. Thereafter, the advantages are all one way. First, you can trade stocks online within seconds, whereas offloading property can take months (longer in a market crash). You can invest small amounts, rather than the hundreds of thousands of dollars, pounds, euros, yen or renminbi you need to buy a decent property these days. If you buy an investment property you have the effort of doing up and maintaining it, finding tenants, and paying a host of local taxes. You don’t have any of that nonsense with stocks. Best of all, you can invest quickly and easily in a wide spread global stocks, sectors and markets.

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Greater fools and empty bags.

3 Cities Push Canada To Another Record On House Prices (HPo)

Home prices in Canada rose for the 15th straight month in a row in April, according to the Teranet-National Bank house price index, which once again hit its highest levels ever. But virtually all the strength seen over the past year came from just three cities — Toronto, Hamilton and Victoria. The index, which tracks repeat sales of single-family homes over time, found Toronto led the way, with the price index rising 2.6% in April. The city has seen prices jump 7.3% since the start of the year, and 26.3% in the past 12 months. Nearby Hamilton, which is experiencing spillover from Toronto’s housing boom, saw its price index rise 2% in April and 23% over the past year. Vancouver, which as recently as a year ago was showing the fastest price growth in the country, is now showing signs of slowing.

The price index fell 0.1% in April, and compared to a year ago, prices are up 9.7%, slower than the national average of 13.4%. Many market experts say Vancouver’s foreign buyer tax has pushed buyers to other cities, including to Victoria, where the price index rose 1.5% in April, and 19% over the past year. “Based on the cooldown in home sales that began early last year, we expect the Vancouver growth rate to fall much lower over the next few months,” wrote David Madani, senior Canada economist at Capital Economics. But Madani expects Toronto to experience a similar cooling. He noted that the city saw a sudden, 30% spike in new home listings in April. That’s “further evidence that the surge in house price inflation is close to a peak and will drop back sharply before the end of this year,” he wrote in a client note.

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So far not so bad. But if the next generation of the attack has no killswitch that can be triggered, anything is possible.

Cyber Attack Aftershocks Disrupt Devices Across Asia (R.)

Asian governments and businesses reported some disruptions from the WannaCry ransomware worm on Monday but cybersecurity experts warned of a wider impact as more employees turned on their computers and checked e-mails. The ransomware that has locked up hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries has been mainly spread by e-mail, hitting factories, hospitals, shops and schools worldwide. While the effect on Asian entities appeared to be contained on Monday, industry professionals flagged potential risks as more systems came online across the region. Companies that were hit by the worm may be wary of making it public, they added.

“We’re looking at our victims’ profiles, we’re still seeing a lot of victims in the Asia-Pacific region. But it is a global campaign, it’s not targeted,” said Tim Wellsmore, Director of Threat Intelligence, Asia Pacific at cybersecurity firm FireEye. “But I don’t think we can say it hasn’t impacted this region to the extent it has some other regions.” Michael Gazeley, managing director of Network Box, a Hong Kong-based cybersecurity firm, said there were still “many ‘landmines’ waiting in people’s in-boxes” in the region, with most of the attacks having arrived via e-mail.

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Microsoft blames the NSA, and for good reason, but…

Lessons From Last Week’s Cyberattack (Microsoft)

[..] this attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem. This is an emerging pattern in 2017. We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world. Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen. And this most recent attack represents a completely unintended but disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today – nation-state action and organized criminal action.

The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call. They need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world. We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits. This is one reason we called in February for a new “Digital Geneva Convention” to govern these issues, including a new requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them. And it’s why we’ve pledged our support for defending every customer everywhere in the face of cyberattacks, regardless of their nationality. This weekend, whether it’s in London, New York, Moscow, Delhi, Sao Paulo, or Beijing, we’re putting this principle into action and working with customers around the world.

We should take from this recent attack a renewed determination for more urgent collective action. We need the tech sector, customers, and governments to work together to protect against cybersecurity attacks. More action is needed, and it’s needed now. In this sense, the WannaCrypt attack is a wake-up call for all of us. We recognize our responsibility to help answer this call, and Microsoft is committed to doing its part.

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…Microsoft itself carries part of the blame as well. It doesn’t support XP, but does ask for a lot of money for patches.

The World Is Getting Hacked. Why Don’t We Do More to Stop It? (NYT)

The attack was halted by a stroke of luck: the ransomware had a kill switch that a British employee in a cybersecurity firm managed to activate. Shortly after, Microsoft finally released for free the patch that they had been withholding from users that had not signed up for expensive custom support agreements. But the crisis is far from over. This particular vulnerability still lives in unpatched systems, and the next one may not have a convenient kill switch. While it is inevitable that software will have bugs, there are ways to make operating systems much more secure — but that costs real money.

While this particular bug affected both new and old versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, the older ones like XP have more critical vulnerabilities. This is partly because our understanding of how to make secure software has advanced over the years, and partly because of the incentives in the software business. Since most software is sold with an “as is” license, meaning the company is not legally liable for any issues with it even on day one, it has not made much sense to spend the extra money and time required to make software more secure quickly. Indeed, for many years, Facebook’s mantra for its programmers was “move fast and break things.”

[..] If I have painted a bleak picture, it is because things are bleak. Our software evolves by layering new systems on old, and that means we have constructed entire cities upon crumbling swamps. And we live on the fault lines where more earthquakes are inevitable. All the key actors have to work together, and fast. First, companies like Microsoft should discard the idea that they can abandon people using older software. The money they made from these customers hasn’t expired; neither has their responsibility to fix defects. Besides, Microsoft is sitting on a cash hoard estimated at more than $100 billion (the result of how little tax modern corporations pay and how profitable it is to sell a dominant operating system under monopolistic dynamics with no liability for defects).

At a minimum, Microsoft clearly should have provided the critical update in March to all its users, not just those paying extra. Indeed, “pay extra money to us or we will withhold critical security updates” can be seen as its own form of ransomware. In its defense, Microsoft probably could point out that its operating systems have come a long way in security since Windows XP, and it has spent a lot of money updating old software, even above industry norms. However, industry norms are lousy to horrible, and it is reasonable to expect a company with a dominant market position, that made so much money selling software that runs critical infrastructure, to do more.

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tick tick tick.

Peak China: Chinese Data Misses Across The Board (ZH)

Following months of warnings that China’s economy is slowing down as a result of not only a collapse in China’s credit impulse but also tighter monetary conditions, as well as rolling over loan growth which has pressured both CPI and PPI – i.e., the global “reflation trade” – as the following chart from Bloomberg’s David Ingels shows…

… and culminating over the weekend with a warning in no uncertain terms from Citi, which said that at least four key economic indicators are “starting to wave red flags” among which:
• The Markit PMI is starting to turn over
• China’s Inflation Surprise Index – a leading indicator to global inflation metric – has posted a recent sharp drop
• China’s import trade has likewise tumbled after surging recently
• Chinese Iron Ore imports into Qingado port have plunged

… moments ago China’s National Bureau of Statistics validated the mounting fears, when it reported misses across all key economic categories for the month of April, as follows:
• Retail Sales 10.7% Y/Y, Exp. 10.8%, Last 10.9%
• Fixed Asset Investment 8.9% Y/Y, Exp. 9.1%, Last 9.2%
• Industrial Output 6.5% Y/Y, Exp. 7.0%, Last 7.6%
• Industrial Production YTD 6.7% Y/Y, Exp. 6.9%, Last 6.8%

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Big meeting, Putin, Erdogan et al, but not India, US, Germany and more. Shaky.

Why India Is Cool Towards China’s Belt And Road (SCMP)

It is one of the most imaginative and ambitious programmes ever to be rolled out by a government. It represents a broad strategy for China’s economic cooperation and expanded presence in Asia, Africa and Europe, and has been presented as a win-win initiative for all participating nations. But for India, the connotations of China’s Belt and Road Initiative” are somewhat different. A flagship programme and the most advanced component of the initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a region that belongs to India and is under the control of Pakistan. As a country acutely conscious of its own sovereignty-related claims, China should have no difficulty in appreciating India’s sensitivities in this regard.

While investment in the Gwadar port, roads and energy projects is reported to have increased from US$46 billion to US$55 billion, CPEC lacks economic justification for China and its geopolitical drivers cause legitimate anxieties in India. The Belt and Road plan is a practical economic strategy for China’s objectives to connect the region, seek new growth engines for its slowing economy, utilise its surplus capacity, and develop and stabilise its western regions. It may also bring benefits to partner countries. However, it also has a strategic and political agenda which remains opaque. Apart from the CPEC, India also has misgivings about the manner in which the Belt and Road Initiative is being pursued in its neighbourhood. For instance, the development of ports under Chinese operational control as part of the Maritime Silk Road strategy has raised concerns in India which need to be addressed.

India has repeatedly conveyed its strong objections regarding the CPEC to China. The Belt and Road plan is a Chinese initiative rather than a multilateral enterprise undertaken after prior consultation with potential partner countries, and India has not endorsed it. There is an expectation in India that China will take India’s sensitivities into account while formulating its plans. Clearly, there is room for closer consultations between China and India on the objectives, contours and future directions of the Belt and Road. However, India has considered synergy-based cooperation on a case-by-case basis, where its interests for regional development converge with that of other countries, including China.

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India’s right, the Silk road is financed with Monopoly money.

China’s Silk Road Summit: India Skips, Warns Of “Unsustainable Debt” (ZH)

Alas, the meticulously scripted plan to showcase China’s growing economic and trade dominance did not go off quite as smoothly as Xi had planned. First, just hours before the summit opened, North Korea launched its latest ballistic missile, provoking Beijing and further testing the patience of China, its chief ally. Ironically, the United States had complained to China on Friday over the inclusion of a North Korean delegation at the event. Then, in a sign that China’s rampant, credit-fuelled growth is making some just a little uncomfortable, some Western diplomats expressed unease about both the summit and the plan as a whole, seeing it as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally according to Reuters. They are also concerned about transparency and access for foreign firms to the scheme.

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said Canberra was receptive to exploring commercial opportunities China’s new Silk Road presented, but any decisions would remain incumbent on national interest. Responding to criticism, Xi said that “China is willing to share its development experience with all countries” and added “we will not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. We will not export our system of society and development model, and even more will not impose our views on others.” But the biggest surprise was India, the world’s fastest growing nation and the second most populous in the world, which did not even bother to send an official delegation to Beijing and instead criticised China’s global initiative, warning of an “unsustainable debt burden” for countries involved.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay, asked whether New Delhi was participating in the summit, said “India could not accept a project that compromised its sovereignty.” India is incensed that one of the key Belt and Road projects passes through Kashmir and Pakistan. The nuclear-armed rivals have fought two of their three wars over the disputed region, Reuters notes. “No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Baglay said. Furthermore, he also warned of the danger of debt. One of the criticisms of the Silk Road plan is that host countries may struggle to pay back loans for huge infrastructure projects being carried out and funded by Chinese companies and banks. “Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities,” Baglay said.

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Really, Brussels, Washington, you think it’s a good idea to let China buy up Greece? No security jiggers at all?

Number of Chinese Tourists Visiting Greece to Rise 10-Fold (BBG)

Fosun International, the Chinese conglomerate that’s part of a venture to transform the former Athens airport site into one of the biggest real-estate projects in Europe, is now turning its attention to Greek tourism. Fosun wants to use its stake in tour operator Thomas Cook to start building vacation packages specifically for the vast Chinese market, Senior Vice President Jim Jiannong Qian said in a May 4 interview in Athens. The Chinese government predicts 1.5 million of its citizens will start vacationing in Greece in the medium term. Tourism accounted for over one-quarter of Greece’s GDP in 2016, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation. Visitor numbers in 2016 reached 28.1 million, up 7.6% from 2015. Tourists generated €13.2 billion in travel receipts, according to the Bank of Greece. Of these travelers, 150,000 came from China, Beijing says.

“Greece is a very safe place for visitors,” said Qian who is also president of Fosun’s Tourism and Commercial Group. There are also good opportunities for tourism investments in Greece, he said. Fosun is in discussions to buy existing hotels and resorts, or for the construction of new ones, in Greece by its fully owned portfolio company Club Med. An increase in Chinese visitors to Greece would eventually lead to direct flights from Beijing and Shanghai to Athens, Qian said. The 54 year-old Qian said the situation in Greece has changed since the company first invested in Athens-based luxury goods retailer Folli Follie Group in 2011. “Greece’s economy is recovering now and can also deliver very good opportunities for foreign investors,” he said. “We look at the figures from retail sales and of the tourism sector,” and see the improvement.

Fosun, which manages €64.3 billion in total assets globally, has invested more than €200 million in Greece through its direct holding in Folli Follie and indirectly through Thomas Cook and Club Med, Qian said. “If you can help the economy grow, for example if we have the package product for Greece, then we create more jobs for restaurants, for retail stores, for taxi drivers.” The company, the biggest private Chinese company that invests in Europe, owns German lender Hauck & Aufhaeuser and Portuguese insurance company Fidelidade, and doesn’t rule out an investment in the Greek banking sector if an opportunity arises in the future, Qian said, refuting reports that the group has already made a bid to acquire shares in Greek banks. Fosun has already placed a bid for the acquisition of National Bank of Greece’s insurance unit National Insurance, and according to Qian, has no money ceiling when it comes to investments, as long as the opportunity is worth it.

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Rerouted trips to Greece?

New Zealand Slashes Chinese Tourism Forecast, Denting Outlook (BBG)

New Zealand has slashed its forecast for Chinese tourist spending over the next six years, denting growth expectations for its biggest foreign-exchange earner. Spending by Chinese tourists will rise to NZ$3.73 billion ($2.5 billion) by 2022 from NZ$1.65 billion last year, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s latest annual forecasts. That’s 30% less than the NZ$5.32 billion expected in last year’s projections. “There is significant geopolitical risk around the China market,” the ministry said in the report, published Friday, adding that indicators like early-2017 visa approvals were “suggesting a short-term slowing in the market.” The downward revision indicates overall revenue from tourists won’t grow as quickly as previously expected, and that Australia will remain the biggest source of tourist dollars until 2021. Last year, officials forecast China would take the top ranking in 2017.

Tourism, which last year overtook dairy as New Zealand’s top export, has been growing faster than expected. Visitor numbers surged to 3.5 million in 2016, four years sooner than had been envisaged in 2014, and are projected to jump to 4.9 million by 2023. Still, the uncertainty around China “adds some risk to both China’s and the national forecast numbers,” the ministry said in its latest report. The slower forecast trajectory for Chinese spending growth reflects fewer visitors and less spending per day than projected 12 months ago. Arrivals from China are expected to reach 812,000 in 2022. That’s less than the 921,000 estimated in last year’s report. Average spending per day is forecast to be NZ$343 in 2022 rather than the NZ$394 estimated a year ago. As a result, total foreign visitor spending will rise to NZ$15.3 billion in 2023, according to the forecasts. The 2016 prediction was that spending would rise to NZ$16 billion by 2022.

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As if we needed any more evidence that credibility is the least of their worries.

Fed Officials Test New Argument for Tightening: Protect the Poor (BBG)

To protect the poorest Americans, should central bankers raise interest rates faster? At least one of them is making that argument. During a speech last month, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Esther George said she was “not as enthusiastic or encouraged as some when I see inflation moving higher” because “inflation is a tax and those least able to afford it generally suffer the most.” She was referring in particular to rental inflation, which she said could continue rising if the Fed doesn’t take steps to tighten monetary conditions. And while the idea of inflation as a tax that hits the poor the hardest is not a new one, its role in the current debate over what to do with interest rates marks a bit of a twist from recent years.

Widening disparities in income and wealth have over the past several years permeated national politics and helped fuel the rise of populist movements around the developed world. Against this backdrop, there has been a growing body of research, some of it produced by economists at central banks, backing the idea that easier monetary policy tends to be more progressive. That work, set against the notion that a stricter approach toward containing inflation has the best interests of the lowest-income members of society at heart, is thrusting Fed policy makers toward the center of a debate they usually like to leave to politicians. It’s becoming more contentious as Fed officials seek to declare victory on their goal of maximum employment even while the percentage of prime working-age Americans who currently have jobs is still nowhere close to the peaks of the previous two economic expansions.

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“The company, with the unfortunate Toronto Ticker “BAD”..”

Marc Cohodes, The Scourge Of Home Capital, Reveals His Latest Short (ZH)

Having single-handedly hounded Home Capital Group – the company which we predicted in 2015 would be “ground zero” for any potential Canadian financial crisis, and has emerged as the Canada’s equivalent to the infamous New Century which in 2007 presaged the upcoming global financial crisis – into near oblivion, noted chicken-farmer and short-seller, Marc Cohodes, over the weekend revealed the full details behind his latest short thesis: Canadian oil and gas service provider, Badger Daylighting. Badger, for those unfamiliar, is a company which uses a technique called hydrovac excavation, in which pressurized water and a powerful vacuum are used to expose buried pipes and cables. The company, with the unfortunate Toronto Ticker “BAD”, already had a bad day on Friday when it revealed earnings and revenues that badly missed consensus expectations.

Insult was added to injury after Cohodes, who most recently gained prominence for his short bet on Home Capital Group, previewed pages of a negative presentation on Badger to his Twitter feed Friday, saying that the shares are overvalued and that there are low barriers to entry. As a result, BAD shares plunged as much as 28% to C$22 in Toronto, the biggest intraday decline since November 2006, after previously dropping 4.8% YTD. To be sure, on Friday Badger CEO Paul Vanderberg, without in depth knowledge of Cohodes’ thesis, responded to Cohodes saying “my focus on that is really not to focus on it” during the earnings call and adding that “I don’t agree with the thesis.” Obviously, especially since neither he nor anyone else had seen or read it.

Chief Financial Officer Jerry Schiefelbein also responded, saying Badger is working to train new workers and managers on how to operate more efficiently, which should help reduce costs. He said the company’s first-quarter sales were “pretty good” following a couple of tough years. As for Cohodes’ criticism about low barriers to entry, Schiefelbein was quoted by Bloomberg saying tat Badger’s size gives it an advantage over mom-and-pop shops that would seek to compete with the company. Badger can tackle bigger projects for municipalities, has safety systems that larger customers require and it can move assets to markets where there is more demand, he said. “It’s not just digging holes in the ground.”

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Only interesting if his French backers want something Germany doesn’t. But then they all want the eurozone.

Eyes on Euro Fighter Macron (K.)

Macron has taken over from Francois Hollande hoping to reform not just his own country but the euro as well. “We must collectively recognize that the euro is incomplete and cannot last without major reforms,” he said during a speech at Humboldt University in Berlin this January. “It has not provided Europe with a full international sovereignty against the dollar on its rules, it has not provided Europe with a natural convergence between the different member-states.” The centrist politician warned that without reform the euro may be obsolete in 10 years. He has proposed a series of changes to improve the single currency, with the centerpiece being a budget for the eurozone that will be monitored by the European Parliament and backed by borrowing capacity so that it can finance investments, provide emergency loans via the European Stability Mechanism and help eurozone members if they suffer significant economic shocks.

Macron has also suggested the pooling of debt in the eurozone through the issuing of eurobonds, which are anathema to German conservatives. “The establishment of this budget will have to come with a convergence agenda for the eurozone, an anti-dumping agenda that will set common rules for fiscal and social matters,” added Macron in a message to his German hosts that proceeded to become clearer during his speech. “In a monetary union, a country’s success cannot be sustainably achieved to the detriment of another, which is a limit of the competitiveness approach, because competitiveness is always about comparing yourself with a neighbor,” he said. “The difficulties of one are always the problems of all.” Although Macron admits that France must carry out its own labor, market and education reforms and respect fiscal targets, his words are a direct attempt to overturn the logic and policy that has dictated the eurozone’s response to its crises since 2010 and to shape how its overall approach will evolve from this point onward.

In doing so, Macron is taking the fight to Germany, which previous French presidents failed to do. “When you look at the situation, the dysfunctioning of the euro is good news for Germany, I have to say. You benefit from this dysfunctioning,” he told his audience in Berlin. “[The] euro today is a sort of weak Deutschmark, which favors the German industry,” he added. These are views that have rarely been aired publicly by key players in the eurozone and it is little surprise that the initial response from Berlin was to suggest that Macron has enough on his plate at home to be focusing on euro reform. “German support cannot replace French policymaking,” was Merkel’s first comment on the subject after Macron comfortably won last Sunday’s vote in France.

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But Schäuble on Friday said transfers were needed. You need a fiscal union to make that work.

Germany Will Not Rush Into Euro Area Fiscal Union (CNBC)

Now what? “More Europe” say those who believe that problems were caused by an inadequate integration process that allowed policy mistakes by incompetent national governments. To avoid similar mistakes in the future, they are now urging a unified fiscal policy to complete the monetary union. That is what the French call the “fuite en avant” – a semiotic delight roughly translated as fleeing from an unsolvable problem. Here is what that problem looks like: The fiscal union implies a euro area federal state with a common management of public finances. The area’s budget, public debt financing, tax policies, transfer payments, etc. would be managed by a euro area finance ministry. That would also require harmonization of labor, health care and education policies, and a whole range of other social welfare programs. Institutionally, this integration drive cannot stop at the finance ministry. There would also have to be a euro area executive and legislative authority to exercise administrative and democratic controls over tax and spend decisions.

[..] How could Germany, with a budget surplus last year of 0.8% of GDP and the public debt of 68.3% of GDP, accept a fiscal union with Spain running the euro area’s largest budget deficit of 4.5% of GDP and a public debt of 100% of GDP? France and Italy have similar public finance profiles. Last year, France had a second-largest euro area budget deficit of 3.4% of GDP and a public debt of 96% of GDP. During the same period, Italy ran a budget deficit of 2.4% of GDP and a public debt of 133% of GDP. This means that half of the euro area economy (France, Italy and Spain), with serious structural problems of public finances, would become part of a de-facto federal state with a fiscally sound Germany. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? And yet, that’s the program that the new French President Emmanuel Macron will apparently discuss Monday when he visits German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

France, Italy and Spain already know the answer. Chancellor Merkel is relieved and delighted that the most dangerous anti-EU parties in France and The Netherlands lost the recent elections, but her government is firmly opposed to the euro area fiscal union. German public opinion fully shares that position. And German media of all political stripes are having a field day lampooning the idea that German taxpayers should be asked to pay for countries that cannot control their debts and deficits. This is also an awkward moment to even talk about the call on the German public purse while the country is gearing up for general elections on Sept. 24, 2017. The best that Germany can offer, under these circumstances, is a strict enforcement of existing euro area fiscal rules: Budget deficits limited to 3% of GDP and the gross public debt to 60% of GDP. About half of the euro area members are now falling far short of these criteria.

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Will the rich world ever come clean? No.

What Germany Owes Namibia For Genocide (Econ)

On October 2nd 1904 General Lothar von Trotha issued what is now notorious as “the extermination order” to wipe out the Herero tribe in what was then German South West Africa, now Namibia. “Within the German borders every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot,” his edict read. During the next few months it was just about carried out. Probably four-fifths of the Herero people, women and children included, perished one way or another, though the survivors’ descendants now number 200,000-plus in a total Namibian population, scattered across a vast and mainly arid land, of 2.3m. The smaller Nama tribe, which also rose up against the Germans, was sorely afflicted too, losing perhaps a third of its people, in prison camps or in the desert into which they had been chased.

A variety of German politicians have since acknowledged their country’s burden of guilt, even uttering the dread word “genocide”, especially in the wake of the centenary in 2004. But recent negotiations between the two countries’ governments over how to settle the matter, the wording of an apology and material compensation are becoming fraught. Namibia’s 16,000 or so ethnic Germans, still prominent if not as dominant as they once were in business and farming, are twitchy. The matter is becoming even more messy because, while the German and Namibian governments set about negotiation, some prominent Herero and Nama figures say they should be directly and separately involved—and have embarked on a class-action case in New York under the Alien Tort Statute, which lets a person of any nationality sue in an American court for violations of international law, such as genocide and expropriation of property without compensation.

The main force behind the New York case, Vekuii Rukoro, a former Namibian attorney-general, demands that any compensation should go directly to the Herero and Nama peoples, whereas the Namibian government, dominated by the far more numerous Ovambo people in northern Namibia, who were barely touched by the wars of 1904-07 and lost no land, says it should be handled by the government on behalf of all Namibians. The Namibian government’s amiable chief negotiator, Zedekia Ngavirue, himself a Nama, has been castigated by some of Mr Rukoro’s team as a sell-out. “Tribalism is rearing its ugly head,” says the finance minister, who happens to be an ethnic German.

The German government says it cannot be sued in court for crimes committed more than a century ago because the UN’s genocide convention was signed only in 1948. “Bullshit,” says Jürgen Zimmerer, a Hamburg historian who backs the genocide claim and says the German government is making a mess of things. “They think only like lawyers, not about the moral and political question.” “None of the then existing laws was broken,” says a senior German official. “Maybe that’s morally unsatisfactory but it’s the legal position,” he adds.

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May 122017
 
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Robert Doisneau Le Baiser Blotto, Paris 1953

 

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

 

 

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

Human Beings Are Not Efficiency Seeking Machines (Radford)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christopher Balding and crazy numbers.

Is China Really Deleveraging? (Balding)

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

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

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

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

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Don’t worry, the world will care yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stick a fork in it and turn it over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fun with numbers.

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

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

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Yes, Le Pen was right. Merkel rules France.

European Monotony (K.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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US pressure may be the only way out for Greece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

European Commission Slashes Greece’s Economic Forecasts (GR)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 May 11, 2017  Posted by at 8:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Paul Almasy Les Halles, Paris 1950

 

Trump and Lavrov Meeting Round-Up (TASS)
$9 Trillion Question: What Happens When Central Banks Stop Buying Bonds? (WSJ)
Draghi Stays Calm on Stimulus as Dutch MPs Warn of Risks With Tulip (BBG)
It’s Not Just The VIX – Low Volatility Is Everywhere (R.)
Six Canadian Banks Cut by Moody’s on Consumers’ Debt Burden (BBG)
China Holds Giant Meeting On Spending Billions To Reshape The World (CNBC)
‘Stagnant’ Buyer Demand Puts The Brakes On UK Housing Market (G.)
UK Labour Party’s Plan To Nationalise Rail, Mail And Energy Firms (G.)
Panic! Like It’s 1837 (DB)
Italy Financial Regulator Threatens EU with Return to “National Currency” (DQ)
Greek Capital Controls To Stay Till At Least End Of 2018 (K.)
Greek PM Tsipras Heralds ‘Landmark’ Plan For Healthcare (K.)
Turkish Coast Guard Publishes Maps Claiming Half Of The Aegean Sea (KTG)
Libya Intercepts Almost 500 Migrants After Sea Duel (AFP)
Where Have All The Insects Gone? (Sciencemag )

 

 

The presence of a TASS reporter when Lavrov visited the White House was critized in the US media. Here’s what he wrote.

Trump and Lavrov Meeting Round-Up (TASS)

Before meeting with Donald Trump, Sergey Lavrov held talks with the US top diplomat Rex Tillerson. Lavrov’s talks with the US president lasted for about 40 minutes behind closed doors. Moscow and Washington can and should solve global issues together, Lavrov said following his meetings with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US President Donald Trump. “I had a bilateral meeting with Rex Tillerson, then the two of us were received by President Trump,” the Russian top diplomat said. “We discussed, first and foremost, our cooperation on the international stage.” “At present, our dialogue is not as politicized as it used to be during Obama’s presidency. The Trump administration, including the president himself and the secretary of state, are people of action who are willing to negotiate,” the Russian top diplomat pointed out.

Lavrov said agreement reached with Tillerson to continue using diplomatic channel to discuss Russian-US relations. According to Lavrov, the current state of bilateral relations is no cause for joy. “The reason why our relations deteriorated to this state is no secret,” the Russian top diplomat added. “Unfortunately, the previous (US) administration did everything possible to undermine the basis of our relations so now we have to start from a very low level.” “President Trump has clarified his interest in building mutually beneficial and practical relations, as well as in solving issues,” Lavrov pointed out. “This is very important,” he said. Lavrov believes Syria has areas where US might contribute to operation of de-escalation zones. “We are ready for this cooperation and today have discussed in detail the steps and mechanisms which we can manage together,” Lavrov said.

“We have confirmed our interest in the US’ most active role in those issues,” Lavrov said. “I imagine the Americans are interested in this too.” “We proceed from the fact they will take up the initiative,” he added. “We have thoroughly discussed the Syrian issue, particularly the ideas related to setting up de-escalation zones,” the Russian top diplomat said. “We share an understanding that this should become a common step aimed at putting an end to violence across Syria,” he added.

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One word: mayhem.

$9 Trillion Question: What Happens When Central Banks Stop Buying Bonds? (WSJ)

Central banks have been the world’s biggest buyers of government bonds, but may soon stop—a tidal shift for global markets. Yet investors can’t agree on what that shift will mean. Part of the problem is that there is little agreement about how the massive stimulus policies, known as quantitative easing or QE, affected bonds in the first place. That makes it especially hard to assess what happens when the tide changes. Many expect bond yields could rise and shares fall, some see little effect at all, while others suggest it is riskier investments, such as corporate bonds or Italian government debt, that will bear the brunt. But recently, yields on European high-yield corporate bonds hit their lowest since before the financial crisis, in one potential sign that the threat of tapering has yet to affect markets.

When the unwinding begins money managers may not be positioned for it, and markets could move swiftly. In the summer of 2013, investors suddenly got spooked about the Federal Reserve withdrawing stimulus, leading to a swift bond sell off that sent yields on the 10-year Treasury up by more than 1%age point. By buying bonds after the 2008 financial crisis, central banks across the developed world sought to push yields lower and drive money into riskier assets, reducing borrowing costs for businesses. “If it’s unclear what benefits we’ve had in the buying, it’s unclear what will happen in the selling,” said Tim Courtney, chief investment officer at Exencial Wealth Advisors.

Recent data showed that the ECBholds total assets of $4.5 trillion, more than any other central bank ever. The Fed and the Bank of Japan each have $4.4 trillion, although the BOJ isn’t expected to wind down QE soon. With the world economy finally recovering, investors believe that holdings at the Fed and ECB have peaked. U.S. officials are discussing how to wind down their portfolio, which they have kept constant since 2014. The ECB’s purchases of government and corporate debt are now more likely to be tapered later in the year, analysts say, after pro-business candidate Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election Sunday.

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Dutch politicians either don’t care about their European Union peer Greece, or they don’t know about it. Neither is a good option. They are doing so well over the backs of the Greeks they want Draghi to enact policies that will make them even richer, and the Greeks even more miserable. Oh, and of course “The euro is irrevocable” only until it isn’t.

Draghi Stays Calm on Stimulus as Dutch MPs Warn of Risks With Tulip (BBG)

Mario Draghi kept his cool in the Netherlands – at least on monetary policy. Repeatedly pressed by Dutch lawmakers to say when he’ll start winding down euro-area monetary stimulus, the Ecb president replied that it’s still too soon to consider, despite a “firming, broad-based upswing” in the economy. “Is it time to exit? Or is it time to start thinking about exit or not? The assessment of the Governing council is that this time hasn’t come yet.” His reward was a gift of a plastic tulip in a reminder of a past European financial crisis. Draghi’s voluntary appearance at the hearing on Wednesday put him front and center in one of the nations most critical of the ECB’s ultra-loose policies, which are seen by opponents as overstepping the institution’s mandate, burdening savers and pension providers, and stoking asset bubbles.

Legislators did appear occasionally to get under his skin. The tension rose when he was quizzed multiple times him on the possibility that a government will one day have to restructure its debt, while on the topic of a nation leaving the currency bloc – as Greece came close to doing in 2015 – Draghi’s response was blunt. “The euro is irrevocable. This is the Treaty. I will not speculate on something that has no basis.” The intense questioning underscored the gap between relatively rosy economic data and the discontent among individuals who can’t see the fruits of the ECB’s €2.3 trillion bond-buying program and minus 0.4% deposit rate. It’s a challenge for Draghi, who reiterated his concern that underlying inflation remains feeble and falling unemployment has yet to boost wage growth. The region is far from healing the scars of a double-dip recession that wiped out 9 million jobs and helped the rise of anti-euro populists such as Marine Le Pen, who lost this month’s French presidential election but still managed to pick up more than a third of the vote.

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The silence before.

It’s Not Just The VIX – Low Volatility Is Everywhere (R.)

The current slump in expectations of market volatility is not just a stock market phenomenon – it is the lowest it’s been for years across fixed income, currency and commodity markets around the world. It shows little sign of reversing, which means market players are essentially not expecting much in the way of shocks or sharp movements any time soon. It’s an environment in which asset prices can continue rising and bond spreads narrow further. The improving global economy, robust corporate profitability, ample central bank stimulus even as U.S. interest rates are rising, and some fading political risk from elections have all contributed to create a backdrop of relative calm.

There is little evidence of investors hedging – or seeking to protect themselves – from adverse conditions. It is most notably seen in the VIX index of implied volatility on the U.S. S&P 500 stock index, the so-called “fear index”. But implied volatility across the G10 major currencies is its lowest in three years, and U.S. Treasury market volatility its lowest in 18 months and close to record lows. The VIX, meanwhile, has dipped to lows not seen since December 2006, is posting its lowest closing levels since 1993, and is on a record run of closes below 11. By comparison, it was at almost 90 at the height of the financial crisis. Not much current “fear”, then.

Implied volatility is an options market measure of investors’ expectation of how much a certain asset or market will rise or fall over a given period of time in the future. It and actual volatility can quickly become entwined in a spiral lower because investors are less inclined to pay up for “put” options – effectively a bet on prices falling – when the market is rising. If a shock does come the cost of these “puts” would shoot higher as investors scramble to buy them. Surging volatility is invariably associated with steep market drawdowns. According to Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Slok, an investor betting a year ago that the VIX would fall – shorting the index – would have gained around 160% today. Conversely, an investor buying the VIX a year ago assuming it would rise would have lost 75%.

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What’s that rumbling sound in the distance?

Six Canadian Banks Cut by Moody’s on Consumers’ Debt Burden (BBG)

Six of Canada’s largest banks had credit ratings downgraded by Moody’s Investors Service on concern that over-indebted consumers and high housing prices have left lenders vulnerable to potential losses on assets. Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, National Bank of Canada and Royal Bank of Canada had their long-term debt and deposit ratings lowered one level, Moody’s said Wednesday in a statement. It also cut its counterparty risk assessment for the firms, excluding Toronto-Dominion. “Expanding levels of private-sector debt could weaken asset quality in the future,” David Beattie, a Moody’s senior vice president, said in the statement.

“Continued growth in Canadian consumer debt and elevated housing prices leaves consumers, and Canadian banks, more vulnerable to downside risks facing the Canadian economy than in the past.” A run on deposits at alternative mortgage lender Home Capital has sparked concern over a broader slowdown in the nation’s real estate market, at a time when Canadians are taking on higher levels of household debt. The firm’s struggles have taken a toll on Canada’s biggest financial institutions, which have seen stocks slide on concern about contagion. In its statement, Moody’s pointed to ballooning private-sector debt that amounted to 185% of Canada’s GDP at the end of last year. House prices have climbed despite efforts by policy makers, it said. And business credit has grown as well.

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Straight from the Monopoly printing press.

China Holds Giant Meeting On Spending Billions To Reshape The World (CNBC)

[..] the most populous nation on the planet wants to increase its influence by digging further into its pockets — flush with cash after decades of rapid growth — to splash out with its “One Belt, One Road” policy. President Xi Jinping first announced the policy in 2013; it was later named one of China’s three major national strategies, and morphed into an entire chapter in the current five-year plan, to run through 2020. [..] The plan aims to connect Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa with a vast logistics and transport network, using roads, ports, railway tracks, pipelines, airports, transnational electric grids and even fiber optic lines. The scheme involves 65 countries, which together account for one-third of global GDP and 60% of the world’s population, or 4.5 billion people, according to Oxford Economics.

This is part of China’s push to increase global clout — building modern infrastructure can attract more investment and trade along the “One Belt, One Road” route. It could be beneficial for western China, which is less developed, as it links up with neighboring countries. And in the long run, it will help China shore up access to energy resources. The policy could boost the domestic economy with demand abroad, and might also soak up some of the overcapacity in China’s heavy industry, but analysts say these are fringe benefits. Experts say China has an opportunity to step into a global leadership role, one that the U.S. previously filled and may now be abandoning, especially after President Donald Trump pulled out of a major trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It’s clear China wants to wield greater influence — Xi’s speech in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos touted the benefits of globalization, and called for international cooperation. And an article by Premier Li Keqiang published shortly after also called for economic openness. But despite all the talk of global connectivity, skeptics highlight that China still restricts foreign investment, censorship continues to be an issue and concerns remain over human rights. [..] In 2015, the China Development Bank said it had reserved $890 billion for more than 900 projects. The Export-Import Bank of China announced early last year that it had started financing over 1,000 projects. The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is also providing financing.

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The British should be happy for housing prices returning to more normal levels.

‘Stagnant’ Buyer Demand Puts The Brakes On UK Housing Market (G.)

The UK housing market is continuing to slow down, with falling property sales, “stagnant” buyer demand and general election uncertainty all adding up to one of the most downbeat reports issued by surveyors since the financial crash. In its latest monthly snapshot of the market, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said momentum was “continuing to ebb,” with no sign of change in the near future. Its report is the latest in a series of recent surveys suggesting that the slowdown is getting worse as household budgets continue to be squeezed and affordability pressures bite. It comes days after the Halifax said house prices fell by 0.1% in April, which meant they were nearly £3,000 below their December 2016 peak. Nationwide reported a bigger decline in April – it said prices fell by 0.4%, following a 0.3% drop in March.

Some parts of London appear to have been hit particularly hard, with estate agents and developers resorting to offering free cars and other incentives to try to tempt buyers. Rics said its members had reported that sales were slipping slightly following months of flat transactions. A lack of choice for would-be buyers across the UK appears to be one of the major factors putting a dampener on sales: the latest report said there was “an acute shortage of stock,” with the typical number of properties on estate agents’ books hovering close to record lows. New instructions continue to drop, which could make the situation worse: the flow of fresh listings to agents remained negative for the 14th month in a row at a national level, said Rics, though it added that the situation had apparently improved slightly in London.

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How dead is the left? Nice contest.

UK Labour Party’s Plan To Nationalise Rail, Mail And Energy Firms (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will lay out plans to take parts of Britain’s energy industry back into public ownership alongside the railways and the Royal Mail in a radical manifesto that promises an annual injection of £6bn for the NHS and £1.6bn for social care. A draft version of the document, drawn up by the leadership team and seen by the Guardian, pledges the phased abolition of tuition fees, a dramatic boost in finance for childcare, a review of sweeping cuts to universal credit and a promise to scrap the bedroom tax. Party sources said Corbyn wants to promise a “transformational programme” with a package covering the NHS, education, housing and jobs as well as industrial intervention and sweeping nationalisation. But critics said the policies represented a shift back to the 1970s with the Conservatives describing it as a “total shambles” and a plan to “unleash chaos on Britain”.

Corbyn’s leaked blueprint, which is likely to trigger a fierce debate of Labour’s national executive committee and shadow cabinet at the so-called Clause V meeting at noon on Thursday, also includes:
• Ordering councils to build 100,000 new council homes a year under a new Department for Housing.
• An immediate “emergency price cap” on energy bills to ensure that the average duel fuel household energy bill remains below £1,000 a year.
• Stopping planned increases to the pension age beyond 66.
• “Fair rules and reasonable management” on immigration with 1,000 extra border guards, alongside a promise not to “fan the flames of fear” but to recognise the benefits that migrants bring.

On the question of foreign policy, an area on which Corbyn has campaigned for decades, the draft document said it will be “guided by the values of peace, universal rights and international law”. However, Labour, which is facing Tory pressure over the question of national security, does include a commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. The draft manifesto, which will only be finalised after it is agreed on Thursday, also makes clear that the party supports the renewal of Trident, despite Corbyn’s longstanding opposition to nuclear weapons.

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Cycles.

Panic! Like It’s 1837 (DB)

180 years ago today, everyone panicked. On May 10, 1837, New York banks finally realized that the easy money they were lending was unsustainable, and demanded payment in “specie,” or hard money like gold and silver coin. They had previously been accepting paper currency that for every $5 was backed by only $1 in silver or gold. Things culminated to that point after years of borrowing the paper currency to expand west, buy land, and build infrastructure. As silver came in from Mexico, banks lent out five times the amount of their deposits–fractional reserve banking. At the same time, the value of silver was falling because its supply was increasing in America. Great Britain, which had been lending much of the money, was less interested in silver because they could pay for trade with China in opium.

So even though Britain had a year earlier begun demanding payment in specie, the abundant silver in America did not hold the same weight, so to speak, it had previously. Now, reflect on this for a second. The USA was depending on loans from a country that they had successfully revolted and seceded from fewer than 50 years earlier. Britain had also provoked The War of 1812 just 25 years earlier when they wouldn’t stop attacking American ships. But somehow it still seemed like a good idea to depend on British banks to form the foundation of American development. So at the same time when American banks had to backstep their risky practices, Britain also just so happened to need 25% less cotton, which was the foundation of the American economy. This only exacerbated the trade deficit.

But still, despite whether or not Britain’s actions were nefarious, the whole situation would have been remarkably cushioned if fractional reserve banking had not been used. Because of this “easy money,” land was bought at enormous rates on credit, but credit that was not backed by actual value–only 1/5 of the actual value existed of what was being lent! President Andrew Jackson was not entirely without blame either. When he deconstructed the federal bank, he deposited the money into state banks, and encouraged them to go ahead and lend, lend, lend! Of course, when the time came for the banks to return the deposits, the money was gone. So when this massive real estate bubble burst in 1837, it caused a panic and ensuing recession that lasted until 1844. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

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The moment the ECB is allowed to buy Greek bonds again is also the moment it decides to quit its bond-buying program.

Italy Financial Regulator Threatens EU with Return to “National Currency” (DQ)

Despite trillions of euros worth of QE, Italy has continued to suffer a 30% loss in competitiveness compared to Germany during the last two decades. And now Italy must begin to prepare itself for the biggest nightmare of all: the gradual tightening of the ECB’s monetary policy. “Inflation is gradually returning to the area of the 2% target, while in the United States a monetary tightening is taking place,” Vegas said. The German government is exerting mounting pressure on the ECB to begin tapering QE before elections in September. So, too, is the Netherlands whose parliament today treated ECB President Mario Draghi to a rare grilling. The MPs ended the session by presenting Draghi with a departing gift of a solar-powered tulip, to remind him of the country’s infamous mid-17th century asset price bubble and financial crisis.

For the moment Draghi and his ECB cohorts refuse to yield, but with the ECB’s balance sheet just hitting 38.7% of Eurozone GDP, 15 %age points higher than the Fed’s, they may ultimately have little choice in the matter. As Vegas points out, for Italy (and countries like it), that will mean having to face a whole new situation, “in which it will no longer be possible to count on the external support of monetary leverage.” This is likely to be a major problem for a country that has grown so dependent on that external support. According to the Bank for International Settlements, in 2016, international banks in particular those in Germany reduced their exposure to Italy by 15%, or over $100 billion, half of it in the last quarter of the year. ECB intervention helped plug the shortfall, at least for a while.

But the ECB has already reduced its monthly purchases of European sovereign debt instruments, from €80 billion to just over €60 billion. As the appetite for Italian government debt falls, the yields on Italian bonds will rise. The only market participants seemingly still willing and able (for now) to increase their purchase of Italian debt are Italian banks. In his address, Vegas proposed introducing a safeguard threshold of €100,000 for the banks’ bondholders, many of whom are ordinary Italian citizens, with combined holdings worth some €200 billion, who were told by the banks that their bonds were a secure investment. Not any more. “The management of crises may require timely intervention that is not compatible with the mechanisms in Frankfurt and Brussels,” Vegas added.

To get his point across, he issued a barely veiled threat in Frankfurt and Brussels’ direction — that of Italy’s exit from the Eurozone, a prospect that should not be altogether discounted given the recent growth of anti-euro sentiment and rising political instability in Italy. So he threatened: “Merely the announcement of a return to a national currency would provoke an immediate outflow of capital that would seriously jeopardize Italy’s ability to refinance the world’s third biggest public debt.”

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In other words: any positive numbers you may read about Greek GDP are false.

Greek Capital Controls To Stay Till At Least End Of 2018 (K.)

Greece will spend at least three-and-a-half years under the restrictions of capital controls as their abolition is not expected to come any earlier than the end of 2018, according to a competent credit sector source. The next step in terms of their easing will come after the completion of the bailout review and the disbursement of the funding tranche, provided banks see some recovery in deposits. Sources say that the planning provides primarily for helping enterprises by increasing the limit on international transactions concerning product imports or the acquisition of raw materials. Almost two years after the capital controls were imposed, by next Tuesday, according to the agreement with the creditors, the Bank of Greece and the Finance Ministry have to present a road map for the easing of restrictions.

The road map is already being prepared and according to sources it will not contain any dates for the easing of controls but rather will record the conditions necessary for each step to come. Kathimerini understands that the conditions will be the following: the return of deposits, the reduction of nonperforming loans, the state’s access to money markets, the country’s inclusion in the ECB’s QE program, and the settlement of the national debt. “Ideally, by end-2018 we will be able to speak of an end to the controls. In any case, the restrictions on deposits will be the last to be lifted,” notes a senior banking source, referring to the cash withdrawal limit that currently stands at €840 per 14 days. The Hellenic Bank Association’s Executive Committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss proposals for the gradual easing of restrictions.

The bankers’ proposals will constitute an updated version of those tabled in November 2016; they will likely include the introduction of a monthly limit of 2,000 euros for cash withdrawals and an increase in the withdrawal limit for funds originating from abroad from 30% to 60%. The drop in deposits over the first quarter of the year will make it harder for such proposals to be implemented for the time being.

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Saving the healthcare system from Troika-induced collapse is a good idea. Not sure this is the way.

Greek PM Tsipras Heralds ‘Landmark’ Plan For Healthcare (K.)

Speaking of an “institutional intervention of landmark significance,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras heralded on Wednesday the creation of a new primary healthcare system to be based on local health centers staffed with general practitioners. The aim is to set up 239 such centers by the end of the year, employing 3,000 family doctors and nursing staff, Tsipras said in a speech at a health center in Thessaloniki. The first 60 of those centers are to start operating by the summer, the premier said, noting that poorer areas will be prioritized. “If you were to ask me what I want to be left behind after the years of governance by SYRIZA and ANEL,” he said, referring to junior coalition partner Independent Greeks, “I would say a very essential landmark health sector reform with the creation of primary healthcare.”

Tsipras also took the opportunity to lash out at the political opposition, accusing previous governments of having a plan for “the passive privatization of the health sector.” As for the national federation of Greek hospital workers (POEDIN), which has railed against the current government for cutbacks in the health sector, Tsipras hit back, calling it “a trade union that has secured privileges.” The prime minister added that his government remained determined to fight corruption in the health sector, referring to alleged scandals embroiling the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO) and the Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Novartis. “Everything will come to light,” he said.

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Erdogan’s at the White House today, or is that tomorrow?!

Turkish Coast Guard Publishes Maps Claiming Half Of The Aegean Sea (KTG)

The Turkish Coast Guard published alleged official maps and documents claiming half of the Aegean Sea belong to Turkey. In this sense, Ankara claims to won dozens of Greek islands, the entire eastern Aegean from the island of Samothraki in the North to Kastelorizo in the South. The maps and claims have been uploaded on the website of the Turkish Coast Guard in the context of a 60-page report about the activities of the TCG in 2016. On page 7 and 13 of the report, the maps allegedly show Turkey’s Search And Rescue responsibility area. The maps show half of the Aegean Sea and also a very good part of the Black Sea, where Turkey’s SAR area coincides with the Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Turkey did not signed the convention in order to not be obliged to recognize the Greek EEZ.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also called the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea treaty, is the international agreement that resulted from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), which took place between 1973 and 1982. The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. The most significant issues covered were setting limits, navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, exclusive economic zones (EEZs), continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, the exploitation regime, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes. Turkey started to claim areas in the Aegean Sea after 1997 when a Turkish ship sank near the Greek islet of Imia and Ankara sent SAR vessels.

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Sea Watch seems to go a bit far.

Libya Intercepts Almost 500 Migrants After Sea Duel (AFP)

Libya’s coastguard on Wednesday intercepted a wooden boat packed with almost 500 migrants after duelling with a German rescue ship and coming under fire from traffickers, the navy said. The migrants, who were bound for Italy, were picked up off the western city of Sabratha, said navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem. The German non-governmental organisation “Sea-Watch tried to disrupt the coastguard operation… inside Libyan waters and wanted to take the migrants, on the pretext that Libya wasn’t safe,” Qassem told AFP. Sea-Watch posted a video on Twitter of what it said was a Libyan coastguard vessel narrowly cutting across the bow of its ship.

“This EU-funded Libyan patrol vessel almost crashed (into) our civil rescue ship,” read the caption. Qassem also said the coastguard had come under fire from people traffickers, without reporting any casualties. The 493 migrants included 277 from Morocco and many from Bangladesh, said Qassem, and 20 women and a child were aboard the boat. All were taken to a naval base in Tripoli. There were also migrants from Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Chad, Mali and Nigeria, he added. According to international organisations, between 800,000 and one million people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, are currently in Libya hoping to make the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Europe.

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No insects, no bats, no birds, etc etc.

Where Have All The Insects Gone? (Sciencemag )

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. “If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen,” says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. “I’m a very data-driven person,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don’t see that mess anymore.” Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. “I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects.”

Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: “I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean.” Though observations about splattered bugs aren’t scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. “We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species,” which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Of the scant records that do exist, many come from amateur naturalists, whether butterfly collectors or bird watchers.

Now, a new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s. Over that time the group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the yearly insect catches fluctuate, as expected. But in 2013 they spotted something alarming. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. Perhaps it was a particularly bad year, they thought, so they set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group—which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades—found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites.

Such losses reverberate up the food chain. “If you’re an insect-eating bird living in that area, four-fifths of your food is gone in the last quarter-century, which is staggering,” says Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, who is working with the Krefeld group to analyze and publish some of the data. “One almost hopes that it’s not representative—that it’s some strange artifact.”

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