Feb 232018
 
 February 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Rooster 1938

 

Art Cashin: Once the 10-Year Yield Hits 3% ‘All Hell’ Could Break Loose (CNBC)
China Regulators Take Control Of Insurance Giant Anbang (AFP)
Xi’s Debt Crackdown Goes Into Hyperdrive (BBG)
BIS Suggests Beijing Is Behind China Shadow Banking Sector (F.)
China Is Letting The Yuan Crush The Dollar To Appease Trump (CNBC)
Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector (CP)
Reserve Bank Of Australia Accused Of Causing Ponzi Mortgage Market (AFR)
US Shale Investors Still Waiting On Payoff From Oil Boom (R.)
EU Leaders Go to Battle Over Post-Brexit Budget Gap (BBG)
Irish President Criticises EU Treatment Of Greece (IT)
Greek MPs Vote To Investigate Top Politicians In Novartis Bribery Claims (G.)
Greece Is The European Champion In Corporate Taxes (K.)
The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America (French)
50,000 Die In UK ‘Cold Homes Public Health Crisis’ (Ind.)

 

 

The cavalry.

Art Cashin: Once the 10-Year Yield Hits 3% ‘All Hell’ Could Break Loose (CNBC)

It could be a bad day for the markets once the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury hits 3%, closely followed trader Art Cashin told CNBC on Thursday. “That 3% level is both a target and a kind of resistance. Everybody knows it’s like touching the third rail,” said Cashin, UBS director of floor operations at the New York Stock Exchange. “The assumption is once they do it, all hell will break loose. So we’ll wait and see.” As of early Thursday, the 10-year yield was slightly lower, around 2.91%, down from Wednesday’s four-year high of 2.95%. Wall Street fears returned Wednesday afternoon after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting sent bond yields rising and stocks into a tailspin. The last time the 10-year yield traded above 3% was in January 2014.

“Initially, yields moved down, stocks rallied like crazy,” Cashin recalled about Wednesday, moments after the Fed minutes were released. “Then about eight minutes into that move, stocks looked back and noticed bonds had changed their mind.” The sharp moves seen Wednesday were probably due to “our friends, the long-lost ‘bond vigilantes,'” Cashin told “Squawk on the Street.” The term “bond vigilantes” was coined by market historian Ed Yardeni during the 1980s, referring to traders who sell their holdings in an effort to enforce what they consider fiscal discipline. Selling bonds sends yields higher due to the inverse relationship between bond prices and bond yields. “We’re going to need a couple weeks to see if the bond vigilantes really are back or not,” Cashin said. “Or whether it was simply a fluke. But remembering what bond vigilantes look like, it certainly had fingerprints on them.”

Read more …

Before it burns down the entire financial sector.

China Regulators Take Control Of Insurance Giant Anbang (AFP)

China took over Anbang Insurance for a year on Friday and said its former chairman faces prosecution for “economic crimes”, in the government’s most drastic move yet to rein in politically connected companies whose splashy overseas investments have fuelled fears of a financial collapse. The highly unusual commandeering of Anbang signalled deep official concern over the Beijing-based company’s financial situation and comes as the government looks to address spiralling debt in the world’s second-largest economy. The China Insurance Regulatory Commission said Anbang, which has made a series of high-profile foreign acquisitions in recent years, had violated insurance regulations and operated in a way that may “severely” affect its solvency. The announcement also clarified the fate of Anbang’s chairman Wu Xiaohui, who was reported by Chinese media to have been detained last June.

The insurance regulator confirmed Wu was being “prosecuted for economic crimes”, a startling fall from grace for a man who reportedly married a granddaughter of late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. A statement by government prosecutors in Shanghai said Wu was suspected of fraudulent fundraising and “infringement of duties”. Acquisitive private companies such as Anbang, HNA, Fosun and Wanda have increasingly loomed in the government’s cross-hairs as it conducts a sweeping crackdown on potential financial risks. The four firms were in the vanguard of an officially-encouraged surge in multi-billion-dollar overseas deals by Chinese firms to snatch up everything from European football clubs to hotel chains and movie studios, and were until recently considered untouchable because of their political connections.

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China needs to keep its reserves at home.

Xi’s Debt Crackdown Goes Into Hyperdrive (BBG)

If you needed confirmation about China’s determination to rein in surging corporate debt, the dramatic government takeover of Anbang Insurance is pretty much it. The unprecedented seizure of a private insurer underscores President Xi Jinping’s policy drive to cut back on the debt-fueled excesses that have accompanied China’s growth miracle. It’s a direct hit to corporate binge spending that authorities want to stem; it energizes a long running anti-corruption campaign; and it demonstrates that short-term economic pain will be tolerated for the longer-term goal of a more sustainable expansion. For the rest of the world, the intervention offers up a useful reminder: When you do business with China, you do business with the Communist Party.

“It’s a new example of the seriousness of Xi Jinping’s government to insert the party and the state at all levels of business,” said Fraser Howie, co-author of the book “Red Capitalism” who has two decades of experience in China’s financial markets. “They have no qualms about coming in over the top and saying ‘we are going to take this over.’” He likened the takeover to the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission coming together to restructure a company. [..] The backdrop to the pincer move on Anbang and its founder Wu Xiaohui, who is to be prosecuted for alleged fraud, is a robust economy that’s giving officials the running room to crack down on debt excesses without depressing growth.

Overseas investment by Chinese companies has been strictly curtailed since last year as part of the broader ambition to shift the economy onto a more sustainable footing after years of debt-fueled expansion. Because China is self financed and credit is steered by state-owned lenders to state-controlled or linked companies, authorities have the luxury of intervening at their whim to shuffle money from one section of the economy to another. That’s one of the key reasons why regulators are able to tackle Anbang and other high profile conglomerates without lawyers, shareholder activists or opposition politicians getting in the way.

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I don’t believe this is the whole story. Shadow banking in China is so lucrative there’s no way foreigners are not heavily involved.

BIS Suggests Beijing Is Behind China Shadow Banking Sector (F.)

Concerns about the scale of shadow banking in China have now risen alongside concerns about the ever-rising debt load across the economy. The IMF, for example, has been consistently warning about this issue, along with Western credit ratings agencies. But the biggest hawk on China’s credit risks has for some time been the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), known as the central banker’s bank. The BIS produced a comprehensive assessment of the “shadow banking” sector last week. The report itself is not very surprising, but it does suggest much coverage of the issue adopts a misplaced tone. The most important insight the report generates is simply that the shadow banking sector in China is almost entirely driven by the traditional, state-dominated banks ; the SOE banks, the Joint Stock banks and the City commercial banks, all of which have significant levels of state involvement.

Indeed it was estimated in 2014 that the Chinese banking system was capitalized by only about 12% private capital, the rest linking back to the Chinese state, either centrally or regionally. In other words, although the phrase “shadow banking” is used in China, in Western economies this usually refers to activity that is quite distinct from the state, where private investors knowingly operate outside of the many regulatory safeguards offered by traditional banking. Whereas in China the state is either the key mediator or even the guarantor of the unregulated activity. In other words, the state in China is freely engaging in unregulated activity, precisely in order to avoid the burdens of their own regulations. This is perhaps why “shadow banking” in China is often–and more accurately–referred to as “banking in the shadows” as it is a substitute for traditional banking, but it takes place out of sight.

This may be well understood by banking professionals, but it is an example of the kind of difference of emphasis that leads to misunderstanding in the markets and the press. The impression that China is somehow slowly getting to grips with a poorly regulated sector, or at least announcing its intention to do so, is quite simply at variance with what is actually going on, which is that the state itself is the source of the problem. The “shadow banking” sector in China has expanded enormously, not in spite of the state but because of it. It both applies the regulations in the formal banking sector, and avoids them in the “shadow banking” sector. None of this changes the fact that the overarching problem is China’s rapidly rising overall debt pile, but we shouldn’t be under any illusions over what exactly is hiding in the shadows. More to the point, if the activities of the Chinese state are hiding in the shadows, it is worth considering what exactly they are hiding from?

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Short term gains. Halt outflows. But a strong yuan wreaks hovoc on exports.

China Is Letting The Yuan Crush The Dollar To Appease Trump (CNBC)

The Chinese yuan has appreciated 10% against the dollar since the start of 2017, quelling some criticism that the export giant has been deliberately suppressing its currency to gain economic advantage over its trading partners. This is all going according to China’s plan, experts said. Although the strength of the yuan against the dollar is in part due to the greenback’s weakness, experts said the world’s second-largest economy is also propping up its currency to appease President Donald Trump. China has “reversed the rise” of the dollar against the yuan, and there’s now “meaningful” strength against the greenback, Bilal Hafeez, global head of G-10 foreign-exchange strategy at Nomura, wrote in a recent note. “Part of this was likely a response to the election of President Trump and the need to avoid being labelled a currency manipulator,” Hafeez added.

On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump repeatedly said he would name China a currency manipulator from his first day in office. That has not happened. [..] China will probably continue to manage its currency in the background even if it keeps its value against the dollar relatively high, analysts said. Morgan Stanley analysts said in a note this week that the trade-weighted yuan should remain “largely stable” around current levels as Beijing’s capital control efforts have worked. “If [the yuan] continues to appreciate rapidly, policy-makers may seek to stem the rise in order to maintain stability in the trade-weighted [yuan], which would likely be achieved by verbal communication and a relaxation of some outbound capital restrictions,” Morgan Stanley added.

Beijing is walking a tricky tightrope as the Communist regime seeks to balance political concerns with economic reforms and the demands that come with a market-based system. In the second half of 2015, the Chinese government shocked markets by devaluing the yuan. That spurred capital flight due to concerns over the health of the world’s second-largest economy — which further depressed the Chinese currency. Beijing has been trying to reverse that damage. “I think they ultimately want a weaker currency, they just don’t know how to achieve it. They tried in 2015, it didn’t work, turned into a vicious cycle and they’re kind of stuck right now with always trying to control everything but not knowing how to get a weaker currency through a structural slowdown in a way that does not cause a lot of disturbances to domestic financial markets for instance,” said Jason Daw at Societe Generale.

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The Russians did it.

Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector (CP)

If the world economy were a Bond movie, Latvia’s offshore banking economy would be its Bond villain. Presently, this plucky state of 1.8 million people on Russia’s border is leading the world’s financial press with two major scandals. First, there is their long-standing Central Bank Governor, Mr. Ilmars Rimsevics. While Latvia’s population (disproportionally aged, as many of the young have left to find work abroad) only rivals that of Hamburg, but with a much smaller economy, Mr. Rimsevics nonetheless commands a salary bigger than Central Bank heads of most similar sized countries and in 2016 saw the largest%age salary increase of any EU Central bank head. Regardless of his super-sized income, Mr. Rimsevics has been accused of using his post as a sinecure to increase his pay by several multiples. His ‘victims’ being the banks in Latvia that he oversees, of which one, Norvik, the provenance of a Russian oligarch in London, protested.

[..] The other scandal, more serious, but lacking a face and bereft of central casting’s villainous imagery (e.g., oligarchs at the hunting lodge), is that of ABLV. ABLV is the largest Latvian owned bank. Latvia is a small country with lots of ‘banks.’ ABLV is largely a correspondent bank, or a bank holding deposits of foreigners along with providing them with ‘services’ that conceal the identity of their owners. Correspondent banking, euphemistically in the ‘industry’ called “wealth management” and “tax optimization.” [..] Just as Mr. Rimsevics has seemingly been caught with Russian oligarchs, ABLV has been linked to handling money for North Korea’s weapons program. This crossed the line for the United States, which in the main has vacillated between support and tolerance of offshore banking, but who since 9/11 has become wary of its ‘downsides,’ such as terrorists and ‘axis of evil’ states availing themselves of their helpful services.

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“Yes RBA, you did inflate housing bubble…”

Reserve Bank Of Australia Accused Of Causing Ponzi Mortgage Market (AFR)

For years the Reserve Bank of Australia dismissed our warnings that excessively stimulatory interest rate cuts – which bequeathed borrowers with never-before-seen 3.4% mortgage rates that fuelled double-digit house price inflation – had blown a bubble that presented genuine financial stability risks. This manifested via record increases in speculative investor activity, interest-only loans and, more broadly, Australia’s household debt-to-income and house price-to-income ratios, which leapt into unchartered territory (notably above pre-global financial crisis peaks). The RBA narrative was very different. “Our concern was not that developments in household balance sheets posed a risk to the stability of the banking system,” governor Philip Lowe recently explained.

“Rather, it was more that…the day might come, when faced with bad economic news, households feel they have borrowed too much and respond by cutting their spending sharply, damaging the overall economy.” Nothing to see here when it comes to financial stability, if you believe the weasel words. It turns out Lowe was privately “packing his dacks” after unleashing the mother-of-all-booms powered by the cheapest credit in history. After the sudden deceleration in national house price growth – as documented here – from an 11.5% annualised rate in May 2017 to just 1.9% today, the governor revealed to parliamentarians that he’s now “much more comfortable…than I have been in recent years when I have been appearing before this committee, when I was quite worried”. That’s central speak for petrified.

Lowe conceded that “housing prices were rising very, very quickly – much faster than people’s income – and the level of debt was rising much faster than people’s income”. Yet according to the RBA’s interpretation, the 50% explosion in house prices between 2012 and 2018 was propelled not by the 11 interest rate cuts it bestowed on borrowers over the same period, but by a lack of new housing supply. You have to ignore the record building boom to believe this BS.

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Pay me Ponzi!

US Shale Investors Still Waiting On Payoff From Oil Boom (R.)

U.S. oil production has topped 10 million barrels per day, approaching a record set in 1970, but many investors in the companies driving the shale oil revolution are still waiting for their payday. Shale producers have raised and spent billions of dollars to produce more oil and gas, ending decades of declining output and redrawing the global energy trade map. But most U.S. shale producers have failed for years to turn a profit with the increased output, frustrating their financial backers. Wall Street’s patience ran out late last year as investors called for producers to shift more cash to dividends and share buybacks. “‘Give me some cash, please.’ That’s what investors have said,” said Anoop Poddar, a partner at private equity firm Energy Ventures.

And yet such calls for payouts remain a debate in the industry as oil prices have recently creeped up to four-year highs. Investors demanding immediate returns could risk forcing firms to curb expansion that could have a higher long-term payoff if oil prices continue to rise. For now, share prices of shale producers have yet to fully recover from the 2014 oil price collapse, when many investors took losses as hundreds of firms went bankrupt and those that survived struggled. The energy sector has lagged the rally that took the broader stock market to record highs. The S&P 500 Energy Index remains nearly a third off its peak in mid-2014, when oil prices topped $100 a barrel. The broader S&P 500 index is up 39% during the same period.

This year, five of the 15 largest U.S. independent shale firms have started paying or raised quarterly dividends, the documents show. But six of the firms have never offered a dividend or have not restored cuts implemented since the 2014 oil price collapse. Anadarko Petroleum earlier this month added $500 million to an existing buyback program and raised its dividend by 20%, sending its shares up 4.5% the next trading day. Buybacks reduce the number of shares outstanding, boosting the value of stock that remains.

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This could turn ugly. Very ugly.

EU Leaders Go to Battle Over Post-Brexit Budget Gap (BBG)

Hashing out the European Union’s multiannual budget is a political slugfest at the best of times. Throw in Brexit and the contest looks even more bruising. The U.K.’s scheduled withdrawal from the EU next year will leave a 10 billion-euro ($12.3 billion) annual hole in the bloc’s spending program, the main topic when leaders meet on Friday to map out Europe’s 2021-2027 budget. A Bloomberg survey of government positions reveals splits over how to cover the gap, with at least three net contributors – Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria – saying they won’t pay more. While amounting to only 1 percent of EU economic output, the European budget of 140 billion euros a year provides key funds for farmers, poorer regions and researchers in everything from energy to space technologies.

It’s also a barometer of the political mood in European capitals, signaling the risk of fissures as the EU seeks to maintain unity in the Brexit talks, confront new security challenges and curb democratic backsliding in countries such as Poland. “I expect it to be quite a fight,” said Guntram Wolff, director of the Bruegel think tank in Brussels. “The EU budget hole is quite substantial. You actually have a double challenge: you have to cut some spending and increase money for new priority areas.” [..] Britain’s absence from the next multiannual European spending program is conspicuous because the country is the No. 2 net contributor. Germany, which is the largest, and Italy, the fourth biggest, both say they are open to increasing their payments into the financial framework, the survey shows. Portugal and Estonia, both net recipients of funds, are prepared to raise their contributions, while France and Belgium are still undecided.

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So what’s he going to do about it?

Irish President Criticises EU Treatment Of Greece (IT)

Those responsible for mistaken economic policies that have had such a negative effect on the Greek people need to take responsibility for their actions, President Michael D Higgins has said, on the first day of his state visit. “It is a moral test of all actions that the person who initiates an action must take responsibility for its consequences,” Mr Higgins told his Greek counterpart, Prokopis Pavlopoulos. “It is little less than outrageous that the social consequences of decisions that are taken are not in fact understood and offered to people as choices,” Mr Higgins said, in remarks at a bilateral meeting at the presidential mansion.

Referring to the speech made by Emmanuel Macron on his recent state visit to Athens, Mr Higgins said he had to “say something much stronger” than the French president, who, he noted had acknowledged “that great mistakes, with great effect on the Greek people, have been made and that these were mistakes of the European Union”. “Cohesion, social cohesion, social Europe, must be placed on the top of the agenda that we all now share on the future of the union.” This meant that “we cannot continue adjusting out populations to economics models that not only have failed but have not submitted themselves to empirical tests in relation to their social consequences. “If parliaments and the mediating institutions continue to leach influence because they no longer have any power, because influences are coming from those who have no accountability, then we have a crisis.”

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Note: the whole thing is based on an FBI report, with probes of Novartis going back to at least 2014.

“..bribery scandal [..] the worst since the creation of the modern Greek state almost 200 years ago..”

Greek MPs Vote To Investigate Top Politicians In Novartis Bribery Claims (G.)

The Greek parliament is to investigate 10 of the country’s top politicians over in return for patronage that resulted in huge losses for Greece. After a raucous 20-hour debate, MPs voted early on Thursday to form a parliamentary committee tasked solely with investigating two former prime ministers and eight other ministers in connection with the allegations. The governor of the Bank of Greece, Yannis Stournaras; Europe’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos and the country’s former prime minister Antonis Samaras are among those accused of giving Novartis preferential market treatment. “We will not cover up,” Samaras’s successor, Alexis Tsipras, told parliament. “The Greek people must learn who turned pain and illness into a means of enrichment.”

Officials in Tsipras’ leftist-led administration have described the alleged bribery scandal as the worst since the creation of the modern Greek state almost 200 years ago. It has raised fears of political instability at a time when many had hoped the country was finally returning to normality after years of tumult. All 10 of those implicated vehemently rebutted the charges in often angry and emotional speeches during the debate. Stournaras, a former finance minister who helped steer Greece through some of its darkest days of the debt crisis after the country’s near-economic collapse, described the allegations as “disgusting fabrications”. Panagiotis Pikrammenos, who headed a one-month caretaker administration at the height of the crisis in 2012, came close to tears as he described the allegations against him “as lies and unacceptable slander”.

The cross-party committee, made up of 21 MPs, is expected to be established imminently. It will have the power to decide whether accusations of bribery, breach of duty and money-laundering apply, under a strict statute of limitation, to each of the accused. Under Greek law, parliament must investigate politicians for alleged infractions before they can face judicial prosecution. Few question that wrongdoing was committed. A confidential report by prosecutors originally tipped off by US authorities alleged that bribes of as much as €50m (£44m) were paid to politicians between 2006 to 2015 to promote Novartis’s products. More than 4,500 doctors are accused of malpractice as well. [..] With losses of around €4 billion for the country’s health system, the scandal will have played a significant role in Greece’s financial meltdown.

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How to make sure an economy won’t recover.

Greece Is The European Champion In Corporate Taxes (K.)

Corporate taxation in Greece is burdensome and anti-competitive, the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) says in a report published on Thursday, stressing that Greek taxes also fail to draw revenues above the average rate of other European countries that as a rule have lower corporate taxation. According to SEV, the real tax load on corporations has increased considerably, with income tax reverting to the 2006 level plus the income on revenues from dividends: Today income tax comes to 29%, the tax on dividends to 15%, the solidarity levy to 10% and social security contributions for board members to 26.7%. This amounts to 81% of profit distribution, SEV said.

The federation’s analysts argue that profit taxation is above the European Union average and definitely higher than neighboring states that are Greece’s direct rivals within the bloc. If one adds board members’ social security contributions, then Greece has the highest corporate taxes by far, being the only country to have increased its tax sum since 2000, at a time when other states have been reducing the burden. SEV goes on to note that the tax rates are the just tip of the iceberg. The report focuses on the overall framework of corporate taxation that does not allow enterprises to grow and improve their competitiveness in international markets.

The federation highlights six specific problems in the corporate tax framework:
– The option of offsetting losses against future profits in Greece is for just five years, against at least 10 years in most EU states;
– Other countries have special incentives through tax exemption on expenditure, which in Greece are particularly limited;
– There is no framework for favorable regulations and incentives for mergers and acquisitions, which would encourage the streamlining and expansion of companies and reduce bad loans;
– There are no incentives such as accelerated amortization for new investments on equipment, which SEV calculates would have been fiscally neutral;
– Greek amortization rates are noncompetitive, particularly concerning investments in machinery and other equipment, forcing Greek firms to amortize their equipment slowly;
– Finally, Greece retains anachronistic levies such as stamp duty.

Read more …

Ignores the role of social media-induced echo chambers.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America (French)

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second Amendment. They mocked the notion that rape victims might want to arm themselves for protection. There were calls of “murderer.” Rubio was compared to a mass killer. There were wild cheers for the idea of banning every single semiautomatic rifle in America. The discourse was vicious. It was also slanderous. There were millions of Americans who watched all or part of the town hall and came away with a clear message: These people aren’t just angry at what happened in their town, to their friends and family members; they hate me.

They really believe I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care if kids die, and they want to deprive me of the ability to defend myself. The CNN town hall might in other circumstances have been easy to write off as an outlier, a result of the still-raw grief and pain left in the wake of the Parkland shooting. But it was no less vitriolic than the “discourse” online, where progressives who hadn’t lost anyone in the attack were using many of the same words as the angry crowd that confronted Rubio and Loesch. The NRA has blood on its hands, they said. It’s a terrorist organization. Gun-rights supporters — especially those who oppose an assault-weapons ban — are lunatics at best, evil at worst. This progressive rage isn’t fake. It comes from a place of fierce conviction and sincere belief. Unfortunately, so does the angry response from too many conservatives.

[..] Unlike the stupid hysterics over net neutrality, tax policy, or regulatory reform, the gun debate really is — at its heart — about life and death. It’s about different ways of life, different ways of perceiving your role in a nation and a community. Given these immense stakes, extra degrees of charity and empathy are necessary in public discussion and debate. At the moment, what we have instead are extra degrees of anger and contempt. The stakes are high. Emotions are high. Ignorance abounds. Why bother to learn anything new when you know the other side is evil?

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Major cold spell on the doorstep.

50,000 Die In UK ‘Cold Homes Public Health Crisis’ (Ind.)

Thousands of people are “needlessly” dying each year because they cannot afford to properly heat their homes, new research has revealed. The UK has the second-worst rate of excess winter deaths in Europe, a study by National Energy Action and climate-change charity E3G found. The organisations called for urgent action to end to the devastating but “entirely preventable” tragedy that they say amounts to a “cold homes public health crisis”. The death toll looks set to rise next week as the UK braces for an imminent “polar vortex” predicted to bring harsh frost, snow showers and freezing temperatures. Almost 17,000 people in the UK are estimated to have died in the last five years as a direct result of fuel poverty and a further 36,000 deaths are attributable to conditions relating to living in a cold home, the research found.

The number dying each year is similar to the amount who die from prostate cancer or breast cancer. A total of 168,000 excess winter deaths from all causes have been recorded in the UK over the latest five-year period. Of 30 countries studied, only Ireland has a higher proportion of people dying due to cold weather. The research was published to coincide with Fuel Poverty Awareness Day on Friday which aims to highlight the problems faced by those struggling to keep warm in their homes. It comes just 24 hours after Centrica, which owns British Gas, announced plans to cut 4,000 jobs after a “weak” year in which it made £1.25bn profit. The company’s chief executive, Ian Conn, said the Government’s energy price cap – designed to prevent loyal and vulnerable customers being ripped off – was partly to blame for the layoffs. Pedro Guertler, of E3G, who co-authored the research, said the winter death figures were not only a tragedy but a “national embarrassment”.

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Feb 212018
 
 February 21, 2018  Posted by at 8:06 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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J.J. Grandville ‘A Comet’s Journey’, Illustration from ‘Un Autre Monde’ 1844

 

Oxfam. I’m wondering if I should warn this is not for the faint of heart, or say don’t read on an empty stomach. If so, hereby. I know I found it hard.

The first and foremost thing the BBC last week felt its audience should know about the sleaziest scandal to come out of Britain in quite some time -and that’s saying something- is that an actress had turned her back on the aid organization. Your news in bite-size pre-chewed headlines.

While a guy who ‘served’ Oxfam in Bosnia claims it’s nobody’s business if he visited the local hookers in his spare time. The head office even specifically refuses to ban staff from doing that. Not violating a staff member’s civil liberties trumps a question like what drives desperate women -girls- into prostitution that same staff member pays for with money donated to aid desperate people.

Someone at the Dutch Oxfam/Novib office complained that his British colleagues should have provided more information, sooner, because now his branch suffers from the scandal (fewer donations). A branch that knew about it at least as far back as 2012, and passed on the info to the Dutch Foreign Ministry and Accounting Office. Who looked at potential -financial- damage in their country, found none, and located a carpet to sweep it under.

The only right choice for us, and our governments, would seem to be to cancel all donations to Oxfam, because apparently nobody connected to the organization is able to figure out who the actual victims are here. They instead portray themselves as the victims.

Of all people, its own chief executive feels a need, when responding to accusations of child sex abuse concerning his organization, to paint himself -and Oxfam- as victims. ‘Anything we say is being manipulated. We’ve been savaged’ . How does that guy hold on to that job?

Charities like Oxfam receive donations to help those people who have fallen victim to the conditions that exist where they live, be they manmade or due to natural disaster. Obviously, if Oxfam cannot (will not) even correctly identify these victims, it has no reason to exist.

Of course Oxfam announces more internal investigations when these accusations come out, but it’s too late. They’ve hush-hushed all previous such investigations, and there’s no reason to believe that won’t happen again. Oxfam has covered up the issues for a long time, likely decades, and if they can no longer cover things up -like now-, they try and make things look like incidents, stand-alone occurrences. This is a pattern.

 

Of course there are many people involved in international aid who are pure -enough- souls with the best intentions, but that’s simply not enough: sexual predation has infiltrated its ranks to such a degree, and management has refused to take the only appropriate steps against its perpetrators for so long, that sex abuse has become Oxfam’s middle name. And that very much includes child sex abuse.

I’ve been reading a lot about the story over the past 10 days, and one of the things that stand out is that the typical first reaction is to cover up whatever nastiness it is that surfaces, out of fear that donations would suffer. Instead of thinking about the people Oxfam is supposed to help, for which it receives those donations, and put their interests first. That is a death sentence for any aid organization. And rightly so.

It’s quite simple when you think about it: if we allow Oxfam to continue to exist, we accept that the aid we pay for through donations is sold to victims for sex. If you say, as many people do, that shutting down Oxfam will ‘only’ be bad for those in need who rely on it for aid, then that’s what you promote: aid for sex.

Through the many articles I’ve read I’ve seen people finger Oxfam for sex abuse in Haiti, Chad, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Nepal. Ten to one that is but a partial list. Other aid organizations cover even more territory. There are specific accusations, just through these articles, from 1999, 2004, 2012, 2015 and 2017. That too is but a partial list.

 

Let’s see if I can make a coherent story of all this without turning it into an entire book (would not be a problem). Here’s from The Independent, with a headline that takes us right where we need to be:

 

Oxfam Told Of Aid Workers Raping Children In Haiti A Decade Ago

Aid agencies including Oxfam were warned that aid workers were sexually abusing children in Haiti a decade ago, The Independent can reveal. Children as young as six were being coerced into sex in exchange for food and necessities, according to a damning report by Save the Children, which called for urgent action including the creation of a global watchdog. Its research exposed abuse linked to 23 humanitarian, peacekeeping and security organisations operating in Haiti, Ivory Coast and what was then Southern Sudan. “Our own fieldwork suggests that the scale of abuse is significant,” the report concluded.

“Every agency is at risk from this problem … existing efforts to keep children safe from sexual exploitation and abuse are inadequate.” It identified “every kind of child sexual abuse and exploitation imaginable”, including rape, prostitution, pornography, sexual slavery, assaults and trafficking. One 15-year-old girl in Haiti told how “humanitarian men” exposed themselves and offered her the equivalent of £2 to perform a sex act. “The men call to me in the streets and they ask me to go with them,” said another Haitian girl. “They do this will all of us young girls.”

A six-year-old girl described being sexually assaulted and a homeless girl was given a single US dollar by a “man who works for an NGO” before being raped and severely injured, while boys were also reportedly raped. When asked why the abuse was not reported, children said they feared losing aid, did not trust local authorities, did not know who to go to, felt powerless or feared stigma and retaliation. “The people who are raping us and the people in the office are the same people,” said one girl in Haiti.

Ironically, that report is from Save the Children. Ironic because just today the Telegraph had this:

The former chief executive of Save the Children resigned after he admitted making “unsuitable and thoughtless” comments to three young female members of staff, it emerged on Tuesday. Justin Forsyth, who is now deputy executive director at Unicef, “apologised unreservedly” to the women after sending them text messages commenting on how they looked and what they were wearing. Mr Forsyth’s resignation from Save the Children came just four months after Brendan Cox, a friend of Mr Forsyth and former chief strategist at the charity, quit following separate allegations of sexual misconduct.

Mr Forsyth and Mr Cox worked together at Oxfam and later again as advisors to Gordon Brown in Downing Street. Mr Cox, the widower of the late Jo Cox who was murdered in 2016, admitted at the weekend that he had caused the women “hurt and offence”. Neither Mr Forsyth nor Mr Cox were subject to a formal disciplinary hearing. Save the Children said on Tuesday night that trustees had carried out two internal investigations into the complaints against Mr Forsyth in 2011 and 2015.

Save the Children admitted on Tuesday that it dealt with 193 child protection and 35 sexual harassment cases last year, which led to 30 dismissals.

It’s by no means just Oxfam. But they’re a major player. In more ways than one, unfortunately. Oxfam has some 2,500 staff and 31,000 volunteers through the world. Its annual budget is about half a billion dollars.

Another ‘interesting’ pattern to emerge is that the perpetrators, even if they are penalized, seemingly seamlessly float between aid organizations: get kicked out in one place, start afresh a few months later at the next. This article from IRIN is about the Belgian guy with whom the latest scandal surfaced.

He lived in a splendid $2000 a month Oxfam-sponsored villa in Haiti right after the 2010 earthquake, when most locals didn’t even have a roof over their heads, and threw sex-parties there. None of that hurt him much; he lost his Oxfam job, though only after many years of complaints, but just kept going (and denies just about all):

The man at the centre of a sexual exploitation scandal at aid agency Oxfam was dismissed by another British NGO seven years earlier for similar misconduct, IRIN has found. A former colleague reveals that Roland van Hauwermeiren was sent home from his job in Liberia in 2004 after her complaints prompted an investigation into sex parties there with young local women. Despite this, van Hauwermeiren was recruited by Oxfam in Chad less than two years later and went on to work for them in Haiti, and then in Bangladesh for Action contre la Faim.

The Swedish government’s aid department, alerted in 2008, also missed an opportunity to bring his behaviour to light and even went ahead that year to fund Oxfam’s Chad project, under his management, to the tune of almost $750,000. [..] Seeing the Times article about van Hauwermeiren, Swedish civil servant and former aid worker Amira Malik Miller was shaken to read about the Haiti case, which pertained to alleged parties and orgies in 2011, seven years after her own experiences of him in Liberia. She couldn’t believe he was still active in the aid world, especially after she had blown the whistle on him and his colleagues, not once but twice.

“Oh my God, he’s been doing this for 14 years,” she remembers thinking. “He just goes around the system… from Liberia to Chad, to Haiti, to Bangladesh. Someone should have checked properly,” she told IRIN. On two previous occasions, she thought she had done enough to stop his predatory behaviour. Malik Miller told IRIN how her initial complaints way back in 2004 led to van Hauwermeiren being pushed out of his job as Liberia country director of UK charity Merlin, a medical group now merged with Save the Children. An internal investigation into sexual exploitation and misconduct led to his departure, several Merlin staff members confirmed.

And that was just for warming up. An interesting voice in the whole narrative is that of Australian professor Andrew MacLeod, who worked with the Red Cross in Bosnia and the UN Emergency Co-ordination Centre in Pakistan. From the Times:

 

UN Staff Responsible For 60,000 Rapes In A Decade

Andrew MacLeod, who was chief of operations at the UN’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre, said that “predatory” abusers used development jobs to get to vulnerable women and children. He estimated that 60,000 rapes had been carried out by UN staff in the past decade, with 3,300 paedophiles working in the organisation and its agencies. “There are tens of thousands of aid workers around the world with paedophile tendencies, but if you wear a Unicef T-shirt nobody will ask what you’re up to,” he told The Sun. “You have the impunity to do whatever you want. It is endemic across the aid industry across the world.”

More Andrew McLeod, via the Daily Mail:

I was first alerted to it in 1996 while working in former Yugoslavia with the International Committee of the Red Cross. People would talk about a nightclub called Florida 2000, in the Bosnian city of Zenica, where girls of 14 and 15 were working as prostitutes. These children were being trafficked into Bosnia from neighbouring Moldova by individuals working for the UN and Bosnian police. They were used exclusively for the sexual gratification of UN staff. Such lurid rumours seemed difficult to credit at first, but when a UN peacekeeper called Kathryn Bolkovac tried to investigate, she was swiftly demoted and then fired. Her story was turned into a film, Whistleblower, in 2010, starring Rachel Weisz.

There is so much opportunity for abuse and so little to stop it that jobs in international aid actively attract sexual predators who benefit from the artificial power the aid industry confers upon them. [..] Senior figures in the UN and some of our best known charities have known for decades that this problem was rampant. They should have put in place systems for training, prevention, protection and prosecution. By failing to do so they were committing an offence. They were party to child sex crime. They did nothing, and they should face charges. If they’re not worried – they should be.

From the same article:

A middle-aged man who persistently hangs around the gates of a British primary school as children are leaving will attract the wary attention of teachers, parents and, pretty soon, the police. But the same man lurking outside a school in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, will be quite safe. Especially if he is wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo of Unicef, Save the Children, Oxfam or any other internationally-renowed aid organisations. Almost 20 years ago, the UK’s National Criminal Intelligence Service, warned that due to better policing and safe-guarding strategies and an international crackdown on child sex tourism, predatory paedophiles were turning their attention to the developing world.

And the best way of gaining access to children? Work for a children’s charity in some place where paedophilia is ignored or difficult to police. Everyone working in the international aid industry needs to be aware of the scale of sexual abuse – happening on their watch and often involving their personnel – of vulnerable people, especially children. Those who deny it are either lying through their teeth, or have their heads buried so far in the sand that their ignorance is deliberate.

And if you think government investigations would solve anything, here’s how Britain’s Charity Commission deals with things:

The Charity Commission has been forced to defend its own investigations after Oxfam’s former head of safeguarding claimed she told the watchdog women were being coerced into sex for aid. Helen Evans said she was “extremely concerned” by the response to concerns she raised while heading the charity’s global efforts to protect staff and beneficiaries from 2012 to 2015.

While appealing for more resources from management to deal with a rising number of allegations, Ms Evans told how in a single day she was told of a woman being coerced into sex in exchange for aid, another aid worker having sex with a beneficiary and a member of staff being struck off for abuse. “There has been a lot of coverage about Oxfam and how shocking and surprising this is – it isn’t,” she told Channel 4 News.

“I went in 2015 to the Charity Commission, I went back again in 2017. Everything I’m saying today, the Charity Commission knew, so why is the Government saying this is a surprise?” Ms Evans had emailed Oxfam’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, warning that data being gathered from staff “increasingly points to a culture of sexual abuse within some Oxfam officers” but a face-to-face meeting was cancelled in 2014.

So far we’ve encountered Oxfam, Save the Children, Doctors without Borders (MSF) and the UN (including its children’s fund Unicef). But that’s by no means the whole story. Try this on for size from Agence France Presse:

Oxfam is not the first non-governmental organisation to be accused of abuse. Previous revelations spurred the United Nations in 2002 to issue special measures for all its staff and others, including aid workers under UN contract, based on a policy of zero tolerance. The issue came to public attention in 2002 after allegations of widespread abuse of refugee and internally displaced women and children by humanitarian workers and peacekeepers in West Africa.

In refugee camps in Guinea, Liberia, and to a lesser extent Sierra Leone, dozens of male aid workers, often locals, were suspected of having exchanged money or gifts for sex with young refugee girls aged between 13 and 18. “It’s difficult to escape the trap of those (NGO) people, they use the food as bait to get you to have sex with them,” an adolescent in Liberia was quoted as saying in a report from the UN refugee agency. More than 40 agencies and organisations and nearly 70 individuals were mentioned in the testimonies taken from 1,500 children and adults for the UN report [..]

It’s everywhere, the pedophile rot. And the cover-ups, the industry approach, the aid as big business. And that can only lead to ever more misery. Because aid should never become an industry.

I touched on that about a year ago in one of many articles on our efforts for refugees and homeless in Greece. When it comes to scrutiny of aid organizations, you shouldn’t expect much if anything from governments. They’re part of the same industry.

Politicians find it much easier to fork over their constituents’ cash to ‘recognized’ aid organizations than to investigate them. They have a vested interest in letting the system roll on without disturbing it.

 

The Automatic Earth Still Helps Greeks and Refugees

[..] NGOs, as I’ve written before, have become an industry in their own right, institutionalized even. As someone phrased it: we now have a humanitarian-industrial complex. Which in Greece has received hundreds of millions of euros and somehow can’t manage to take proper care of 60,000 desolate souls with that.

I’ve even been warned that if I speak out too clearly about this, they may come after Konstantinos and his people and make their work hard and/or impossible. This is after all an industry that is worth a lot of money. Aid is big business. And big business protects itself.

Still, if we’re genuinely interested in finding out how and why it is possible that hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros change hands, and people still die in the cold and live in subhuman conditions, we’re going to have to break through some of the barriers that the EU, Greece and the iNGOs have built around themselves.

If only because European -and also American- taxpayers have a right to know what has made this ongoing epic failure possible. And of course the first concern should be that the refugees have the right, encapsulated in international law, to decent and humane treatment, and are not getting anything even remotely resembling it. Refugees Deeply quotes ‘a senior aid official’ (they don’t say from what) anonymously saying that €70 out of every €100 in aid is wasted.

But the Oxfam scandal, spreading as it is across the entire aid’ industry’, is many times worse than letting refugees freeze on islands. Or is it? Isn’t it perhaps the exact same thing, that changes appearance between places but remains always the same in essence?

Oxfam must go. It’s been found painfully wanting for too long and on too many occasions. It’ll be a useful deterrent for all other groups. The managers of which, who often make hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more, must also go. They’ve all either known or should have known for many years. The buck stops with them.

The aid itself may stop too in some places, at some times, but when you can only hand out aid when you’re ready to accept that it will be traded for sex with often underaged children, you’re losing big time, and you’re never going to turn that around. Institutionalization can only be halted when walls are broken down, up to and including their foundations.

 

The aid organizations that cause all these problems have one thing in common: they’re large, large enough to become like, look like, industries. The ones that have expensive offices in A locations because that’s where their major donors are, and executives who make salaries like the executives at those donors.

That’s simply the wrong scale. In all the countries where these organizations operate, and where they bring their depraved sex-crazed staff, there are other, smaller, local organizations too. Who most often don’t have anything like those issues, who often exhibit the exact opposite behavior: people helping people without looking for anything in return. I know this from my experiences in Greece since 2015.

It’s when you scale up the humanity that exists in many, if not most, people, that things go awry and the vermin creeps in. When things become so large that managers are hired, you can be sure that most of the money donated for aid will be burned in a bonfire of politicians, businessmen and, as we now know, pedophiles.

Oxfam gets $500 million a year or so. The EU has pumped over €1 billion into Greece, and probably as much into Italy as well, to ‘solve’ the refugee situation. That Brussels doesn’t want to solve, and neither do Athens or Rome, for fear that it will encourage more refugees to come.

So they make the people they purport to help, miserable, and they put a huge price sticker on that misery posing as help, for the taxpayer to pay. Like this, for instance -from my same article above:

 

[..] every refugee who, before the EU-Turkey deal, passed through Greece on his/her way to Europe, cost the EU €800. For a family of 5 that adds up to €4,000, which would have been more than enough to pay for transport, stay at decent hotels and eat in normal restaurants for the duration of their trip (7-10 days). Suffice it to say, that was not what they got.

After the EU-Turkey deal made it impossible for refugees to leave Greece, €15,000 has been spent per capita. That is €75,000 per family of 5, more than enough to rent a villa on the beach, hire a butler and eat gourmet food for 8 months. Instead, the refugees are stuck in old abandoned factories with no facilities, in old tents in the freezing cold and in the rain, and forced to eat a dirt poor version of rice with chickpeas and lentil soup.

It won’t be easy to stop this insanity, but it can be done. Refuse to dole out money to organizations that have been accused of abuse. Refuse to give any organization more than $1 million. Support many small organizations insteads. Humanitarian aid does not scale up well. To say the least.

It’ll be cost-effective as well. It’ll take more effort to locate the right people, but given that $70 out of every $100 in donations is wasted by large aid organizations today, there’s a huge win lurking right there. You just need to find people who are better at all this than the ones who made that disaster possible.

Then, fire any manager who has not acted in the past on complaints. Establish a system that promises to put anyone in jail against whom credible complaints have been filed.

There are thousands of those walking around right now working for organizations funded by you and me directly, and by our taxes too, free to abuse another girl or little boy, and then another one tomorrow, or a mother who needs to feed her child(ren) because her home has been swept away by floods or bombs.

And make this the number one issue for the UN (yeah, I know, that same UN), to discuss and control as per tomorrow morning. Get multiple countries’ military to deliver what Oxfam did before, and make sure all soldiers understand what’ll happen to them at the first sign of abuse, of money, of people, anything at all.

There are many things out there that we can’t control, but this one we can. Because, as I said, in all locations where aid is needed, there are local people available to deliver it without trying to abuse, centralize, institutionalize it, profit from it, or turn it into a business. Just keep aid donations so small it’s not interesting to do any of those things.

At the UN level, I’m thinking Jimmy Carter. He’s the only man I can conjure up who has the integrity to clean up this mess. I know, one is a very small number. But Carter will know others. Big job, but doable. After all, we can’t very well have the worst of our own societies run rampant in places where people are defenseless against them.

Oh wait, that right there is another reason why our governments like the way things are going, just fine, isn’t it? Oxfam allows them (us) to export their perverts.

Well, screw that. We’re better than our governments.

To summarize: right now, your donation to Oxfam literally pays for pedophiles to go rape children across the world. Not every penny or dollar (they need their shiny offices too), but that’s not the point: your dollars keep the aid industry, the system, and therefore the opportunity for the abuse going. Is that what you want?

 

 

Feb 202018
 
 February 20, 2018  Posted by at 11:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Emanuel Leutze Washington Crossing the Delaware 1851

 

Morgan Stanley Says Stock Slide Was Just Appetizer for The Real Deal (BBG)
Weak Dollar Could Bring 3% Boost To Global Trade Growth (BBG)
More Than 80% Of American Adults Owe Somebody Else Money (Snyder)
Thirteen Russians and a Ham Sandwich (Jim Kunstler)
Seeking Post-Brexit Unity, EU Leaders Find More Fights (AFP)
UK Has a Secret Plan to Hold Brexit Cash If EU Refuses to Trade (BBG)
London’s Property Crash Has Begun (Reilly)
BOJ To Keep Retreating From Stimulus Under Kuroda (R.)
Italians Find Way Around Election Poll Ban With ‘Horse Races’ (BBG)
Turkey Threatens to Invade Greece (Bulut)
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector (CP)
France To Let Wolf Population Grow By 40% Despite Anger From Farmers (AFP)
Ocean Plastic Tide ‘Violates International Law’ (BBC)

 

 

A very safe bet.

Morgan Stanley Says Stock Slide Was Just Appetizer for The Real Deal (BBG)

The U.S. stock market only had a taste of the potential damage from higher bond yields earlier this year, with the biggest test yet to come, according to Morgan Stanley. “Appetizer, not the main course,” is how the bank’s strategists led by London-based Andrew Sheets described the correction of late January to early February. Although higher bond yields proved tough for equity investors to digest, the key metric of inflation-adjusted yields didn’t break out of their range for the past five years, they said in a note Monday. uld be at worst neutral, if they boost earnings along the way. Higher real yields, on the other hand, mean a bigger discount rate to value future earnings. Should they break out of the range over the past five years as investors anticipate greater central bank policy normalization, that could hit stocks harder, according to the Morgan Stanley thinking.

Relatively low real yields were a big support for equity valuations, so a break higher would indicate that stocks will have to rely on earnings – not multiple expansion – to drive them higher, Sheets and his colleagues wrote. And the challenge there is that a slowdown may loom starting in the second quarter, they said. “It’s when growth softens while inflation is still rising that returns suffer most,” the strategists wrote. “Strong global growth and a good first-quarter reporting season provided an important offset. We remain on watch for ‘tricky handoff’ in the second quarter, as core inflation rises and activity indicators moderate.”

Read more …

That’s real growth, right?!

Weak Dollar Could Bring 3% Boost To Global Trade Growth (BBG)

The weak greenback may prove to be a boon for global trade. On top of the boost already coming from robust global GDP growth, the dollar’s fall over the past year may add over 3% to the level of world trade, according to Gabriel Sterne, global head of macro research at Oxford Economics Ltd. Tipping further dollar weakness, the risks are skewed to the upside for Oxford’s baseline forecast for 5% growth in world trade in 2018. “Falls in the value of the dollar oil the wheels of the global financial system, boosting global liquidity by strengthening balance sheets and alleviating currency mismatches,” Sterne wrote in a note.

“One important channel is variation in the differential between the cost of raising dollars onshore and offshore. Dollar weakness reduces the cross-currency basis, increases cross-border lending and boosts bank equities.” The biggest winners will likely be emerging economies given the weaker dollar will lower the value of their dollar-denominated debt, taking pressure off their balance sheets and from credit conditions more generally. “The seven-year link between dollar strength and U.S. recovery (2009-16) now appears broken, and we think it will remain so, with relatively strong U.S. growth and a weakening dollar providing a significant boost to global activity,” Sterne wrote.

Read more …

“..As debt levels spread through the system it consumes greater amounts of capital until it eventually kills the host…”

More Than 80% Of American Adults Owe Somebody Else Money (Snyder)

How long can our debt levels keep growing much, much faster than the overall economy? We haven’t had a year of 3 percent growth for the U.S. economy since the middle of the Bush administration, but we keep borrowing money as if there is no tomorrow. Much of the focus has been on the exploding debt of the federal government, and that is definitely something I plan to address once I get to Washington. But on an individual level, U.S. consumers have been extremely irresponsible as well. In fact, one new survey has found that more than 80 percent of all American adults are currently in debt… It’s no secret that America is a nation that runs on debt, but it may surprise you to learn that the overwhelming majority of U.S. adults owe money in some way, shape, or form. According to new data from Comet, here’s how many Americans have debt at present:

• 80.9% of Baby Boomers • 79.9% of Gen Xers • 81.5% of Millennials For most of us, it starts very early. We were told that going into debt to get a college education would not be a problem because we would be able to pay those loans off with the good jobs we would get after graduation. Unfortunately, those good jobs never really materialized for many of us, and now millions of former college students are absolutely drowning in debt. A study released Friday by the Brookings Institution finds that most borrowers who left school owing at least $50,000 in student loans in 2010 had failed to pay down any of their debt four years later. Instead, their balances had on average risen by 5% as interest accrued on their debt.

As of 2014 there were about 5 million borrowers with such large loan balances, out of 40 million Americans total with student debt. Large-balance borrowers represented 17% of student borrowers leaving college or grad school in 2014, up from 2% of all borrowers in 1990 after adjusting for inflation. Large-balance borrowers now owe 58% of the nation’s $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt. In addition to owing more than a trillion dollars on student loans, Americans are also now carrying more than a trillion dollars of auto loan debt and more than a trillion dollars of credit card debt. Corporations have been incredibly irresponsible as well. Corporate debt has doubled since the last financial crisis, and corporate bankruptcies have been rising steadily in recent years. All it would take for the dominoes to really start falling is some sort of a major economic downturn.

[..] We can’t keep doing this to ourselves. Our incessant greed is literally destroying the future, but anyone that tries to warn about the collective insanity that has descended upon our society is mocked and ridiculed. Let me ask you a question. Would you willingly choose to give yourself cancer? Of course not, but that is essentially what we are doing to ourselves as a society. Debt is economic cancer, and as Lance Roberts has pointed out, if we continue to allow debt levels to grow like this eventually it will kill our entire economy… Debt is, by its very nature, a cancer on economic growth. As debt levels rise it consumes more capital by diverting it from productive investments into debt service. As debt levels spread through the system it consumes greater amounts of capital until it eventually kills the host.

Read more …

“..the greatest act of bureaucratic ass-covering in US history.”

Thirteen Russians and a Ham Sandwich (Jim Kunstler)

Remember that one from 1996? Funny, that was the American mainstream media bragging, after the fact, about our own meddling in another nation’s election.

WASHINGTON — A team of American political strategists who helped [California] Gov. Pete Wilson with his abortive presidential bid earlier this year said this week that they served as Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin’s secret campaign weapon in his comeback win over a Communist challenge. —The Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1996

The beauty in Robert Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russian Facebook trolls is that they’ll never face trial, so Mr. Mueller will never have to prove his case. In the new misrule of law made popular by the #Me Too movement, accusations suffice to convict the target of an investigation. Kind of sounds like going medieval to me, but that’s how we roll now in the Land of the Free. Readers know, of course, that I’m not a Trump supporter, that I regard him as a national embarrassment, but I’m much more disturbed by the mindless hysteria ginned up Washington’s permanent bureaucracy in collusion with half a dozen major newspapers and cable news networks, who have run a psy-ops campaign to shove the country into a war mentality. The New York Times published a doozy of a lead story on Saturday, the day after the indictments were announced.

The headline said: Trump’s Conspicuous Silence Leaves a Struggle Against Russia Without a Leader. Dean Baquet and his editorial board are apparently seeking an American Napoleon who will mount a white horse and take our legions into Moscow to teach these rascals a lesson — or something like that. I’m surely not the only one to notice how this hysteria is designed to distract the public attention from the documented misconduct among FBI, CIA, NSA, State Department officials and the leaders of the #Resistance itself: the Democratic National Committee, its nominee in the 2016 election, HRC, and Barack Obama’s White House inner circle. You would think that at least some of this mischief would have come to Robert Mueller’s attention, since the paper trail of evidence is as broad and cluttered as the DC Beltway itself. It actually looks like the greatest act of bureaucratic ass-covering in US history.

Read more …

How to fake democracy.

Seeking Post-Brexit Unity, EU Leaders Find More Fights (AFP)

EU leaders face difficult talks this week on the thorny issues of how to plug holes in the post-Brexit budget and choose a successor for European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker. A special one-day summit in Brussels on Friday of the 27 leaders without Britain is meant to be a key step in the roadmap to a leaner and more unified bloc after Britain leaves in just over a year. But cracks have already appeared between French President Emmanuel Macron, leading the charge for a reformed Europe, and Juncker with his federalist vision of how top EU officials should be chosen in future. The row means the EU’s attempts to overcome the shock of losing a major member are running into the classic problems that have bedevilled it for its six decades of existence: money and sovereignty.

Juncker was picked after European elections in 2014 by a controversial “Spitzenkandidat” system — German for “lead candidate” — under which the political group with the most votes gets to nominate its candidate for the job. Both the European Parliament and Juncker back a repeat after the May 2019 European election, saying it gives the public a direct say in who heads the commission, the EU’s powerful executive arm. European Council President Donald Tusk — who coordinates summits and represents the EU member states — is expected to lay out options at the summit, including whether to continue with the Spitzenkandidat system. Leaders are expected to say it is their own “right and obligation” to choose the commission chief, while “taking into account” the views of parliament, as the EU treaties state, an EU source told AFP.

Read more …

“Formerly” secret?

UK Has a Secret Plan to Hold Brexit Cash If EU Refuses to Trade (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May’s team is eyeing up a contingency plan to hold back billions of pounds in Brexit payments, if the EU refuses to give the U.K. the trade deal it wants. Senior British officials have privately discussed the idea as a fall-back option that could be triggered if negotiations go wrong, three people familiar with the matter said. The plan is not the U.K.’s preferred outcome, but some in May’s administration believe it could be necessary in case the EU tries to renege on a future commitment to a free-trade deal. The proposal comes at a sensitive time, with British ministers seeking in public to build mutual trust with the EU rather than stoke suspicions. The U.K. is trying to persuade the bloc to cooperate on plans for an ambitious trade agreement, which will come into force after the split.

On Tuesday, Brexit Secretary David Davis will outline his idea for collaboration, promising the other 27 member countries that the U.K. won’t try to undercut them by tearing up regulations when it leaves. May is planning to announce her goals for a detailed draft trade accord in a major speech next week, with the aim of having a deal drafted by October to be signed soon after Brexit in March 2019. But the EU says a full trade agreement will be impossible to finish before Brexit. October’s conclusions are likely to form only an outline political declaration rather than a legally binding contract, raising fears among British lawmakers that the U.K. could be vulnerable if the EU backslides on the deal.

Read more …

It’ll be a steep fall.

London’s Property Crash Has Begun (Reilly)

The average age of a first time mum at London’s Chelsea and Westminster hospital is 37, a statistic that tells you everything you need to know about the choices supposedly affluent city dwellers are being forced to make in the capital. For the middle classes, the cost of living in London -the cost of getting by- long ago went past insane (£17,040: the cost per year of educating a four year-old child at Thomas’s school in Fulham, not including uniform). It’s the incredible price of property, of course, that’s been the engine driving this madness, ratcheting the pressure ever higher on Londoners who don’t own a home while making very wealthy, on paper at least, those who do.

For the last two decades and more, the capital’s property market to all intents and purposes has behaved like a giant Ponzi scheme played on a global scale. Money from all over the world has poured into London bricks, inflating values unrealistically in relation to wages, while the lavish bonuses paid to European bankers working in the City have also stoked momentum responsible for pushing up, for example, the average price of a London semi-detached house by 553 per cent between January 1995 and November 2017, from £133,820 to £873,603. Over the same period, the average cost of a detached house in the capital went from £257,748 to £1,453,271.

At last, however, the party is over. London property prices, now still flailing cartoonishly in mid-air despite being well over the edge of a cliff, are at the start of what we can call, for want of a better term, a death plunge. Although the carnage is only just beginning in earnest, desperate homeowners looking to sell are already dropping asking prices by tens of thousands of pounds and more. They know the tide is going out quickly. The reasons you would have to be clinically insane to buy property in London today are blessedly easy to understand. Describing a modern financial disaster normally requires some pretence of understanding, say, derivatives markets or the myriad immensely complex ways international banks package and trade debt. Not this time.

Read more …

Abenomics continues to its last breath.

BOJ To Keep Retreating From Stimulus Under Kuroda (R.)

The reappointment of Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda for another five-year term means the central bank will continue to gradually edge away from crisis-mode stimulus, former BOJ board member Takahide Kiuchi said. Premier Shinzo Abe’s decision to reappoint Kuroda, whose massive easing efforts failed to accelerate inflation to his 2% target since becoming governor in 2013, is a sign the government is no longer insisting that the BOJ meet its price goal quickly, he said. Since abandoning a policy targeting the pace of money printing in 2016, the BOJ is already whittling down its sweeping stimulus program by slowing its bond purchases, Kiuchi said.

“A de-facto normalization of monetary policy is already taking place and will continue under a reappointed Kuroda,” said Kiuchi, who served at the BOJ’s nine-member board until July. “The reappointment was a signal from the government that it wants continuity in monetary policy,” he told Reuters on Monday. The government reappointed Kuroda for another five-year term on Friday, signaling its hope the BOJ will keep up efforts to reflate the economy. During his tenure at the BOJ, Kiuchi has warned of the pitfalls of Kuroda’s monetary experiment and rightly predicted that the bank would be forced to slow its bond buying given the rising costs of its stimulus program. He retains deep insight into the workings of BOJ policy.

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Does that come with actual betting?

Italians Find Way Around Election Poll Ban With ‘Horse Races’ (BBG)

Italians have hit on a way around a ban on publishing polls in the two weeks before March 4 general elections: turn them into horse races. Bloggers Andrea Mancia and Simone Bressan have begun writing up the results of fictitious “underground” races as a means of conveying the performance of various political parties and coalitions without falling foul of the law. Hence, avid politics watchers can check on favorites like Burlesque and his stable — a not-so-thinly veiled reference to former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and his center-right coalition. They can also learn more about the performance of jockeys like Louis le Subjonctif, a reference to Five Star Movement lead candidate Luigi Di Maio and his supposed difficulties in correctly using the subjunctive tense in Italian.

This isn’t the first time the two bloggers have attempted to circumvent blackout legislation and they are not the only ones. Another blog, YouTrend.it, is known for publishing supposed polls with references to papal conclaves and names of imaginary cardinals to indicate the different candidates. During the two-week blackout period, pollsters continue to conduct surveys which circulate among politicians, market analysts and others, but are barred from publishing their findings. Newspapers and other media are also banned from publishing any indications of voting intentions so as not to influence the election.

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Jihad. Inside NATO.

Turkey Threatens to Invade Greece (Bulut)

In an incident that took place less than two weeks after the Greek Defense Ministry announced that Turkey had violated Greek airspace 138 times in a single day, a Turkish coast guard patrol boat on February 13 rammed a Greek coast guard vessel off the shore of Imia, one of many Greek islands over which Turkey claims sovereignty. Most of the areas within modern Greece’s current borders were under the occupation of the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century until the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and the establishment of the modern Greek state in 1832. The islands, however, like the rest of Greece, are legally and historically Greek, as their names indicate. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, and even much of the opposition seem intent on, if not obsessed with, invading and conquering these Greek islands, on the grounds that they are actually Turkish territory.

[..] The Ottoman dynasty and empire was established by a nomadic Turkmen chief sometime around the year 1300. During the more than 600 years of the Ottoman period, the Ottoman Turks, who also represented the Islamic Caliphate, regularly launched wars of jihad, invading and occupying lands across five continents. Neo-Ottomanists in Turkey still proudly embrace the concept of jihad (Islamic holy war) against the kafirs (infidels). The head of the state-funded Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, has openly described Turkey’s recent military invasion of Afrin as “jihad.”

This designation makes sense when one considers that Muslim Turks owe their demographic majority in Asia Minor to centuries of Turkish Muslim persecution and discrimination against the Christian, Yazidi and Jewish inhabitants of the area. In the 11th century, Turkic jihadists from Central Asia invaded and conquered the Greek-speaking, Christian Byzantine Empire, paving the way for the gradual Turkification and Islamization of the region through methods such as murder, kidnapping, rape and forced conversions.

The greatest 20th century Turkish assault against Christians took place in the 1914-1923 genocide of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians (Syriacs/Chaldeans) in Ottoman Turkey. This did not prevent Turkey, which continues to deny the genocide, from becoming a member of NATO in 1952. The assault also did not stop Turkey, three years after joining NATO, from committing a savage anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul or from forcibly expelling the remaining Greeks from Turkey in 1964. It is precisely because the Turks have never been held accountable for their criminal actions and aggression that they continue to threaten the security and sovereignty of their neighbors. It is high time for the West wake up and take Ankara to task.

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The church of science is not objective.

The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector (CP)

The Royal Society in the UK is a self-governing fellowship of distinguished scientists. Its purpose is reflected in its founding charters of the 1660s: to recognise, promote and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity. Its motto, nullius in verba, is taken to mean ‘take nobody’s word for it’. It is an expression of the determination to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts based on experiment. In 2015, Steven Druker challenged the Royal Society to justify its outspoken and partisan support of GMO crops and to correct any errors of fact in his book ‘Altered Genes,Twisted Truth’. Not long after the book’s release, he wrote an open letter to the Society calling on it to acknowledge and correct the misleading and exaggerated statements that is has used to actively promote GMOs and in effect convey false impressions.

Druker cited specific instances where members of the Royal Society have at various times made false statements and the Society’s actions were not objective or based on scientific reasoning but biased and stridently pro-GMO. He argued that the Royal Society has misrepresented the case for GMOs and has effectively engaged in a campaign of disinformation. Almost three years later, from what we can gather, the Royal Society has not responded to Druker. [..] In a new, fully-referenced 45-page open letter, environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason is strident in her criticism of the Royal Society: “The Royal Society of London has thrown its hand in with the agrochemical industry, has received funding from it and accepted its word that GM crops are safe. The scientists who founded The Royal Society (Wren, Boyle, Wilkins and Newton) would turn in their graves.”

Rosemary Mason’s letter is addressed to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society. She sets out in some detail the disturbing effects of the rising use of agrochemicals on human health, the environment, biodiversity and ecology in the UK and beyond. As she notes, many have sounded the alarm over global mass poisoning as a result of tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals entering world markets with no evidence of safety. It has reached the point where we now have an ‘ecological Armageddon’ after a dramatic plunge in insect numbers. Given Mason’s concerns about the Royal Society’s collusion with corporate interests, she refers Ramakrishnan to the reputation of Monsanto and the findings of the Monsanto Tribunal, the Monsanto Papers and the dozens of lawsuits in the US involving that company.

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You can try… But French farmers are what they are..

France To Let Wolf Population Grow By 40% Despite Anger From Farmers (AFP)

The French government has announced it will allow the wolf population to grow 40% despite pressure from farmers in mountain regions who are worried about their sheep flocks. A new strategy unveiled by the centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron will enable the number of wolves to increase from an estimated 360 now to 500 by 2023. Hunting wiped out the grey wolf in France during the 1930s and they only returned in 1992 via Italy – currently home to around 2,000 wolves – before spreading into Switzerland and Germany. The regeneration of the population in France has led to tensions between the government and farmers in the Alps and Pyrenees mountains who complain that attacks on their livestock cause major financial losses.

In a bid to respond to that anger, hunters will be allowed to kill 10% of the population every year, which can be raised to 12% if attacks are more frequent than usual. “We place trust in all of the stakeholders and local lawmakers to calm the debate and enable a co-existence over the long-term,” agriculture minister Stephane Travert and environment minister Nicolas Hulot wrote in a foreword to the report. Hulot, a celebrity environmentalist, spoke recently of how wolf culling “makes me sick to the stomach” but he accepted it was a necessary measure to take farmers’ concerns into account. Hundreds of sheep were let loose on the streets of the city of Lyon last November in one of a number of protests against the wolf, which has protected status.

The 100-page wolf strategy will also enable livestock owners to apply for state funds to shield their animals, but it will make compensation contingent on them installing fencing and taking other protective measures. Wolves eat between 2-4kg (4.4 to 8.8lb) of meat a day on average and the predators have been blamed for an explosion in the number of attacks on livestock in mountainous areas. A total of 10,000 sheep were killed in the Alps region in 2016, according to official figures from the regional government, but the wolf is also known to feast on deer, wild boar or even domestic animals.

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When everyone’s guilty, who goes to jail?

Ocean Plastic Tide ‘Violates International Law’ (BBC)

The global tide of ocean plastic pollution is a clear violation of international law, campaigners say. They have been urging for a new global treaty to tackle the problem. But a new report – to be presented to a Royal Geographical Society conference on Tuesday – says littering the sea with plastics is already prohibited under existing agreements. The report urges those governments that are trying to tackle the issue to put legal pressure on those that are not. The paper has been written by the veteran environment journalist Oliver Tickell. His conclusions are backed by ClientEarth, the legal group that successfully sued the UK over failures to meet air pollution laws. Tickell says legal action against big polluters such as China, India and Indonesia can be taken only by a nation state.

So he calls for governments and green groups to support small island nations suffering most from plastic pollution. Tickell maintains that marine plastic litter can already be controlled through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); the London Convention; the MARPOL Convention; the Basel Convention; Customary Law, and many other regional agreements. Article 194 of UNCLOS, for instance, requires states to “prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source. “Measures shall include, inter alia, those designed to minimize to the fullest possible extent… the release of toxic, harmful or noxious substances, especially those which are persistent, from land-based sources… [and] shall include those necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life.”

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Feb 162018
 
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Paul Gauguin Yellow haystacks (Golden harvest) 1889

 

US Market Gurus Who Predicted Selloff Say Current Calm An Illusion (R.)
There Will Be No Economic Boom (Roberts)
T-Bills Flood Set to Put Upward Pressure on Short-Term Funding Costs (BBG)
“Financial Stress” Spikes – Just As The Fed Intends (WS)
Hedge Fund King Dalio Bets Big Against Europe (BBG)
Everybody’s Already Invested, So Who’s The Buyer? (ZH)
Donald Trump’s Dangerous Currency Game (Spiegel)
US Dollar Spirals Down, Hits Lowest Point Since 2014 (WS)
Home Ownership Among Britain’s Young Adults Has ‘Collapsed’ (G.)
Warren Buffett, Prime Example Of The Failure Of American Capitalism (Dayen)
Monopolies Game the System (Nation)
Greece Warns Turkey Of Non-Peaceful Response Next Time (K.)
Borneo Has Lost Half Its Orangutans This Century (Ind.)

 

 

Short is hip again.

US Market Gurus Who Predicted Selloff Say Current Calm An Illusion (R.)

You ain’t seen nothing yet. Some veteran investors who were vindicated in calling for a pullback in shares and a spike in volatility could now be cheering. Actually, they’re looking at the risks that still lie ahead in the current relative calm. The last week’s wild market swings confirmed that the market was in correction territory – falling more than 10% from its high. The falls were triggered by higher bond yields and fears of inflation but came against a backdrop of a stretched market that had taken price/earnings levels to as high as 18.9. Adding to downwards pressure was the unwinding of bets that volatility would stay low. The fall had come after a growing number of strategists and investors said a pullback was in the offing – although the consensus opinion was that the market would then start rising again. The big question is: what comes now?

“Do you honestly believe today is the bottom?” said Jeffrey Gundlach, known as Wall Street’s Bond King, last week, who had been warning for more than a year that markets were too calm. Gundlach had been particularly vocal in his warnings about the VIX, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” which tracks the volatility implied by options on the S&P 500. The sell-off in U.S. stocks derailed some popular short volatility exchange-traded products, which contributed to more downwards pressure on the market. Gundlach in May last year warned that the VIX was “insanely low.” Hedge fund manager Douglas Kass was short SPDR S&P 500 ETF and said he “took a lot of small losses” last year but says he still sees more stress ahead. He said he is now re-shorting that ETF. Investors who bet low volatility would continue will need time to unwind their strategies, Kass said.

[..] Veteran short-seller Bill Fleckenstein, who ran a short fund but closed it in 2009, said that “last week’s action was an early indication that the end of bull market is upon us.” Fleckenstein said there was a lot of money in the market with no conviction behind it, for example, buying index funds and ETFs just “to be part of the party” which was an element of “hot money.” “Last week was just the preview to the bigger event that we’ll see this year probably,” Fleckenstein said. Fleckenstein said he is not short at the moment – although he did make “a couple of bucks” last week shorting Nasdaq futures. He said he is looking for an opportunity to get short again. He said he has “flirted with the idea of restarting a short fund”.

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The US is betting big. But don’t let that blind you to the fact that so is everyone else.

There Will Be No Economic Boom (Roberts)

Last week, Congress passed a 2-year “continuing resolution, or C.R.,” to keep the Government funded through the 2018 elections. While “fiscal conservatism” was just placed on the sacrificial alter to satisfy the “Re-election” Gods,” the bigger issue is the impact to the economy and, ultimately, the financial markets. The passage of the $400 billion C.R. has an impact that few people understand. When a C.R. is passed it keeps Government spending at the same previous baseline PLUS an 8% increase. The recent C.R. just added $200 billion per year to that baseline. This means over the next decade, the C.R. will add $2 Trillion in spending to the Federal budget. Then add to that any other spending approved such as the proposed $200 billion for an infrastructure spending bill, money for DACA/Immigration reform, or a whole host of other social welfare programs that will require additional funding.

But that is only half the problem. The recent passage of tax reform will trim roughly $2 Trillion from revenues over the next decade as well. This is easy math. Cut $2 trillion in revenue, add $2 trillion in spending, and you create a $4 trillion dollar gap in the budget. Of course, that is $4 Trillion in addition to the current run rate in spending which continues the current acceleration of the “debt problem.”

But it gets worse. As Oxford Economics reported via Zerohedge: “The tax cuts passed late last year, combined with the spending bill Congress passed last week, will push deficits sharply higher. Furthermore, Trump’s own budget anticipates that US debt will hit $30 trillion by 2028: an increase of $10 trillion.” Oxford is right. In order to “pay for” all of the proposed spending, at a time when the government will receive less revenue in the form of tax collections, the difference will be funded through debt issuance.

Simon Black recently penned an interesting note on this: “Less than two weeks ago, the United States Department of Treasury very quietly released its own internal projections for the federal government’s budget deficits over the next several years. And the numbers are pretty gruesome. In order to plug the gaps from its soaring deficits, the Treasury Department expects to borrow nearly $1 trillion this fiscal year. Then nearly $1.1 trillion next fiscal year. And up to $1.3 trillion the year after that. This means that the national debt will exceed $25 trillion by September 30, 2020.”

Of course, “fiscal responsibility” left Washington a long time ago, so, what’s another $10 Trillion at this point? While this issue is not lost on a vast majority of Americans that “choose” to pay attention, it has been quickly dismissed by much of the mainstream media, and Congressman running for re-election, by suggesting tax reform will significantly boost economic growth over the next decade. The general statement has been: “By passing much-needed tax reform, we will finally unleash the economic growth engine which will more than pay for these tax cuts in the future.”

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Nobody expects the bond vigilantes?!

T-Bills Flood Set to Put Upward Pressure on Short-Term Funding Costs (BBG)

Get ready for the deluge of Treasury bills, and the increase in short-term funding costs that’s likely to accompany it. Investors are bracing for an onslaught of T-bill supply following last week’s U.S. debt ceiling suspension. That’s already prompting them to demand higher rates from borrowers across money markets. And that’s just a result of the government replenishing its cash hoard to normal levels. The ballooning budget deficit means there’s even more to come later, and that deluge of supply could further buoy funding costs down the line, making life more expensive both for the government and companies that borrow in the short-term market. Concerns about the U.S. borrowing cap had forced the Treasury to trim the total amount of bills it had outstanding, but that’s no longer a problem and the government is now busy ramping up issuance.

Financing estimates from January show that the Treasury expects to issue $441 billion in net marketable debt in the current quarter and the bulk of that is likely to be in the short-term market. “Supply will come in waves and we’re in a very heavy wave right now,” said Mark Cabana at Bank of America. “If you take Treasury at their word that they want to issue $300 billion in bills, that’s a lot of net supply that needs to come to market.” Next week’s three- and six-month bill auctions will be the largest on record at $51 billion and $45 billion respectively, Treasury said Thursday. The four-week auction will be boosted to $55 billion next week, having already been lifted to $50 billion for the Feb. 13 sale. Auction volume at the tenor had earlier been shrunk to just $15 billion.

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Spikes but is still negative. Wait till that changes.

“Financial Stress” Spikes – Just As The Fed Intends (WS)

The weekly St. Louis Fed Financial Stress index, released today, just spiked beautifully. It had been at historic lows back in November, an expression of ultra-loose financial conditions in the US economy, dominated by risk-blind investors chasing any kind of yield with a passion, which resulted in minuscule risk premiums for investors and ultra-low borrowing costs even for even junk-rated borrows. The index ticked since then, but in the latest week, ended February 9, something happened. The index, which is made up of 18 components (seven interest rate measures, six yield spreads, and five other indices) had hit a historic low of -1.6 on November 3, 2017, even as the Fed had been raising its target range for the federal funds rate and had started the QE Unwind. It began ticking up late last year, hit -1.35 a week ago, and now spiked to -1.06.

The chart above shows the spike of the latest week in relationship to the two-year Oil Bust that saw credit freeze up for junk-rated energy companies, with the average yield of CCC-or-below-rated junk bonds soaring to over 20%. Given the size of oil-and-gas sector debt, energy credits had a large impact on the overall average. The chart also compares today’s spike to the “Taper Tantrum” in the bond market in 2014 after the Fed suggested that it might actually taper “QE Infinity,” as it had come to be called, out of existence. This caused yields and risk premiums to spike, as shown by the Financial Stress index. This time, it’s the other way around: The Fed has been raising rates like clockwork, and its QE Unwind is accelerating, but for months markets blithely ignored it. Until suddenly they didn’t.

This reaction is visible in the 10-year Treasury yield, which had been declining for much of last year, despite the Fed’s rate hikes, only to surge late in the year and so far this year. It’s also visible in the stock market, which suddenly experienced a dramatic bout of volatility and a breathless drop from record highs. And it is now visible in other measures, including junk-bond yields that suddenly began surging from historic low levels. The chart of the ICE BofAML US High Yield BB Effective Yield Index, via the St. Louis Fed, shows how the average yield of BB-rated junk bonds surged from around 4.05% last September to 4.98% now, the highest since November 20, 2016:

But a longer-term chart shows just how low the BB-yield still is compared to where it had been in the years after the Financial Crisis, and how much more of a trajectory it might have ahead:

The Financial Stress Index is designed to show a level of zero for “normal” financial conditions. When these conditions are easy and when there is less financial stress than normal, the index is negative. The index turns positive when financial conditions are tighter than normal. But at -1.06, it remains below zero. In other words, financial conditions remain extraordinarily easy. This is clear in a long-term chart of the index that barely shows the recent spike, given the magnitude of prior moves. This is precisely what the Fed wants to accomplish.

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Feels a bit like Soros vs Britain in 1992.

Hedge Fund King Dalio Bets Big Against Europe (BBG)

Ray Dalio, billionaire philosopher-king of the world’s biggest hedge fund, has a checklist to identify the best time to sell stocks: a strong economy, close to full employment and rising interest rates. That may explain why the firm he created, Bridgewater Associates, has caused a to-do the past two weeks by quickly amassing an $21.65 billion bet against Europe’s biggest companies. The firm’s total asset pool is $150 billion, according to its website. Economic conditions in Europe appear to fit Dalio’s requirements. Last year, the continent’s economy grew at the fastest pace in a decade, and ECB President Mario Draghi has indicated he’s on a slow path toward boosting rates as economic slack narrows. Factories around the world are finding it increasingly hard to keep up with demand, potentially forcing them to raise prices.

But Dalio is leading his firm down a path that few other funds care to tread. Renaissance Technologies, most recently famous for its association with Breitbart donor Robert Mercer, is only $42 million short in Europe. Two Sigma Investments is betting even less than that. Kenneth Griffin’s Citadel has less than $2 billion in European company shorts. So Dalio will rise or fall virtually on his own. “It is not unusual to see strong economies accompanied by falling stock and other asset prices, which is curious to people who wonder why stocks go down when the economy is strong and don’t understand how this dynamic works,” Dalio wrote in a LinkedIn post this week. Bridgewater’s shorting spree started last fall in Italy. With the country’s big banks accumulating billions in bad debt, Bridgewater mounted a $770 million wager against Italian financial stocks.

Saddled with non-performing loans and under constant regulatory scrutiny, they made for a juicy target. Throughout the fall and into winter the bet against Italy represented the majority of Bridgewater’s publicly disclosed short positions. The initial bet was eventually raised to encompass 18 firms and nearly $3 billion. Bridgewater had flipped its portfolio in January to turn bearish on Western Europe stocks and also started shorting Japanese equities, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The hedge fund significantly raised its long U.S. equities exposure last month, the person added.

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“This market is nuts.”

Everybody’s Already Invested, So Who’s The Buyer? (ZH)

With stocks erasing their early-day losses and the VIX tumbling once again, CNBC – the go-to resource for retirees and other retail investors – was back to reassuring investors that this month’s explosion of volatility was just another dip deserving to be bought. But Embark Capital CIO Peter Toogood offered an important counterpoint during an appearance this morning where he warned his audience against exactly this kind of credulousness by ignoring the fundamental growth global growth story that seemingly every other portfolio manager has been relying on and instead pointing to one simple fact: “Everybody is already invested”.

But even with positioning stretched to such an exaggerated degree, that doesn’t necessarily mean a crash is right around the corner. Instead, Toogood foresees a “step bear market” that will continue until the PPT, newly reconstituted under the leadership of Jerome Powell, realizes that they must once again intervene…because with so much systemic debt and myriad other risks – like the dangerously underfunded pensions that we’ve highlighted again and again – a sustained selloff would be far too risky to countenance. “I noticed Dudley the other day say ‘this is small potatoes’ and warning investors not to worry about it. And I would accept that’s all true, if everybody wasn’t already invested. And I want to know who the marginal buyer of this story is. Everyone is in. Look at consumer sentiment surveys, loo at professional money managers, everyone is in. So who’s the buyer? It’s very 2007-2008.”

He added that hedge fund managers are now “sitting around scratching their heads” because even European high yield bonds – the debt of some of the worst companies on Earth – are yielding a staggeringly low 2%. Toogood also pointed out that stocks are breaking through important technical levels… “You’re breaking some very major levels in most markets outside of the US still, and that is very, very significant. That is the test of where you’d think a bear market is coming; I still do, just on valuation alone. I think this market is nuts,” Toogood said. Which is leaving asset managers in a bind… “It’s one of those extremely unpleasant moments when people need income but income is expensive and that’s the other problem we see … We are forced into high yield (bonds) and we don’t want to be there,” Toogood said.’

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“..our currency, but your problem..”

Donald Trump’s Dangerous Currency Game (Spiegel)

“There is no longer any doubt that the U.S. government is not only waging a currency war, but is also in the process of winning it,” Joachim Fels, chief economist at Pimco, says. Trump’s policies represent a threat to Europe’s recovery, a situation that has displeased the ECB. But there isn’t much the ECB can do about it. By pursuing economic policies that ignore the needs of America’s trading partners – an approach economists refer to as “beggar-thy-neighbor” – Trump has revisited an old American tradition. In the early 1970s, it was Treasury Secretary John Connally who raised the prospect of a budget deficit of $40 billion – a massive sum at the time – and justified it as “fiscal stimulus.” In response to concerns voiced by his European counterparts, worried as they were about the weak dollar, he responded with his legendary line that the dollar “is our currency, but your problem.”

Lloyd Bentsen, treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, informed the Japanese in 1993 that he urgently desired a stronger yen in order to stem the Asian trading partner’s high export surpluses. With “America First,” Trump has now elevated “beggar thy neighbor” to the status of administration doctrine. The first part of Trump’s economic policy agenda envisions stimulating the economy through tax cuts and public infrastructure investments. That would help American companies, and the rest of the world could also profit initially if the U.S. economy were to grow more rapidly and companies in Europe or Asia were to receive more orders. But it’s the second part of the Trump program that reveals the real strategic thrust.

During the same weak that the treasury secretary could be heard preaching the virtues of a weak dollar, the U.S. government imposed steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar cells. The combination of a weak dollar and protectionist measures are aimed at creating a competitive advantage for American companies versus their competitors from around the world. “The government clearly wants a weak dollar right now because inflation is moderate and a weaker dollar will make it easier for the manufacturing sector to grow,” says Barry Eichengreen, a professor for economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

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Europe will have to act. Simple as that.

US Dollar Spirals Down, Hits Lowest Point Since 2014 (WS)

The US dollar has dropped 2.0% in the past five days, 2.4% over the past month, 4.1% year-to-date, 5.3% over the past three months, and 9.4 % over the past 12 months, according to the WSJ Dollar Index. At 82.47, the index is at the lowest level since December 25, 2014: The index weighs the US dollar against a basket of 16 other currencies that account for about 80% of the global currency trading volume: Euro, Japanese Yen, Chinese Yuan, British Pound, Canadian Dollar, Mexican Peso, Australian Dollar, New Zealand Dollar, Hong Kong Dollar, South Korean Won, Swiss Franc, Swedish Krona, Singapore Dollar, Indian Rupee, Turkish Lira, and Russian Ruble. The currencies are weighted based on their foreign exchange trading volume.

Whatever the reasons may be for the decline of the dollar against this basket of currencies — everyone has their own theory, ranging from the much prophesied death of the dollar to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s actively dissing the dollar at every opportunity he gets — one thing we know: The decline started in late December 2016, after the index had peaked at 93.50. And it has not abated since. With the index currently at 82.47, it has fallen nearly 12% over those 14 months. The dominant factor in the decline of the dollar index is the strength of the euro, the second largest currency. Over those 14 months, the euro, which had been given up for dead not too long ago, has surged 20% against the dollar. The decline of the dollar is another indication that markets have blown off the Fed, similar to the 10-year Treasury yield falling for much of last year, even as the Fed was raising its target range for the federal funds rate.

The Fed keeps an eye on the dollar. A weak dollar makes imports more expensive and, given the huge trade deficit of the US, adds to inflationary pressures in the US. Over the past few years, the Fed has practically been begging for more inflation. So for the Fed, which is chomping at the bit to raise rates further, the weak dollar is a welcome sight. Conversely, a surging dollar would worry the Fed. At some point it would get nervous and chime in with the chorus emanating from the Treasury Department and the White House trying to talk down the dollar. If the dollar were to surge past certain levels, and jawboning isn’t enough to knock it down, the Fed might alter its monetary policies and might back off its rate-hike strategies or it might slow down the QE Unwind.

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“For 25- to 34-year-olds earning between £22,200 and £30,600 per year, home ownership fell to just 27% in 2016 from 65% two decades ago Good luck trying to find buyers.

Home Ownership Among Britain’s Young Adults Has ‘Collapsed’ (G.)

The chances of a young adult on a middle income owning a home have more than halved in the past two decades. New research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows how an explosion in house prices above income growth has increasingly robbed the younger generation of the ability to buy their own home. For 25- to 34-year-olds earning between £22,200 and £30,600 per year, home ownership fell to just 27% in 2016 from 65% two decades ago. Middle income young adults born in the late 1980s are now no more likely than those lower down the pay scale to own their own home. Those born in the 1970s were almost as likely as their peers on higher wages to have bought their own home during young adulthood.

Andrew Hood, a senior research economist at the IFS, said: “Home ownership among young adults has collapsed over the past 20 years, particularly for those on middle incomes.” The IFS said young adults from wealthy backgrounds are now significantly more likely than others to own their own home. Between 2014 and 2017 roughly 30% of 25- to 34-year-olds whose parents were in lower-skilled jobs such as delivery drivers or sales assistants owned their own home, versus 43% for the children of those in higher-skilled jobs such as lawyers and teachers. The study shows the growing disparities between rich and poor, as well as young and old, across the country. It also illustrates the drop in home ownership over the past decade. While those on middle incomes have seen the largest fall in ownership rates, those in the top income bracket have been least affected.

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Who needs capitalism when you can worship the golden calf?

Long article in a new series at the Nation.

Warren Buffett, Prime Example Of The Failure Of American Capitalism (Dayen)

Warren Buffett should not be celebrated as an avatar of American capitalism; he should be decried as a prime example of its failure, a false prophet leading the nation toward more monopoly and inequality. You probably didn’t realize that the same avuncular billionaire controls such diverse companies and products as See’s Candies, Duracell batteries, Justin Boots, Benjamin Moore Paints, and World Book encyclopedias. But Buffett has transformed Berkshire Hathaway, initially a relatively small textile manufacturer, into the world’s largest non-technology company by market value. Berkshire Hathaway owns over 60 different brands outright. And through Berkshire, Buffett also invests in scores of public corporations. The conglomerate closed 2016 with over $620 billion in assets.

The money mainly comes from Berkshire’s massive insurance business, composed of the auto insurer GEICO, the global underwriter General Reinsurance Corporation, and 10 other subsidiaries. Insurance premiums don’t get immediately paid out in claims; while the cash sits, Buffett can invest it. This is known as “float,” and Berkshire Hathaway’s float has ballooned from $39 million in 1970 to approximately $113 billion as of last September. It’s a huge advantage over rival investors—effectively the world’s largest interest-free loan, helping to finance Buffett’s pursuit of monopoly. “[W]e enjoy the use of free money—and, better yet, get paid for holding it,” Buffett said in his most recent investor letter. Indeed, as a 2017 Fortune article noted, with almost $100 billion in cash at the end of that year’s second fiscal quarter, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway literally has more money than it knows what to do with.

The dominant narrative around Buffett is that he invests in big, blue-chip companies whose products he enjoys, like Coca-Cola or Heinz ketchup. But Buffett’s taste for junk food cannot match his hunger for monopoly, and he scours the investment landscape to satisfy it.

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Monopoly contradicts capitalism. Well, in theory, that is.

Monopolies Game the System (Nation)

More than a century ago, Elizabeth Magie developed two sets of rules for a board game that would become known as Monopoly. There’s the one we know today: You play an aspiring real-estate tycoon, buying up properties to extract ever-larger sums from your opponents; you win when everyone else is destitute. But in Magie’s version, players could agree to switch midgame to a second rule book. Instead of paying rent to a landowner, they’d send funds to a common pot. The game would be over when the poorest player doubled their capital. Magie’s goal was to show the cruelty of monopoly power and the moral superiority of progressive taxation. Her board game was a rebuke to the slumlords and corporate giants of the Gilded Age.

Today, a few corporations once again dominate sectors of our economy. In an interview with The Nation’s George Zornick, Senator Elizabeth Warren points out that two companies sell 70% of the beer in the country; four companies produce 85% of American beef; and four airlines account for 80% of domestic seats. With monopolies squeezing out the competition and underpaying workers, profits are funneled to a tiny elite. It’s no coincidence that the three richest Americans—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett—are together worth slightly more than the bottom half of the entire US population.

Just as railroad monopolies once controlled the crucial infrastructure of 19th-century commerce, tech companies are trying to own the infrastructure of the 21st. As Stacy Mitchell explains in “The Empire of Everything,” Amazon is not only the leading retail platform, but it has developed a vast distribution network to handle package delivery. Amazon announced in February that it would begin testing its own delivery service, which could soon rival UPS and FedEx. It also runs more than a third of the world’s cloud-computing capacity, handling data for the likes of Netflix, Nordstrom, and The Nation. Unlike past monopolies, however, Amazon doesn’t want to dictate to the market; it seeks to replace the market entirely.

Under these conditions, small businesses and start-ups are struggling to compete. In 2017, there were approximately 7,000 store closings—more than triple the number in the prior year. And the percentage of companies in the United States that are new businesses has dropped by nearly half since 1978. In many industries, starting a new business is like playing Monopoly when all the squares have already been purchased: Everywhere you land, there’s a monopolist making demands, everything from fees to sell items on its website to the release of data with which to undercut you later.

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EU and US better act. Greece will start shooting soon. They have a formidable army.

Greece Warns Turkey Of Non-Peaceful Response Next Time (K.)

Athens toughened up its stance on Turkish action in the eastern Aegean, with the foreign minister and the government spokesman making it clear to Ankara that Greece’s response to another incident will not be peaceful. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said in an interview on Alpha TV late on Thursday that the incident on Monday, when a Turkish vessel rammed a Greek one off Imia island, “touched on the red line and in some sense it overstepped it.” He went on to add that there will not be another such peaceful behavior by the Greek side should such an incident recur.

Kotzias also clarified that “Imia is Greek” and warned Ankara “you should not open a gray-zone issue, because if we do, based on international law, not only are you wrong but you will also incur losses.” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos echoed Kotzias on Friday morning, warning that aggression will be met with an equal response. “If there is another act of Turkish aggression on Greek territory, there will be a response and there is no other way for us,” he told Skai TV. Greece’s verbal toughening comes as the Turkish armed forces conducted an extensive war game near the Greek-Turkish land border by Evros river in Thrace, including the scenario of crossing a river to invade a neighboring country.

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Words cannot express the sadness. Once we’ve eradicated the man of the woods, man is next.

Borneo Has Lost Half Its Orangutans This Century (Ind.)

Borneo has lost more than 100,000 orangutans in the space of just 16 years as a result of hunting and habitat loss, according to a new report. Logging, mining, oil palm, paper, and linked deforestation have been blamed for the the diminishing numbers. However, researchers also found many orangutans have vanished from more intact, forested regions, suggesting that hunting and other direct conflict between orangutans and humans continues to be a chief threat to the species. The report published in the Current Biology Journal found more than 100,000 of the island’s orangutans vanished in the period of 1999 to 2015. “Orangutans are disappearing at an alarming rate,” said Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“Their forests homes have been lost and degraded, and hunting threatens the existence of this magnificent great ape. “Immediate action is needed to reform industries that have pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction. UK consumers can make a difference through only supporting brands and retailers that buy sustainable palm oil.” Around half of the orangutans living on the island of Borneo, the largest island in Asia, were lost as a result of changes in land cover. [..] The report comes after an orangutan was shot at least 130 times with an air gun before it died earlier in the month, according to police in Borneo.

Read more …

Feb 152018
 
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Grete Stern Sueño No. 1: Artículos eléctricos para el hogar 1949

 

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)
The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)
Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)
Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)
China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)
Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)
Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)
German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)
Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)
Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)
Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)
Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

 

 

There is no escape. No matter what anyone says about recovery etc., the piper will come calling.

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)

• Global debt ‘area of weakness’ and could ‘induce financial panic’ – King warns
• Global debt to GDP now 40 per cent higher than it was a decade ago – BIS warns
• Global non-financial corporate debt grew by 15% to 96% of GDP in the past six years
• US mortgage rates hit highest level since May 2014
• US student loans near $1.4 trillion, 40% expected to default in next 5 years
• UK consumer debt hit £200b, highest level in 30 years, 25% of households behind on repayments

The ducks are beginning to line up for yet another global debt crisis. US mortgage rates are hinting at another crash, student debt crises loom in both the US and UK, consumer and corporate debt is at record levels and global debt to GDP ratio is higher than it was during the financial crisis. When you look at the figures you realise there is an air of inevitability of what is around the corner. If the last week has taught us anything, it is that markets are unprepared for the fallout that is destined to come after a decade of easy monetary policies. Global debt is more than three times the size of the global economy, the highest it has ever been. This is primarily made up of three groups: non financial corporates, governments and households. Each similarly indebted as one another.

Debt is something that has sadly run the world for a very long time, often without problems. But when that debt becomes excessive it is unmanageable. The terms change and repayments can no longer be met. This sends financial markets into a spiral. The house of cards is collapsing and suddenly it is revealed that life isn’t so hunky-day after all. Rates are set to rise and as they do they will spark more financial shocks, as we have seen this week. Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, gave warning about global debt levels earlier this week: “The areas of weakness in the current system are really focused on the amount of debt that exists, not just in the U.S. and U.K. but across the world,” he said on Bloomberg Radio last Wednesday. “Debt in the private sector relative to GDP is higher now than it was in 2007, and of course public debt is even higher still.”

Read more …

When you see US debt is out of hand, don’t stop there. All global debt is.

The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)

The US is drowning in debt and as long as rates are low it’s all fun and giggles, but there is a point where it cramps on growth and the simple question is when and where. In recent weeks we have had a nasty correction coinciding with technical overbought readings and both bonds and stocks testing 30 year old trend lines. In the meantime we continue to get data that keeps sending the same message: It’s a debt bonanza that keeps expanding and is unsustainable. Janet Yellen a few months ago said the debt to GDP ratio keeps her awake at night. Yesterday the Director of National Intelligence came out and described the national debt on an unsustainable path and a national security threat. This is literally where we are as a nation.

What’s Congress’s and the White House’s response? Spend more and blow up the deficit into the trillion+ range heading toward 2-3 trillion. What is there to say but stand in awe at the utter hubris that is being wrought. Last night the Fed came out with the latest household debt figures and it’s equally as damning, record debt and ever more required to keep consumer spending afloat:

The non-mortgage piece is particularly disturbing:

Higher interest rates will ultimately trigger the next recession as the entire debt construct will be weighted down by the burdens of cost of carry. And today’s inflation and correlated weakening retail sales data suggested that there’s price sensitivity already at these, historically speaking, still very low rates. The Fed may find itself horribly behind the curve and this will have consequences.

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Makes a lot of sense. Therefore not going to happen.

Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)

President Trump surprised a group of lawmakers during a Wednesday meeting at the White House by repeatedly mentioning a 25-cent-per-gallon increase on federal gasoline and diesel tax in order to help pay for upgrading America’s crumbling infrastructure by addressing a serious shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which will become insolvent by 2021. The tax increase was first pitched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in January, while the White House had originally been lukewarm towards the idea. The federal gasoline and diesel tax has been at 18.4 and 24.4-cents-per-gallon respectively since 1993, with no adjustments for inflation. It currently generates approximately $35 billion per year, while the federal government spends around $50 billion annually on transportation projects.

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, seemed pleasantly surprised at Trump’s repeated mention of the tax as a solution to pay for upgrading American roads, bridges and other public works. “While there are a number of issues on which President Trump and I disagree, today, we agreed that things worth having are worth paying for,” Carper said in a statement. “The president even offered to help provide the leadership necessary so that we could do something that has proven difficult in the past.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) – the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was also present at the meeting, in which he says President Trump told lawmakers he would be willing to increase federal spending beyond the White House’s $200 billion, 10-year proposal. “The president made a living building things, and he realizes that to build things takes money, takes investment,” DeFazio said.

[..] Republican leaders have already rejected the idea, however, along with various other entities tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. [..] Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) doesn’t think the gas tax has any chance of even coming up for a vote in the Senate. “He’ll never get it by McConnell,” said Grassley, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Read more …

Bloomberg always has graphs for everything. But now that I would like to see how fast personal debt has grown in China, nada. Still, this is a whole new thing: Chinese never used to borrow, and now it’s the new national pastime.

Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)

For years, economists and policymakers have hailed the propensity of Chinese to save. Among other things, they’ve pointed to low household debt as reason not to fear a financial crash in the world’s second-biggest economy. Now, though, one of China’s greatest economic strengths is becoming a crucial weakness. Over the past two weeks, as they’ve held their annual work meetings, China’s various financial regulatory bodies have raised fears that Chinese households may be overleveraged. Banking regulators sound especially concerned, and understandably so: Data released Monday showed that Chinese households borrowed 910 billion renminbi ($143 billion) in January – nearly a third of all RMB-denominated bank loans extended that month.

While too much can be made of the headline number – lending is always disproportionately large in January, and bank loans are rising as regulators crack down on more shadowy forms of financing – the pace of growth for household debt is worrying. Between January and October last year, according to recent data from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chinese household leverage rose more than eight percentage points, from 44.8% to 53.2% of GDP – a record increase. By contrast, between 2009 and 2015, households had added an average of just three percentage points to their debt-to-GDP ratio each year, and that includes a large jump of 5.5 percentage points in 2009 as banks ramped up lending in response to the global financial crisis. Before 2009, household debt levels had hovered around 18% of GDP for five years.

In other words, the debt burden for Chinese consumers has nearly tripled in the past decade. Part of that rapid debt expansion has been deliberate. China’s government has encouraged increased borrowing and spending on items like cars and houses, to boost both consumption and investment. At the G-20 summit in February 2016, China’s sober central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan remarked that rising household leverage had “a certain logic to it.” Most worryingly, though, skyrocketing home prices seem to be driving much of the increase in household debt. Higher mortgage rates – and, especially, government policy – have compounded the problem. In order to slow rising prices, officials have raised down-payment requirements, pushed banks to slow mortgage lending and placed administrative restraints on purchases. That’s led buyers to borrow from different, often more expensive, channels.

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Beijing’s dilemma: allowing capital outflows (a no-no) would bring down the yuan (a yes please). Ergo: they can achieve what they want by allowing what they can’t afford to let happen.

China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)

In the fraught history of Chinese currency policy, a new chapter could be looming this year as authorities consider the consequences of a yuan that’s testing its strongest levels since mid-2015. After successfully shutting off potentially destabilizing capital outflows and putting a floor under the yuan, policy makers may now have the luxury of looking at relaxing some of the strictures on domestic money. But China watchers warn that any moves are likely to be gradual and calibrated, given the turmoil of 2015 – when a sliding yuan spooked global markets. “Big changes in the capital account are less likely, but some slight easing can be expected,” said Xia Le at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Hong Kong. Policy makers have put a priority on deleveraging, “which is likely to cause instability,” he said – all the more reason to go cautiously on cross-border flows.

The yuan has strengthened 2.6% this year, after posting its first annual gain in four years in 2017. While no officials have clearly signaled an intent to relax controls, recent comments and moves hint at the potential for modification of the one-way capital account opening that China has been pursuing since 2016 – in which it has encouraged inflows but not outflows. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which oversees foreign-exchange reserves, said last week it sees more balanced capital flows. Pan Gongsheng, the director of SAFE, said last week that there will be a “neutral” policy in managing cross-border transactions. In a free trade zone in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, officials have revived a program allowing for overseas investment that was suspended in 2015. Authorities in January removed a “counter-cyclical” factor from the daily fixing of the yuan, a move seen to let the market take more of a role.

Any return to the sustained appreciation the yuan saw over the decade to 2015 could hurt Chinese exporters’ profits – just as big companies face challenges from the leadership’s drive to reduce excess credit and cut back polluting industries. Yet the disorderly moves that followed 2015 efforts to promote international use of the yuan serve as a warning against any sudden lifting of barriers to capital outflows. “A degree of undershooting” in the dollar against the yuan “is probably necessary to provide reformists in China’s policy circle a window of opportunity to lobby for more capital account liberalization,” analysts led by David Bloom, global head of currency strategy at HSBC in London, wrote in a recent report.

Read more …

Merkel should have stepped down. This can only end in chaos.

Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)

Angela Merkel once claimed she had bested Vladimir Putin during their first meeting in the Kremlin, employing what she said was an old KGB technique: staring at the Russian leader in silence for several long minutes. As the sun rose over a frigid Berlin on Feb. 7, the German chancellor’s rivals from the Social Democratic Party used the same tactic. This time, Merkel blinked. Merkel and her team had spent the previous day and night at the headquarters of her Christian Democratic Union locked in tense negotiations with the SPD leadership. The SPD had issued an ultimatum that broke with long-standing protocol of German coalition-building: Off the bat, they demanded three key posts, including the finance and foreign ministries, power centers from which the SPD planned to set the government’s agenda, especially on Europe.

An earlier attempt at an alliance with the Greens and the Free Democrats had failed. A second collapse in talks, more than four months after the September election, threatened to sweep out the governing elite, including the chancellor who has dominated German politics for 12 years. As delegates were summoned back to the CDU building, they could barely believe what Merkel and her party’s Bavarian sister group, the Christian Social Union, had negotiated. With so much at stake, she surrendered the portfolios for finance, foreign affairs, and labor to the Social Democrats (though the deal still needs to be approved by the SPD’s 464,000 members). CDU lawmaker Olav Gutting captured the mood with gallows humor. “Puuuh! At least we kept the Chancellery!” he tweeted Wednesday. On Sunday, Merkel took to the airwaves to explain her position. “It was a painful decision,” she told the ZDF television network. “But what was the alternative?”

Read more …

The New York Times making the case for Trump’s border wall?

Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)

The scourge of crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been all but forgotten amid national concern over the opioid crisis. But 12 years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance. Here in Oregon, meth-related deaths vastly outnumber those from heroin. At the United States border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago. Methamphetamine, experts say, has never been purer, cheaper or more lethal. Oregon took a hard line against meth in 2006, when it began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make it. “It was like someone turned off a switch,” said J.R. Ujifusa, a senior prosecutor in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. “But where there is a void,” he added, “someone fills it.”

The decades-long effort to fight methamphetamine is a tale with two takeaways. One: The number of domestic meth labs has declined precipitously, and along with it the number of children harmed and police officers sickened by exposure to dangerous chemicals. But also, two: There is more meth on the streets today, more people are using it, and more of them are dying. [..] In the early 2000s, meth made from pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in drugstore products like Sudafed, poured out of domestic labs like those in the early seasons of the hit television show “Breaking Bad.” Narcotics squads became glorified hazmat teams, spending entire shifts on cleanup. In 2004, the Portland police responded to 114 meth houses. “We rolled from meth lab to meth lab,” said Sgt. Jan M. Kubic of the county sheriff’s office. “Patrol would roll up on a domestic violence call, and there’d be a lab in the kitchen. Everything would come to a screeching halt.”

[..] But meth, it turns out, was only on hiatus. When the ingredients became difficult to come by in the United States, Mexican drug cartels stepped in. Now fighting meth often means seizing large quantities of ready-made product in highway stops. The cartels have inundated the market with so much pure, low-cost meth that dealers have more of it than they know what to do with. Under pressure from traffickers to unload large quantities, law enforcement officials say, dealers are even offering meth to customers on credit. In Portland, the drug has made inroads in black neighborhoods, something experienced narcotics investigators say was unheard-of five years ago.

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Will they sponsor this in Greek cities too?

German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)

“Car nation” Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen’s devastating “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity. “We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three ministers including the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, wrote to EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday. “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany,” the ministers added.

The proposal will be tested by “the end of this year at the latest” in five cities across western Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. The move is a radical one for the normally staid world of German politics – especially as Chancellor Angela Merkel is presently only governing in a caretaker capacity, as Berlin waits for the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD) to confirm a hard-fought coalition deal. On top of ticketless travel, other steps proposed Tuesday include further restrictions on emissions from vehicle fleets like buses and taxis, low-emissions zones or support for car-sharing schemes. Action is needed soon, as Germany and eight fellow EU members including Spain, France and Italy sailed past a 30 January deadline to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

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Never sell your basic needs to foreigners.

Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)

The privatization of public services “was one of the central means of reversing the corrosive and corrupting effects of socialism,” Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs. “Just as nationalisation was at the heart of the collectivist programme by which Labour governments sought to remodel British society, so privatisation is at the centre of any programme of reclaiming territory for freedom.” Those sentiments fueled a sell-off that put nearly every state-owned service or property in Britain on the auction block in the final decade of the 20th century, eventually including the country’s expansive public transportation infrastructure. Enshrined by parliamentary acts under Mrs. Thatcher and implemented by her two immediate successors, John Major, a Conservative, and Tony Blair of New Labour, the gospel of privatization was embraced by leaders around the world, notably including Mrs. Thatcher’s closest overseas ally, President Ronald Reagan.

In the realm of transportation, that gospel was soon betrayed by its own chief disciples. Put simply, there were few private-sector buyers with the expertise and deep pockets necessary to maintain control of a transit system that serves approximately seven billion passengers per year. With minimal transparency, operational ownership of the network of train and bus lines that crisscross the 607-square-mile sprawl of Greater London, linking it to the far-flung corners of Britain, was peddled in bits and pieces by the British state or acquired in corporate takeovers. But the new bosses were not private, business-savvy British firms. By 2000, the masters of British public transit — thanks to a scheme that was intended to replace state waste and sloth with soundly capitalist business principles — were foreign governments, most of them members of the European Union.

In short, the privatization devolved into a de facto re-nationalization — but under the direction of foreign states — that somehow went largely unnoticed. It now poses a startling and unprecedented dilemma thanks to Brexit, which will soon divorce Britain from the state bureaucracies beyond the English Channel that literally keep its economy in motion. The largest single stakeholder and operator in British transit is the Federal Republic of Germany [..] Germany is followed closely in the ranks of British transit bosses by France, proprietor of the London United bus system, among many other holdings. Its iconic red double-deckers openly announce themselves as the property of the RATP Group (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the state-owned Paris transport company, and are emblazoned with its logo of a zigzagging River Seine flowing through an abstract representation of the French capital.

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As EU growth is at 10-year highs, boomers keep it all to themselves.

Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)

The poor don’t often decide elections in the advanced world, and yet they are being wooed heavily in Italy’s current electoral campaign. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Forza Italia, has proposed a “dignity income,” while Beppe Grillo, the comedian and shadow leader of the Five Star Movement, has likewise called for a “citizenship income.” Both of these proposals – which would entail generous monthly payments to the disadvantaged – are questionable in terms of their design. But they do at least shed light on the rapidly worsening problem of widespread poverty across Europe. Poverty represents an extreme form of income polarization, but it is not the same thing as inequality. Even in a deeply unequal society, those who have less do not necessarily lack the means to live a decent and fulfilling life.

But those who live in poverty do, because they suffer from complete social exclusion, if not outright homelessness. Even in advanced economies, the poor often lack access to the financial system, struggle to pay for food or utilities, and die prematurely. Of course, not all of the poor live so miserably. But many do, and in Italy their electoral weight has become undeniable. Almost five million Italians, or roughly 8% of the population, struggle to afford basic goods and services. And in just a decade, this cohort has almost tripled in size, becoming particularly concentrated in the country’s south. At the same time, another 6% live in relative poverty, meaning they do not have enough disposable income to benefit from the country’s average standard of living.

The situation is equally worrisome at a continental level. In the EU in 2016, 117.5 million people, or roughly one-fourth of the population, were at risk of falling into poverty or a state of social exclusion. Since 2008, Italy, Spain, and Greece have added almost six million people to that total, while in France and Germany the proportion of the population that is poor has remained stable, at around 20%. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the probability of falling into poverty increased overall, but particularly for the young, owing to cuts in non-pension social benefits and a tendency in European labor markets to preserve insiders’ jobs. From 2007 to 2015, the proportion of Europeans aged 18-29 at risk of falling into poverty increased from 19% to 24%; for those 65 and older, it fell from 19% to 14%.

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“..Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant..” What will the world do when the fighting starts? It could at any moment now.

Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)

The chief advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Turkey’s TRT channel that he is “in no doubt” that the US has a plan to make Greece attack Turkey while its military is engaged in Syria. Turkey’s response, Yigit Bulut said, will be tough, adding that Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant,” he said and warned that terrible consequences would follow for Greece. Bulut made similar comments earlier in the month referring to Imia over which Greece and Turkey came close to war in 1996. “We will break the arms and legs of any officers, of the prime minister or of any minister who dares to step onto Imia in the Aegean,” Bulut said.

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It may take Putin to halt Erdogan. But he will expect a reward for that.

Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

Greece is expecting the US administration to intervene and de-escalate the crisis with Turkey over the Imia islets, according to diplomatic sources in Athens. The Greek government is hoping that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is currently in Ankara for an official visit, will persuade the Turkish leadership to tone down its actions in the Aegean. The US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt will also be in Ankara and will brief Tillerson about recent developments. On Monday night, a Turkish patrol boat rammed into a Greek coast guard vessel near Imia, in the most serious incident between the two NATO allies in recent years. The two countries went almost to war in 1996 over sovereignty of Imia islets (Kardak in Turkish).

A confrontation was avoided then largely due to the intervention of Washington. The Department of State issued a statement on Tuesday stressing that Greece and Turkey should take measures to reduce the tension in the region. On Wednesday, Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos briefed Greece’s NATO allies on the incident at Imia and presented audiovisual material that prove Turkey’s provocation. “The Imia islets are Greek, the Greek Coast Guard and Navy are there and we will not back down on issues of national sovereignty for any reason. We ask our allies in the EU and NATO to adopt a clear stance,” he told AMNA. He also said that it was inconceivable that Turkey, a NATO ally, behaved like this toward another ally, in this case Greece.

Read more …

Feb 142018
 
 February 14, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Times Square, New York 1954

 

The Payback Date For Today’s Economic Recovery Is Getting Closer (WEF/PS)
Big Reset Looms for Corporate Credit Market (WS)
Record $23 Billion Flees World’s Largest ETF (BBG)
Wednesday Could Be a Huge Day for the VIX (BBG)
Europe Has a $1 Trillion Bad-Loan Problem (BBG)
Draghi Faces Impossible Task To Weaken The Euro; He Might Not Even Try (CNBC)
Greek Bond Yields Keep Increasing (K.)
Britons Face Surge In Household Debts In Next Five Years (G.)
The World’s Biggest Housing Bubbles According To UBS (VisualC)
UK House Price Growth Accelerates To 5.2% (Ind.)
First-Time Buyers Hit 10-Year High As Buy-to-let Property Sales Fade (G.)
House Price Flatlining Is A Good Thing, Despite Estate Agents’ Gripes (G.)
Boris Johnson: Stopping Brexit Would Be ‘Disastrous’ (Ind.)

 

 

But nary a soul still sees a payback ahead….

The Payback Date For Today’s Economic Recovery Is Getting Closer (WEF/PS)

In recent days, the initial New Year optimism of many investors may have been jolted by fears of an economic slowdown resulting from interest-rate hikes. But no one should be surprised if the current sharp fall in equity prices is followed by a swift return to bullishness, at least in the short term. Despite the recent slide, the mood supporting stocks remains out of sync with the caution expressed by political leaders. Market participants could easily be forgiven for their early-year euphoria. After a solid 2017, key macroeconomic data – on unemployment, inflation, and consumer and business sentiment – as well as GDP forecasts all indicated that strong growth would continue in 2018. The result – in the United States and across most major economies – has been a rare moment of optimism in the context of the last decade.

For starters, the macro data are positively synchronized and inflation remains tame. Moreover, the IMF’s recent upward revision of global growth data came at precisely the point in the cycle when the economy should be showing signs of slowing. Moreover, stock markets’ record highs are no longer relying so much on loose monetary policy for support. Bullishness is underpinned by evidence of a notable uptick in capital investment. In the US, gross domestic private investment rose 5.1% year on year in the fourth quarter of 2017 and is nearly 90% higher than at the trough of the Great Recession, in the third quarter of 2009. This is emblematic of a deeper resurgence in corporate spending – as witnessed in durable goods orders. New orders for US manufactured durable goods beat expectations, climbing 2.9% month on month to December 2017 and 1.7% in November.

Other data tell a similar story. In 2017, the US Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization index recorded its largest calendar year gain since 2010, increasing 3.6%. In addition, US President Donald Trump’s reiteration of his pledge to seek $1.5 trillion in spending on infrastructure and public capital programs will further bolster market sentiment. All of this bullishness will continue to stand in stark contrast to warnings by many world leaders. In just the last few weeks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned that the current international order is under threat. French President Emmanuel Macron noted that globalization is in the midst of a major crisis, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated that the unrest we see around the world is palpable and “isn’t going away.”

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Ne’er a lesson learned: Collateralized Loan Obligations.

Big Reset Looms for Corporate Credit Market (WS)

“Leveraged loans,” extended to junk-rated and highly leveraged companies, are too risky for banks to keep on their books. Banks sell them to loan mutual funds, or they slice-and-dice them into structured Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs) and sell them to institutional investors. This way, the banks get the rich fees but slough off the risk to investors, such as asset managers and pension funds. This has turned into a booming market. Issuance has soared. And given the pandemic chase for yield, the risk premium that investors are demanding to buy the highest rated “tranches” of these CLOs has dropped to the lowest since the Financial Crisis. Mass Mutual’s investment subsidiary, Barings, has packaged leveraged loans into a $517-million CLO that is sold in “tranches” of different risk levels.

[..] These floating-rate CLOs are attractive to asset managers in an environment of rising interest rates. If rates rise further, Libor rises in tandem, and investors would be protected against rising rates by the Libor-plus feature of the yields. Libor has surged in near-parallel with the US three-month Treasury yield and on Monday reached 1.83%. So the yield of Barings CLO was 2.82%. While the Libor-plus structure compensates investors for the risk of rising yields and inflation, it does not compensate investors for credit risk!

[..] One of the measures that track whether “financial conditions” are getting “easier” or tighter is the weekly St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index. In this index, zero represents “normal.” A negative number indicates that financial conditions are easier than “normal”; a positive number indicates that they’re tighter than “normal.” The index, which is made up of 18 components – including six yield spreads, including one based on the 3-month Libor – had dropped to a historic low of -1.6 on November 3, 2017. Despite the Fed’s rate hikes and the accelerating QE Unwind, it has since ticked up only a smidgen and remains firmly in negative territory, at -1.35.

The Financial Stress Index and the two-year Treasury yield usually move roughly in parallel. But since July 2016, about the time the Fed stopped flip-flopping on rate hikes, the two-year yield began rising and more recently spiking, while the Financial Stress Index initially fell. The chart below shows this disconnect between the St. Louis Fed’s Financial Stress Index (red, left scale) and the two-year Treasury yield (black, right scale). Note the tiny rise of the red line over the past few weeks (circled in blue):

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Volatility ain’t done with you yet.

Record $23 Billion Flees World’s Largest ETF (BBG)

Investors actively abandoned the world’s biggest passive fund during the onset of market mayhem. The SPDR S&P 500 exchange-traded fund (ticker SPY) suffered a record $23.6 billion in outflows last week amid the worst momentum swing in history for the underlying U.S. equity benchmark. Outflows amounted to 8% of the fund’s total assets at the start of the week, a rate of withdrawals not seen since August 2010. A blowup in volatility-linked products sent markets haywire, eliciting waves of risk aversion from jittery investors. Strategists at JPMorgan said the swiftness and severity of the positioning unwind is a sign that further selling from the likes of commodity trading advisors and risk parity funds “should be limited from here.”

“The picture we are getting in the U.S. equity ETF space is one of advanced rather than early state de-risking,” they added. The five-session stampede for the exits erased the previous nine weeks of inflows into the fund, which is issued by State Street. The combination of price declines and withdrawals erased $38.6 billion in SPY’s assets. That’s nearly double the second-worst showing of $19.4 billion in asset shrinkage during the week ending Aug. 21, 2015, when China’s surprise devaluation of the yuan roiled markets. Prior to this recent market tumult, extreme enthusiasm for U.S. equities had propelled the fund’s total assets above $300 billion.

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What you say? Volatility?

Wednesday Could Be a Huge Day for the VIX (BBG)

Tomorrow’s VIX options expiration could prove extra volatile for the gauge. The Cboe Volatility Index tends to have bigger swings on days its contracts mature, with intraday moves of 13% on average on the past 12 monthly expirations. That compares with a mean daily fluctuation of 10% in the year through January. Of course, that was before this month, when a record VIX surge on Feb. 5 sent its average intraday move for February to almost 60%. What’s more, the recent market turmoil has led to a surge in the number of VIX contracts, and put open interest almost tripled to a record since the Jan. 17 expiration. Counting puts and calls, there are 15.4 million VIX options outstanding, and 40% of them mature tomorrow. While most stock-index options expire on the third Friday of every month, monthly VIX contracts expire two days earlier, on the Wednesday.

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Wait for rates to rise.

Europe Has a $1 Trillion Bad-Loan Problem (BBG)

For European banks, it’s a headache that just won’t go away: the €944 billion ($1.17 trillion) of non-performing loans that’s weighing down their balance sheets. Economists say the pile of past-due and delinquent debt makes it harder for banks to lend more money, hurting their earnings. European authorities are prodding lenders to sell or wind down non-performing credit, but they’re split on how to tackle the issue, and some investors are disappointed by the pace of progress.

The problem is particularly acute in the countries that were hit hardest by the sovereign debt crisis. Greece, which has yet to exit its bailout program, tops the list of non-performing loans as a share of total credit, while Italy has the biggest pile of bad debt in absolute terms.

Italian banks have fixed goals for shrinking their bad credit levels by selling portfolios or winding down loans. Intesa Sanpaolo, the country’s biggest bank by market value, got a head start on its rivals two years ago and plans to accelerate the reduction of non-performing loans, Chief Executive Officer Carlo Messina said last month. He says other Italian banks “are doing the right job” and should make further progress this year.

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Trumped.

Draghi Faces Impossible Task To Weaken The Euro; He Might Not Even Try (CNBC)

Mario Draghi is facing yet another headache this year as a strong currency threatens to derail his quest to keep prices stable, with many analysts suggesting there’s no easy way out for the president of the ECB. Investors have been flocking to the single currency as the euro zone economy keeps growing and political risks dissipate. However, that could become a problem for the ECB as a stronger currency can mean that European-produced products become pricier and less attractive outside the region. The euro has risen nearly 3% against the U.S. dollar since the start of the year, at a time when the ECB has been assessing how to reduce its monetary stimulus – which aims to increase lending and stoke consumer prices. At the bank’s last press conference in January, Draghi admitted that recent volatility in the exchange rate was a “source of uncertainty.”

The ECB’s primary target has always been inflation and not the exchange rate and Draghi — like many central bankers around the world — has been cautious when speaking of his own currency. However, analysts believe that Draghi wouldn’t be able to talk down the euro, even if he wanted to. “I believe it will be difficult for the ECB to talk the euro down in a very significant manner as it has already pretty much exhausted its preferred expansionary monetary policy instruments which it could use to weaken the currency (rate hikes and QE),” Thu Lan Nguyen at Commerzbank told CNBC via email. “And as the G-20 nations have agreed that they will refrain from manipulating their exchange rates, interventions are not a viable option either. Or even directly talking the euro down for that matter, because other nations would see this as a violation of the agreement as well,” she said.

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As everyone else’s yields rise (often from below zero), Greece is helpless.

Greek Bond Yields Keep Increasing (K.)

Greek bond yields continued to rise Tuesday, increasing worries about the cost of borrowing the country will face once it has to cover all of its financing needs through the market. At the same time Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos is adamant that Greece will not need a precautionary credit line and is embarking on a series of contacts in an attempt to attract investor interest. Tsakalotos departed on Tuesday for Paris for meetings with representatives of investment companies, hoping to convince them about the prospects of the Greek economy. He will continue his mission in London on Thursday. He is due back to Athens on Friday. The Greek 10-year bond saw its yield climb further on Tuesday, reaching 4.38% from 4.29% on Monday, while the yield on five-year paper advanced from 3.64% to 3.77% in a day. The 7-year debt yield exceeded 4%, having been sold to investors with a 3.5% yield just last Thursday.

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I shudder to imagine what Britain will look like in 5 years time.

Britons Face Surge In Household Debts In Next Five Years (G.)

Britons will spend almost a third more on their mortgages and other household debts over the next five years, according to new data, sparking fears many may struggle to cope with mounting costs if interest rates rise as predicted. The projection, revealed by a freedom of information request to the Office for Budget Responsibility, found household debt servicing costs were set to climb 29% by 2023, the vast majority of which are likely to be mortgages. The rise may take homeowners by surprise, given that costs fell 9% over the previous five years and also declined as a share of household income by almost a quarter due to historically low interest rates.

The Bank of England has indicated that it plans to raise interest rates from as early as May. On Monday the Resolution Foundation warned it could hit millions of low-income families who have relied on cheap credit. The Bank’s governor, Mark Carney, has said he believes the growing economy, including GDP growth and rising average wages, warrants a rise in interest rates from their low of 0.5%. Labour’s analysis found that an average household would see an increase of £468 in annual debt costs, from £1,983 in 2018 to £2,451 by 2023. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, called the figures “eye-watering increases in the potential costs faced by working families at a time when incomes are being squeezed”.

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Nice series of articles on UK housing. Nice because contradictory.

The World’s Biggest Housing Bubbles According To UBS (VisualC)

If you had $1 billion to spend on safe real estate assets, where would you look to buy? For many funds, financial institutions, and wealthy individuals, the perception is that the world’s financial centers are the places to be. After all, world-class cities like New York, London, and Hong Kong will never go out of style, and their extremely robust and high-density city centers limit the supply of quality assets to buy. But what happens when too many people pile into a “safe” asset? According to UBS, certain cities have seen prices rise at rates that are potentially not sustainable – and eight of these financial centers are at risk of having real estate bubbles that could eventually deflate.

Every year, UBS publishes the Global Real Estate Bubble Index, and the most recent edition shows several key markets in bubble territory. The bank highlights Toronto as the biggest potential bubble risk, noting that real prices have doubled over 13 years, while real rents and real income have only increased 5% and 10% respectively. However, the largest city in Canada was certainly not the only global financial center with real estate appreciating at rapid rates in the last year. In Munich, Toronto, Amsterdam, Sydney and Hong Kong, prices rose more than 10% in the last year alone. Annual increases at a 10% clip would lead to the doubling of prices every seven years, something the bank says is unsustainable.

In the last year, there were three key markets where prices did not rise: London, Milan, and Singapore. London is particularly notable, since it holds more millionaires than any other city in the world and is rated as the #1 financial center globally.

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Article above: Prices did not rise in London. Article below: they did.

UK House Price Growth Accelerates To 5.2% (Ind.)

UK house price growth accelerated to 5.2% in the year to December, new official data shows. That was a rise from 5% in the twelve months to November. The jump exceeds rises in average wages, prompting experts to warn of a further strain on affordability. The average UK house price hit £227,000 in December 2017, up £1,000 from the previous month and £12,000 higher than in December 2016. The house price index compiled by the Office for National Statistics and the Land Registry shows Scotland and the South-west experienced the highest annual house price growth, registering 7.7% and 7.5% respectively.

Average prices in England rose 5% in the year, to £244,000 while Wales saw house prices increase by 5.4% over the last 12 months to stand at £154,000. Growth in Northern Ireland was slightly more subdued, with the average price rising 4.3% to £130,000. Richard Snook, a senior economist at PwC, said the overall UK rise was above his projection made at the start of 2017. [..] “In terms of regional trends, London prices showed a slight recovery from the sharp fall in November so the picture is one of a market that has plateaued since the summer. London prices are just 2.5% above their level a year ago.

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And first time buyers rise. That’s supposed to be a good thing.

First-Time Buyers Hit 10-Year High As Buy-to-let Property Sales Fade (G.)

The number of first-time buyers hit the highest level for a decade in 2017 while lending for buy-to-let has gone into retreat, according to official figures. A total of 365,000 buyers took ownership of their first home last year, an increase of 7.4% on 2016 and the highest number since 2006, said UK Finance, the trade body for Britain’s banks. Its data showed that the average first-time buyer was 30 and had an income of £41,000. Property experts said the government’s help-to-buy programme plus lower deposit and cheap mortgage deals propelled first-time buyers in 2017. But in a sign that the boom may be waning, the figures for December show the number slipped compared with the same month last year. The slowdown comes despite the stamp duty cut in the November budget, which is expected to save four out of five first-time buyers up to £5,000.

The raft of tax measures on buy-to-let introduced last year has sent the sector swiftly into retreat. There were 5,300 new buy-to-let house purchase mortgages completed in December, 17.2% fewer than in the same month a year earlier. Paul Smee, of UK Finance, said: “2017 saw the number of first-time buyers reach its highest level in a decade, which is welcome news for those getting started on the housing ladder. “But although the market remains competitive there is no room for complacency, with weaker December figures consistent with our market forecast of subdued growth this year. [..] Separate figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that house price inflation in 2017 was 5.2%, taking the price of a typical UK home to £226,760.

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OK, we’ve had rising prices and falling prices. Flatlining is door no. 3.

House Price Flatlining Is A Good Thing, Despite Estate Agents’ Gripes (G.)

Over the past year the rate of house price inflation has fallen while the number of first-time buyers has risen to its highest level since 2006. These two facts are connected: the reason young people have become renters rather than owner-occupiers is that property became expensive. Property has become so dear that the average first-time buyer is now 30 years old and has a salary of £41,000 a year. Owner-occupation rates have fallen from 70% to 63% over the past decade and it is not difficult to see why. Ultra-low interest rates mean that it has never been cheaper to service a mortgage, but that doesn’t matter all that much when the price of a home relative to incomes is so high.

For those who want to buy their own home, the good news is that house-price inflation will be modest in 2018. Earnings growth is still around 2.5%; the Bank of England is warning that interest rates are likely to go up faster and by more than previously expected; and tax changes that have helped cause a 17% annual drop in buy-to-let purchases in the year to December are going to become more stringent in April. House prices would already be falling were it not for the fact that interest rates and unemployment are low. It was the combination of 15% interest rates and a doubling of the jobless total that caused the property-price collapse of the early 1990s, and a repeat of that looks highly improbable because of a (welcome) lack of distressed sellers.

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For his career.

Boris Johnson: Stopping Brexit Would Be ‘Disastrous’ (Ind.)

Boris Johnson will say he fears people are becoming “even more determined” in their efforts to stop Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU), as he sets out in a major speech what allies claim is a liberal vision of Brexit. The Foreign Secretary’s Valentine’s Day address – entitled the Road to Brexit – will be the first in a series of set pieces from Cabinet ministers and preludes Theresa May’s address in Germany this weekend. At a central London location, Mr Johnson will say he fears that some are becoming “even more determined” to stop Brexit and “frustrate the will of the people”.

“I believe that would be a disastrous mistake that would lead to permanent and ineradicable feelings of betrayal,” Mr Johnson will say. “We cannot and will not let it happen.” “But if we are to carry this project through to national success – as we must – then we must reach out to those who still have anxieties. “I want to try today to anatomise at least some of those fears and to show to the best of my ability that they are unfounded, and that the very opposite is usually true: that Brexit is not grounds for fear but hope.”

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Feb 132018
 
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Camille Corot Study for “The Destruction of Sodom” 1843

 

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)
‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)
How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)
Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)
These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)
China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)
Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)
Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)
An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)
Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)
Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

 

 

“Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount.”

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)

Yea….it’s that psychology thing. Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount. This behavioral bias of investors is one of the most serious risks arising from ETFs as the concentration of too much capital in too few places.

But this concentration risk in ETF’s is not the first time this has occurred: In the early 70’s it was the “Nifty Fifty” stocks, Then Mexican and Argentine bonds a few years after that; “Portfolio Insurance” was the “thing” in the mid -80’s; Dot.com anything was a great investment in 1999; Real estate has been a boom/bust cycle roughly every other decade, but 2006 was a doozy; Today, it’s ETF’s and Bitcoin.

Risk concentration always seems rational at the beginning, and the initial successes of the trends it creates can be self-reinforcing. Until it goes in the other direction. While the sell-off last week was not particularly unusual, it was the uniformity of the price moves which revealed the fallacy “passive investing” as investors headed for the door all at the same time. Such a uniform sell-off is indicative of what we have been warning about for the last several months. For price chasing investors, last week’s plunge should serve as a warning. “With everyone crowded into the ‘ETF Theater,’ the ‘exit’ problem should be of serious concern. Unfortunately, for most investors, they are likely stuck at the very back of the theater.

I warned of this previously: “At some point, that reversion process will take hold. It is then investor ‘psychology’ will collide with ‘margin debt’ and ETF liquidity. It will be the equivalent of striking a match, lighting a stick of dynamite and throwing it into a tanker full of gasoline. When the ‘herding’ into ETF’s begins to reverse, it will not be a slow and methodical process but rather a stampede with little regard to price, valuation or fundamental measures. Importantly, as prices decline it will trigger margin calls which will induce more indiscriminate selling. The forced redemption cycle will cause catastrophic spreads between the current bid and ask pricing for ETF’s.

As investors are forced to dump positions to meet margin calls, the lack of buyers will form a vacuum causing rapid price declines which leave investors helpless on the sidelines watching years of capital appreciation vanish in moments. Don’t believe me? It happened in 2008 as the ‘Lehman Moment’ left investors helpless watching the crash.” “Over a 3-week span, investors lost 29% of their capital and 44% over the entire 3-month period. This is what happens during a margin liquidation event. It is fast, furious and without remorse.” Make no mistake we are sitting on a “full tank of gas.”

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No! “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options..”

‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)

A scheme to manipulate Wall Street’s fear gauge, VIX, poses risk to the entire equity market and costs investors hundreds of millions of dollars a month, a law firm on behalf of an “anonymous whistleblower” told U.S. financial regulators and urged them to investigate before additional losses are suffered. The Washington-based law firm which represents an anonymous person who claims to have held senior roles in the investment business, told the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Monday that he discovered a market manipulation scheme that takes advantage of a widespread flaw in the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index (VIX).

The CBOE Volatility Index measures the cost of buying options and is the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term stock market volatility. “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options and without needing to physically engage in any trading or deploying any capital,” it said in a letter. Those bets against volatility unraveled last week as the benchmark S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered their biggest respective percentage drops since August 2011. Investors using exchange-traded products linked to the VIX were pummeled and two banks, Credit Suisse and Nomura, said they would terminate two exchange traded notes that bet on low volatility in stock prices.

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Try 6%, 7%.

How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)

Mortgage rates are now at their highest level in four years and poised to move even higher. The timing couldn’t be worse, as the usually busy spring housing market kicked into gear early this year amid higher home prices and strong competition for a record low supply of homes for sale. Add it all up, and affordability is starting to hurt. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed is now right around 4.50%, still low when looking historically, but buyers over the past six years have gotten more used to rates in the 3% range. Mortgage rates have not been at 5% since 2011. A 5% rate would cause more than a quarter of today’s homebuyers to slow their plans, according to a Redfin survey of 4,000 consumers at the end of last year. Just 6% said they would drop their plans to buy altogether.

About one-fifth of consumers said 5% rates would cause them to move with more urgency to purchase a home, fearing rates would rise even further. Another fifth said they would consider more affordable areas or just buy a smaller home. Despite rate concerns, the bigger issue for buyers is changes to tax laws that had lowered the cost of homeownership. Specifically, the deduction on property taxes is now limited to $10,000. While that does not affect homeowners in the majority of the country, it does hit those in high-cost states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois, and those in higher-priced housing markets like California. Some have claimed that higher rates and the new tax law will put downward pressure on home prices, alleviating some of the current sticker shock, but other factors are fighting that assertion.

“Tight credit, lack of inventory and high demand are the major factors that tell us there’s no housing bubble, despite rapid price increases,” said Redfin’s chief economist, Nela Richardson. “There are still many more buyers than the current housing supply can support, with no major relief in sight.”

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From Australia. Check interest-only where you live. Big Threat.

Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)

Interest-only property investors seeking to switch their loan to principal and interest may be forced to sell because of lenders’ tough new serviceability requirements. A typical borrower paying 4.5% on a $400,000 loan will have to prove to their lender they can meet repayments for a 7.25% loan, or an increase in annual repayments from $18,000 to more than $32,700. The higher serviceability rates have been introduced after many investors took out their loans and are forcing borrowers to try and sell their properties, despite markets beginning to soften. It’s worse for many self-managed super fund investors who bought investment properties and are boxed in from making bigger payments because of annual caps on the size of their contributions. Real estate agents are warning the cash flow crunch is causing mortgage stress to rapidly spread from one-time mining boom towns and the outer suburbs into prestigious inner suburbs.

“Clients are ringing to say they need to refinance and their next call is that they need to sell,” said Andrew Fawell, director of Beller Property Group. Mr Fawell, whose business covers inner Melbourne within 10 kilometres of the central business district, has been asked to value four potential mortgagee property sales in the past month after having none in the past two years. “Many investors who bought two or three apartments with, in many cases, only 10% deposit with cheap interest-only loans are beginning to feel the heat,” Mr Fawell said. “These numbers will get a lot worse as investors find it harder to service their debt.”

The potential problem arises for many three- to five-year fixed rate loans that have reached the end of their terms and the much stricter regime introduced by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Many borrowers deposited only 10%. In recent years most major lenders have introduced a 7.25% “floor for serviceability” for investor and owner-occupier loans, which is the minimum rate at which the bank will assess a home loan. Serviceability is the lenders’ assessment of the borrowers’ capacity to afford the loan and takes into account possibly higher future interest rates. It is usually assessed by a review of income and fixed commitments over the life of the loan and potential rental income.

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The ECB supports those parties that don’t need it.

These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)

This is tapering? With the economic recovery well under way in Europe the European Central Bank has cut its government bond purchases by two-thirds. Fair enough. However, it is not reining in its involvement in company debt. The securities now comprise about 20% of monthly purchases, up from 7% at the start of the program in mid-2016. The total amount could top €200 billion ($244 billion) before quantitative easing ends. If it had any self-knowledge the ECB should be aware of the problems it’s creating. The fact that, by its purchases, it has soaked up all the liquidity in the secondary market and has had to turn to the primary market should be a warning sign. The central bank’s growing involvement in company borrowing should be causing ructions among the hawks on the Governing Council, who seem alive to the dangers of being late in withdrawing stimulus.

Yet their silence is deafening. Through QE the ECB has invested in over 230 individual companies, and with an average maturity of 5.6 years it’s impossible to see them as being exposed only in the short term. Performance has been decent – spreads have tightened on about three-quarters of its holdings. The odd misstep, such as having to liquidate Steinhoff or German fertilizer maker K+S bonds when they fell below investment grade, can be overlooked. The knock-on effect of such largess is that corporate bond spreads have had a seemingly unending streak of achieving record lows. Support for credit markets in times of strife is one thing. But driving outsized performance isn’t just storing up trouble for an individual company or investor for the future, it’s a reckless refusal to allow financial discipline to inform the decision making of actors in the financial system.

[..] The surge of demand for additional tier one bank capital is another particularly worrying phenomenon. Investors face a total loss if the issuing bank’s capital ratios fall below regulatory requirements. Raiffeisen Bank was able in January to issue an AT1 perpetual bond at 4.5%, having issued a similar 6.125% AT1 security in June. Though there was a one-notch credit-rating upgrade, that can hardly justify such an enormous improvement. And 4.5% can never be enough compensation for the risk of getting completely wiped out.

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Now Beijing wants to push rental housing. Easier to control?

China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)

While all eyes are on China’s stocks rout after the U.S. swoon, there’s a troubled sector that’s garnering fewer headlines but will have broader reverberations – real estate. Chinese property stocks slumped last week, dragged down not just by the global sell-off but by worries this may be the year when housing finally takes a hit. To date, Beijing’s crackdown on risk amid soaring household debt has had little effect on prices. December data showed values in small cities continued to rise, while they were mostly flat in top-tier conurbations like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Beijing. There are several reasons, though, why the 13-year rally in house prices must end at some point. First, banks are making borrowing tough, not only raising costs for home loans but also restricting supply, especially in major centers such as Beijing and Shenzhen, under a semi-official mortgage quota.

Even last year’s stars, the second- and third-tier cities that led price gains, may fade as China curtails easy home loans that were intended to help soak up a glut of property. Downpayments there ranged between 20 and 30%, compared with 40 to 80% in top-tier locations, according to Credit Suisse. As the curbs bite, mortgage lending has started to decline. (The other plank of household debt, consumer lending, has been an even bigger problem, surging 180% last year, according to Credit Suisse.) Second, perhaps further down the line, a property tax is looming. Finance Minister Xiao Jie indicated this might happen as early as 2020. When President Xi Jinping exhorted people to remember that houses are for living, not speculation, real estate investors must have grown nervous; a tax will make them quake.

With few investment options available to individuals beyond the volatile stock market and wealth-management products (more and more of which are being banned), it’s no surprise that as much as 25% of the demand for real estate is speculative, according to Bloomberg Economics. Third, there’s the more immediate threat to real estate prices of a supply-side push by Beijing. The government is starting to shift from tamping down demand to promoting new housing. Among measures the government is promoting, according to BNP Paribas economist Chen Xingdong, is encouraging homes where the government and buyers share property rights, and even allowing state-owned firms to sell apartments to their employees. The government is also encouraging the growth of a rental market. While much of the current stock of rental housing is of poor quality, that’s likely to change.

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And only now does this reach European media. The upshot: Novartis pulled the same stunt in South Korea.

Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)

The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has called for parliament to investigate whether two of his predecessors and eight former ministers accepted bribes from the Swiss drugmaker Novartis, after allegations of industrial-scale bribery involving senior politicians. The former PMs Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikrammenos, the governor of the Bank of Greece and the EU’s migration commissioner were all identified as alleged beneficiaries of bribes in a report compiled by anti-corruption prosecutors with the help of US authorities. Novartis is alleged to have bribed politicians to approve overpriced contracts and to have made payments to thousands of doctors as part of concerted efforts to boost sales between 2006 to 2015.

The claims have rocked Greek society since coming to light last week. One serving government minister claimed the kickbacks surpassed €50m and resulted in costs of more than €4bn to the Greek public health system. The deputy justice minister, Dimitris Papangelopoulos, said it was “the biggest scandal since the establishment of the Greek state” almost 200 years ago. Widening the net on Monday, Tsipras said it was imperative there could be no cover-up. “We will make use of every power afforded by national and international law to recover the money stolen from the Greek people down to the last euro,” the leftist leader told MPs in his Syriza party. “We will do everything we can to reveal the truth.”

MPs will vote on establishing a committee of inquiry later this month. Only parliament has the power to investigate politicians for alleged infractions during their term in office. The allegations have been rebutted vehemently by the accused. The report’s reliance on three unnamed witnesses – who are currently under government protection – has been especially criticised, and legal experts contend that the claims would not stand up in court. The EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos demanded that the identity of the witnesses be revealed and expressed his “disgust” at what he said were fabrications created by “sick minds”. He stands accused of purchasing 16m anti-flu vaccines from Novartis while health minister between 2006 and 2009. [..] Novartis has faced similar investigations in recent years. Last year South Korea fined the company $48m for offering kickbacks to doctors.

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Just as Greece starts selling bonds again, it faces increasing competition,

Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)

Greece almost makes it look easy. It issued a new €3 billion ($3.7 billion) seven-year bond on Thursday, at a very healthy 3.5% yield, stepping into a briefly open window for raising money during the most torrid week for markets in years. The security is now trading very close to 4%. Ouch. The benefits of going ahead with the sale went to Greece rather than to investors. With a €6 billion order book there was no lack of demand – but there is buyer’s remorse now. It’s the first sovereign syndicated new issue to perform badly in Europe so far this year. This could make it troublesome for the region’s other governments to bring deals on top of an already-heavy regular auction schedule. Greece may just be one turkey, but investor demand is going to become a lot pickier.

And there’s plenty to choose from. Governments have been crowding out the syndicated new issue market even more this year, comprising 26.5% of deals versus an already-strong 23% at this stage in 2017. If supra-nationals and agencies are included then half of all new syndicated deals are from an official institution. It’s a curious result, given that the European new-issue market is supposed to be much more about companies. For example, the European Financial Stability Facility – created to fund Greece’s bailout – has already issued half of its €28 billion annual plan. The EFSF has come three times in 2018 with €13.5 billion in maturities ranging from 6 to 23 years. That is an almost indecent rush to complete its annual funding schedule as early as possible. It’s smart for the issuer – less so for the investor.

Borrowers can try to front-load sales in a low-rate environment, but with more central banks getting comfortable with tightening, investors are not going to play that game unless the yield is generous. It’s an increasing struggle, given that the German benchmark 10-year yield has risen sharply since the mid-December lows of 30 basis points. The yield famine is easing up.

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What a shame: too late!

An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)

“A man’s house is his castle,” Sir Edward Coke wrote back in the 17th century. These days, Britons are relying on their properties not just for refuge but also to fund their retirements. It’s a strategy that could backfire badly. Along with the rest of the world, the U.K. has an aging population: a growing number of retirees are being supported by a shrinking pool of workers. The U.K.’s dependency ratio – calculated by adding together the over 65s and under 15s, then dividing by the working-age population and multiplying by 100 – will rise to 60% by 2027. That’s up from 55% in 2017 and from 54% in 1997. As the pyramid grows more inverted, how does the top-heavy non-working cohort propose to finance a life of leisure and superannuation? By releasing the equity they expect to have accumulated in their homes once they’re ready to hit the golf course.

One in five Brits agreed with the statement “when I retire, I plan to sell my house, downsize and live off the profit,” according to a survey commissioned by pension consultants LCP from polling firm YouGov. That gamble seems unwise. In recent years home values, like global stock markets, only ever seemed to increase. But, again as with global stock markets, the notion of ever-rising prices has taken something of a beating recently. According to a report published on Monday, U.K. house prices posted their first annual decline in six years in January. Moreover, with wage growth in recent years failing to keep pace with either rising property prices or inflation, it’s become harder for those of working age to get on the housing ladder in the first place. And the percentage of under 34s who own their own homes has slumped in the past decade.

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This is so sick it makes one silent.

Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)

British charities are facing a government crackdown to combat the “horrific” sexual exploitation exposed at Oxfam, amid concerns about a wider culture of abuse. All British charities working overseas have been ordered to provide “absolute assurances” that they are protecting vulnerable people and referring complaints to authorities. Oxfam’s deputy chief executive resigned during crisis talks with the Government, saying she took “full responsibility” for the alleged use of prostitutes by senior staff in Haiti. But aid workers told The Independent sexual misconduct against both locals and staff remains “widespread” in humanitarian agencies and called for wholesale reforms.

Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, has written a letter to all UK charities working overseas demanding “absolute assurance that the moral leadership, the systems, the culture and the transparency needed to fully protect vulnerable people are in place”. “It is not only Oxfam that must improve,” she said. “My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.” The Department for International Development (Dfid) has created a new unit dedicated to reviewing safeguarding in the aid sector and stopping “criminal and predatory individuals” being employed by other charities.

[..] “Oxfam made a full and unqualified apology – to me, and to the people of Britain and Haiti – for the appalling behaviour of some of their staff in Haiti in 2011, and for the wider failings of their organisation’s response to it,” said Ms Mordaunt. “They spoke of the deep sense of disgrace and shame that they and their organisation feel about what has happened, and set out the actions they will now take to put things right and prevent such horrific abuses happening in future.“

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It’s not just Oxfam, it’s an industry-wide culture.

Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

The UN’s children’s agency has admitted shortcomings in its humanitarian support to children who allege that they were raped and sexually abused by French peacekeepers in Central African Republic. A statement by Unicef Netherlands is the first public acknowledgement of the agency’s recent failure to provide support to some of the victims of alleged abuse by peacekeepers in the African nation. It comes as the aid sector and the UN face increasing scrutiny for their failings in managing internal sexual misconduct by their own staff. Unicef was given the task of overseeing the support for children who said they had been abused by peacekeepers.

But in March last year, an award-winning investigation by Swedish Television’s Uppdrag Granskning (Mission Investigate) revealed that some of the children supposedly in the UN’s care were homeless, out of school and forced to make a living on the streets, despite UN assurances that they would be protected. Unicef’s representative in CAR told the programme that the children were in the agency’s assistance programme for minors and were being supported. He said he was not aware that some were on the streets. But earlier this month – ahead of a Dutch screening of the programme – Unicef Netherlands admitted to the Dutch television programme Zembla that Unicef had failed in its duty to help some of the alleged victims. But it said that since the programme had first aired, it had taken steps to locate the children featured in the programme and provide them with support.

Marieke van Santen, of Zembla, said she found the Swedish film “astonishing” because the children who were interviewed were known to Unicef, yet they were not being cared for. Van Santen said: “It is quite shocking to realise that not only once but twice UN agencies have failed to help these victims.” The statement from Unicef Netherlands was welcomed by Karin Mattisson, a reporter for Mission Investigate. “I hope it makes a difference to the children and gives them strength. They have said they were failed,” said Mattisson.Several boys who testified to having been sexually assaulted by French soldiers were living rough, Mattisson found, while a girl, who became pregnant at the age of 14 by a Congolese peacekeeper and had later found out she was HIV-positive, was out of school looking after her baby. Another boy, aged eight, who was too traumatised to be interviewed, was in an orphanage. “I hope they live up to this statement,” she said. “When we investigated the UN and Unicef it was a long journey into their culture of silence.”

Read more …

Jan 262018
 
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Horacio Coppola Avenida Díaz Vélez al 4800, Buenos Aires 1952

 

Mario Draghi Slaps Down Steve Mnuchin Over Dollar Comments (Ind.)
Mueller Almost Done With Obstruction Part of Trump Probe (BBG)
Trump Denies Trying To Fire Mueller (BBC)
Flying Blind, Part 2: The Destruction Of Honest Price Discovery (Stockman)
China Chills (Mauldin)
Dear Elon: Tesla’s Base Is Not the Model S Coalition (Klippenstein)
Tory Civil War Erupts Over Brexit (Ind.)
Seven in 10 UK Workers Are ‘Chronically Broke’ (G.)
Rough Sleeping Is Now A Routine Sight In UK (G.)
Assange to Ask UK Court to Lift Arrest Warrant (BBG)
Turkish PM Disputes Greek Sovereignty, Tsipras Cites ‘Aggressive Neighbor’ (K.)
Majority Of Refugees Stranded On Aegean Islands To Stay In Greece (K.)
1.7 Billion-Year-Old Chunk Of Canada Found Stuck To Australia (Ind.)
Human Ancestors Left Africa Far Earlier Than Previously Thought (G.)
A Third Of Coral Reefs ‘Entangled With Plastic’ (BBC)

 

 

One Goldman alumni to another. And Trump repaired it somewhat, and then this morning the dollar falls again. Trump may address this in his speech today in Davos. Mnuchin never talked about anything but short term. Storm, teacup.

Mario Draghi Slaps Down Steve Mnuchin Over Dollar Comments (Ind.)

The President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has taken a sideswipe at the US Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, for endorsing a weaker dollar, emphasising deep concerns among central bankers over the economically destabilising impact of exchange rate swings. At the ECB’s regular conference Mr Draghi referred indirectly to the surprising comments at the World Economic Forum on Wednesday by Mr Mnuchin, who said “a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities.” These comments sent the dollar, which has been trending lower since early 2017, down still further. The dollar index, which measures the traded value of the greenback against a basket of other currencies, including sterling and the euro, hit a three-year low of 88.5.

Mr Draghi complained to reporters in Frankfurt that although exchange rate movements were “a fact of nature” reflecting economic fundamentals some recent volatility was caused by “someone else” – a clear reference to Mr Mnuchin – whose “use of language…doesn’t reflect the terms of reference that have been agreed.” Mr Draghi cited an IMF communique from last year, signed by the US, which said: “We will refrain from competitive devaluations, and will not target our exchange rates for competitive purposes”. Asked directly by journalists whether the ECB Council had been concerned by the Treasury Secretary’s comments Mr Draghi answered in the affirmative. “Several members of the Council expressed concern, and this concern was also in a sense was broader than simply the exchange rate, it was about the overall status of international relations right now,” he said.

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Objection, your honor. Leading.

Mueller Almost Done With Obstruction Part of Trump Probe (BBG)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is moving at a far faster pace than previously known and appears to be wrapping up at least one key part of his investigation – whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice, according to current and former U.S. officials. Mueller has quietly moved closer to those around Trump by interviewing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey in recent weeks, officials said. His team has also interviewed CIA Director Mike Pompeo, NBC News reported. Those high-level officials all have some degree of knowledge about events surrounding Trump’s decisions to fire Comey and Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser.

“Clearly the names that are coming out now indicate that we’re into the obstruction of justice side of it,” said Stanley Twardy, a former U.S. attorney for Connecticut who’s now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer. “He’s now getting people who are closest to the president, closest to the issues.” Next, Mueller is expected to schedule an interview with Trump in coming weeks to discuss those events, according to a person familiar with the matter. “I’m looking forward to it,” Trump said of a meeting with Mueller, which he suggested may happen in about two to three weeks. He told reporters at the White House Wednesday that “I would love to do it” and “I would do it under oath” even though his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton wasn’t sworn in when she was interviewed in 2016 over her use of private emails as secretary of state.

Even if Mueller wraps up the obstruction probe, other elements of his investigation – such as whether Trump or anyone close to him helped Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential election or broke any other laws — are likely to continue for months more, said two officials who asked to remain anonymous speaking about the probe.

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New York Times based on anonymous sources as usual.

Trump Denies Trying To Fire Mueller (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has described as “fake news” a report that he ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but backed down when his own lawyer threatened to resign. White House counsel Donald McGahn said the sacking would have a “catastrophic effect” on the presidency, the New York Times reported. Mr Mueller is leading an inquiry into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia to influence the US election. Both Moscow and Mr Trump deny this. “Fake News. Typical New York Times. Fake Stories,” Mr Trump said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos, where he is due to give a speech later.

He has also been speaking about other issues: • Russian news agency Tass quoted Mr Trump as saying he “hoped” for more dialogue between the US and Russia • White House officials said Mr Trump was open to rejoining the Paris climate change agreement, if better terms for the US could be agreed • Mr Trump will say in his speech that he is in favour of “fair and reciprocal” free trade but will not tolerate trade abuses and intellectual property theft, according to US officials
Mr Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed special counsel last May to look into the collusion allegations.

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Nobody acknowledges the importance of price discovery anymore. Without which there are no functioning markets. How fast people forget.

Flying Blind, Part 2: The Destruction Of Honest Price Discovery (Stockman)

[..] the real economic iniquity of central bank driven Bubble Finance is that it destroys all the pricing signals that are essential to financial discipline on both ends of the Acela Corridor. And as quaint at it may sound, discipline is the sine qua non of long-term stability and sustainable gains in productivity, living standards and real wealth. The pols of the Imperial City should be petrified, therefore, by the prospect of borrowing $1.2 trillion during the upcoming fiscal year (FY 2019) at a rate of 6.0% of GDP during month #111 through month #123 of the business expansion; and doing so at the very time the central bank is pivoting to an unprecedented spell of QT (quantitative tightening), involving the disgorgement of up to $2 trillion of its elephantine balance sheet back into the bond market.

Even as a matter of economics 101, the forthcoming $1.8 trillion of combined bond supply from the sales of the US Treasury ($1.2 trillion) and the QT-disgorgement of the Fed ($600 billion) is self-evidently enough to monkey-hammer the existing supply/demand balances, and thereby send yields soaring. But that’s barely the half of it. All the laws of economics, which are now being insouciantly ignored by the stock market revilers, are also time and place bound. That is to say, deficit finance in a muscle-bound Welfare State/Warfare State democracy like the US is always a questionable idea. After all, it is virtually guaranteed based on the budgetary doomsday forces now at work that by 2030 the public debt will approach $40 trillion compared to the $930 billion level where it stood when the Gipper took office in January 1981. In a half century, therefore, the GDP – swollen by inflation notwithstanding – will have grown by 8.5X versus a 43X eruption of the debt.

[..] At the present time, the S&P 500 is trading at the absurd multiple of 26.3X what are estimated to be reported profits for 2017. Yet the sell-side stock peddlers say not to worry because the one-year forward multiple on ex-items earnings is still only in the high teens. So what! The business cycle has not been outlawed and this one has at best a few quarters or even a year or two to go. So forward earnings are irrelevant nonsense. They are an interim place holder before the 30% to 50% hit to profits happens when the US economy finally experiences its next rendezvous with recession. The very idea that you would value the market based on a timeless forward PE multiple is complete baloney, of course. Yet that’s exactly where the Fed’s drastic financial repression and destruction of honest price discovery has led.

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That is one graph.

China Chills (Mauldin)

People have been predicting Chinese real estate crashes for years. Eventually they will be right. Is that time approaching? Here’s the lead from a January 16 Wall Street Journal story, “China’s Hot Housing Market Begins to Cool.” “BEIJING—China’s housing market has defied gravity and government restraints for two years, floating on a tide of bank loans and speculation. Until now. In Beijing and Shanghai – two of the country’s largest markets – and other megacities, sales have stalled and prices have dropped, falling slightly in some pockets and dramatically in others. Demand has dried up in these areas as a result of government measures including higher mortgage rates, higher down-payment requirements and limits on buying a second or third home. Would-be sellers are increasingly putting plans on hold in hope that prices will rebound.” That doesn’t sound good at all. WSJ backs up the gloomy language with data, though:

Some of this shake-out is happening by design as the government tries to manage growth on a sustainable path. The picture also varies greatly by city and region. Beijing and Shanghai are China’s equivalents of Washington and New York – except that they are much, much larger. What happens to them affects the whole country to some degree – and other countries, too. By some estimates, China’s property market accounts for a third of GDP growth. Falling construction activity will mean less need to import construction materials from Australia – and maybe fewer Chinese buyers in Canada. Falling demand won’t be good for housing prices in either of those places.

Then there are wild cards. President Trump has so far held back on promises to crack down on trade with China, in part because he wants Beijing’s help managing the North Korea issue. I doubt he will wait forever. He has a lot of latitude to impose tariffs, quotas, and other restrictions on China. Ironically, a peaceful resolution on the Korean Peninsula might be economically negative if it removes a barrier to trade war.

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Bunch of hipsters.

Dear Elon: Tesla’s Base Is Not the Model S Coalition (Klippenstein)

Losing the Obama coalition cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency in 2016; her base wasn’t big enough to bring success. Losing the Model S coalition could cost Elon Musk his own dreams, because his base isn’t big enough on its own, either. The Model S coalition of technophiles (techies) and progressives gave Tesla a strong tailwind when the vehicle launched. Techies formed the base, while progressives were the balance of the coalition. But while they came together for the Model S to strike a blow against Big Oil, these two groups aren’t natural allies.

We can see the rift growing in real time: while techies continue to celebrate Amazon, Uber, and Silicon Valley in general, there’s an escalating progressive backlash against labor conditions at warehouse distribution centres, more and more and more and more evidence of Uber’s culture of toxic lawlessness, and the obscene excesses of startup culture (which include a Dickensian digital class divide, possibly-endemic sexism, predatory sex parties and entitlement complexes worthy of the sons of Trump — and that’s only the stuff we know about so far).

The difference between the groups is aptly captured in the 2015 Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle study conducted by Simon Fraser University in Canada (webpage here, full report here, executive summary here).

Figure 23 from the SFU Canadian Plug-in Electric Vehicle Study 2015

The chart above shows the results of a study of Volt, Leaf, and Model S early adopters who were asked what images would be attributed to their vehicles. This tells us something about the buyers, because consumers purchase products whose so-called “symbolic benefits” (the brand, basically) match their own self-image, values, interests, and aspirations.

Volt and Leaf owners (yellow and green bars, respectively) are pretty similar, except when it comes to thinking their vehicle is attractive or sporty — the styling of the Leaf 1.0 is, shall we say, an acquired taste! Joking aside, this tells us that first-generation Leaf 1.0 buyers, like first-generation Prius buyers before them, really didn’t care about style. These people, and others of like mind, form the progressive coalition. The Tesla early adopters are different in two categories, and extremely different in four, suggesting that Tesla buyers have different motivations than Volt and Leaf owners. Tesla’s “tribe” wants status goods – which for automobiles means something sporty, exotic, powerful, and successful. They’re Tesla’s techie base.

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As if that is the most important thing as the ship sinks.

Tory Civil War Erupts Over Brexit (Ind.)

A fresh outbreak of Tory infighting is threatening Theresa May’s leadership after Philip Hammond vowed to keep Britain interlocked with the EU – while hard Brexit supporters staged an open revolt. The Prime Minister was accused of “losing control of the Brexit process” as the two wings of her party fought over her withdrawal policy, which Eurosceptics increasingly see as a sellout. In Davos, the Chancellor inflamed tensions with a dramatic call for only “very modest” changes to the UK’s trading rules with the EU, setting out the risks of trying to break free. He went out of his way to praise the plea by the CBI employers’ organisation for the “closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK post-Brexit” – days after it called for permanent membership of the customs union.

Britain must not agree to anything that “throws away all the benefits we have of the complete alignment of our regulatory systems, the complete integration of our economies”, Mr Hammond said. He later sought to clarify his remarks by saying “for anyone concerned” that the UK would be outside the customs union and single market “which clearly represents change”. But, in a major speech, Jacob Rees-Mogg put himself at the head of a growing Brexiteer revolt. The Government was accused of planning to leave the UK “shackled to the EU” and of putting the free-trade benefits of Brexit “at risk”. “The British people did not vote for that. They did not vote for the management of decline,” Mr Rees-Mogg told an audience in Hampshire. “They voted for hope and opportunity and politicians must now deliver it.

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Uk and US have much in common.

Seven in 10 UK Workers Are ‘Chronically Broke’ (G.)

Economic insecurity has become the “new normal” in the UK with at least 70% of the UK’s working population “chronically broke”, according to a study by the thinktank the Royal Society of Arts. Thriving, striving or just about surviving, the RSA/Populus survey of more than 2,000 workers, found that while about 30% of respondents said they lived comfortably, 40% said their finances were permanently precarious. The remaining 30% said they were not managing to get by. “Economic insecurity now stretches right throughout our labour market, including within jobs that appear safe on the surface,” said Brhmie Balaram, the author of the report and a senior researcher at the RSA.

According to the report, 32% of the UK’s workers have less than £500 in savings and 41% have less than £1,000. Almost 30% are concerned about their level of debt while 43% of workers do not have anyone in their household they could depend on to support them financially in the event of hardship. Fewer than half of employees (44%) feel they have progressed in their careers over the last five years; only 40% feel they have good opportunities to progress in future. “From retail workers to warehouse operatives, and from care workers to cleaners, we are beginning to uncover the hidden millions who are chronically broke year in, year out,” said Balaram. “The real danger for this group of workers is a childcare bill unpaid and yet another rent rise around the corner.”

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Anyone want to argue the UK is NOT a class society?

Rough Sleeping Is Now A Routine Sight In UK (G.)

Rough sleeping in the north London borough of Camden has increased by 647%, according to government figures released on Thursday. The huge rise is accounted for in part by an official underestimate of the problem last year, but no one who lives here will be surprised to see it confirmed that there has been a sharp jump in the numbers of people sleeping on the streets. Camden reported the largest increase in rough sleeping of any area in England, from 17 rough sleepers in 2016 (an optimistic estimate) to 127 counted this year. Ten years ago there were almost no rough sleepers in Camden. So what’s gone wrong? The Labour-run council says it’s clear that cuts are to blame. Councillor Nadia Shah said: “Rough sleeping in Camden is now at unprecedented levels. This is an appalling situation made worse by the politics of austerity that have led to cuts in services across the country.”

Nationally, welfare reform and cuts to benefits have increased financial insecurity, while soaring rents and reductions in the permitted housing benefit payments have left many people with an impossible gap between rent owing and income. On top of this, changes to the way housing benefit is paid have increasingly meant money no longer goes straight to the landlord but to the tenant, which has led to a sharp rise in arrears and evictions. Huge pressure on mental health services means vulnerable people are not getting the support they need. Drug and alcohol addiction services are struggling financially. Reductions to local authority budgets mean Camden’s funding from central government will have fallen by half between 2010 and 2020. In 2019-20 the council is forecast to receive £106m, down from the £241m received in 2010-11.

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How political is the British court system?

Assange to Ask UK Court to Lift Arrest Warrant (BBG)

After more than five years holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange will ask a U.K. court to lift his arrest warrant. A one-day hearing will take place at Westminster Magistrates court and a ruling is scheduled to be issued Friday, according to a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service. Assange, 46, has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since evading deportation in a Swedish sexual assault probe. It’s “theoretically possible” that Assange could be released Friday, the CPS spokesman said. Assange and WikiLeaks have become famous over the past decade for disclosing confidential documents about the U.S. government and politics. In 2016, WikiLeaks injected itself into the middle of the U.S. presidential race by publishing hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Assange is asking the court to lift the warrant about eight months after Swedish prosecutors dropped the underlying rape probe, saying that his steps to evade questioning made it impossible to pursue the case. Assange sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in June 2012, after exhausting options in U.K. courts to avoid extradition over the allegations stemming from a 2010 trip to Sweden. He refused to return to the Scandinavian country, citing risks he would be extradited to the U.S. London police say that warrant is still in force unless lifted by court. “Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court” in 2012, the police said in an emailed statement. “The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the embassy.”

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Last time they were on the brink of war was 1996. Never far away.

Turkish PM Disputes Greek Sovereignty, Tsipras Cites ‘Aggressive Neighbor’ (K.)

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has again disputed Greece’s sovereignty over parts of the Aegean Sea, while accusing Athens of building up bilateral tension while Ankara is busy fighting what he described as “terrorism” in its wider region. In comments made to local media on Wednesday, Yildirim accused Athens of pursuing a repeat of the 1996 Imia crisis, when the two countries came to the brink of war over ownership of the uninhabited Aegean islets, adding that such an attempt “will not go down well” in Ankara. “In case something similar occurs, there are always means at Turkey’s disposal to defend itself. Let there be no qualms about that,” he said. Turkey disputes Greece’s territorial sovereignty over the rocky formations, known in Turkish as Kardak, on the basis of its “gray zones” theory.

Last week, a Turkish patrol boat conducting a dangerous maneuver bumped into a Hellenic Navy gunboat near Imia. No damage was reported from the contact. Meanwhile, notwithstanding Turkey’s ongoing air and ground operation in the Afrin region of northern Syria aimed at fighting Syrian Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants, violations of Greek air space by Turkish fighter jets continue, if at a lower rate. A mock dogfight between Greek and Turkish F-16s took place northwest of Lesvos island on Wednesday at 2.35 p.m. The issue of Turkey’s provocations was raised on Wednesday by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, described Turkey as an “aggressive neighbor, sometimes unpredictable with an aggressive military activity in the Aegean.” “For somebody, it is very easy to be also aggressive if they are living in Luxembourg or Netherlands, because their neighbors are Belgium and Luxembourg, and not Turkey. But it’s not so easy for us,” he said in English.

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In a bankrupt country. Greece should demand hundreds of billions from the EU to handle this.

Majority Of Refugees Stranded On Aegean Islands To Stay In Greece (K.)

The majority of migrants and refugees who have landed on the Aegean islands since the March 2016 deal signed between the European Union and Ankara will remain in Greece as conditions for their return to Turkey are considered “not safe,” according to data from the country’s Asylum Service. According to the data, authorities have processed 25,814 applications for asylum submitted by individuals stuck at island screening centers, or hotspots. Authorities have rejected 5,437 of those claims and, under the terms of the deal, the applicants should be returned to Turkey. However, only around 1,400 of that number have been returned so far. Meanwhile, 20,337 people have received permission to move to the Greek mainland. They will move to the next stage of their asylum process, provided that they are not enlisted in a European relocation schemes. A total of 21,726 mostly Syrian refugees were relocated from Greece to other EU member-states under a program which was completed in 2017.

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Sometimes a headline is enough.

1.7 Billion-Year-Old Chunk Of Canada Found Stuck To Australia (Ind.)

A chunk of what is now Canada broke away from the rest of North America and collided with Australia around 1.7 billion years ago, according to a new study. A team of geologists examining rocks found in northern Queensland concluded some of them did not appear to have originated in Australia, and had characteristics more common among those found in Canada. They say the discovery indicates the region surrounding present-day Georgetown in northern Queensland broke apart from the continent of North America during its early formation and smashed into what is now known as Australia. “Our research shows that about 1.7 billion years ago, Georgetown rocks were deposited into a shallow sea when the region was part of North America,” said Adam Nordsvan, a PhD student at Curtin University, who led the study published in the journal Geology.

“Georgetown then broke away from North America and collided with the Mount Isa region of northern Australia around 100 million years later.” The discovery provides scientists with new evidence about the formation of the ancient supercontinent, Nuna – a land mass made up of many of the continents we know today. Over millennia, the Earth’s continents have slowly moved around, reorganising themselves into different combinations, and Mr Nordsvan and his collaborators are trying to understand some of these ancient movements. “This was a critical part of global continental reorganisation when almost all continents on Earth assembled to form the supercontinent called Nuna,” said Mr Nordsvan. Nuna existed long before the more well-known supercontinent of Pangaea, which was formed around 335 million years ago.

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We have no idea of our own history.

Human Ancestors Left Africa Far Earlier Than Previously Thought (G.)

A prehistoric jawbone discovered in a cave in Israel has prompted scientists to rethink theories of how the earliest human pioneers came to populate the planet, suggesting that our ancestors left Africa far earlier than previously thought. The fossil, dated to nearly 200,000 years ago, is almost twice as old as any previous Homo sapiens remains discovered outside Africa, where our species is thought to have originated. Until recently, several converging lines of evidence – from fossils, genetics and archaeology – suggested that modern humans first dispersed from Africa into Eurasia about 60,000 years ago, quickly supplanting other early human species, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, that they may have encountered along the way. However, a series of recent discoveries, including a trove of 100,000 year-old human teeth found in a cave in China, have clouded this straightforward narrative.

And the latest find, at the Misliya cave site in northern Israel, has added a new and unexpected twist. “What Misliya tells us is that modern humans left Africa not 100,000 years ago, but 200,000 years ago,” said Prof Israel Hershkovitz, who led the work at Tel Aviv University. “This is a revolution in the way we understand the evolution of our own species.” The find suggests that there were multiple waves of migration across Europe and Asia and could also mean that modern humans in the Middle East were mingling, and possibly mating, with other human species for tens of thousands of years. “Misliya breaks the mould of existing scenarios for the timing of the first known Homo sapiens in these regions,” said Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. “It’s important in removing a long-lasting constraint on our thinking.”

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Plastic carrying disease.

A Third Of Coral Reefs ‘Entangled With Plastic’ (BBC)

Plastic is one of the biggest threats to the future of coral reefs after ocean warming, say scientists. More than 11 billion items of plastic were found on a third of coral reefs surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region. This figure is predicted to increase to more than 15 billion by 2025. Plastic raises by 20-fold the risk of disease outbreaks on coral reefs, according to research. Plastic bags, bottles and rice sacks were among the items found. “Plastic is one of the biggest threats in the ocean at the moment, I would say, apart from climate change,” said Dr Joleah Lamb of Cornell University in Ithaca, US. “It’s sad how many pieces of plastic there are in the coral reefs …if we can start targeting those big polluters of plastic, hopefully we can start reducing the amount that is going on to these reefs.”

More than 275 million people rely on coral reefs for food, coastal protection, tourism income, and cultural importance. It’s thought that plastic allows diseases that prey on the marine invertebrates that make-up coral reefs to flourish. Branching or finger-like forms of corals are most likely to get entangled in plastic debris. These are important habitats for fish and fisheries, the scientists say. “A lot of times we come across big rice sacks or draping plastic bags,” said Dr Lamb, who led the study. “What we do find is these corals with a lot of complexity like branches and finger-like corals will become eight times more likely to be entangled in these types of plastics.” In the study, published in the journal Science, international researchers surveyed more than 150 reefs from four countries in the Asia-Pacific region between 2011 and 2014.

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Jan 252018
 
 January 25, 2018  Posted by at 10:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Grete Stern Sueño No. 27: No destiñe con el agua 1951

 

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)
A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)
Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)
Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)
IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)
Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)
Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)
Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)
Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)
How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)
Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)
We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)
Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)
Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)
Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)
Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

 

 

Winning bigly. Triumphant talk of the town in Davos. Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein are on board. “They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.” How long will it last?

Trump to Tell Davos That ‘America First’ Is Good for Globalism (BBG)

President Donald Trump has a familiar message for the global elites populating the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: You were wrong. A year ago, some Davos participants predicted Trump’s protectionist rhetoric would lead to sluggish economic growth and lackluster stock market gains. It didn’t. And the president isn’t about to let that go unnoticed. Trump will arrive at the conference Thursday, joining a large delegation of U.S. officials already there, where he’s expected to boast about U.S. economic performance during his first year in office – unemployment down, the stock market up, robust growth. He’ll also seek to persuade the Davos audience in a major speech on Friday that his populist, “America First” policies can co-exist with globalism.

The president said on Twitter that he plans “to tell the world how great America is” and that “our economy is now booming and with all I am doing, will only get better.” “He wants to shatter the myth that he is only an ‘America First’ president,” said Anthony Scaramucci, the financier who was briefly Trump’s communications director and still informally advises the president. “That’s not the case. He is a globalist. He has a duality to his personality. He’s here to disrupt things, which he does a reasonably good to great job of.” The Swiss mountainside gathering of bankers, corporate chiefs and academics isn’t exactly Trump’s scene, and his administration deliberately spurned the conference prior to his inauguration last year. But now, chief executives are warming up to the president after a year in which his administration began a major deregulation effort and won passage of a law that slashes the U.S. corporate tax rate.

“What I’m bulled up about is that policy makers are making good policy decisions in the U.S. about taxes, about proper regulatory reform,” JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in Davos. “I like a lot more stuff than I don’t like,” Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in an interview with CNBC. [..] Trump will host European executives on Thursday night to argue that the U.S. is a better place for businesses as a result of the tax overhaul and deregulation, his National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn, said Tuesday at a briefing. [..] Trump told reporters late Wednesday that he decided to go to Davos “to get them to bring back a lot of money. They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.”

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When does Beijing start to talk about currency manipulation.

A Weaker Dollar Is Good For The US, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Says (CNBC)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. is open for business and welcomed a weaker dollar, saying that it would benefit the country. Speaking at a press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday, he made a bid for investment into the U.S., saying the government was committed to growth of 3% or higher. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos, according to Bloomberg, adding that the currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

On the eve President Donald Trump’s arrival at the event, he said that the U.S. delegation to Davos was its largest ever. “(The) size of the delegation to Davos this year is testament to the scale of Trump’s work over the past year,” Mnuchin said. “What’s happening in the U.S. (is a) reflection of programs being put in place. As we look at U.S. growth, it continues to look quite good and is a very attractive place to invest,” he added. The dollar dipped slightly after his comments and hit a session low, with the dollar index slipping 0.47% for the day. The British pound climbed to a post-Brexit vote high shortly after 8:30 a.m. London time. Mnuchin iterated that his country is “absolutely” committed to free and fair trade, according to the Associated Press. He added that strong U.S. growth was good for the economy and that there was no inconsistency with Trump’s “America First” agenda, according to the news agency.

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Calculation: others lose more than the US does short term.

Careless Whisper: Mnuchin Opens Door To New Era Of Currency Wars (BV)

Speaking one’s mind can be dangerous, especially for the U.S. Treasury secretary. Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that a weaker dollar was good for his country. Textbook theory certainly supports his view that a depreciating currency is good for exporters. But the remarks are a break with what his predecessors have publicly asserted since 1995. If the greenback became a trade weapon it would be to the detriment of foreign holders of U.S. debt. Treasury secretaries since Robert Rubin have repeated the mantra that a strong dollar is in U.S. interests. That meant something when Rubin articulated it in 1995 with the aim of shoring up a weak dollar. But it has been used ad nauseam since then, both when the U.S. authorities were intervening in the currency markets to buy their currency and when they were selling it.

What qualified as strong is up for grabs. Since 1995, an index of the dollar’s value against a basket of other major currencies has risen as high as 121 and then fallen more than 40% without the wording being questioned or amended. The maxim has served its purpose, though, by reassuring investors and other countries that the United States would not try to talk its currency down to win a trade advantage. Little wonder then that the dollar index, which has been on a losing streak since the year started, hit a three-year low after Mnuchin’s comments. He probably had no intention of weakening the dollar and there is no evidence that President Donald Trump’s administration is about to embark on such a policy. The remarks do, however, reveal how focused U.S. policymakers are on domestic interests. From there, actually egging on such moves is only a small step.

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There’s no way to keep the reserve currency down, and there’s no alternative either, but they’ll take what they can get today.

Trump Team Unleashes Verbal Assault On The Dollar (Pol.)

U.S. presidents and Treasury secretaries have a long tradition of declaring their allegiance to a strong dollar policy in public remarks, even if privately many welcomed a softer dollar to boost U.S. exports and reduce trade deficits. If the U.S. is publicly supporting a weak dollar while also imposing tariffs on foreign imports — as the Trump administration did this week — it could invite retaliation from other countries, potentially sparking both currency and trade wars, economists say. “It’s remarkable, really, this kind of bomb-throwing from Mnuchin on the dollar the same week they slap on tariffs,” said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics, referring to action this week by the Trump White House to impose tariffs on some imported solar panels and washing machines. “The problem with this is it just invites retaliation. This is not a friendly action.”

A weaker U.S. dollar, while potentially a boost for exports, makes many foreign consumer goods more expensive for Americans to buy. That could hit lower-income consumers the hardest, including less well-off voters in Trump’s political base. Retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports could also hurt domestic manufacturers. The concept of a public strong-dollar policy dates back at least three administrations to when Lloyd Bentsen and Robert Rubin served as Treasury secretaries under President Bill Clinton. The general approach reflects the belief that a stronger dollar improves the value of U.S. Treasury bonds, equities and other dollar-denominated assets and gives Americans more purchasing power. It also generally reflects an improving U.S. economy.

“I have been consistent in saying, as my predecessors have said, that a strong dollar is good for the United States. If you look at the U.S. economy right now, the truth is our economy is performing quite well,” then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in January 2015, echoing the regular public refrain of U.S. officials. Mnuchin did nod to this tradition in his Davos comments after remarking on the benefits of a weaker dollar. “Longer term, the strength of the dollar is a reflection of the strength of the U.S. economy and the fact that it is and will continue to be the primary currency in terms of the reserve currency,” he said.

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She must appear impartial. But this of course is utter crap: “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets..”. There are no markets. There’s only central banks.

IMF’s Lagarde Urges Mnuchin to Clarify Remarks on Weak Dollar (BBG)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde suggested that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin may wish to explain his comments in which he appeared to back a weak dollar, adding that U.S. tax cuts will probably cause the world’s reserve currency to rally. “I really hope that Secretary Mnuchin has a chance to clarify exactly what he said,” Lagarde said in Bloomberg TV interview with Francine Lacqua and Tom Keene in Davos, Switzerland. “The dollar is of all currencies a floating currency and one where value is determined by markets and geared by the fundamentals of U.S. policy.” The dollar slid to the lowest since December 2014 on Thursday, a day after Mnuchin’s endorsement of a weaker greenback at the WEF. The euro also climbed to its strongest against the dollar since 2014. “Obviously a weaker dollar is good for us as it relates to trade and opportunities,” Mnuchin told reporters in Davos.

The currency’s short term value is “not a concern of ours at all.” Losses for the greenback have mounted since U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration a year ago, with the currency weakening against every Group-of-10 peer. Lagarde reiterated the IMF’s view, presented in its World Economic Outlook this week, that the U.S. tax reform is likely to lead to dollar’s strengthening in the medium term. For many market analysts, Mnuchin’s comments represent a stark break from previous U.S. administrations and could provoke pushback from other regions before too long. “This is a further break away from the ‘strong USD’ mantra launched in the mid-1990s by Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Rubin and adhered to by subsequent Treasury leaders,” wrote Credit Agricole CIB strategists led by Valentin Marinov in a note to clients. “Inevitably, the Administration’s vocal preference for a weak dollar is likely to raise the risk of global currency wars.”

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A carrot for the Democrats. They’ll take it.

Trump Supports Immigration Plan With Pathway To Citizenship For Dreamers (G.)

Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would support a plan that offered a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, as part of a broader immigration package that the White House is expected to unveil next week. Trump made the comments to a group of reporters assembled for a briefing on the president’s immigration plan before he departs to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. According to the Associated Press, Trump said he would be open to allowing certain immigrants to become citizens after “10 or 12 years”. Trump told reporters he would allow the Dreamers to “morph into” citizens over a period of time.

“Whatever they’re doing, if they do a great job, I think it’s a nice thing to have the incentive, of after a period of years, being able to become a citizen.” Lindsey Graham, one of the Republican Senators deeply involved in the negotiations over immigration, called Trump’s statement “a major breakthrough”. “I truly appreciate President Trump making it clear that he supports a path to citizenship for Daca recipients,” he said. “This will greatly help the Senate efforts to craft a proposal which President Trump can sign into law.” Trump had previously rejected the idea of citizenship for the young immigrants as “amnesty”. According to the AP, a senior White House official immediately clarified the remarks, telling reporters that a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers was only a “discussion point” in the plan that the White House would preview to Congress on Monday.

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He’s not bluffing.

Trump ‘Looking Forward’ To Speaking Under Oath In Russia Inquiry (G.)

Donald Trump said late Wednesday that he would be willing to speak to the special counsel office’s under oath, adding that he was “looking forward” to talking with Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, including alleged contacts with the Trump campaign. Speaking with reporters at the White House before he set out for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked about a potential interview with Mueller. “I’m looking forward to it,” he answered. “I would love to do it.” He added that the interview could occur in “two or three weeks”. Trump’s statement would seem to end months of speculation about whether the special counsel would interview the president, though he also said he would testify under oath last year. The president’s attorneys have met with their counterparts in the special counsel’s office.

Mueller’s team is tasked with investigating Russian meddling in the election, including hacks of Democratic party emails and contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and Russians. The special counsel’s office has charged Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort with money laundering and conspiracy, and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and one of his former foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, have each pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russians. The special counsel’s office is also investigating potential obstruction of justice, and has questioned the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in part to discuss the president’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI director. Also on Wednesday, Trump rejected criticism of his attacks on the Russia inquiry. “You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction,” Trump said. He added: “We’re going to find out” if he gets a fair shake from Robert Mueller. “There’s been no collusion whatsoever,” Trump said. “There’s no obstruction whatsoever.”

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For what it’s worth.

Ratings Firm Issues First Grades On Cryptocurrencies (CNBC)

Weiss Ratings, which claims to offer the first “ratings” on cryptocurrencies, has judged ethereum to be better than bitcoin. The securities ratings agency announced Wednesday that it gave ethereum a B rating because it “benefits from more readily upgradable technology and better speed, despite some bottlenecks.” Bitcoin received a “fair” C+ rating because the digital currency is “encountering major network bottlenecks, causing delays and high transactions costs,” according to a release. “Despite intense ongoing efforts that are achieving some initial success, Bitcoin has no immediate mechanism for promptly upgrading its software code.” None of the 74 cryptocurrencies the agency covers received an “excellent” A rating. B-rated ethereum and digital currency EOS have the highest ratings.

That tough take is apparently a trademark of the 47-year-old independent financial ratings agency. Reports from Barron’s and The New York Times from 2002 and 1992, respectively, note Weiss’ lack of A ratings in coverage of insurance stocks, mutual funds and other securities. The Florida-based company usually flies under the radar in comparison to better-known agencies such as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. Weiss says it does not accept compensation from the companies it rates for issuing the rating. Foreign cryptocurrency investors were apparently very worried that Weiss would issue negative ratings on digital currencies. The agency said in a release Wednesday that “staff was up all night last night fending off denial of service attacks from Korea” and cited Korean social media posts calling others to bring down the ratings agency’s website. The hackers then broke into the website, took information from it and are distorting it on social media, the company said.

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No, Beppe is not ‘gaffe-prone’. He built a formidable force, and he’s the first to recognize he’s too old to take the next step. M5S was always going to be movement by and for the young. Because they’re not yet corrupt.

Beppe Grillo Steps Aside From Italy’s Five Star Movement (G.)

Beppe Grillo, the bombastic comedian who co-founded Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has stepped aside in what some speculate could be a move to bolster the party’s chances before the general election on 4 March. Grillo, who has been instrumental in turning the movement into Italy’s most popular party, roared on to the political scene in 2009 after joining forces with the late web strategist Gianroberto Casaleggio to launch a blog that railed against political corruption. The blog struck a chord among an electorate weighed down by the economic crisis and fed up with the traditional political class, and became the driving force behind the movement’s phenomenal success in the 2013 elections, when it snatched the second-largest share of the votes.

But the blog has now removed most references to the party. The 69-year-old has started a new blog, which he said will focus on technology and visions for the future as part of an “extraordinary liberating adventure”. He added that while he “likes to have points of view” he is “fed up with opinions”. Quite what that means has left commentators guessing, but Grillo has been distancing himself from the party for some time. In 2015, just a year after the party made gains in the European elections, he announced that he was leaving politics and returning to comedy. As he toured comedy clubs, the gaffe-prone Grillo was thrust back into the spotlight a year later after taking a swipe at Sadiq Khan, saying the Muslim mayor of London would “blow himself up in front of Westminster”.

After that Grillo took more of a back seat, gradually grooming 31-year-old Luigi di Maio for the party’s leadership. Di Maio, who was elected leader in September and is the party’s candidate for prime minister, said on Tuesday night that the split did not mean “patricide” or “reneging on the past”. “The party is now moving forward on its own legs and getting stronger,” he said. The Five Star Movement is leading in opinion polls, ahead of the centre-left Democratic party, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League. Roberto d’Alimonte, a political science professor at Rome’s Luiss University, said: “Maybe [Grillo] wants to guarantee its survival and see how it will fly in his absence.”

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“..we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work.”

How About Showing Us The TPP Deal We’re About To Sign? (SMH)

What’s in the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership deal for Australia? There’s no way to tell until we’ve seen the text, and we won’t see it until after it’s signed, in Chile on March 8. Really. That’s the way things normally work. After that, there’s still time to back out if we don’t want to ratify it, and there’s a precedent. All 12 would-be members signed up to the original Trans-Pacific Partnership in February 2016. Barack Obama found himself unable to get it through Congress and Donald Trump didn’t try. As best as we can tell, the new deal, TPP-11, is the old one with fewer bad bits. Twenty of the most contentious provisions included at the insistence of the US have been “suspended” until the US decides to join. They include enforced protections for the owners of pharmaceutical patents and extensions to copyright law.

There’s no guarantee they would come back if the US did decide to join. Each of the 11 other members would have to agree. Still in the agreement, although somewhat weakened, are the investor-state dispute settlement provisions insisted on by the US and Korea. They will allow private companies to sue national governments in extraterritorial tribunals, as Philip Morris did over Australia’s tobacco plain-packaging laws using the terms of an obscure Hong Kong investment agreement. John Howard successfully resisted having them in the US-Australia agreement and the Abbott government managed to avoid them in the Australia-Japan agreement, but we have apparently agreed to them now, for Japan, Korea and eight other nations. The upside is that our companies will also be able to sue governments.

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It’s time for Putin to tell Erdogan to back off.

Trump Warns Erdogan To Avoid Clash Between U.S., Turkish Forces (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation. Turkey’s air and ground operation in Syria’s Afrin region, now in its fifth day, targets U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara sees as allies of Kurdish insurgents who have fought in southeastern Turkey for decades. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would extend the operation to Manbij, a separate Kurdish-held enclave some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, possibly putting U.S. forces there at risk and threatening U.S. plans to stabilize a swath of Syria.

Speaking with Erdogan by telephone, Trump became the latest U.S. official to try to rein in the offensive and to pointedly flag the risk of the two allies’ forces coming into conflict. “He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.” The United States has around 2,000 troops in Syria. However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call. “President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.

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Get him out of there, to a safe place. Get him treatment. A society that persecutes its smartest and bravest cannot succeed.

We Examined Julian Assange, And He Badly Needs Care – But He Can’t Get It (G.)

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has not stepped outside the heavily surveilled confines of the Ecuadorian embassy in London since he entered the building almost six years ago. Naturally, much of the media attention has focused on his international legal drama and threats to his safety, including arrest and possible extradition to the US. In contrast, ongoing violations of his human rights, including his fundamental right to healthcare in the context of his unusual confinement, have received less coverage. As clinicians with a combined experience of four decades caring for and about refugees and other traumatised populations, we recently spent 20 hours, over three days, performing a comprehensive physical and psychological evaluation of Mr Assange.

While the results of the evaluation are protected by doctor-patient confidentiality, it is our professional opinion that his continued confinement is dangerous physically and mentally to him, and a clear infringement of his human right to healthcare. Packing a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, and after being conspicuously photographed entering the embassy, we performed our examinations in a poorly ventilated conference room. The reason for examining Mr Assange in these conditions is that he has no access to proper medical facilities. Although it is possible for clinicians to visit him in the embassy, most doctors are reluctant to do so. Even for those who will see him, their capacity to provide care is limited. At the embassy, there are none of the diagnostic tests, treatments and procedures that we have concluded he needs urgently.

As clinicians, it is our ethical duty to advocate for the health and human rights of all people as promised under international law, and to call on our colleagues to hold our professional societies, institutions and governments accountable. In 2012, Ecuador, in accordance with its right as a sovereign state, formally determined that Mr Assange meets the requirements enshrined by the 1951 convention and 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees. Regardless of the allegations against Mr Assange, he remains a citizen of Australia and a refugee, and, as the Guardian reported last week, he is now also a citizen of Ecuador.

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Trump should support Assange vs their common enemy.

Washington Post, Legacy Press Betray Assange (DisM)

At this juncture, it bears reminding that Jeff Bezos, the current owner of the Washington Post, has a $600 million contract with the CIA in relation to his monolithic company Amazon. The Nation wrote in 2013: “Amazon, under the Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, recently secured a $600 million contract from the CIA. That’s at least twice what Bezos paid for the Post this year. Bezos recently disclosed that the company’s Web-services business is building a “private cloud” for the CIA to use for its data needs. Critics charge that, at a minimum, the Post needs to disclose its CIA link whenever it reports on the agency. Over 15,000 have signed the petition this week hosted by RootsAction.” The Nation’s coverage of the CIA’s contract with Amazon has since been removed from their web page for unknown reasons, but is available through archive services.

When discussing The Washington Post’s exercise in gaslighting, it is important to keep the outlet’s well-documented financial connection with the CIA through Bezos in mind. In so doing, it is also pertinent to note that the CIA has made its hatred for Assange very clear, especially over the course of the last year. CIA Director Mike Pompeo put the agency’s hatred for Wikileaks were on full display as recently as yesterday, when the CIA Director lambasted the journalistic organization as a threat on par with Al Qaeda. Pompeo said of Al Qaeda and Wikileaks: “They don’t have a flag at the UN, but they represent real threats to the United States of America.” That a group who publishes information that is inconvenient for the CIA would be likened to a terrorist network speaks to the threat which Wikileaks represents not to the safety of the American public, but to the plutocratic class and the American deep state.

Pompeo is well known for his previous reference to Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” The Hill wrote of the incident: “In his first major public appearance since taking the top intelligence post in the Trump administration, Pompeo took aim at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden…” The Hill also cited Pompeo’s characterization of Assange as a: “fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen.” Pompeo’s vitriolic characterization of Wikileaks is helpful, because it demonstrates that the CIA’s response to Wikileaks is on par with the force with which terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda are pursued. In that light, the magnitude of the threat faced by Assange and Wikileaks associates cannot be over-estimated. Pompeo’s words are not only absurd in light of Wikileaks being an extremely accurate journalistic organization, but also depict the real impetus behind Assange having been trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy for years.

The CIA Director’s statements, even taken at face value, completely undercut the manipulative coverage of Wikileaks and Assange by outlets like the Washington Post. That providing evidence of corruption is considered an existential threat by the establishment is indicative of the value of Wikileaks to the public. The publisher is only a threat to those whose lies are exposed by their publications. The same plutocracy that has aggressively targeted Assange and Wikileaks has progressively strangled free press and freedom of thought in the United States and the world for decades.

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The zenith of EU cruelty: starve a gutted economy of investment. It’s how you guarantee it can’t ever recover.

Greece Pays A Heavy Price For Its Primary Surplus (K.)

Greece ended 2017 with a revenue shortfall of 719 million euros that was covered by the failure to implement budgeted investments of 1.57 billion euros, leading to a primary surplus of 1.94 billion euros. At the same time Greek taxpayers piled up more arrears to the state, with December witnessing an increase in the creation of new debts. The definitive data of the budget’s execution last year, issued on Wednesday by the Finance Ministry, showed that the primary surplus was far above the target, exceeding it by some 877 million euros. Public Investments Program spending was 800 million euros below target, depriving the economy of much-needed cash just as it is trying to recover.

The shortfall was particularly evident on the program’s EU co-funded side, which missed the target by 1.127 billion euros, while the national part of the program showed a 327-million-euro increase in investment. It is therefore no surprise that the economy is now seen to have grown by an even smaller rate than the revised estimate included in the 2018 budget. The 1.941-billion-euro primary surplus, if confirmed by Eurostat in April, will be added to the so-called cash buffer to be created ahead of the conclusion of the bailout program. The non-execution of public investments co-funded by the EU also had an impact on budget revenues, as inflows from Brussels were 1.213 billion euros short of the target.

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Those that have jobs, that is.

Greeks Work Longest Hours in Europe (GR)

Greeks work the longest hours in Europe, while Germans clock the least hours, new data by the OECD reveal. The OECD includes 35 developed countries and some developing nations. The data were presented during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Mexicans are shown to be the hardest workers in the world, as the average Mexican spends 2,255 hours working per year, the equivalent of around 43 hours per week. In Europe, Greeks work the longest hours, averaging 2,035 hours per year. Germans, on the other hand, work the least in Europe and the world, averaging only 1,363 hours per year. The differences between countries has to do with differences in work cultures, the OECD says.

For instance, Mexicans work the most hours because they have a fear of unemployment, while lax labor rules allow employers to break a 48-hour-week law. However, although South Koreans come third in hours worked per year, employees there aim to boost economic growth. The Japanese, who are stereotyped as working very long hours, in fact put in only 1,713 hours per year, below the OECD average. An important factor regarding hours of work is the level of productivity. According to the study, Germans work the least hours but manage to maintain high productivity levels. The average German worker is reported to be 27% more productive than their British counterparts who work 1,676 hours per year. The Dutch, French and Danes also work fewer than 1,500 hours per year on average, while Americans average 1,783 work hours per year.

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The easiest problem to solve, isn’t. So what hope is there then? If you must have plastic, and you rarely do really, make it compostable, edible. By next year, not 20-30 years from now.

Each EU Citizen Creates 31kg Of Plastic-Waste Per Year (Stat.)

Plastic packaging waste is a huge problem around the world. Despite efforts in some European countries such as plastic bottle deposit schemes or having to pay for plastic bags in the supermarket, Statista’s Martin Armstrong notes that the average EU citizen creates 31kg of plastic waste per year. Eurostat figures show that the UK lies above this average, with its citizens responsible for 35kg of waste. The worst country by a long way though is Ireland. 61kg of packaging is thrown away by the average Irish person, 9kg more than the second most prolific country, Luxembourg. The least is created in Bulgaria where a more acceptable 14kg is disposed of over the year.

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Jan 212018
 
 January 21, 2018  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Francisco Goya The Dog 1819-23

 

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)
Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)
Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)
China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)
China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)
Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)
Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)
Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)
In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)
Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)
Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)
15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

 

 

Let it go down; why maintain the illusion that the system functions?

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)

The US Senate is due back in session to try to end a budget impasse before the start of the working week when the shutdown of many federal services will be felt around the country. Hundreds of thousands of federal staff face the prospect of unpaid leave. On Saturday, recriminations flew around over the Senate’s failure to pass a new budget and prevent the shutdown. A bill to fund the federal government for the coming weeks did not receive the required 60 votes by Friday. The Republican leader of the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, has said there will be a vote at 01:00 in the early hours of Monday (06:00 GMT) on a bill to fund the government until 8 February. The last government shutdown was in 2013, and lasted for 16 days.

This is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party, the Republicans, controls both Congress and the White House. The vote on Friday was 50-49, falling far short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. With a 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Republicans do not have enough votes to pass the bill without some support from the Democrats. They want funding for border security – including the border wall – and immigration reforms, as well as increased military spending. The Democrats have demanded protection from deportation of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children.

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No gloating.

Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)

Donald Trump was set to be the first U.S. president to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in nearly two decades, but the government shutdown might have scrambled those plans. White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney said Saturday that Trump’s plans to travel to Davos next week are up in the air while Congress scrambles to strike a deal to fund the federal government. “We’re taking Davos, from the president’s perspective and the Cabinet’s perspective, on a day-by-day basis,” Mulvaney told reporters during an impromptu briefing. The government shut down at midnight Friday, after congressional negotiators failed to pass a budget.

Earlier in the day, Trump cancelled a planned trip to Florida, where he was scheduled to host a party at his private Mar-a-Lago club to mark the one year anniversary of his inauguration. Tickets for the Mar-a-Lago party begin at $100,000 per couple, and proceeds will benefit the Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee. On Saturday, RNC staffers were busy setting up TV screens in the private club, so Trump could address the guests via satellite, according to CNN. The budget impasse showed no signs of letting up on Saturday, as both Democrats and Republicans dug their heels in, and each party blamed the other. The president is scheduled to depart for Switzerland on Wednesday, along with a delegation of more than a dozen Cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and top White House aides.

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They have to release it, no choice.

Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)

One of the gravest and most damaging abuses of state power is to misuse surveillance authorities for political purposes. For that reason, The Intercept, from its inception, has focused extensively on these issues. We therefore regard as inherently serious strident warnings from public officials alleging that the FBI and Department of Justice have abused their spying power for political purposes. Social media last night and today have been flooded with inflammatory and quite dramatic claims now being made by congressional Republicans about a four-page memo alleging abuses of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act spying processes during the 2016 election.

This memo, which remains secret, was reportedly written under the direction of the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, and has been read by dozens of members of Congress after the committee voted to make the memo available to all members of the House of Representatives to examine in a room specially designated for reviewing classified material. The rhetoric issuing from GOP members who read the memo is notably extreme. North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, called the memo “troubling” and “shocking” and said, “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”

GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania stated: “You think about, ‘Is this happening in America or is this the KGB?’ That’s how alarming it is.” This has led to a ferocious outcry on the right to “release the memo” – and presumably thereby prove that the Obama administration conducted unlawful surveillance on the Trump campaign and transition. On Thursday night, Fox News host and stalwart Trump ally Sean Hannity claimed that the memo described “the systematic abuse of power, the weaponizing of those powerful tools of intelligence and the shredding of our Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.” Given the significance of this issue, it is absolutely true that the memo should be declassified and released to the public — and not just the memo itself.

The House Intelligence Committee generally and Nunes specifically have a history of making unreliable and untrue claims (its report about Edward Snowden was full of falsehoods, and prior claims from Nunes about “unmasking” have been discredited). Thus, mere assertions from Nunes — or anyone else — are largely worthless; Republicans should provide American citizens not merely with the memo they claim reveals pervasive criminality and abuse of power, but also with all of the evidence underlying its conclusions.

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Don’t worry, the shadow banks will.

China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)

The People’s Bank of China has ordered financial institutions to stop providing banking or funding to any activity related to cryptocurrencies, further tightening the noose since its shutdown of crypto exchanges last September sent digital currency enthusiasts fleeing overseas. “Every bank and branch must carry out self-inspection and rectification, starting from today,” according to a document issued by the central bank on Wednesday. “Service for cryptocurrency trading is strictly prohibited. Effective measures should be adopted to prevent payment channels from being used for cryptocurrency settlement.” The Chinese-language document, as seen by the South China Morning Post, was distributed as an internal document among banks, and not published on the central bank’s official website.

“Banks should enhance their daily transaction monitoring, and the timely shut down of the payment channel once they discover any suspected trading of cryptocurrencies,” the document said, adding that the deadline for disclosing the measures is on January 20. The emphasis was on handling any capital settlement to avoid any financial losses by cryptocurrency investors from escalating into public protests – known as “group events” in China – and preserve social stability, the central bank said. [..] Chinese cryptocurrency traders, who once dominated 90 per cent of the world’s trading volume of bitcoin, the most popular and oldest form of cryptocurrency, have moved to the underground market, or overseas to Japan. Bitcoin is considered legal tender in Japan.

“Most of the trading is taking place via US dollar now, as some big accounts active in digital currency trading are already on China’s official watch list and payment channel already blocked,” said Zhao Dong, an individual bitcoin investor who spends most of his time in Japan now. “This move by the PBOC is further pushing capital and innovation out of China.” Still, a person no less than Zhou Xiaochuan, the longest-serving governor in the Chinese central bank, has himself announced that the People’s Bank of China itself is studying the feasibility of developing its own digital currency.

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As does Russia.

China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)

China’s National Defense Ministry said the U.S. should abandon a “Cold War” mindset and view Chinese national security and military efforts “rationally and objectively.” The instigators of militarization of the South China Sea are “other countries” that don’t seem to want to see peace in the region and are using the banner of “navigational freedom” to undertake military activities in a tyrannical manner, ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a statement released late Saturday. The statement was in response to a U.S. Defense Department strategy report, released last week, that singled out China’s military modernization and expansion in the South China Sea as key threats to U.S. power.

China has undertaken massive land reclamation in the contested waterway that hosts $5 trillion in trade a year, to strengthen its claim to more than 80 percent of the area. That has strained ties with other claimant states, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the U.S. The National Defence ministry’s statement on Saturday came shortly after China’s Foreign Ministry vowed to take “necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty after a U.S. warship entered waters surrounding the Huangyan Island in the South China Sea. China’s activities in the South China Sea is “a matter within China’s sovereign rights,” Ren said, adding that the country is committed to a path of peaceful development and a harmonious world order.

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A good point not particularly well made.

Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)

Brexit, at its heart, is a recognition that Britain has become steadily weaker since it spent much of its empire wealth fighting two world wars – too feeble in the years before the 2016 referendum to sustain an exchange rate of $1.60 and €1.40, just as it was too poor to cope with $4 to the pound in the 1950s and $2 to the pound in 1992. Manufacturers were unable to make things cheaply, reliably or efficiently enough against the headwind of a high-value currency, forcing many to give up. An economy that boasted 20% of its income coming from manufacturing in the 1980s found it was the source of barely 10% at the beginning of this decade.

Surges in GDP growth in the 70 years since the war can be attributed (and this short list makes the point crudely) to periods when there were cheap raw materials and energy costs; or a growing population; or foreign ownership and management of key industries; or the offloading of vast amounts of state and mutually owned assets; or cheap borrowing. Without these in operation to improve the UK’s performance, a lower exchange rate became inevitable. Some Brexit campaigners made a cheaper currency their explicit aim, arguing that while Britain’s wealth and standing in the world would be diminished in the short term, the breathing space given to manufacturers would allow them to sell abroad at cheaper prices, then use the funds to invest and gain the efficiencies needed to cope with a return to a higher exchange rate sometime in the next decade.

There is a good deal of logic to the argument, but it rests, like so many revolutionary aims, on the many and competing forces in the economy doing exactly what its proponents want them to. For instance, manufacturers, with a few honourable exceptions, have refused to invest more than the bare minimum for decades, even when the exchange rate has helped them. There are windfall profits to be made when currencies fall: but these windfalls have been trousered by shareholders, not invested.

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Little emperor.

Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)

Emmanuel Macron has said it would be possible for Britain to secure a bespoke trade deal but only if the UK accepts certain “preconditions”. The French president said that while a special solution could be secured, full access to the single market without accepting its rules was “not feasible”. The comments were made during an interview recorded for BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. Macron has been in the UK for his first visit since taking office. On Thursday, at the end of a joint press conference with Theresa May at Sandhurst military training college, he rejected the idea of a tailored Brexit deal for Britain’s financial services sector. Macron said full access to EU markets would not be possible unless the UK paid into the EU budget and accepted all its rules.

In the interview with Marr, he said there was “a competition between different countries” to attract financial services companies in the future and that France wanted “to attract the maximum activity”. The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has said he is seeking a “Canada plus plus plus” arrangement, based on the EU-Canada trade treaty, but with additional access for services. However, EU negotiators have stressed that Britain would not be allowed to “cherry-pick” sectors. Pressed on whether there would be a bespoke special solution for the UK, Macron said: “Sure, but … this special way should be consistent with the preservation of the single market and our collective interests. “And you should understand that you cannot, by definition, have the full access to the single market if you don’t tick the box.” He added: “So it’s something perhaps between this full access and a trade agreement.”

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It’s starting to feel like Stockholm Syndrome.

Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)

Eurozone finance ministers are to meet in Brussels on Monday to assess Greece’s progress in enforcing economic reforms, decide whether to disburse 6.7 billion euros in bailout loans and, Athens hopes, signal talks on debt relief. It was unclear if the loan tranche would be disbursed in its entirety, as some prior actions are pending. However, Greek officials sounded upbeat following a decision late on Friday by Standard & Poor’s to raise Greece’s sovereign credit rating from B- to B with a positive outlook. “Greece’s growth and fiscal outlooks have improved alongside a labor market recovery and amid a period of relative policy certainty,” S&P said.

“These positive developments boost the sense that the trust of the markets and investors in the Greek economy is being restored with steady steps,” the Finance Ministry said on Saturday. “With the conclusion of the program in August 2018 and the securing of steady access to the markets, the Greek economy is definitely moving away from a long period of crisis.” Despite the upbeat rhetoric, there are divisions within SYRIZA over government policies, particularly in the radical Group of 53 faction. In comments to SYRIZA’s central committee on Saturday, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos conceded that there are “many short-term problems” and underlined two major risks. “One is the banks and the other is the IMF,” he said.

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Nice. Kiwis believe in fairy tales.

In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)

Ask Tourism New Zealand what 100% Pure means and they’ll tell you: it’s not a ‘clean, green’ campaign, but a campaign that delivers a “100% Pure New Zealand experience”. What it is is 100% pure advertising, and a slogan fit to replace the fertiliser used in the country’s intensive farming. But while Kiwis do seem to be realising there’s something murky about our clean-green image, there is one area we are still fooling ourselves about – the state of our native creatures. Stuff has just wrapped up its Forgotten Species series, a five-part series looking at a handful of the estimated 3700 native species which are either approaching extinction or at risk. Despite having one of the highest proportions of threatened or endangered species of anywhere on the planet, 70% of the public feel the state of our country’s natives is adequate or doing well, according to a recent Lincoln University study.

Ask study co-author Ross Cullen and he will tell you – 70% of the public is “totally wrong”. All countries advertise, and everyone accepts it with a pinch of salt. If we didn’t we would all be jetting off to England expecting a village in the Cotswolds and end up at a sleazy pub in Plumstead, east London. Advertising is advertising, and good advertising brings in tourism money. However, when the public believes its own advertising, it’s no longer advertising, it’s propaganda –and that’s a problem. It’s a problem because if the populace think something’s going well, they ignore it, the political hot-potato cools, and the decline continues. Case in point – the National Government’s Minister for Conservation, Maggie Barry, paraded the new Threatened Species Strategy in front of voters just as the 2017 general election was heating up.

It promised to increase the number of at-risk species directly managed by 40%. On the face of it, this seems great, but when the Budget was released a couple of weeks later, almost all of DOC’s extra funding was ring-fenced for upgrading tourism infrastructure and developing new Great Walks. It was a great ad delivered by a great ex-garden show host. Kiwis might have kicked up a fuss – if the majority didn’t think we were doing a bang up job on protecting native species already. I remember a telling moment after ex-Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright’s launched her report finding 80% of native birds were threatened. I was present to hear why Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts didn’t fancy this was a problem. “The people come here for our scenery, not our wildlife,” he said. Roberts didn’t disagree with any of the report’s findings, he just thought a visitor levy would do more harm to the country than the rapid die-off of our native birds.

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Depression zone. I went from Athens to Amsterdam 5 weeks ago, lost 2 hours of daylight to begin with, and been dead tired ever since. Vitamin D doesn’t do it either.

Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)

Sunshine is in short supply across a swathe of north-west Europe, shrouded in heavy cloud from a seemingly never-ending series of low pressure systems since late November and suffering one of its darkest winters since records began. If you live in Brussels, 10 hours and 31 minutes was your lot for the entire month of December. The all but benighted inhabitants of Lille in France got just two hours, 42 minutes through the first half of January. “Sound the alarm and announce the disappearance,” read a despairing headline in photon-deprived northern France’s regional paper, La Voix du Nord. “A star has been kidnapped. We still have no sign of life from the sun.”

Belgium’s Royal Meteorological Institute has declared December 2017 “the second darkest month since 1887”, when it began measuring, after the 10.5 hours of sun recorded at its Uccle weather station last month were beaten only by a bare 9.3 hours in 1934. France’s northern Hauts-de-France region did better with 26 hours of sunshine in December, but that was against a norm of 48. But Météo France described the paltry 2.7 hours of sun recorded from 1 to 13 January in Lille, the region’s biggest city, as “exceptional”. The January average stands at 61.4 hours, according to the agency – meaning Lille and its unfortunate residents were deprived of perhaps 30 hours’ worth of rays in the first part of the month.

[..] Even southern French sun-traps such as Bordeaux and Marseille fell a very long way short of their usual ray quota in the first half of the month, basking in just 10.3 and 26.9 hours respectively against monthly averages of 96 and 92.5. Health experts say a shortage of sunshine can lead to seasonal depression, whose symptoms include a lack of energy, a desire to sleep and a perceived need to consume greater quantities of sugar and fat. “Exposure to morning light inhibits the secretion of melatonin that promotes sleep and favours the production of hormones that will stimulate the body,” Matthieu Hein, a psychiatrist at the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels, said. In the absence of light, we are “rather slow, tired, which is characteristic of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder”. Florent Durand, who runs a massage studio in Lille, told France 3 TV that his €39 light therapy sessions were booked out.

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As Turkey bombs US supported Kurds, Erdogan feels like a god.

Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)

Turkey’s agreement with the European Union to curb human trafficking across the Aegean appears to be in jeopardy again after a top Turkish official warned that a current impasse with the EU gives Ankara no reason to honor the deal. A collapse of the deal would put more pressure on Greek islands where thousands of migrants are cooped up in overcrowded reception centers. The comments on Friday by Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, essentially rejected a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron for a partnership rather than full EU membership for Turkey. “A privileged partnership or similar approaches, we don’t take any of these seriously. Turkey cannot be offered such a thing,” Celik told Reuters.

Celik said the EU was not fully honoring its part of the migration deal, noting that financial aid was “not working well” and that no new chapters have been opened in Turkey’s EU accession bid. “Technically there’s no reason for Turkey to maintain this deal,” he said. The minister’s words echoed those of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, during a landmark visit to Greece in December, hit out at the EU for giving Turkey just a portion of the aid it had pledged as part of the 2016 migrant deal. During Erdogan’s visit, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proposed that Turkey take back migrants from facilities on the Greek mainland to free up space for migrants from overcrowded camps on the islands. Erdogan did not publicly respond to the suggestion.

After Celik’s comments on Friday, a spokesman for the Greek Migration Ministry said the government’s position, that all sides must honor the Turkey-EU deal, remained “fixed and firm.” Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Lesvos on Friday, together with Valentin Radev, the interior minister of Bulgaria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Mouzalas reassured local residents, who had gathered at the Moria facility, that measures would be taken to ensure that migrants alleged to have been involved in thefts or other offenses will no longer be allowed to leave the premises. Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos said the minister was not doing enough to adequately inform residents and was shifting the blame for the situation on the islands on to local authorities.

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New year, same old lack of humanity.

15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

Fifteen Syrian refugees – some of them children – have been found frozen to death while trying to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon. Thirteen bodies were found on Friday and two more were discovered on Saturday after the area was hit by a fierce snowstorm. Lebanese civil defence officials found the bodies after being told a group of refugees were in trouble near Masnaa. Local reports say the group had been abandoned by smugglers. Two smugglers have reportedly been arrested.

Several refugees were rescued, including a young boy who was found wandering by himself. The group were taking the same route hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken before them trying to flee the conflict at home. Lebanon, with a population of four million, has taken in nearly one million Syrians since the war began in 2011. The Lebanese authorities brought in new restrictions in 2015 to try to restrict the number of refugees arriving in the country.

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