Apr 252018
 
 April 25, 2018  Posted by at 8:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Amedeo Modigliani Nu allongé 1917

 

Why All Companies Fear ‘Death By Amazon’ (G.)
Richmond Fed Manufacturing Survey Crashes By Most In 25 Years (ZH)
Markets Better Prepare for Stagflation (DDMB)
Trade War With US And China’s $14 Trillion Debt-Ridden Economy (CNBC)
Big Farms Set To Pay The Price As EU Eyes Subsidy Cuts (Pol.)
In Japan, New Rules May Leave Home-Sharing Industry Out In The Cold (R.)
Palma de Mallorca To Ban Holiday Rentals After Residents’ Complaints (BBC)
Greece Uncovers Tax Evading Airbnb Owners By Posing as Customers (KTG)
World Wine Output Falls To 60-Year Low (R.)
Homelessness In UK ’10 Times Worse’ Than Official Figures Suggest (Ind.)
Over One In Five Greeks Can’t Make Ends Meet (K.)
Greek Minister Drafts Action Plans Amid Fears Over Refugee Influx (K.)
Greek Government Defies Court on Asylum Seekers (HRW)
Arctic Sea Ice Contains Huge Quantity Of Microplastics (Ind.)

 

 

Do we want monopolies? We’re letting them grow in front of our eyes.

Why All Companies Fear ‘Death By Amazon’ (G.)

Although its retail site is the most visible of its business strands, the $740bn company has quietly stretched its tentacles into an astonishing range of unrelated industries. Google and Facebook might have cornered the online advertising market, but Amazon’s business successes now include groceries, TV, robotics, cloud services and consumer electronics. “If you try to measure power by how many executives are up at night because of X company, I think Amazon would win,” said Lina Khan, legal fellow with the Open Markets Program at the thinktank New America. Amazon has a restaurant delivery service, a music streaming service and an Etsy clone called Amazon Homemade. It makes hugely successful hardware and software; it makes movies, television shows and video games.

It runs a labour brokerage for computer-based work and another for manual labour. It publishes books, sells books, and owns the popular social network site for book readers GoodReads.com. It sells diapers, baby food, snacks, clothing, furniture and batteries. It sells ads, processes payments, and makes small loans. It is the unexpected owner of a huge number of websites – everything from the gaming livestream site Twitch to the movie database IMDb. Of the top 10 US industries by GDP (information, manufacturing non-durable goods, retail trade, wholesale trade, manufacturing durable goods, healthcare, finance and insurance, state and local government, professional and business services, and real estate), Amazon has a finger in all but real estate.

And how confident can the real estate industry be right now that Amazon won’t at some point decide to allow people to buy and sell homes on its platform? “I see them as kind of a great white shark,” said Greer. “You don’t really want to mess with them.” “It’s basically become a railroad for the 21st century,” added Khan. “It’s existential for so many businesses but also competing with all those businesses.” What makes Amazon so frightening for rival businesses is that it can use its expertise in data analytics to move into almost any sector. “Amazon has all this data available. They track what people are searching for, what they click, what they don’t,” said Greer. “Every time you’re searching for something and don’t click, you’re telling Amazon that there’s a gap.”

Read more …

Recovery.

Richmond Fed Manufacturing Survey Crashes By Most In 25 Years (ZH)

When hope dies… against expectations of a small rise from March to a 16 print, April came in at a disastrous -3 (the worst data since Sept 2016). From record highs just a couple months ago, Richmond Fed manufacturing has crashed by the most in the survey’s 25 year history into contraction…

It was a bloodbath below the surface too. New orders collapsed to -9 from +17, order backlogs plunged to -4 from +10 and while wages and employees rose, workweek dropped notably. Finally, prices paid rose once again even as new orders crashed… Must be the weather, right?

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No, inflation is not “heating up by all metrics”. But we get the point.

Markets Better Prepare for Stagflation (DDMB)

Investors better wake up to the growing risk of stagflation. The coming weeks promise to deliver the verdict on how they should be positioned. By all metrics, inflation is heating up. But it’s not clear the same can said for underlying economic activity. According to producers, input costs have risen for six of the past eight months. And it’s not just big companies that are feeling pressure. One in four small businesses say they plan to raise prices, a 10-year high, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. Inflation’s persistence will finally begin to trickle through to consumers.

David Rosenberg, chief economist at the wealth management company Gluskin Sheff, recently quipped that investors “better say a prayer for Jay Powell,” the Federal Reserve chair. The deniers will dismiss the suggestion. But Rosenberg is serious, citing the core consumer price index’s March leap to 2.1%, a level that breaches the Fed’s 2% inflation target. “There is going to be a price to be paid for last year’s string of wireless-induced 0.1% prints which are falling out of the year-over-year math,” Rosenberg explained, referring to the collapse in wireless services that skewed inflation lower in 2017. “I see 50/50 odds of a 3% core inflation by year end.”

[..] The New York Fed’s regional survey also raised red flags. Delivery Times remained near their highest levels in seven years while New Orders, Backlogs and Employment all declined. The survey showed an even gloomier outlook for the future. The six-month business activity outlook dove to 18.8 from 44.1, the weakest since February 2016. Though one month can never make a trend, the depth of the plunge is bound to have raised eyebrows given that prior moves of its magnitude tend to coincide with recession.

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China’s so bloated with debt it is very vulnerable.

Trade War With US And China’s $14 Trillion Debt-Ridden Economy (CNBC)

While some of the rhetoric around trade tariffs on China has died down over the last couple of weeks, the prospect of a trade war has not. On April 18, China imposed preliminary antidumping tariffs of 178.6% on sorghum, a crop used to make alcohol and biofuels, while President Donald Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on $150 billion worth of goods on everything from solar panels to aircraft to cars remains on the table. If an actual U.S. trade war ensues, then China’s economic growth prospects could be negatively impacted in a significant way. While the country’s economy has shifted inward over the last few years, relying on its own citizens to fuel growth, it still exports billions of dollars in goods and services every year.

Last year it sold $506 billion in exports to the United States — nearly 20% of its exports go to America — while the United States sold just $130 billion to the Chinese. In January the IMF said China’s economic growth would top 6.6% in 2018, but it could now drop by as much as 0.5% if these tariffs are imposed — and it could slow even further if a global trade war truly heats up. China’s economy can likely weather a small decline in growth, in part because of its increased reliance on domestic spending, but this isn’t the only potentially GDP-destroying situation it’s dealing with.

Over the last few years, China’s debt-to-GDP has ballooned to more than 300% from 160% a decade ago, causing many people, including Chinese officials, to warn of a financial-sector debt bubble that’s waiting to burst. [..] How did it get so bad? After the recession, the country spent trillions on infrastructure projects, with many banks, including unregulated or “shadow” banks, loaning money to companies that have been unable to pay back their debts. According to a Chinese news outlet, Lai Xiaoming, chairman of China Huarong Asset Management, one of the country’s biggest asset management firms, said that total volume of nonperforming loans could hit a record $476 billion by 2020.

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Why the insects are dying. Europe should cut subsidies for anyone using chemicals.

Big Farms Set To Pay The Price As EU Eyes Subsidy Cuts (Pol.)

EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger said Monday that Brussels plans to cut its payments to Europe’s biggest farms in the next budget cycle in order to reduce the bloc’s lavish agricultural subsidies by 6%. Brussels is due to make a proposal for the EU’s 2021-2027 budget framework on May 2, and cutbacks are seen as inevitable because Britain will no longer be contributing funds. Agricultural spending is one of the most obvious targets for cost cutting because the Common Agricultural Policy represents almost 40% of the EU budget, or some €59 billion each year.

When asked by POLITICO about CAP cuts on the sidelines of a trade conference in Hannover, Oettinger said: “We cannot fully exempt the existing programs from cutbacks. And in comparison to 2020, as the last year of the existing financial framework, my proposal will focus on approximately 6%, a moderate 6%, reductions.” One of the biggest criticisms of the CAP is that it has prioritized big landowners with direct payments based on acreage. Some 80% of CAP funds go to 20% of farms, owned by the likes of British royalty and major multinational companies. Oettinger said the new budget model would aim to balance that slightly.

“What we have in mind is degressive funding: That means a very big business receives for its hectares a little bit less money than a small enterprise. And that’s exactly what we still have to discuss within the next next days. On Wednesday, we will have a discussion between [Agriculture Commissioner Phil] Hogan and me on this.” Hogan has already told farmers to prepare for belt-tightening. “We need to be realistic: In the absence of more money from member states, there will be a cut to the CAP budget. My job as I see it is to build the strongest possible coalition to resist the worst of these cuts, and achieve the best outcome in a difficult scenario,” he said last week.

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Governments are starting to tackle Airbnb.

In Japan, New Rules May Leave Home-Sharing Industry Out In The Cold (R.)

Japan’s new home-sharing law was meant to ease a shortage of hotel rooms, bring order to an unregulated market and offer more lodging options for foreign visitors ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Instead, the law is likely to stifle Airbnb Inc and other home-sharing businesses when it is enacted in June and force many homeowners to stop offering their services, renters and experts say. The “minpaku,” or private temporary lodging law, the first national legal framework for short-term home rental in Asia, limits home-sharing to 180 days a year, a cap some hosts say makes it difficult to turn a profit.

More important, local governments, which have final authority to regulate services in their areas, are imposing even more severe restrictions, citing security or noise concerns. For example, Tokyo’s Chuo ward, home to the tony Ginza shopping district, has banned weekday rentals on grounds that allowing strangers into apartment buildings during the week could be unsafe. That’s a huge disappointment for Airbnb “superhost” Mika, who asked that her last name not be used because home-renting is now officially allowed only in certain zones. She has enjoyed hosting international visitors in her spare two-bedroom apartment but will stop because her building management has decided to ban the service ahead of the law’s enactment.

“I was able to meet many different people I would have not met otherwise,” said Mika, 53, who started renting out her apartment after she used a home-sharing service overseas. “I may sell my condo.” Mika added that if she were to rent the apartment out on a monthly basis, she would only make one-third of what she does from short-term rentals. The ancient capital of Kyoto, which draws more than 50 million tourists a year, will allow private lodging in residential areas only between Jan. 15 and March 16, avoiding the popular spring and fall tourist seasons.

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“..only 645 of 11,000 holiday rentals being offered to tourists on Palma have the licence required to do so.”

Palma de Mallorca To Ban Holiday Rentals After Residents’ Complaints (BBC)

The Spanish resort city of Palma, on the island of Majorca, is to ban flat owners from renting their apartments to travellers, becoming the first place in Spain to introduce such a measure. The restrictions follow complaints from residents of rising rents due to short holiday lets through websites and apps. Palma’s mayor says the ban, to be introduced in July, will be a model for cities suffering with mass tourism. But business associations say many families will be financially impacted. It was not immediately clear if the ban was restricted only to private flats advertised by their owners on apps or websites.

Houses and chalets will be exempt from the restrictions unless they are located inside protected areas, next to the airport or in industrial zones. Palma, like many other cities around the world, has seen an increase in visitor numbers driven, in part, by private rental accommodation offered through websites and apps. Officials from the local left-wing governing coalition cited a study suggesting that the number of non-licensed apartments on offer to tourists increased by 50% between 2015 and 2017. According to Spanish newspaper El País, only 645 of 11,000 holiday rentals being offered to tourists on Palma have the licence required to do so.

Locally, there is resentment over tourism pushing up prices – rents in Palma have reportedly increased 40% since 2013 – but also about deteriorating conditions in neighbourhoods popular with travellers due to noise and bad behaviour. “Palma is a determined and courageous city,” Mayor Antoni Noguera said. “We agreed on this [ban] based on the general interest [of the city] and we believe it will set the trend for other cities when they see that finding a balance is key.”

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They’re all doing it all wrong. Simply force Airbnb to supply numbers on all rentals.

Greece Uncovers Tax Evading Airbnb Owners By Posing as Customers (KTG)

Tax inspectors uncover tax evading Airbnb owners by pretending to be customers. According to Greece’s Independent Authority for Public Revenue (AADE), the trap has revealed a total of 55 Airbnbn tax evaders, so far. In some cases, the ‘fake customers’ even proceeded to booking an Airbnb flat. The first Airbnb owners who failed to declare their earnings from home-sharing practices were uncovered by Greece’s Independent Authority for Public Revenue (AADE) this week. Under a pilot program aiming to weed out violators, AADE inspectors posed as customers seeking to rent out short-term accommodation via the Airbnb platform. The undercover inspections focused on central points in the Greek capital as well as on luxury options available on popular Greek islands. In some cases, AADE authorities even proceeded to book.

According to AADE, 55 proprietors who had not proceeded with the mandatory declaration of earnings from home-sharing services were notified of the violation. A total of 39 came forward and proceeded with corrections to their income tax declarations indicating additional property income of approximately 921,163 euros resulting in over 200,000 euros going into state coffers. It should be noted that all owners renting out their properties on home-sharing platforms are required by Greek law to declare earned incomes from short-term lease in 2017 on their E2 Forms (column 7).

For income up to 12,000 euros, tax is imposed at a rate of 15%. Takings between 12,001 and 35,000 euros will be taxed at a 35% rate; annual gains over 35,000 euros at a 45% rate. For those offering additional services on the side, the earnings are assessed as income from business activity and taxed at 22% for earnings up to 20,000 euros, 29% for yields between 20,001 and 30,000 euros, 37% for takings between 30,001 and 40,000 euros, and 45% for profits exceeding 40,000 euros.

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Looked it up: World population 60 years ago was less than 3 billion (it hit that in 1960). It is now 7.5 billion. Ergo: people used to drink over 2x as much wine back then.

World Wine Output Falls To 60-Year Low (R.)

Wine production totaled 250 million hectoliters last year, down 8.6% from 2016, data from the Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) released on Tuesday showed. It is the lowest level since 1957, when it had fallen to 173.8 million hectoliters, the OIV told Reuters. A hectoliter represents 100 liters, or the equivalent of just over 133 standard 75 cl wine bottles. All top wine producers in the EU have been hit by harsh weather last year, which lead to an overall fall in the bloc of 14.6% to 141 million hectoliters.

The OIV’s projections, which exclude juice and must (new wine), put Italian wine production down 17% at 42.5 million hectoliters, French output down 19% at 36.7 million and Spanish production down 20% at 32.1 million. The French government said last year production had hit a record low due to a series of poor weather conditions including spring frosts, drought and storms that affected most of the main growing regions including Bordeaux and Champagne. In contrast, production remained nearly stable in the United States, the world’s fourth largest producer, and China, which has become the world’s seventh largest wine producer behind Australia and Argentina.

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Failed state.

Homelessness In UK ’10 Times Worse’ Than Official Figures Suggest (Ind.)

The true scale of homelessness in the UK is almost 10 times worse than official figures suggest, according to a new report. Homeless charity Justlife warns thousands of people are being “forgotten in statistics” after it estimated that at least 51,500 people were living in B&Bs in the year to April 2016 – compared with 5,870 official B&B placements recorded by the government. It comes after a separate investigation found that 78 homeless people died last winter – an average of at least two a week. The report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed the fatalities included rough sleepers, people recognised as “statutory homeless” and people staying in temporary accommodation.

Justlife reached its estimate on the homeless B&B population using data gathered from Freedom of Information requests to local authorities, along with other information from the government’s Rural and Urban Classification for Local Authority Districts data. Christa Maciver, author of the report, said: “We can no longer ignore the tens of thousands of people stuck homeless, hidden and ignored in our cities. This report shows there is so much we don’t know and that we really need to be calculating homelessness more accurately.

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And another failed state.

Over One In Five Greeks Can’t Make Ends Meet (K.)

Last year 21.1% of Greeks – or more than one in five – were unable to cover their basic needs, such as the timely payment of utility bills and regular consumption of meat, according to Eurostat. That 21.1% in 2017 may constitute a minor improvement from the 22.4% rate in 2016, but is still a particularly high level. This rate was also the second highest in the European Union and translates to a large share of the population, or 2.24 million people.

The people or households in that category are by definition those unable to meet the costs of at least four of the following: payment of utility bills in time, sufficient heating at home, tackling extraordinary expenses, consumption of meat (or fish or the equivalent in vegetables) on a regular basis, a one-week vacation away from home, and capacity to purchase a TV set, a washing machine, a car or a telephone. The age group with the highest rate of material deprivation in Greece includes those between 20 and 24 years, amounting to 32.6% – or one in three – though this is according to 2016 data. Notably, the year with the highest material deprivation rate in Greece from 2003 to 2017 (for which Eurostat has data), was 2009.

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Arrivals on Lesbos are 4 times what they were last year this time.

Greek Minister Drafts Action Plans Amid Fears Over Refugee Influx (K.)

Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas conceded on Tuesday that he is “worried” about the significant increase in the flow of migrants and refugees to Greece observed recently. Vitsas said that arrivals on Lesvos had increased almost fourfold since last year, noting that daily arrivals were 54 on average last year compared to the 206 migrants who arrived on the island on Tuesday. Between January and April, more than 7,000 migrants and refugees arrived on the islands of the eastern Aegean, he said, noting that just 112 people were returned to Turkey during that same period. However, Vitsas appeared far more concerned with the increase in arrivals over the Greek-Turkish land border, noting that 340 people crossed the border on Tuesday.

“I’m not scared about the islands because we know what we have to do. What is really worrisome is the huge increase through Evros,” he said. Under pressure from the opposition over mistakes and omissions in the government’s current migration policy, Vitsas said that his ministry has prepared two plans to deal with the situation and pledged to outline their content to political party leaders in private. According to Bulgarian government statistics, 356 migrants have crossed into that country from Turkey since the beginning of the year. In the same period, more than 2,700 crossed Turkey’s land border with Greece, Vitsas said.

There are fears that the difference in flows is due to deteriorating ties between Greece and Turkey while relations between Sofia and Ankara are good, particularly since Bulgarian authorities returned alleged supporters of the US-exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey in 2016. Security along Turkey’s border with Bulgaria has intensified since then. The opposite has been happening along the Greek border since the detention of two Greek soldiers who strayed across the border in early March. Greek border guards are now more cautious, and less inclined to crack down on migrants.

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Curious. Athens should be open about EU pressure on the topic.

Greek Government Defies Court on Asylum Seekers (HRW)

The Greek government’s move on April 20, 2018, overturning a binding court ruling ordering it to end its abusive policy of trapping asylum seekers on Greece’s islands raises rule of law concerns, 21 human rights and humanitarian organizations said today. Rather than carrying out the April 17 ruling by the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, the government issued an administrative decision reinstating the policy, known as the “containment policy.” It also introduced a bill on April 19 to clear the way to restore the policy in Greek law. Parliament members should oppose such changes and press the government to respect the ruling.

Parliament began discussing the draft law on April 24. But the government has preempted the debate on the bill, including the issue of the containment policy by reinstating it. On April 20, the new director of the asylum service reissued an administrative order setting down the reasons for the containment policy. Among grounds given to justify the restrictions imposed by the policy are the need to implement an EU-Turkey deal on migration and a broader public interest claim. But the decision goes against the Council of State ruling and Greece’s responsibilities under international, EU and Greek law, as it offers insufficient justification for the restrictions, the groups said.

The Council of State’s April 17 ruling said that Greece’s containment policy had no legal basis and that there were no imperative reasons under EU and Greek law justifying the restrictions to the freedom of movement of asylum seekers. It ordered the annulment of the administrative decision imposing the restrictions and permitted the free movement of asylum seekers arriving on the islands following the ruling’s publication. The ruling also highlighted that the disproportionate distribution of asylum seekers has overburdened the islands. The ruling is limited, however, applying only to new arrivals.

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“Each litre of sea ice contained around 12,000 particles of plastic..”

Arctic Sea Ice Contains Huge Quantity Of Microplastics (Ind.)

Scientists have found an unprecedented number of microplastics frozen in Arctic sea ice, demonstrating the alarming extent to which they are pervading marine environments. Analysis of ice cores from across the region found levels of the pollution were up to three times higher than previously thought. Each litre of sea ice contained around 12,000 particles of plastic, which scientists are now concerned are being ingested by native animals. Based on their analysis, the researchers were even able to trace the tiny fragments’ paths from their places of origin, from fishing vessels in Siberia to everyday detritus that had accumulated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“We are seeing a clear human imprint in the Arctic,” the study’s first author, Dr Ilka Peeken, told The Independent. “It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s ocean,” said Dr Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist at the British Antarctic Survey who was not involved with the study. “Nowhere is immune.”

Read more …

Apr 242018
 
 April 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan A Woman’s Work 1912

 

Japan Can Begin Reducing Stimulus In Five Years – Kuroda (CNBC)
ECB Mulls Shelving Rules Tackling Euro Zone’s Bad Loans Pile (R.)
The Return Of Honest Bond Yields (Stockman)
Stop and Assess (Jim Kunstler)
The Chinese Car Invasion Is Coming (BBG)
Greek Primary Surplus Comes At The Expense Of Growth (K.)
Tensions Grow On Greek Islands (K.)
The UK Has Turned The Right To Education Into A Charitable Cause (G.)
UK Food Bank Use Reaches Highest Rate On Record (Ind.)
Finland To End Basic Income Trial After Two Years (G.)

 

 

Abenomics is a miserable failure. Which is why Abe’s popularity is scraping the gutter. But we keep on pretending. Five years? Why not make it ten, or fifty? Kuroda is stuck….

Japan Can Begin Reducing Stimulus In Five Years – Kuroda (CNBC)

The Bank of Japan will be able to begin winding down its extraordinary monetary stimulus within the next five years, the head of the central bank said. “Sometime within the next five years, we will reach [our] 2% inflation target,” Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told CNBC’s Sara Eisen over the weekend. Once that level is reached, we will start “discussing how to gradually normalize the monetary condition.” Kuroda began his second five-year term this year. He has implemented a massive stimulus policy by cutting the central bank’s benchmark interest rate to negative, keeping the 10-year Japanese government bond yield near 0% in an effort to control the yield curve and stepping up the Bank of Japan’s asset purchases.

However, inflation remains low. Japan reported its consumer price index, excluding fresh food and energy, rose 0.5% in the 12 months through March. “In order to reach [our] 2% inflation target, I think the Bank of Japan must continue very strong accommodative monetary policy for some time,” Kuroda added in his interview with CNBC. Japan’s efforts to boost the sluggish national economy come amid steady growth around the world. The IMF predicts the global economy will increase 3.9% this year and next. Kuroda agreed with the positive outlook. “The world economy will continue to grow at a relatively high pace,” he said. For this year and next, “we don’t see any sign of a turning point.” But protectionism, unexpected rapid tightening of monetary policy in some countries, and geopolitical tensions in North Korea and the Middle East pose potential risks, Kuroda said.

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… and Draghi is stuck too. My article yesterday was timely. The outgoing Bundesbank director in charge of banking supervision says the ECB’s credibility is at stake. A dangerous thing to say.

ECB Mulls Shelving Rules Tackling Euro Zone’s Bad Loans Pile (R.)

The European Central Bank, after suffering a political backlash, is considering shelving planned rules that would have forced banks to set aside more money against their stock of unpaid loans. The guidelines, which were expected by March, had been presented as a main plank of the ECB’s plan to bring down a 759 billion euro ($930 billion) pile of soured credit weighing on euro zone banks, particularly in Greece, Portugal and Italy. The ECB was now considering whether further policies on legacy non-performing loans (NPLs) were necessary “depending on the progress made by individual banks”, an ECB spokeswoman said.

No decision had been made yet and the next steps were still being evaluated, she said. Central Bank sources told Reuters that if the rules were scrapped, supervisors would look to continue putting pressure on problem banks using existing powers. An alternative would be to hold off until the results of pan-European stress tests are published in November but this would be close to the end of Daniele Nouy’s mandate as the head of the ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism at the end of the year. A clean-up of banks’ balance sheets from toxic assets inherited from the financial crisis is a precondition for getting countries like Germany to agree on a common euro zone insurance on bank deposits.

And Andreas Dombret, the outgoing Bundesbank director in charge of banking supervision, said in an interview published on Monday that the ECB’s credibility was at stake. “One cannot say that NPLs are one of the biggest risk for the European banking sector and a top priority and then fail to act,” he told Boersen-Zeitung. “It’s about the credibility of the SSM,” he said, calling for a “timely proposal”.

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And as the central bankers find themselves trapped, the bond vigilantes roam free.

The Return Of Honest Bond Yields (Stockman)

In the wee hours this AM, the yield on the 10-year treasury note hit 2.993%. That’s close enough for gubermint work to say that the big 3.00% inflection point has now been tripped. And it means, in turn, that the end days of the Bubble Finance era have well and truly commenced. In a word, honest bond yields will knock the stuffings out of the mainstream fairy tale that passes for economic and financial reality. And in a 2-3% inflation world, by honest bond yields we mean 3% + on the front-end and 4-5% on the back-end of the yield curve. Needless to say, that means big trouble for the myth of MAGA. As we demonstrated in part 2, since the Donald’s inauguration there has been no acceleration in the main street economy—just the rigor mortis spasms of a stock market that has been endlessly juiced with cheap debt.

But the Trump boomlet in the stock averages has now hit its sell-by date. That’s because today’s egregiously inflated equity prices are in large part a product of debt-fueled corporate financial engineering—stock buybacks, unearned dividends and massive M&A dealing. Thus, since the pre-crisis peak in Q3 2007 nonfinancial corporate sector value added is up by 34%, but corporate debt securities outstanding have risen by 85%; and the overwhelming share of that massive debt increase was used to fund financial engineering, not productive assets and future earnings growth. In a world of honest interest rates, of course, this explosion of non-productive debt would have chewed into earnings good and hard because the borrowed cash went to Wall Street, not into the wherewithal of earnings growth.

In fact, during the past 10 years, net value added generated by US nonfinancial corporations rose by just $2 trillion (from $6.1 trillion to $8.1 trillion per annum), whereas corporate debt rose by nearly $3 trillion (from $3.3 trillion to $6.1 trillion). So it should have been a losing battle—with interest expense rising far faster than operating profits. But owing to the Fed’s misguided theory that it can make the main street economy bigger and stronger by falsifying interest rates and other financial asset prices, the C-suite financial engineers got a free hall pass. That is, they pleasured Wall Street by pumping massive amounts of borrowed cash back into the casino, but got no black mark on their P&Ls.

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“That’s what happens when money is just a representation of debt that can’t be paid back.”

Stop and Assess (Jim Kunstler)

Let’s pause today and make an assessment of where things stand in this country as Winter finally coils into Spring. As you might expect, a nation overrun with lawyers has litigated itself into a cul-de-sac of charges, arrests, suits, countersuits, and allegations that will rack up billable hours until the Rockies tumble. The best outcome may be that half the lawyers in this land will put the other half in jail, and then, finally, there will be space for the rest of us to re-connect with reality.

What does that reality consist of? Troublingly, an economy that can’t go on as we would like it to: a machine that spews out ever more stuff for ever more people. We really have reached limits for an industrial economy based on cheap, potent energy supplies. The energy, oil especially, isn’t cheap anymore. The fantasy that we can easily replace it with wind turbines, solar panels, and as-yet-unseen science projects is going to leave a lot of people not just disappointed but bereft, floundering, and probably dead, unless we make some pretty severe readjustments in daily life.

We’ve been papering this problem over by borrowing so much money from the future to cover costs today that eventually it will lose its meaning as money — that is, faith that it is worth anything. That’s what happens when money is just a representation of debt that can’t be paid back. This habit of heedless borrowing has enabled the country to pretend that it is functioning effectively. Lately, this game of pretend has sent the financial corps into a rapture of jubilation. The market speed bumps of February are behind us and the road ahead looks like the highway to Vegas at dawn on a summer’s day.

Tesla is the perfect metaphor for where the US economy is at: a company stuffed with debt plus government subsidies, unable to deliver the wished-for miracle product — affordable electric cars — whirling around the drain into bankruptcy. Tesla has been feeding one of the chief fantasies of the day: that we can banish climate problems caused by excessive CO2, while giving a new lease on life to the (actually) futureless suburban living arrangement that we foolishly invested so much of our earlier capital building. In other words, pounding sand down a rat hole.

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Yeah, we need more cars…

The Chinese Car Invasion Is Coming (BBG)

On a bright spring day in Amsterdam, car buffs stepped inside a blacked-out warehouse to nibble on lamb skewers and sip rhubarb cocktails courtesy of Lynk & Co., which was showing off its new hybrid SUV. What seemed like just another launch of a new vehicle was actually something more: the coming-out party for China’s globally ambitious auto industry. For the first time, a Chinese-branded car will be made in Western Europe for sale there, with the ultimate goal of landing in U.S. showrooms.

That’s the master plan of billionaire Li Shufu, who has catapulted from founding Geely Group as a refrigerator maker in the 1980s to owning Volvo Cars, British sports carmaker Lotus, London Black Cabs and the largest stake in Daimler —the inventor of the automobile. Li is spearheading China’s aspirations to wedge itself among the big three of the global car industry—the U.S., Germany and Japan—so they become the Big Four. “I want the whole world to hear the cacophony generated by Geely and other made-in-China cars,” Li told Bloomberg News. “Geely’s dream is to become a globalized company. To do that, we must get out of the country.”

[..] Chinese companies have announced at least $31 billion in overseas deals during the past five years, buying stakes in carmakers and parts producers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The most prolific buyer is Li, who spent almost $13 billion on stakes in Daimler and truckmaker Volvo. Tencent Holdings Ltd., Asia’s biggest internet company, paid about $1.8 billion for 5% of Tesla. As software and electronics become just as critical to a car as the engine, China is ensuring it doesn’t lag behind in that market, either. Baidu, owner of the nation’s biggest search engine, announced a $1.5 billion Apollo Fund to invest in 100 autonomous-driving projects during the next three years.

“We have secured a chance to compete in the U.S. market of self-driving cars through those partnerships,” Li Zhengyu, a vice president overseeing Baidu’s intelligent-driving unit, told Bloomberg News. “Everyone has a good chance to win if it has good development plans.”

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The Troika demands that Greece kills its society even more. 4.2% of GDP disappears from the economy. Where it’s so badly needed.

Greek Primary Surplus Comes At The Expense Of Growth (K.)

The 2017 budget has officially registered a record primary surplus of 4.2% of GDP, against a target for 1.75%, but this came at a particularly heavy price for the economy, which grew just 1.4% against a budget target for 2.7%. It is obvious that securing primary surpluses of more than twice the target, depriving the economy of precious resources, is directly associated with the stagnation of growth compared to original projections. It is no coincidence that consumption edged up just 0.1% last year, which analysts have attributed to taxpayers’ exhaustion due to overtaxation. The surplus was mainly a result of drastic cuts to the Public Investments Program (by about 800 million euros) and social benefits, due to the delay in the application of the Social Solidarity Income.

The government was quick to express its satisfaction upon the release of the fiscal results by the Hellenic Statistical Authority on Monday, although it was just two years ago that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused the previous administration of setting excessive targets for the primary surpluses of 2016, 2017 and 2018 at 4.5% of GDP. Eventually he reached that target with his own government, although the creditors had lowered the bar, to 1.75% for 2017 and 3.5% this year. The Finance Ministry spoke yesterday of proof of “the credibility of the fiscal management,” adding that “those data show that not only is the target of 3.5% feasible for this and the coming years, but there will also be some fiscal space for targeted tax easing and social expenditure in the post-program period.”

That reference concerns the so-called “countermeasures” the government has planned in case it exceeds the 3.5% target in the 2019 and 2020 primary surpluses, but for now they are at the discretion of the IMF, which will decide next month whether they can be introduced. Obviously Athens hopes the 2017 figures will positively affect the Fund’s view. There was also a positive response from Brussels on Monday, with European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Pierre Moscovici and Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas stating that the efforts and sacrifices of the Greek people are now paying dividend.

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The new head of the Greek Asylum Service flatly ignores the Council of State. Greek justice system overpowered by Brussels and Berlin.

Tensions Grow On Greek Islands (K.)

Concerns have peaked over tensions on the Aegean islands following clashes between residents of Lesvos and migrants in Mytilene port which led to several injuries. Riot police were forced to intervene early Monday morning after dozens of local residents started protesting the presence of migrants in the main square of Mytilene. The migrants, who had been camping in the square since last Tuesday demanding to be allowed to leave the island, were put onto buses and taken back to overcrowded state facilities. According to local reports, the protesters threw flares, firecrackers and stones at the migrants, who formed a circle around women and children to protect them.

Some protesters chanted “Burn them alive,” according to reports which suggested that members of far-right groups were involved. Police detained 122 people – all but two of whom were Afghan migrants – while 28 people were transferred to the hospital for first-aid treatment, 22 of whom were migrants. Political parties issued statements blaming the attack on far-right groups. The mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos, did not rule out the presence of extremists on the island but pointed to broader frustration among locals. “Society is reacting as a whole,” said Galinos, who had appealed to the government last week to reduce overcrowding on the islands.

[..] meanwhile, the new head of the Greek Asylum Service, Markos Karavias, signed an agreement effectively restricting migrants arriving on the Aegean islands from traveling on to the mainland. A Council of State ruling last week overturned previous asylum service restrictions on migrants leaving the islands. The government’s proposed changes to asylum laws – aimed at speeding up the slow pace at which applications are processed – are to be discussed in Parliament on Tuesday.

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How poor Britain is becoming.

The UK Has Turned The Right To Education Into A Charitable Cause (G.)

My nine-year-old son looks at me anxiously. “Mum, you definitely, definitely have my sponsor money plus an extra pound, which I need for the fundraising games. We have to bring it in today.” I search through my wallet for a quid each for him and his brother. I’ve got no cash on me. “We have to,” he repeats, his voice going wobbly. I stick an IOU in his piggy bank and the day is saved. Yet again. And yet again I feel infuriated and indignant at being put in this position. Then I feel even more cross that I now feel mean. Cake sale, plant sale, ticket for a pamper evening, music quiz, another cake sale, school disco (with associated plastic tat and penny sweets on sale), pay to see Santa, raffle for the chocolate hamper (that you’ve already sent in the goddamn chocolate for), dress up for World Book Day (that’s a quid), go pink for breast cancer research (that’s two quid) and why not run a sponsored mile for Sport Relief while you’re at it.

Then … ping! Oh joy, a text from school – another (another?!) cake sale. How much sugar is going down in that playground? The texts keep flooding in. Ransack your wardrobe for Bag 2 School; send in dosh so your child can buy you a Mother’s Day present; scrabble through your (now denuded) wardrobe for next week’s clothes swap and pretty please, the PTA would appreciate donations of booze for this year’s summer fete. If enough of you don’t stump up by Friday, you’ll be harangued daily until you do. Welcome to summer term, peak time for school fundraising – and what feels like a constant assault. Let’s put aside my irritation at being “chugged” via leaflets in book-bags and my mobile phone, in principle it’s a good thing for kids to think about the needs of people other than themselves, so I’ll swallow official charity fundraisers on that basis, even if those charities might not be my personal choice.

What is outrageous, though, is the assumption in some schools that parents can easily afford to donate on a virtually weekly basis, and the idea that we should expect to be paying on top of our taxes for our children’s state education. Schools, suffering the terrible results of the government’s austerity policies, have cut to the chase and are now pumping parents for regular direct debits to cover essentials. But is asking parents to pay doing pupils’ education any good?

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No surprise.

UK Food Bank Use Reaches Highest Rate On Record (Ind.)

Food bank use has soared at a higher rate than ever in the past year as welfare benefits fail to cover basic living costs, the UK’s national food bank provider has warned. Figures from the Trussel Trust show that in the year to March 2018, 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies were delivered to people in crisis across the UK – a 13% increase on last year. This marks a considerably higher increase than the previous financial year, when it rose by 6%. Low income is the biggest single – and fastest growing – reason for referral to food banks, accounting for 28% of referrals compared to 26% in the previous year. Analysis of trends over time demonstrates it has significantly increased since April 2016.

Being in debt also accounted for an increasing percentage of referrals – at 9% of referrals up from 8% in the past year. The cost of housing and utility bills are increasingly driving food bank referrals for this reason, with the proportion of referrals due to housing debt and utility bill debt increasing significantly since April 2016. The other main primary referral reasons in the past year were benefit delays (24%) and benefit changes (18%). “Reduction in benefit value” have the fastest growth rate of all referrals made due to a benefit change, while those due to “moving to a different benefit” have also grown significantly.

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It’s dangerous when people trial basic income schemes who don’t understand them. Others will say: it failed in Finland! No it didn’t. It has to be universal, and this is not.

Finland To End Basic Income Trial After Two Years (G.)

Europe’s first national government-backed experiment in giving citizens free cash will end next year after Finland decided not to extend its widely publicised basic income trial and to explore alternative welfare schemes instead. Since January 2017, a random sample of 2,000 unemployed people aged 25 to 58 have been paid a monthly €560 (£475) , with no requirement to seek or accept employment. Any recipients who took a job continued to receive the same amount. The government has turned down a request for extra funding from Kela, the Finnish social security agency, to expand the two-year pilot to a group of employees this year, and said payments to current participants will end next January.

It has also introduced legislation making some benefits for unemployed people contingent on taking training or working at least 18 hours in three months. “The government is making changes taking the system away from basic income,” Kela’s Miska Simanainen told the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. The scheme – aimed primarily at seeing whether a guaranteed income might incentivise people to take up paid work by smoothing out gaps in the welfare system – is strictly speaking not a universal basic income (UBI) trial, because the payments are made to a restricted group and are not enough to live on.

But it was hoped it would shed light on policy issues such as whether an unconditional payment might reduce anxiety among recipients and allow the government to simplify a complex social security system that is struggling to cope with a fast-moving and insecure labour market. Olli Kangas, an expert involved in the trial, told the Finnish public broadcaster YLE: “Two years is too short a period to be able to draw extensive conclusions from such a big experiment. We should have had extra time and more money to achieve reliable results.”

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Apr 222018
 
 April 22, 2018  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Green Wheat Field With Cypress 1889

 

US Hints at China Truce as World Warns of Trade-War Threat (BBG)
US Banks Push Mortgage Apps As Home Lending Slows (R.)
Chinese Gangs Are Laundering Drug Money Through Vancouver Real Estate (GN)
New Zealand’s Ban On Home Sales To Foreigners Is “Discriminatory” – IMF (BBG)
Whirling Whirling (Jim Kunstler)
Home Office Under Theresa May Was Urged in 2014 To Act On Windrush (Ind.)
Tory Ministers Milking The System Are The Real Shirkers (G.)
Theresa May’s Hateful ‘Hostile Environment’ Immigration Policy (O.)
Europe’s Depopulation Time Bomb Is Ticking in the Baltics (BBG)
Members of European Parliament Call For Boycott of FIFA World Cup in Russia (UAW)
World Bank Recommends That Countries Eliminate Minimum Wage (BB)
Hopes For Greek Debt Deal Low Amid EU-IMF Discord (K.)
Turkish Justice Minister: Greece ‘A Gathering Place For Criminals’ (K.)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb Has Never Borrowed a Cent in His Life (Esq.)

 

 

At least in words, China has caved.

US Hints at China Truce as World Warns of Trade-War Threat (BBG)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s considering a trip to China amid a trade dispute with Beijing that finance chiefs warn could derail the global economic upswing. Mnuchin said he’s “cautiously optimistic” of reaching an agreement with China that bridges their differences over trade. “A trip is under consideration,” Mnuchin told reporters on Saturday in Washington at the IMF’s spring meetings. “I’m not going to make a comment on timing, nor do I have anything confirmed.” China’s Ministry of Commerce said Sunday it is aware that the U.S. is considering a visit to Beijing to negotiate economic and trade issues and welcomes such a move.

A visit by the U.S. Treasury secretary to China could signal a breakthrough in the spat between the world’s two-biggest economies, whose threats to slap tariffs on each other have rattled markets and raised fears of a trade war. It would come at a sensitive time for the region’s geopolitics, with negotiations under way on a planned meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Mnuchin’s remarks came as finance ministers and central bankers at the IMF meetings gave their latest economic assessments, often citing trade as a threat looming over the strongest upswing in seven years.

[..] Mnuchin said he met with Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, at the IMF gathering this week. The discussions focused on issues related to the Chinese central bank, not trade, said the secretary. Mnuchin said they also discussed China’s planned further opening of some markets, a move that U.S. has encouraged and “appreciated.” “China will vigorously push forward the reform and opening-up of the financial sector, significantly relax market access restrictions, create a more attractive investment environment, strengthen the protection of intellectual properties and actively expand imports,” Yi said in a statement on Saturday. China has announced plans to gradually remove foreign ownership caps for limits for car-, ship- and aircraft-makers.

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“Buying a house is supposed to be a joyful thing..”

US Banks Push Mortgage Apps As Home Lending Slows (R.)

Big U.S. banks are racing to launch websites and mobile apps to make getting a mortgage faster and easier, investments that may have modest near-term payoffs as home lending activity slows. Lenders have been spending on digital tools to cut costs, eliminate error-prone paperwork and appeal to younger home buyers. However, they are chasing a shrinking pool of refinancing business and new home loan volumes are still below pre-crisis levels. Bank of America has spent $1 billion on its digital banking services in the last six years and launched its lineup of techy mortgage products last week. Wells Fargo rolled out its website and app service during the first quarter, and JPMorgan Chase, which is investing $1.4 billion in technology in 2018, plans to launch its offering later this year.

Bank of America’s app automatically fills in a customer’s address, employment history and other information that the bank already has, cutting out hundreds of boxes customers would otherwise have to fill. JPMorgan’s lets customers e-sign important documents. Quicken Loans was the first to gain traction with digital home loans following its 2016 Rocket Mortgage launch. The app is now key to its mortgage sales with more than 98 percent of the $20 billion in first-quarter lending volume accessing Rocket Mortgage at some point in the mortgage process, Quicken spokeswoman Brianna Blust said.

Quicken was the biggest home lender by volume in the fourth quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018, Blust said. It was the second-largest U.S. mortgage lender for the full year 2017, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance Publications. “Buying a house is supposed to be a joyful thing,” said Steve Boland, Bank of America’s head of consumer lending. “Filling out 330 fields is not, I think, something that brings you joy.” Refinancing volumes have plunged as interest rates have risen, meaning lenders must compete for a much smaller revenue pie in fresh home purchases.

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Bit over the top?

Chinese Gangs Are Laundering Drug Money Through Vancouver Real Estate (GN)

Criminal syndicates that control chemical factories in China’s booming Guangdong province are shipping narcotics, including fentanyl, to Vancouver, washing the drug sales in British Columbia’s casinos and high-priced real estate, and transferring laundered funds back to Chinese factories to repeat this deadly trade cycle, a Global News investigation shows. The flow of narcotics and chemical precursors — and a rising death count in western Canada caused by synthetic opioids — is driven by sophisticated organized crime groups known as Triads. The Triads have infiltrated Canada’s economy so deeply that Australia’s intelligence community has coined a new term for innovative methods of drug trafficking and money laundering now occurring in B.C.

It is called the “Vancouver Model” of transnational crime. Details of the Vancouver Model are outlined in a November 2017 report obtained by Global News from B.C.’s provincial government, in a freedom of information request. The report, by John Langdale of the department of security studies and criminology at Macquarie University, was presented to Australian intelligence officers and Austrac, the country’s anti-money laundering agency. B.C. Attorney General David Eby has reviewed the report, and recently travelled to Ottawa to inform a federal committee of his concerns. His message was blunt. Eby testified that Canada’s anti-money laundering system has completely failed. He told the committee that gangsters have been openly carrying hockey bags stuffed with hundreds of thousands in drug cash into B.C. casinos, and there has not been a single prosecution.

In an interview with Global, Eby said the Australian report shows “that Vancouver is now recognized internationally as a hub of transnational money laundering.”

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Is this also about Chinese gangs?

New Zealand’s Ban On Home Sales To Foreigners Is “Discriminatory” – IMF (BBG)

The IMF has criticized New Zealand’s “discriminatory” ban on home sales to foreigners, saying it’s unlikely to improve housing affordability. “Foreign buyers seem to have played a minor role in New Zealand’s residential real estate market recently,” the IMF said in a statement Tuesday, after concluding its annual Article IV mission to New Zealand. If the government’s broader housing policy agenda is fully implemented, that “would address most of the potential problems associated with foreign buyers on a less discriminatory basis,” it said. The new Labour-led government has pledged to fix the nation’s housing crisis with a raft of measures, including a ban on foreign speculators buying residential property, removal of tax distortions and an ambitious building program.

House prices have surged more than 60% in the past decade amid record immigration and a construction shortfall, shutting many out of the housing market. [..] Proposed changes to the Overseas Investment Act, which the government says will bring New Zealand into line with neighboring Australia, will classify residential land as “sensitive,” meaning non-residents or non-citizens can’t purchase existing dwellings without the consent of the Overseas Investment Office. While non-resident foreigners will be allowed to invest in new construction, they will be forced to sell once the homes are built.

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“Their parting shot to an unjust world was voting for Donald Trump. Next time, they won’t even be around.”

Whirling Whirling (Jim Kunstler)

It begins to look like The USA will litigate itself into Civil War Two with the first battle being half the lawyers in the Department of Justice prosecuting the other half until Anthropogenic Global Warming puts the DC Swamp completely underwater and all parties concerned scuttle off into the deep blue sea. It was rather a shock to see the photo lineup of all those familiar faces — Comey, Hillary, McCabe, Loretta Lynch et. al. — in the criminal referral “matters” sent over to the DOJ by congress on Wednesday, as if they were some mob of goombahs caught running a waste management kickback racket in the Hackensack mud-flats.

But the evidence trail has been in plain sight for more than a year that Justice Department officials of various ranks and stripes colluded to bring off a legalistic coup d’etat against the loathed and despised winner of the 2016 election — with a little help from (of all things and personae) Russia, as in that political smallpox blanket known as the Steele Dossier. Mixed metaphors aside, it looks like all the clones of Ricky Ricardo and Lucy engineered in some CIA black lab will never satisfy the amount of ’splainin’ that needs to be done, and that the ensuing trials may last longer than the lifetimes of millennials still struggling on campus with their gender presentation. There may be even more line-ups to come.

I’m thinking players like Susan Rice, the Podesta brothers, Huma Abedin, John Brennan, James Clapper, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and perhaps the gentleman who preceded the Golden Golem of Greatness in the oval office. This melodrama will make The Lord of the Rings look like a knock-knock joke. Meanwhile, the Republic actually whirls around the drain, both as a legitimate polity between Montauk Point and the Farallon Islands, and as an actor on the world stage. The Washington bureaucracy is not the only swamp that needs to be drained. There’s also the reeking Okeefenokee wasteland known as the US economy, led by its financial avatars on Wall Street who engineered the orgy of asset-stripping that chewed through the industrial states like some flesh-eating bacteria.

There is nothing left in Flyover-land. I drove through part of it yesterday on a book-reporting chore: the “quiet corner” of northeastern Connecticut south of Worcester, Mass, a valley of decrepitating mill towns and opiate addiction, like some place out of H.P. Lovecraft’s demon-haunted imagination, where the sun comes up twenty minutes later than anywhere else, and a dwindling population of malevolent diseased imbeciles shriek their lonesome agonies of failure and destitution to a God that never returned from lunchbreak one day in 1985. Their parting shot to an unjust world was voting for Donald Trump. Next time, they won’t even be around.

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No accident.

Home Office Under Theresa May Was Urged in 2014 To Act On Windrush (Ind.)

Home Office officials were urged four years ago to act on the growing problems facing the Windrush generation, it has emerged, including recommendations to create a specialist taskforce which was only set up this week. It follows intense pressure on the government department and Theresa May over their handling of the Windrush scandal that has highlighted the plight of members of a generation of immigrants who arrived as British citizens in the mid-twentieth century. This week both Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and the prime minister have personally apologised for the debacle, promising compensation for those affected and setting up a new dedicated team in the Home Office tasked with helping members of the Windrush generation prove their right to British citizenship.

But the government now faces renewed criticism after it emerged that a similar recommendation – the creation of specialist Home Office unit – was made in October 2014 while Ms May was in charge of the department as home secretary. In a detailed report, published in October 2014 by the Legal Action Group, it was also warned that thousands of migrants who have been in Britain legally for decades were falling victim to the “hostile immigration” policies aimed at illegal immigrants in the UK. The recommendations of the Chasing Status report also included maintaining applicants’ ability to work and claim benefits while their status is resolved.

[..]The Labour MP David Lammy, who has been a leading campaigner for those members of the Windrush generation experiencing difficulties, told The Independent: “It is utterly extraordinary that the Home Office was clearly aware of the impact that their pernicious policies would have, yet ignored all the warnings and impact assessments. “The apologies made by the home secretary and prime minister are merely crocodile tears given that they were fully aware of the human cost that their policies would have. It’s time for a proper and independent review of our immigration policy and the hostile environment.”

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“Lose one form, and you lose cancer treatment and your liberty – lose a generation’s forms, and you’re the effing PM..”

Tory Ministers Milking The System Are The Real Shirkers (G.)

If I were editing a tabloid newspaper this week – and I’m always open to guest stints – I would have had advertising vans out since Monday. They would have been crawling v-e-r-y slowly back and forth past the houses of Theresa May, Amber Rudd, Nick Timothy and David Cameron – and those just for starters. Instead of the repulsive GO HOME message that adorned the infamous vans May’s Home Office sent out, which resulted in the eventual deportation of precisely 11 migrants, I would have something along the lines of STAY HOME. Stay home, permanently. Whether they would get the message is uncertain. Collectively, Britain did its very best to provide a hostile environment for May with the election result. The message was very clear: take a hike. Not a hiking holiday, but the full hike.

Yet the import does not seem to have got through to the prime minister, or the various arse-coverers around her. It’s fair to say we are dealing with a very specific class of unworthy here. There are few groups who take less responsibility for their actions, as this week in the Windrush scandal has laid starkly bare. Some of the most senior political figures in the land are – in the purest sense of one of their favourite terms – shirkers. They are feckless. They act like these things are happening to them, as opposed to because of them. Given the judgments they like to visit on the weaker members of society for comparatively minuscule transgressions, this makes them the most raging hypocrites too.

[..] And on they all go. If the government is in any doubt as to why so many millions think it’s one rule for them and another for the little people, then this week couldn’t be a better primer. You lose one form and you lose your job, your cancer treatment, your benefits, your liberty; you lose a generation’s forms and you’re the effing prime minister. Those condemned to battle the systems that ministers design know what happens if they make tiny errors. Furthermore, they know that if they messed up a tenth as badly in their jobs, they’d be sacked. But in the arse-over-tit world of government, you’re safe because your sacking would make the big boss – May – look weak. Just like your HR department, right? Except on crystal meth.

I don’t want to fall back on a series of politicians’ best-loved cliches, but this level of irresponsibility is just scrounging with a red box. They play for high stakes – but never their own. It’s the sort of system-milking demonised in a benefits office in Grimsby but regarded as career progression in Westminster. It makes it appear there’s no glass ceiling in modern political life, just a reinforced lead floor. Once you’re in, you basically have to die to stop earning rewards.

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“Children as young as 10 who were born in the UK are subjected to a “good character” test when they apply for citizenship..”

Theresa May’s Hateful ‘Hostile Environment’ Immigration Policy (O.)

History will judge Theresa May harshly. In recent weeks, the appalling stories about the impact of the government’s “hostile environment” policy reported by our sister paper, the Guardian, have continued to grow in number. They paint a shocking picture of a Kafkaesque state that has denied people who came to the UK from the Commonwealth as children their rightful entitlement to work, to housing and to healthcare. May has maintained these are people who have been wrongly caught up in her 2013 decision as home secretary to create a “really hostile environment” for people living in Britain illegally. But their tragic stories are the direct consequence of a policy so punitive that it would inevitably make life intolerable for legal British residents.

People without a passport are now being required to provide an absurd level of proof – four pieces of documentary evidence for each year of residence – of their legal status. Without this, they can no longer work, rent a home, open a bank account or access NHS care and may be detained and threatened with deportation. Doctors, bank clerks and landlords have become obliged to snoop on their fellow citizens by checking up on their immigration status.

[..] Those who become caught up in this are confronted with a cruel Home Office bureaucracy that operates outside the principles of natural justice. Officials are incentivised to reject applications for the tiniest of technical errors; immigration application fees are so high they are generating profits of up to 800% for the state, and there is no longer any right of appeal or legal aid available in most types of immigration cases. Children as young as 10 who were born in the UK are subjected to a “good character” test when they apply for citizenship; if they have been cautioned, their application can be refused.

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The EU fails everywhere, and spectacularly. It sucks the periphery dry. Just like Rome did.

Europe’s Depopulation Time Bomb Is Ticking in the Baltics (BBG)

With much of Eastern Europe already in the European Union or looking to join, living standards have been rising in the cities that dot these former Soviet satellites. More storefronts beckon to western tourists, who have grown more eager to wander among the cobblestones of historic capitals that were once less than hospitable. But a closer look outside the central squares reveals a different reality. According to the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, nine of the world’s countries most at risk of losing citizens over the next few decades are former East bloc nations. Porous borders and greater opportunity in the west have lured people away. Meanwhile, the populist wave sweeping the continent has made it next-to-impossible for African or Middle Eastern refugees to take their place.

Former Latvian economic minister Vjaceslavs Dombrovskis, now head of the Certus think tank, compared the westward migration of young eastern Europeans to the industrial revolution, when peasants rushed to large urban centers. He said these countries risk turning into what ancestral villages are for city dwellers: “a lovely place where you might spend an odd weekend with your folks.” The trend is hitting especially hard in the Baltics. Latvia, with a current population of 1.96 million, has lost about 25% of its residents since throwing off Soviet control in 1991. The UN predicts that by 2050, it will have lost an additional 22% of its current population—second only to Bulgaria—and by 2100, 41%.

In Estonia, with a population of 1.32 million, the UN foresees a 13% decline by 2050, growing to 32% by 2100. And in Lithuania, the current population of 2.87 million is expected to drop by 17% in 2050. By 2100, it will have lost 34%. As bad as those numbers look, the trend looks even worse for Ukraine and Moldova. The UN predicts 36% and 51% declines in those nations by the end of the century, respectively. Russia, meanwhile, is expected to lose 13% by 2100. Several factors are contributing to the depopulation of Eastern Europe, and Latvia has all of them: low income, compared with more developed EU nations; insufficient growth; and strong anti-immigrant sentiment. The average annual take-home pay among all EU nations was 24,183 euros ($29,834) in 2015, according to Eurostat, while in Latvia it was only 6,814 euros ($8,406).

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There are 751 members. 60 support this.

Members of European Parliament Call For Boycott of FIFA World Cup in Russia (UAW)

60 members of the European Parliament called on EU member states to boycott the FIFA World Cup in Russia, DW reports. The initiator of this appeal is a representative of the Green Party, Rebecca Harms. She believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot be a host of the World Cup while the war continues in Syria and Ukraine. She also pointed out that Russia supports right-wing extremist and anti-democratic parties in the EU and has been trying to influence elections. Overall, the statement was signed by representatives of 5 factions of the European Parliament from 16 countries. The authors of the document indicate that Russia itself is pushing Europe towards such steps.

A group of deputies reminded others about the poisoning of former GRU agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which they called a mockery of European values. MEPs believe that EU member states should take the UK and Iceland as good examples of the countries which counter the “strengthening of the authoritarian and anti-Western course of the Russian president.” The authors also draw attention to the unsatisfactory situation with human rights and freedoms in Russia, especially the violation of freedom of speech. Earlier, a White House representative urged British and American fans to think twice before going to the World Cup in Russia.

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Let’s shut down the World Bank. It’s been rotting for too long.

World Bank Recommends That Countries Eliminate Minimum Wage (BB)

A draft of the World Bank’s annual flagship World Development Report says that its creditor-states (the poorest countries in the world) should eliminate their minimum wage rules, allow employers to fire workers without cause, and repeal laws limiting abusive employment contract terms. The bank argues that this is necessary to stop employers from simply investing in automation and eliminating workers altogether. The report does not contemplate the possibility that the world’s governments would just raise taxes on corporations and their investors to provide for all their citizens.

Poor countries – especially decolonized countries – are often in debt to organizations like the World Bank and IMF, sometimes because they were forced to literally buy their freedom (like Haiti, whose slave-descended population had to remit a sizable portion of its annual GDP to the descendants of French slavers until 1947), sometimes because their wealth was looted by colonists during and after the colonial period, and sometimes because rich creditor nations were complicit in the exfiltration of the nation’s treasure by gangster-politicians, a practice that continues to this day.

Countries generally carry more debt than they can hope to repay, and teeter on the brink of continuous default, putting them at the mercy of creditor-organizations, who can order changes to national laws, sell-offs of public industries and assets, and other measures that further reduce debtor-states’ ability to prosper, creating more debt and deeper concessions. The World Bank’s recommendations feel like the beginning of the end-game of late-stage capitalism, a recognition that the post-war era in which cruel exploitation of workers was considered a bug rather than a feature is drawing to a close, and a return to a kind of market feudalism, where property rights – no matter how corrupt their origins – always trump human rights.

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Divide and rule.

Hopes For Greek Debt Deal Low Amid EU-IMF Discord (K.)

Hopes for a breakthrough on the issue of Greek debt relief at a summit of eurozone finance ministers in Sofia on Friday are muted following a lack of progress in talks between European officials and representatives of the IMF in Washington over the weekend. Talks involved all of the key players in the debate on Greece’s debt, including IMF chief Christine Lagarde, European Monetary and Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovci, and the finance ministers of Germany, Italy, Spain and France. But a long-standing rift between EU and IMF officials over how a debt relief mechanism should operate continued, with the Fund representatives insisting that it should be automatic and the Europeans saying it should be tied to conditions.

In view of the resistance put up chiefly by Germany, the EU’s largest economy, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos expressed his concern that the debt relief being considered for Greece would be inadequate. Another worry is over creditors’ objections to a growth plan proposed by Greece. European officials responded with a 30-page memo to Greece’s 85-page proposal, requesting more detail and a stricter time frame. The growth plan was one of the issues discussed by leftist SYRIZA’s political secretariat during a session chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday.

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What you say about a neighbor you want good relations with.

Turkish Justice Minister: Greece ‘A Gathering Place For Criminals’ (K.)

Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul has written to his Greek counterpart Stavros Kontonis saying “Greece is becoming a gathering place for criminals” following a court ruling releasing one of eight Turkish servicemen seeking asylum in Greece, Anadolu reported on Saturday. Gul’s letter came a day after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim slammed the Council of State ruling, saying Greece was becoming a “safe haven” for Turkey’s enemies. The ruling issued on Thursday by Greece’s highest administrative court relates to Süleyman Özkaynakçı, who piloted the helicopter in which he and seven other Turkish servicemen fled to Greece in July 2016 following Turkey’s failed coup.

However it is expected to apply to all eight servicemen. In his comments on Friday, Yildirim said it was “unacceptable” for people who took part in the coup attempt in the summer of 2016 to be protected by Greece. “Unfortunately, recently, criminals of the FETO organization have started seeing Greece as a safe haven,” he said, referring to what Ankara describes as a terrorist group led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. “I hope they will extradite the members of this organization,” he said, adding that Turkish authorities “do not desire a negative impact on Greek-Turkish relations because of members of the FETO organization.”

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“We have to worry about the 2 percent—the intellectuals and politicians making the big decisions who don’t have skin in the game and are messing the whole thing up for everybody else.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Has Never Borrowed a Cent in His Life (Esq.)

People ask me my forecast for the economy when they should be asking me what I have in my portfolio. Don’t make pronouncements on what could happen in the future if you’re immune from the consequences. In French, they use the same word for wallet and portfolio. I have never, ever borrowed a penny. So I have zero credit record. No loans, no mortgage, nothing. Ever. When I had no money, I rented. I have an allergy to borrowing and a scorn for people who are in debt, and I don’t hide it. I follow the Romans’ attitude that debtors are not free people. I carry euros, dollars, and British pounds. What I do with my money is personal. People who say they give it to charity, that’s a no-no in my book. Nobody should ever talk about a charitable act in public.

Better to miss a zillion opportunities than blow up once. I learned this at my first job, from the veteran traders at a New York bank that no longer exists. Most people don’t understand how to handle uncertainty. They shy away from small risks, and without realizing it, they embrace the big, big risk. Businessmen who are consistently successful have the exact opposite attitude: Make all the mistakes you want, just make sure you’re going to be there tomorrow. Don’t invest any energy in bargaining except when the zeros become large. Lose the small games and save your efforts for the big ones. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, so long as you pay the price. A used-car salesman speaks well, they’re convincing, but ultimately, they are benefiting even if someone else is harmed by their advice.

A bullshitter is not someone who’s wrong, it’s someone who’s insulated from their mistakes. There is less “skin in the game” today than there was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. More people determine the fates of others without having to pay the consequences. Skin in the game means you own your own risk. It means people who make decisions in any walk of life should never be insulated from the consequences of those decisions, period. If you’re a helicopter repairman, you should be a helicopter rider. If you decide to invade Iraq, the people who vote for it should have children in the military. And if you’re making economic decisions, you should bear the cost if you’re wrong.

Ninety-eight percent of Americans—plumbers, dentists, bus drivers—have skin in the game. We have to worry about the 2 percent—the intellectuals and politicians making the big decisions who don’t have skin in the game and are messing the whole thing up for everybody else. Thirty years ago, the French National Assembly was composed of shop owners, farmers, doctors, veterinarians, and small-town lawyers—people involved in daily activities. Today, it’s entirely composed of professional politicians—people who are just divorced from real life. America is a little better, but we’re heading that way.

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Apr 192018
 
 April 19, 2018  Posted by at 8:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edgar Degas The laundress 1873

 

Triffin Warned Us (Lebowitz)
Global Debt Has Reached A Record High, And 3 Countries Are To Blame – IMF (MW)
Dollar Bears Beware, Trump Tweets May Not Be Enough (Karamanlis)
Facebook Says Users Must Accept Targeted Ads Even Under New EU Law (R.)
Facebook To Put 1.5 Billion Users Out Of Reach Of New EU Privacy Law (R.)
VIX Rigging Talk Erupts on Wall Street After Another Wild Swing (BBG)
UK Government Loses Key Brexit Vote (CNN)
Lawmakers Make Criminal Referral on Clinton, Comey, Lynch to DOJ (Carter)
New York Attorney General Wants Power To Bypass Trump Pardons (R.)
German Prosecutors Raid Homes Of Porsche Executives Over Dieselgate (Pol.)
Turkey Disputes Sovereignty of 152 Greek Islets (GR)
Top Greek Court To Rule Irrevocably On Asylum For Turkish Servicemen (K.)
Americans Waste 150,000 Tons Of Food Each Day – A Pound Per Person (G.)

 

 

We sold our souls to the Debt Devil. There has been no growth for years. We borrowed it all.

Triffin Warned Us (Lebowitz)

Folklore states that Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads in Rosedale, Mississippi and made a deal with the devil in which he swapped his soul for musical virtuosity. In 1944, the United States and many nations made a deal at the crossroads in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The agreement, forged at a historic meeting of global leaders, has paid enormous economic benefits to the United States, but due to its very nature, has a flawed incongruity with a dear price that must be paid. In 1960, Robert Triffin brilliantly argued that ever-accumulating trade deficits, the flaw of hosting the reserve currency and the result of Bretton Woods, may help economic growth in the short run but would kill it in the long run.

Triffin’s theory, better known as Triffin’s Paradox, is essential to grasp the current economic woes and, more importantly, recognize why the path for future economic growth is far different from that envisioned in 1944. We believe the financial crisis of 2008 was likely an important warning that years of accumulating deficits and debts associated with maintaining the world’s reserve currency may finally be reaching their tipping point. Despite the last nine years of outsized fiscal spending and unprecedented monetary stimulus, economic growth is well below the pace of recoveries of years past. In fact, as shown below, starting in 2009 the cumulative amount of new federal debt surpassed the cumulative amount of GDP growth going back to 1967. Said differently, if it were not for a significant and consistent federal deficit, GDP would have been negative every year since the 2008 financial crisis.

[..] In 1960, 11 years before Nixon’s suspension of gold convertibility and essentially the demise of the Bretton Woods Agreement, Robert Tiffin foresaw this problem in his book Gold and the Dollar Crisis: The Future of Convertibility. According to his logic, the extreme privilege of becoming the world’s reserve currency would eventually carry a heavy penalty for the U.S. Although initially his thoughts were generally given little consideration, Triffin’s hypothesis was taken seriously enough for him to gain a seat at an obscure congressional hearing of the Joint Economic Committee in December the same year. What he described in the book, and his later testimony, became known as Triffin’s Paradox.

Events have played out largely as he envisioned it. Essentially, he argued that reserve status affords a good percentage of global trade to occur in U.S. dollars. For this to occur the U.S. must supply the world with U.S. dollars. In other words, to supply the world with dollars, the United States would always have to run a trade deficit whereby the dollar amount of imports exceeds the dollar amount of exports. Running persistent deficits, the United States would become a debtor nation. The fact that other countries need to hold U.S. dollars as reserves tends to offset the effects of consistent deficits and keeps the dollar stronger than it would have been otherwise.

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The increase in Chinese debt is staggering. And worrisome.

Global Debt Has Reached A Record High, And 3 Countries Are To Blame – IMF (MW)

Global debt has reached a record high, and three countries account for more than half of it, according to a new International Monetary Fund report released Wednesday. The IMF’s fiscal monitor said total debt reached $164 trillion in 2016, or 225% of global gross domestic product. That includes the debt of governments, households and companies. Compared with the previous peak in 2009, the world is now 12% of GDP deeper in debt, the IMF said. Just three countries — China, Japan and the U.S. — account for more than half of global debt, and China alone accounts for almost three-quarters of the increase in private debt since the financial crisis.

The IMF warns that countries with elevated government debt are vulnerable to a sudden tightening of global financing conditions, and it said advanced economies were resting on their laurels, with deficits remaining unchanged on average. It said the U.S. was the only advanced economy expecting an increase in debt-to-GDP ratio over the next five years. That’s due to the recently enacted tax cuts as well as the big increase in spending. The IMF said its U.S. forecasts are similar to those published by the Congressional Budget Office.

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Trump as currency manipulator?

Dollar Bears Beware, Trump Tweets May Not Be Enough (Karamanlis)

The entrenched bearish dollar view has all the ingredients to become the pain-trade of the year. It has become super crowded based on occasional utterances from the White House while ignoring a fundamental shift at the Fed. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is hovering near a three-year low as uncertainties surrounding the Trump administration weigh on investor confidence. Be it verbal intervention toward a weaker currency, personnel changes or trade protectionism, the U.S. President has had a way of frustrating dollar longs. As a result, any rebounds in the U.S. currency this year have been short- lived. That’s led to a massive build in short-dollar positions. Hedge funds and other large speculators haven’t been more bearish on the greenback in more than five years, CFTC data show.

With less room for additional short exposure, dollar bears are going to need something more than the short-term turbulence generated by Trump. Those hoping for an assist from monetary policy are likely to be sorely disappointed. The Fed isn’t just retaining its bullish stance, it’s looking for a more aggressive rate-hike trajectory than the market anticipates. With almost half of Fed policy makers projecting at least four interest rate increases for 2018, upside risks prevail. Those risks may become more pronounced should the U.S. Senate confirm Richard Clarida as vice chairman. Clarida, no stranger to the notion of a total of four hikes this year, may spark another round of speculation on whether the FOMC could include a price-level target in its policy framework.

Soon-to-be New York Fed President John Williams also advocates such a shift, which Clarida said, in a Pimco commentary back in 2014, would – in theory – result in higher yields on longer-duration bonds. Given the dollar has been feeling the pressure of a flatter curve since late 2016, the all-new Fed may bring an end to fears that the curve’s shape portends a U.S. recession. After all, the composition of voting members this year has shifted from 2017’s dovish roster. Dollar pricing hasn’t reflected that. Even if Trump shifts away from weak-dollar rhetoric and the market catches up with the Fed’s dot plot, the dollar may struggle to gain the 6% needed to retest October’s highs. But that doesn’t mean we’ll see a slide to fresh, sustainable year-to-date lows.

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Users must leave instead.

Facebook Says Users Must Accept Targeted Ads Even Under New EU Law (R.)

Facebook said on Tuesday it would continue requiring people to accept targeted ads as a condition of using its service, a stance that may help keep its business model largely intact despite a new European Union privacy law. The EU law, which takes effect next month, promises the biggest shakeup in online privacy since the birth of the internet. Companies face fines if they collect or use personal information without permission. Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman said the social network would begin seeking Europeans’ permission this week for a variety of ways Facebook uses their data, but he said that opting out of targeted marketing altogether would not be possible.

“Facebook is an advertising-supported service,” Sherman said in a briefing with reporters at Facebook’s headquarters. Facebook users will be able to limit the kinds of data that advertisers use to target their pitches, he added, but “all ads on Facebook are targeted to some extent, and that’s true for offline advertising, as well.” Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, will use what are known as “permission screens” – pages filled with text that require pressing a button to advance – to notify and obtain approval. The screens will show up on the Facebook website and smartphone app in Europe this week and globally in the coming months, Sherman said.

The screens will not give Facebook users the option to hit “decline.” Instead, they will guide users to either “accept and continue” or “manage data setting,” according to copies the company showed reporters on Tuesday. “People can choose to not be on Facebook if they want,” Sherman said.

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Time to get Facebook out of its misery?!

Facebook To Put 1.5 Billion Users Out Of Reach Of New EU Privacy Law (R.)

If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller. Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company’s international headquarters in Ireland. Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25.

The previously unreported move, which Facebook confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday, shows the world’s largest online social network is keen to reduce its exposure to GDPR, which allows European regulators to fine companies for collecting or using personal data without users’ consent. That removes a huge potential liability for Facebook, as the new EU law allows for fines of up to 4 percent of global annual revenue for infractions, which in Facebook’s case could mean billions of dollars. [..] The change affects more than 70 percent of Facebook’s 2 billion-plus members. As of December, Facebook had 239 million users in the United States and Canada, 370 million in Europe and 1.52 billion users elsewhere.

[..] In practice, the change means the 1.5 billion affected users will not be able to file complaints with Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner or in Irish courts. Instead they will be governed by more lenient U.S. privacy laws, said Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London. Facebook will have more leeway in how it handles data about those users, Veale said. Certain types of data such as browsing history, for instance, are considered personal data under EU law but are not as protected in the United States, he said.

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If possible, it’ll be done.

VIX Rigging Talk Erupts on Wall Street After Another Wild Swing (BBG)

The Cboe Volatility Index is how Wall Street measures anxiety. Lately it’s the gauge’s own plumbing that’s making people nervous. It’s a recurrent claim – the VIX is rigged. It got a fresh airing Wednesday, when the index swung wildly just as derivatives on it were expiring. Billions of dollars are earned or lost as VIX futures settle. The concern is that owners of those wagers are willing to spend a few million to make them pay off. The suspicions are only that, suspicions. Volatility markets are too complex for easy conclusions to be drawn, and reasonable explanations have been offered for the patterns. But strange-looking outcomes have happened enough on VIX settlement day that the debate keeps being revived.

Cboe Global Markets declined to comment. Last month, Cboe CEO Ed Tilly said at a conference that “the integrity of our VIX products and markets is paramount. And, if our regulatory team were to uncover any manipulation, it would be rooted out, swiftly and decisively. Period.” Evidence the VIX is anything less than a pure readout on trader nerves would raise thorny questions for its overseers, who have succeeded in making it a central piece of Wall Street wiring. Its ability to turn stomachs was on display in February’s stock correction, whose worst moments came when the VIX doubled and wiped out bets on calm.

“You have people watching and using it as a barometer for all sorts of trading decisions,” Steve Sosnick, chief options strategist at Interactive Brokers in Greenwich, Connecticut, said by phone. “People take clues from what it’s doing as to what the market’s psychology is out there. But when the settlement time comes around, it can take on a life of its own.”

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Lost a second one as well, on throwing out Carribeans who’ve lived in Britain for 50+ years.

UK Government Loses Key Brexit Vote (CNN)

The UK Government has lost a key Brexit vote, with the upper House of Parliament backing calls to remain in the EU customs union after Brexit. The House of Lords voted 348 to 225 to amend the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, which will now return to the House of Commons where the defeat is likely to spur renewed opposition. The amendment requires the government to report to Parliament by October 31 on what steps it has taken to remain in the customs union, which allows goods to flow freely across the EU. The government opposed the amendment. Prime Minister May had previously said Britain will not remain in the customs union after Brexit takes effect. The House of Lords is now considering other amendments to the proposed legislation.

The customs union enables the 28 EU member states, and other countries such as Turkey that have signed up to its rules, to function as a single trading area. In practice, it means that cars made in France can be sent to Italy without facing tariffs or a customs check at the border. Goods made outside the union are allowed to circulate freely once they’ve gained initial entry. However, membership prevents a country from negotiating its own bilateral trade deals with other nations. The ability to agree new trade deals – with the United States or China, for example – is central to Prime Minister Theresa May’s vision for Britain after Brexit. In a speech in September, she ruled out staying in the customs union.

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The Empire strikes back.

Lawmakers Make Criminal Referral on Clinton, Comey, Lynch to DOJ (Carter)

Congressional lawmakers made a criminal referral Wednesday to the Department of Justice Attorney General Jeff Sessions against former senior-level Obama administration officials, including employees of the FBI connected with the unverified dossier alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as those involved in the warrants used to spy on a former Trump campaign volunteer, this reporter has learned. The lawmakers also made a criminal referral on former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and threats made by her DOJ against the FBI informant, who provided the bureau with information on the Russian nuclear industry and the approval in 2010 to sell roughly 20 percent of American uranium mining assets to Russia.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, along with ten other colleagues sent the letter Wednesday to Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray criminally referring former FBI Director James Comey, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for their involvement in the investigations into President Trump and alleged violations of federal law. FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok and his paramour FBI lawyer Lisa Page, whose anti-Trump text messages obtained by the DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, were also included in the referral.

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Limiting presidential powers may not be such a bad idea in the US. But to do it through a single state governor?

New York Attorney General Wants Power To Bypass Trump Pardons (R.)

New York’s attorney general on Wednesday asked Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators to give him and other local prosecutors power to bring criminal charges against people pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump. In a letter, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman urged Cuomo and legislative leaders to close a loophole in New York’s double jeopardy law shielding recipients of presidential pardons from state prosecution. A change could make it more difficult for Trump aides and others who might be pardoned to escape criminal prosecution, even if special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election were curbed or shut down.

The president has no constitutional power to pardon state crimes, but Schneiderman said the current law means defendants pardoned for serious federal crimes could be freed from “all accountability” under state criminal law. Schneiderman, a Democrat in his eighth year as attorney general, has made his office a central figure in blue state challenges to Trump, tangling with the Republican president on such matters as consumer finance, the environment, immigration and the 2020 census. Cuomo, a Democrat, is reviewing Schneiderman’s proposal, and “believes that the federal legal system should not provide a basis for any wrong doers to escape justice,” press secretary Dani Lever said in a statement.

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33 prosecutors alone were involved.

German Prosecutors Raid Homes Of Porsche Executives Over Dieselgate (Pol.)

German police carried out raids at properties linked to three current and former executives at Porsche today in connection with allegations of emissions cheating by the Volkswagen subsidiary. The raids covered ten properties across the states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. The Stuttgart prosecutors office said in a statement they were “in connection with the manipulation of the emission control system of diesel cars.” Two of the executives still work for the carmaker, with one former employee also investigated as part of the probe. The individuals were not named by the prosecutor.

Porsche confirmed that documents were taken as part of the raids, adding that an Audi facility in Ingolstadt was also visited by authorities on Wednesday. The two carmakers said they are cooperating with investigating teams. Previously, authorities in Stuttgart, where Porsche is based, and Munich have launched smaller raids on homes and offices connected with officials at Audi and BMW over alleged emissions cheating. Volkswagen was caught out by U.S. authorities in September 2015 for installing defeat device software in 11 million diesel vehicles sold worldwide. Since then, the carmaker has agreed to pay out some $25 billion in compensation and settlements in the U.S.

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Erdogan called a snap poll on June 24. Then he can really act as an emperor. Beware.

Turkey Disputes Sovereignty of 152 Greek Islets (GR)

Ankara has issued a list of 152 Greek islets, disputing their sovereignty and the international treaties that have established the status quo in the Aegean. The list is called EGAYDAAK, the acronym for “Egemenligi Anlasmalarla Yunanistan’a Devredilmemis Ada Adacıkve Kayaliklar”, meaning “islands, islets and rocky islets the sovereignty of which was not granted to Greece under international agreements and treaties”. The list includes more than 20 islet formations belonging to the Fournoi Complex, a cluster of uninhabited islets between Ikaria, Samos and Patmos. Turkey’s aim is to bring Greece to the table and revise the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the 1947 Treaty of Paris, the two international agreements that granted the islets to Greece, establishing the sea borders between the two countries in the Aegean.

The issue has been brought up again after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the Turkish coast guard removed a Greek flag on the Mikros Anthropofas rocky formation. However, new photos show the flag is still flying. The two Anthropofas islets are between Ikaria, Lemnos, Samothraki, Lesvos, Chios and Samos; therefore they are included in Article 12 of the Treaty of Lausanne that says all the above belong to Greece. Turkey, however, claims that since the islets and rocky formations are not specifically listed by name in the two international treaties, their sovereignty is contestable.

The EGAYDAAK list is comprised of the Zourafas complex and the Oinousses complex of islets in the North Aegean; the Kalogeroi complex of islets in the Central Aegean; the Fournoi complex in the East Aegean; the Arkoi, Agathonissi, Farmakonissi, SE Nissyros, SA Astpalea, NW Karpathos complexes of islets in the South Aegean; and the Cretan Sea complex of islets.

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Independent judiciary.

Top Greek Court To Rule Irrevocably On Asylum For Turkish Servicemen (K.)

Greece’s top administrative court is expected to rule on Thursday on whether the country can provide asylum to the eight Turkish officers whose extradition has repeatedly been demanded by Ankara. The Council of State carries the burden of resolving the asylum issue, in a high-profile case that has rattled relations between Greece and Turkey. The Supreme Court has ruled irrevocably against their extradition arguing they will not be given a fair trial in Turkey. The decision drew an angry rebuke from Ankara which accuses the eight of involvement in the country’s foiled coup attempt in July 2016.

If the court grants protection to “Turkey’s eight,” as they have become known, they will have to be immediately released from detention where they have remained for months while they wait for their application to be examined. An asylum appeals committee had ruled in favour of one of the servicemen in December 2017 but the government appealed the decision. If the court decides to reject their asylum request, then the government will have to issue documents that will allow them to remain in the country under a special status.

Whatever the ruling, the soldiers will have to be released at the end of May, when the maximum detention period of 18 months expires. Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis confirmed earlier this week the Turkish servicemen will be allowed to walk free when this period is completed. The eight men, three majors, three captains and two sergeant-majors, flew with a helicopter into northern Greece a day after the failed coup and sought asylum, saying they feared for their lives if they remained in Turkey.

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This is what our economies run on. Waste. Cutting the waste is an economic threat.

Americans Waste 150,000 Tons Of Food Each Day – A Pound Per Person (G.)

Americans waste about a pound of food per person each day, with people who have healthier diets rich in fruit and vegetables the most wasteful, research has found. About 150,000 tons of food is tossed out in US households each day, equivalent to about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. Fruit and vegetables were the most likely to be thrown out, followed by dairy and then meat. This waste has an environmental toll, with the volume of discarded food equivalent to the yearly use of 30m acres of land, 780m pounds of pesticide and 4.2tn gallons of irrigated water. Rotting food also clogs up landfills and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Researchers at the US Department of Agriculture analysed eight years of food data, up to 2014, to see where food is wasted and also what members of the public say they do at mealtimes. The research has been published in Plos One. The study found that the healthiest Americans are the most wasteful, because of their high consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are frequently thrown out. Fruit and vegetables require less land to grow than than other foods, such as meat, but require a large amount of water and pesticides. Lisa Jahns, a nutritionist at USDA and co-author of the study, said: “We need a simultaneous effort to increase food quality as well as reduce food waste. We need to put both of those things out.”

Jahns’s study recommends educating consumers on fruit and vegetable storage in order to reduce food waste. She said: “Consumers aren’t connecting the dots, [and] they don’t see the cost when they throw food in the trash. At the same time, we don’t want to undermine legitimate food safety concerns and we need to be aware it’s not just the cost of food that’s the issue. It’s the time and energy required to prepare and store food, which often isn’t a priority in a busy household.”

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Apr 162018
 
 April 16, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Arrangement in Pink, Red and Purple 1883-4

 

US Stock Valuations Are At Multiyear Highs – And Multiyear Lows (MW)
Australia’s Lending Rules Are About to Batter Home Buyers (BBG)
Macron Says He Convinced Trump To Stay In Syria (AFP)
Trump Felt Misled, Angry Over Expulsion Of 60 Russian Diplomats (MW)
Comey And Mueller Have Both Fallen Into Trump’s Trap (MW)
A Third Of People Think Facebook Has A ‘Negative Impact On Society’ (MI)
Who Owns The ‘Virtual You?’ (Escobar)
How Many People Had Their Data Harvested By Cambridge Analytica? (G.)
Where Does the ECB Go From Here? (Mervyn King)
Stoltenberg Calls On NATO Allies To Provide More Support To Turkey (DS)
Detained American Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey (AFP)
Greek-Turkish Tension ‘Not An Issue For NATO – Stoltenberg (K.)
Greece Is Back in the Spotlight (BBG)
Plastic Is Literally Everywhere: The Epidemic Attacking Australia’s Oceans (G.)

 

 

The new markets.

US Stock Valuations Are At Multiyear Highs – And Multiyear Lows (MW)

With the start of the first-quarter earnings season, U.S. stock-market investors are waiting to see whether the results point to a business environment that is thriving and supportive of the market’s rally over the past several years, or whether the move has been overdone. Turns out, both bulls and bears have data they can marshal in their favor. According to data from FTSE Russell and Thomson Reuters, the U.S. stock market was recently trading at its most expensive levels since the dot-com era, and — even after the first correction for the DJIA and the S&P 500 in about two years — it continues to trade one standard deviation above a historical range. The data is based on the forward price-to-earnings ratio for stocks, which is currently above 17, compared with the long-term average of about 15.

This measure of valuation can be seen mapped out in the following chart. The recent peak of the forward P/E represented a nearly 20-year high, per FTSE Russell.

In another potential warning sign for investors, the cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio gives the S&P 500 a ratio of 31.6, nearly twice its long-term mean of 16.85, and at its highest level since the dot-com era. Both of these statistics may give investors pause, as they suggest a market’s that is overstretched and could have more room to fall. However, they only tell half the story. The forward P/E comes at a time when first-quarter earnings growth isn’t just expected to be strong, but coming in at its strongest rate in years. According to FactSet, earnings for companies in the S&P 500 are estimated to grow 17.3% in the first quarter, while sales grow 10%. For both, such rates would represent the fastest pace of growth since the first quarter of 2011.

Accounting for that high level of expansion paints a very different picture for stock valuations, so much so that they go from being at or near multiyear highs, to being at multiyear lows. FTSE Russell also provided the following chart to MarketWatch, which looks at the market in terms of its PEG, or a P/E ratio that accounts for earnings growth. Based on this metric, stocks have a PEG of 1.2, which means they’re not only trading one standard deviation below their long-term average of a little more than 1.3, but also at their cheapest level since 2012.

Read more …

Really? Killing the golden eggs?

Australia’s Lending Rules Are About to Batter Home Buyers (BBG)

A toughening of lax lending standards in Australia is threatening an already-cooling property market. An inquiry into misconduct in the financial industry is likely to lead to greater regulation of the nation’s A$1.6 trillion ($1.2 trillion) mortgage market. Banks have routinely relied on an unrealistically low estimate of homebuyers’ living expenses, and a more genuine assessment of spending could reduce borrowing power by as much as 35 percent, according to UBS analysts. That would mean many new buyers simply couldn’t afford current prices – a further drag on home prices that are already falling as a seven-year property boom tails off.

“What drives house prices is credit availability,” said Sean Fenton, director at Sydney-based Tribeca Investment Partners, which manages about A$2.5 billion. “A tightening of lending standards directly impacts the ability of the marginal buyer to buy a house.” The heat is already coming out of the housing market. Prices in Sydney, the world’s second-most expensive property market, fell 2.1 percent in March from a year earlier, according to CoreLogic Inc. A year ago, annual price growth was running at almost 16 percent. The top end of the market has recorded the biggest falls, the data shows.

[..] “It’s really obvious that a lot of people have a lot of unmanageable debt,” said Karen Cox, coordinator of Sydney’s Financial Rights Legal Centre, which fielded 25,000 calls last year from people seeking financial help. “Because it’s such a benign interest rate environment, the problems can only get worse.” Based on historic income and price relationships, property prices in Sydney and Melbourne are overvalued by between 25 percent and 30 percent, according to Paul Dales, chief Australian economist at Capital Economics. For now, he’s predicting prices will just edge lower, with the crunch coming if interest rate increases coincide with tighter credit conditions. “All properties in those cities are particularly vulnerable.”

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Macron dreams big. About himself, mostly.

Macron Says He Convinced Trump To Stay In Syria (AFP)

President Emmanuel Macron asserted Sunday that Paris had convinced Donald Trump to stay engaged in Syria “for the long-term”, adding that French air strikes did not amount to a declaration of war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. A day after France joined the United States and Britain in launching unprecedented strikes against regime targets, Macron insisted the intervention was legitimate and urged international powers to now push for a diplomatic solution to the brutal seven-year war. “We have not declared war on the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” the 40-year-old centrist said at the start of a combative TV interview, stretching nearly three hours, to mark almost a year in office.

But Macron again argued his first major military intervention as president was necessary to send a signal that the use of chemical weapons against civilians would not go unpunished. Saturday’s strikes targeted three alleged chemical weapons facilities in response to what the West says was a gas attack on the town of Douma that killed dozens of people. “We have full international legitimacy in intervening in this case,” Macron said. He said the US, France and Britain targeted “extremely precise sites of chemical weapons use” in an operation that went off “perfectly”. And he further argued the operation was legitimate despite not being sanctioned by the UN, retorting that under a 2013 UN resolution Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. As for his allies, Macron suggested France played a pivotal role in changing Trump’s mind on the need to stay involved in the conflict.

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Makes sense.

Trump Felt Misled, Angry Over Expulsion Of 60 Russian Diplomats (MW)

President Donald Trump erupted in anger when he learned the U.S. was expelling 60 Russian diplomats in March, while France and Germany were only expelling four each, the Washington Post reported late Sunday. Trump reportedly only wanted to match the number of allies’ expulsions, and not to be seen as taking the lead. Trump believed his aides misled him, the Post said. “There were curse words,” one official told the Post, “a lot of curse words.” The expulsions were the most ever by the U.S. against Russia, and came in response to a suspected Russian nerve-agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in England. Separately, the Trump administration appears ready to impose more sanctions on Russia. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday that a new round of sanctions will target Russian companies that aid Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities.

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Playing on Trump’s field.

Comey And Mueller Have Both Fallen Into Trump’s Trap (MW)

If there’s any strategy in the world of President Donald Trump, it’s a simple one: Play on my field. And the Trump playing field is a salacious one. The scandals and affairs are literally too numerous to be chronicled in a single article. Large and small, Trump University to Trump Steaks, bankruptcies and legal judgements, all manner of infidelity and aberrant behavior, real or imagined. Former FBI Director James Comey and Special Counsel Robert Mueller were each charged with looking into an allegation of the most serious variety — colluding with a foreign hostile power to alter the presidential election. This week the headlines emanating from Mueller’s investigation, and Comey’s book, involve a porn star, a Playboy bunny, a pee tape, the size of Trump’s hands and a doorman with a history of fibbing apparently alleging the existence of an illegitimate child.

That is playing on Trump’s field. But wait. Isn’t it a violation of campaign law if Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels just ahead of the election? If Cohen used a home-equity loan to fund the payment, did he lie to the bank? Doesn’t it speak to Trump’s truthfulness on a variety of a matters — including alleged collusion with Russia — whether his persistent denials of engaging with prostitutes in Moscow are truthful? Doesn’t it have relevance to the question of whether payoffs were legal if Trump bought off a doorman? And didn’t Mueller actually hand off the investigation on Daniels? Yeah, sure, all of that. Those are all on the level of the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton’s perjury — legal matters, yes, that aren’t really the stuff of high crimes and misdemeanors.

They’re all gotchas reinforcing what we basically knew about Trump and his behavior before the election. By contrast, the consequences of playing on Trump’s field are enormous. For Comey, baiting Trump into a reaction, which sure as water is wet came on Friday morning, will result in better book sales. But it will come at the expense of holding any future higher office. His legacy as FBI director — already tarnished for the ridiculous, torturous inconsistencies in how he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails — is forever tarnished. Who in Washington could hire this guy? “Untruthful,” as Trump called him? No. “Slime ball?” Hmm.

Mueller, too, looks set to emerge damaged, if perhaps not as fatally. The question of whether Trump can, or should, fire him has returned. Mueller, also a former FBI director, does still have the support of both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to finish his investigation, and a few key Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley, have expressed willingness to support legislation to protect him. But the idea of his dismissal is definitely more plausible — and, for that matter, the outrage it would generate a good bit lessened.

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“..how does it affect children, how does the platform create addiction..”

A Third Of People Think Facebook Has A ‘Negative Impact On Society’ (MI)

Here’s another bone to pick with Facebook. Nearly one-third of Americans (31.7%) think the embattled social network is having a “negative impact on society,” according to a survey conducted in recent months by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s former personal pollster, Tavis McGinn. That view was even more widely held among respondents in Australia (33.4%), Canada (33.3%) and the U.K. (32.2%), per the results reported by Recode. The survey research was conducted on 10,000 respondents across 10 nations in January and February, prior to recent revelations that the British data firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly harvested personal data from up to 87 million Facebook users to create targeted political ads.

Facebook had already come under fire for its role in the proliferation of fake news on the platform during the 2016 election. While McGinn and his Honest Data company didn’t delve into specifics of this “negative” societal impact, the pollster had some ideas. “In the U.S. obviously we’re very focused on election interference, and in the U.K. they’ve been focused on that as well with Brexit,” he told Recode. “But there are also things like, ‘how does it affect children, how does the platform create addiction, how does the platform encourage extremism, how does the platform push American values onto other countries?’”

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Anyone but you does.

Who Owns The ‘Virtual You?’ (Escobar)

While GAFA in the US essentially controls the politics limiting the capacity for regulation, Brussels will continue to insist the only path towards healthy regulation comes from the EU. The other model is of course China. Beijing has domesticated its sprawling digital industry – which is a de facto extension of the state apparatus as well as a growing instrument of global influence. When Zuckerberg was asked whether Facebook should be broken up – the monopoly issue once again – he said that would weaken the US’s competitive advantage against China, which by the way is fast disappearing. Facebook’s customer base though is not American; it’s global. Inside the Facebook HQ, the consensus is that it is a global company.

So all these issues at stake – from monopoly to regulation to privacy – are indeed global issues. Zuckerberg dodged extremely serious questions. Who owns “the virtual you?” Zuckerberg’s response was that you own all the “content” you upload, and can delete that content any time you want. Yet the heart of the matter is the advertising profile Facebook builds on each user. That simply cannot be deleted. And the user cannot alter it in any way. The GAFA galaxy, in fact, owns you when you click accepting those massive terms and conditions of use. As argued by philosopher Gaspard Koenig, director of the GenerationLibre think tank in France, data property should logically follow the evolution of property rights, land property, financial property and property of ideas, thus replacing the current figure of the “proletarian 2.0” at the heart of the value chain of the digital economy.

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Why would the number be limited to Facebok’s users? Isn’t it clear yet? It’s everyone.

How Many People Had Their Data Harvested By Cambridge Analytica? (G.)

Statistics are a staple of journalistic accuracy issues, but rarely is a number so big, consequential and hard to verify as the number of Facebook users directly affected by the still emerging Cambridge Analytica story. Is it no more than 30 million, as Cambridge Analytica says? Fifty million, as estimated by the Observer and Guardian journalists who have done so much to disclose the issue? Or 87 million, as Facebook has ventured? Facebook’s estimate has a fine-print caveat: “We do not know precisely what data the app shared with Cambridge Analytica or exactly how many people were impacted. Using as expansive a methodology as possible, this is our best estimate of the maximum number of unique accounts that directly installed the thisisyourdigitallife app as well as those whose data may have been shared with the app by their friends.”

The numbers seem to be calculated by multiplying the number of people known as “seeders” by the average number of Facebook friends seeders are thought to have. A seeder was a Facebook user who installed certain apps that permitted the apps’ controllers to harvest data from the user and the seeder’s (unknowing) Facebook friends. The wide variation in the estimates of people affected results partly from different estimates of seeders – 185,000, 275,000, 300,000 – and different average-number-of-friends figures – 160, 180, 250, 340.

Does it matter, in the sense that it is now evident that many, many other entities – academic, commercial, governmental – could have harvested the data of users under previous Facebook policies, for which Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s ethically callow controller, apologised before committees of the US Congress last week, without apparent loss of face? A sense of perspective was given by the Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain, a sophisticated observer of the social and democratic impacts of digital technologies: “The Cambridge Analytica dataset from Facebook is itself but a lake within an ocean, a clarifying example of a pervasive but invisible ecosystem where thousands of firms possess billions of data points across hundreds of millions of people – and are able to do lots with it under the public radar.”

[..] Is it unreasonable to wonder whether the potential dataset for the team’s work is 2 billion, the total number of Facebook users?

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Former BOE governor sees stormy days ahead. The ECB must save the euro system, and that won’t be easy.

Where Does the ECB Go From Here? (Mervyn King)

Many observers have drawn comfort from the likelihood that Germany’s new “grand coalition” and French President Emmanuel Macron will indeed reform the basic architecture of monetary union. The language will be warm and encouraging, but the substance less so. In recent months I’ve been struck by the dissonance between, on the one hand, a common French and German determination to move ahead on the principle of reform to the monetary union, and, on the other, their governments’ clashing ideas about how to do it. Macron wants a fiscal union and a finance minister for the euro area. Germany doesn’t: It insists that countries must be responsible for their own fiscal position.

The likely compromise is that any fiscal transfers will be kept as small as possible – no larger than needed to get past the immediate problem. That might suffice in reasonably normal times, but not if market confidence disappears as it did in 2010-12. At that point, the issue can no longer be fudged. As these events unfold, Draghi and his successor, due to take over in October 2019, can expect to face many tests. The rise of populist parties in southern Europe is one — but the greatest challenge is likely to come from opinion in Germany. So far, the monetary union has been good for German exporters and politicians but less so for German consumers, who’ve been denied the higher standard of living that an appreciating currency would have delivered.

[..] U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson famously remarked about his FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” I’ve no doubt Johnson would be strongly recommending the appointment of Jens Weidmann, the current president of the Bundesbank, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Europe’s governments see it the same way. My advice to Jens? Think twice before accepting.

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The NATO Secretary General is a dangerous man. He’s tasked with increasing NATO’s power.

Stoltenberg Calls On NATO Allies To Provide More Support To Turkey (DS)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg drew attention to already existing NATO presence in Turkey and called on all allies to provide more support to the country. “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks. NATO immediately condemned the coup attempt that targeted Turkey’s democratic institutions,” the secretary-general said. Stoltenberg spoke to Anadolu Agency (AA) at the NATO headquarters in Brussels ahead of his official visit to Turkey on April 16. The NATO chief said the aim of his trip to Ankara is to “to prepare for the upcoming [NATO] summit in Brussels in July..”

[..] Stoltenberg said he highly values the visit to Turkey, as he sees the country it is “a highly valued and key ally for many reasons, not just for its strategic location.” He added that during the visit he will “discuss the preparations for the important summit where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment.” He said that NATO functions with the solidarity principle “one for all and all for one” and added: “We have deployed missile batteries that are augmenting the missile air defenses of Turkey. We have Italy and Spain deploying Patriot batteries and also SAMP-T batteries, and we conduct surveillance flights with our AWACS planes over Turkey. We have also increased our naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.

[..] When asked about NATO’s approach to Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in northwestern Syrian region of Afrin, Stoltenberg said NATO welcomed Turkey’s transparency. “We’re aware that there are some challenges related to the situation in northern Syria and around Afrin. NATO has been a platform for direct dialogue between Turkey and the U.S. We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns, which we expect to be addressed in a proportionate and measured way,” NATO chief said. “We all understand that Turkey has to address these threats. We welcome that Turkey has been transparent and briefed NATO several times on the operation in Afrin, both the military operations and the humanitarian assistance.”

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Erdogan gambles on being needed by the US.

Detained American Pastor Goes On Trial In Turkey (AFP)

An American pastor Monday went on trial in Turkey on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has increased friction between Ankara and Washington. Andrew Brunson, who ran a protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was detained by Turkish authorities in October 2016 and then remanded in custody. If convicted, he risks up to 35 years in jail. Brunson, wearing a white shirt and a black suit, was present in court in the town of Aliaga north of Izmir for the hearing, an AFP correspondent said. In an indication of the importance of the case for Washington, also in court were Sam Brownback, the US ambassador at large for religious freedoms, and Senator Thom Tillis.

Turkish prosecutors have charged Brunson with engaging in activities on behalf of the group led by Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says is behind the failed 2016 coup, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Both are banned by Turkey as terror groups. Brunson is also accused of espionage for political or military purposes. If convicted, he faces two separate terms of 15 years and 20 years in prison, his lawyer Cem Halavurt told AFP. [..] The Brunson case has further raised the temperature of heated relations between NATO allies Turkey and the United States, with US President Donald Trump raising the issue in talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Relations are already tense over American backing for a Kurdish militia in Syria despised by Ankara and the jailing of two employees at American missions in Turkey.

Gulen, who lives in self-exile in the US state of Pennsylvania, firmly denies any role in the failed coup and says his Hizmet (Service) movement promotes a peaceful form of Islam. Turkey has sent a spate of documents to back up its repeated request for Gulen’s extradition from the United States, which has so far shown no sign of interest in expelling the preacher. In September last year, Erdogan suggested that Turkey could free Brunson if Washington handed over Gulen, raising the idea of a swap deal. “They say ‘give us the pastor’. You have a preacher (Gulen) there. Give him to us, and we will try (Brunson) and give him back,” Erdogan said then. The idea was brushed off by the United States.

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Turkey’s a neighbor of Syria. Stoltenberg will have no qualms about selling out Greece.

Greek-Turkish Tension ‘Not An Issue For NATO – Stoltenberg (K.)

The leaders of Greece and Turkey need to address the issues that have been causing tension between the two countries in recent months and this is “not an issue for NATO,” the head of the alliance of which both countries are members said on Sunday. Speaking to Turkey’s Anadolou news agency ahead of a visit to Turkey on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Greece and Turkey are “two highly valued NATO allies” and “both contribute to our collective defense.” “I expect that the differences we see on some issues are solved between Turkey and Greece in the spirit of good relations,” he added.

“In this context, I welcome that the PMs of both countries have recently held a phone conversation and that they have agreed to resolve these differences through dialogue.” Stoltenberg’s visit is planned in preparation for a crucial NATO summit in Brussels in July, “where we will address issues like how we continue to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment,” he said. Asked to respond to criticism that NATO is not doing enough to help Turkey in its fight against terrorism, Stoltenberg said “there’s a lot of NATO presence in Turkey but I call on the allies to provide even more support.” “We also provide political support, because Turkey is the NATO ally that has suffered the most from terrorist attacks,” the alliance chief told Anadolou.

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Also about Turkey.

Greece Is Back in the Spotlight (BBG)

Consider what Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is up against. As Greece prepares to free itself from an eight-year European bailout, its 43 year-old premier is confronting challenges at home and abroad. On the domestic front: preparations for post-bailout economic life and the first general election since the end of the program, including feuds with both allies and rivals. On the foreign-policy front: increased tensions with traditional rival Turkey and regional instability stemming from a dispute over a neighboring country’s name. Tsipras’s ability to navigate through all this could determine just how stable the country and its region will be in coming years, experts say, and the European Union, the U.S. and NATO are all watching with interest.

“The worst problem for Tsipras, for the government, but also for Greece is the evolving ‘rogueness’ of Turkey,” said Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “Diminishing American influence on the region is a destabilizing factor and the stakes are very high,” Hatzis said, adding that Greece is not a primary concern for Turkey, but a part of an overall plan by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to establish hegemony in the region. Tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated in March after two Greek soldiers, who Greece says wandered across the border during a routine patrol, were arrested by Turkey. Greece has demanded their return. Relations between Greece and Turkey, always fraught, worsened further after a Greek court declined to extradite eight Turkish soldiers allegedly involved in a military coup attempt in July 2016.

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“No location and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff.”

Plastic Is Literally Everywhere: The Epidemic Attacking Australia’s Oceans (G.)

The scientific literature is awash with research documenting plastics of all sizes in every environment that’s been studied – from the deep ocean to both the Arctic and Antarctic. Microplastic is the term used to describe any piece of plastic less than 5mm wide – it’s mostly the broken-apart remnants of straws, fishing nets and all manner of other plastic items, creating trillions of tiny pieces. Dr Jennifer Lavers, a marine biologist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, has spent the past 15 years studying the impacts of plastics.

In 2015 Lavers travelled to one of the most remote spots on the planet – the uninhabited Henderson Island in the middle of the Pacific – to find this world heritage-listed coral atoll’s beaches strewn with an estimated 37m pieces of plastic weighing about 17 tonnes – the equivalent of less than two seconds of global plastic production. Just one washed-up fishing net, barely a decade old, was disintegrating into trillions of plastic fibres that gave the surrounding sand a lucid green splash. “You can’t prepare yourself for moments like that,” she says.

Northern Australia is a known hotspot for these so-called “ghost nets” that are left to haunt the lives of marine animals. One project, GhostNets Australia, has collected more than 13,000 nets since 2004. A study analysed 9,000 nets found in the north of Australia and estimated that they alone had probably caught between 4,866 and 14,600 turtles. “Nowhere is safe, and plastic is literally everywhere,” says Lavers. “No location and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff.”

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Apr 112018
 
 April 11, 2018  Posted by at 8:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jan van Eyck The Last Judgement (detail) 1430

 

Hussman’s Script For A 60% Tumble In The Stock Market (MW)
World Trade System In Danger Of Being Torn Apart – Lagarde (G.)
Eurocontrol Warns Airlines Of Possible Missile Strikes Into Syria (R.)
Russian Envoy: Any US Missiles Fired At Syria Will Be Shot Down (R.)
We All Need To Unite Against War In Syria (CJ)
Zuckerberg Deflects Senators’ Questions, Gets $3 Billion For The Effort (MW)
Ban Targeted Advertising (Dayen)
EU Top Court Backs France Ban Of Uber (AFP)
Barclays Says Bitcoin Behaves Like An Infectious Disease (BBG)
The Failures of Anti-Trumpism (NYT)
Save the Children Faces Formal Investigation Over Staff Misconduct (G.)
Greece at Bottom of Eurozone Growth Rate (GR)
More Than Half Your Body Is Not Human (BBC)

 

 

“Investment is about valuation. Speculation is about psychology,” Hussman said. “Both factors are unfavorable here.”

Hussman’s Script For A 60% Tumble In The Stock Market (MW)

Enjoy days like this while they last, warns longtime bear John Hussman, because the volatility we’re seeing on the Dow and the S&P 500 only serves to reinforce his pessimistic view that the stock market is careening toward a painful drop of at least 60% and a decade or more of zero to negative returns. “We’re observing the very early effects of risk-aversion in a hypervalued market,” the Hussman Trust president wrote in his latest missive. “To some extent, the actual news events are irrelevant. I certainly wouldn’t gauge market risk by monitoring the day-to-day news on potential tariffs or even prospects for rate changes by the Fed.”

For those of you feeling a bit queasy because of what Hussman describes as the “rather minimal level of volatility” we’ve seen lately, it’s time to make some changes and rebalance your portfolio with some hedges, or at least lighten up by adding cash. “But do so knowing one thing in advance: you will experience regret,” he says. “If the market advances after you rebalance, you’ll regret having sold anything. If the market declines after you rebalance, you’ll regret not having sold more.”

The driving factor he frequently cites for the top-heavy market is that the Fed’s quantitative easing has inflated valuations to unsustainable levels, and as the free money goes away, the bottom will fall out, leaving a trail of blown-up investors in its wake. “Investment is about valuation. Speculation is about psychology,” Hussman said. “Both factors are unfavorable here.” He used this chart or the median price/revenue ratio of S&P components to show just how overvalued stocks are at this point, even after the recent tumble:

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Because the trade system benefits everyone, right?

World Trade System In Danger Of Being Torn Apart – Lagarde (G.)

The head of the IMF has warned of “darker clouds looming” for the global economy amid simmering trade tensions between the US and China, urging governments around the world to steer clear of protectionism or face negative consequences. Christine Lagarde said the current system for world trade was “in danger of being torn apart”, with the potential to upset the present global economic upswing and make consumers poorer. Speaking in Hong Kong amid signs the standoff could be abating, Lagarde said it would be an “inexcusable, collective policy failure” for world trade to break down with nations erecting punitive tariff systems against their rivals. “Let us redouble our efforts to reduce trade barriers and resolve disagreements without using exceptional measures,” she said.

[..] Using language that could be interpreted as a veiled attack on Trump in the speech ahead of the meeting, Lagarde said nations could make domestic policy changes to address trade imbalances and use international forums to settle disputes. “We can all do more – but we cannot do it alone,” she said. “Unfair trade practices have little impact on a country’s overall trade deficit with the rest of the world. That imbalance is driven by the fact that a country spends above its income.” Identifying the US as an example of a nation that could benefit from reforms, she said Washington could help tackle its trade imbalances by gradually curbing public spending and by increasing revenue, which she said would help reduce future fiscal deficits.

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Jamming.

Eurocontrol Warns Airlines Of Possible Missile Strikes Into Syria (R.)

Pan-European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol on Tuesday warned airlines to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria in next 72 hours. Eurocontrol said that air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles could be used within that period and there was a possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment. U.S. President Donald Trump and Western allies are discussing possible military action to punish Syria’s President Bashar Assad for a suspected poison gas attack on Saturday on a rebel-held town that long had held out against government forces.

Trump on Tuesday canceled a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus instead on responding to the Syria incident, the White House said. Trump had on Monday warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the Syria attack was established. The Eurocontrol warning on its website did not specify the origin of any potential missile threat. “Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR area,” it said, referring to the designated airspace.

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Clear as that.

Russian Envoy: Any US Missiles Fired At Syria Will Be Shot Down (R.)

Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any U.S. missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted, a step that could trigger a major escalation in the Syrian war. Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin, in comments broadcast on Tuesday evening, said he was referring to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian armed forces chief of staff. The Russian military said on March 13 that it would respond to any U.S. strike on Syria, targeting any missiles and launchers involved in such an attack. Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally.

The United States and its allies are considering whether to hit Syria over a suspected poison gas attack that medical relief organizations say killed dozens of people in the rebel-held town of Douma near Damascus on Saturday. “If there is a strike by the Americans, then…the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic. He also said a clash “should be ruled out and therefore we are ready to hold negotiations”.

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Yes, we do. But it’s very late in the game.

We All Need To Unite Against War In Syria (CJ)

Last night Fox’s Tucker Carlson did what may have been the most amazing thing that has ever happened on American television. As the drums of war beat louder than they have in years, Carlson stared right into the camera and did the exact opposite of what every mainstream US pundit is doing right now: he told the truth. He told the truth about Syria. He told the truth about Yemen. He told the truth about the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma. He told the truth about the bipartisan war machine which drops all pretense of opposition the instant it’s time for bloodshed. He told the truth about what war is, what it costs, and what it does to our world.

He stood in stark, unequivocal opposition to the trajectory the Trump administration appears to be moving along. And he did it on Fox News. I have a deep and abiding hatred in my heart for Fox News and all things Murdoch. I will never forget nor forgive the key role the Murdoch press played in deceiving our world into the unimaginable evil that was the Iraq invasion. But if I’d held a reflexive rejection of anything with the Fox News logo in the corner, I never would have seen Carlson’s epic monologue, never would have shared it with my social media following, never would have embedded it in this article, and this bright flash of truth would have been diminished by that much in the impact it was able to have on public consciousness.

And I know that there are many leftists who declined to help spread awareness of that Carlson monologue based solely on the fact that he’s a conservative pundit on a conservative network who has said things they disagree with in the past. This is stupid. We should be able to throw any weapon at all at the war machine, not fight with one hand tied behind our backs just because we don’t like conservatives.

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It was even worse than imagined.

Zuckerberg Deflects Senators’ Questions, Gets $3 Billion For The Effort (MW)

Mark Zuckerberg has come far since the early days of Facebook, and that growth was extremely apparent in how deftly the chief executive dealt with several hours of inscrutable questioning by U.S. senators Tuesday over the social network’s role in presidential election-meddling and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Wearing a conservative suit and light blue tie, an outfit he would rarely wear in Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg sat ramrod straight in his witness chair for most of the many hours of questions. He responded to each questioner by first addressing them as senator or chair. He looked earnest and serious for almost every question, even during some of the laughable questions from some of the less tech-savvy members of the Senate, such as the one by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who asked how Facebook makes money if it doesn’t charge users anything.

“Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg said with a smile. That calm response was in marked contrast to when Zuckerberg faced another type of grilling, at the All Things D conference in 2010, when he gave vague and rambling answers about Facebook’s changes to its privacy controls at the time, and had to take off his famous hoodie while wiping sweat from his face under the lights on stage. Part of his preparedness for the Senate hearing, where he managed to repeat several core phrases that the company has been perpetuating in the media, came as a result of Facebook’s information bombardment over the past month.

Some of the company’s obvious talking points have been repeated throughout the past weeks, such as how sorry Zuckerberg is, how much control Facebook users actually do have over their own data, how Facebook is trying to build a positive community and constant reminders of how the company started in a Harvard University dorm when he was 19. According to the New York Times, Facebook hired a team of experts to give Zuckerberg — who can be combative and defensive — a crash course in humility and charm ahead of the hearing in sessions that included mock hearings with its communications team and outside advisers. That preparation paid off: After the first two hours of questions were nearing an end and there was a call for a potential break, Zuckerberg took a sip of water and said he could keep going for a bit longer.

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Exactly. Stop that and all the Facebok nonsense stops. But those in power don’t want it to stop.

Ban Targeted Advertising (Dayen)

For the first 35 years of my life, like most Americans, I was exposed to lots of advertising. I absorbed billboards and print ads and direct mailers and television commercials and radio jingles. I learned about available products and services, and chose which ones I wanted. Some businesses I patronized survived and others didn’t. The economy mostly proceeded apace. Then, over the last decade, this form of marketing became seen as insufficient—or rather, the rise of digital media made a more invasive form of marketing too irresistible. Instead of having to cast a wide net in searching for potential customers, advertisers now could know every intimate detail about those customers beforehand.

They began targeting people geographically and behaviorally, based on common interests or things they liked in social media or what they wrote in emails to friends. The surveillance economy was born. The surveillance economy should die. This manner of advertising doesn’t serve the public and it’s not even clear it serves advertisers. It facilitates monopoly, as those with the biggest data troves receive all the ad dollars. That centralizes the potential for and magnitude of abuse, with Big Data used to discriminate against groups, steer vulnerable people to financial scams, and meddle in U.S. elections.

Cambridge Analytica’s scraping of 87 million user profiles through a simple personality quiz, and then weaponizing that information on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, revealed how information on social media is inherently insecure. Now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is appearing before Congress on Tuesday to explain how this won’t happen again. But instead of leaving regulation to Facebook, or devising one Rube Goldberg scenario after another to try to protect consumer data, the U.S. can take one simple, legal step to roll back this dystopian nightmare: ban targeted advertising.

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App or transport?

EU Top Court Backs France Ban Of Uber (AFP)

The EU’s top court on Tuesday backed the right of member states like France to ban a service by ridesharing firm Uber without notifying Brussels, in a fresh setback to the US giant. The European Court of Justice ruled in favour of France’s ban of the UberPop service, which links amateur drivers with customers, comparing it to a December decision backing traditional taxi firms in the Spanish city of Barcelona. “Member States may prohibit and punish, as a matter of criminal law, the illegal exercise of transport activities in the context of the UberPop service, without notifying the Commission in advance,” the European Court of Justice ruled. [..]

Uber France is facing criminal proceedings in a court in the northern French city of Lille for its UberPop service. It argues that member states like France were required to notify the European Commission about the criminal legislation under which the case was brought because it concerned a technical regulation of an information society service. But the court of justice said the French case resembled one it ruled on in December when it classified Uber as an ordinary transportation company instead of an app and should be regulated as such. “In the Court’s view, the UberPop service offered in France is essentially identical to the service provided in Spain,” the court of justice statement said.

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True or not, a nice angle.

Barclays Says Bitcoin Behaves Like An Infectious Disease (BBG)

Is the rise of Bitcoin analogous to the spread of an infectious disease? Analysts at Barclays saw enough similarities to develop a pricing model for the cryptocurrency that takes its cues from the world of epidemiology. Their diagnosis: Bitcoin has probably peaked. The Barclays model divides the pool of potential Bitcoin investors into three groups: susceptible, infected and immune. It assumes that as prices rise, “infections” spread by word-of-mouth (nobody likes missing out when their friends and colleagues are getting rich). Barclays analysts led by Joseph Abate in New York explained the rest in a note to clients on Tuesday:

“As more of the population become asset holders, the share of the population available to become new buyers – the potential ‘host’ population – falls, while the share of the population that are potential sellers (‘recoveries’) increases. Eventually, this leads to a plateauing of prices, and progressively, as random shocks to the larger supply population push up the ratio of sellers to buyers, prices begin to fall. That induces speculative selling pressure as price declines are projected forward exponentially.” A similar dynamic plays out with infectious diseases when the so-called immunity threshold is reached, “the point at which a sufficient portion of the population becomes immune such that there are no more secondary infections,” the analysts wrote.

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Does David Brooks realize that anti-Trumpism, of which he’s a proud supporter, is what won Da Doland da election?

The Failures of Anti-Trumpism (NYT)

Over the past year, those of us in the anti-Trump camp have churned out billions of words critiquing the president. The point of this work is to expose the harm President Trump is doing, weaken his support and prevent him from doing worse. And by that standard, the anti-Trump movement is a failure. We have persuaded no one. Trump’s approval rating is around 40%, which is basically unchanged from where it’s been all along. We have not hindered him. Trump has more power than he did a year ago, not less. With more mainstream figures like H. R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn gone, the administration is growing more nationalist, not less. We have not dislodged him.

For all the hype, the Mueller investigation looks less and less likely to fundamentally alter the course of the administration. We have not contained him. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is complete. 89% of Republicans now have a positive impression of the man. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 59% of Republicans consider themselves more a supporter of Trump than of the Republican Party. On trade, immigration, entitlement reform, spending, foreign policy, race relations and personal morality, this is Trump’s party, not Reagan’s or anyone else’s. A lot of us never-Trumpers assumed momentum would be on our side as his scandals and incompetences mounted. It hasn’t turned out that way.

I almost never meet a Trump supporter who has become disillusioned. I often meet Republicans who were once ambivalent but who have now joined the Trump train. National Review was once staunchly anti-Trump, and many of its writers remain so, but, tellingly, N.R. editor Rich Lowry just had a column in Politico called “The Never Trump Delusion” arguing that Trump is not that big a departure from the Republican mainstream. The surest evidence of Trump’s dominance is on the campaign trail. As The Times’s Jonathan Martin reported, many Republicans, including Ted Cruz, are making the argument that if Democrats take over Congress, they will impeach the president. In other words, far from ignoring Trump, these Republicans are making defending him the center of their campaigns.

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Et tu, Brute?

Save the Children Faces Formal Investigation Over Staff Misconduct (G.)

Save the Children, the global charity mired in allegations that it failed to investigate sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour by staff, is to be formally investigated by the Charity Commission. In a statement announcing a statutory inquiry, the commission said it had been prompted by “concerns about the charity’s handling, reporting and response to serious allegations of misconduct and harassment against senior staff members in 2012 and 2015”. The commission describes a statutory inquiry as its “most serious form of engagement” with a charity.

The news, announced on Tuesday night, will be another blow for the charity two months after it emerged that both Justin Forsyth, its former chief executive, and Brendan Cox, the former policy director and widower of the MP Jo Cox, left the charity in 2015 following allegations of misconduct. The two men knew each other from their years working for Gordon Brown and the Labour party. After he left Save the Children, Forsyth went on to a senior role at Unicef. He resigned in February after the reports of inappropriate behaviour emerged. Cox also resigned from the charities More in Common and the Jo Cox Foundation, set up in the aftermath of his wife’s murder.

The commission, which itself has been criticised for failing to follow up allegations involving the charities it polices, has been working with Save the Children since the facts about Forsyth and Cox emerged in the wake of the scandal involving Oxfam workers in Haiti. Save the Children is already reviewing its workplace culture and the implementation of recommendations made by a previous review. But the Charity Commission said its recent work with it, and new information from other sources that has recently come into the regulator’s possession, meant that the commission wanted to make further inquiries.

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It’s crazy to think the Greek economy is growing.

Greece at Bottom of Eurozone Growth Rate (GR)

Greece’s growth was the lowest among eurozone countries for 2017, with a GDP rise of just 1.4% while the eurozone average was 2.3%, according to European Central Bank figures. The ECB annual report released on Monday showed Ireland at the top of the growth chart among eurozone member states with a 5% GDP increase. Overall, 2017 was a year of growth for the whole of the single-currency bloc. According to the report, the main reason Greece fared so low in 2017 was that it showed only 0.1% growth in private consumption, compared to an average 1.6% increase in the rest of eurozone states.

At the same time, Greece showed a 1.1% decline in government spending, while the average in the euro area was a 1.2% increase. In terms of per capita GDP at current prices and adjusted for the cost of living, Greeks have an average annual income of €19,900 ($24,527) compared to €54,600 for each Irish citizen. In Portugal, average income amounted to €23,100, compared to €18,100 before the economic crisis. In Cyprus, the average income was €24,600 compared to €29,900 before the crisis. The “before the economic crisis” figures refer to the 1999-2008 period. On average in the euro area, per capita GDP stood at €31,700 according to the latest figures (2016), compared to €24,400 before the crisis.

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Bugs as drugs. “Originally it was thought our cells were outnumbered 10 to one.”

Well, our genes are outnumbered 1000 to 1.

More Than Half Your Body Is Not Human (BBC)

More than half of your body is not human, say scientists. Human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists. Understanding this hidden half of ourselves – our microbiome – is rapidly transforming understanding of diseases from allergy to Parkinson’s. The field is even asking questions of what it means to be “human” and is leading to new innovative treatments as a result. “They are essential to your health,” says Prof Ruth Ley, the director of the department of microbiome science at the Max Planck Institute, “your body isn’t just you”. No matter how well you wash, nearly every nook and cranny of your body is covered in microscopic creatures.

This includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea (organisms originally misclassified as bacteria). The greatest concentration of this microscopic life is in the dark murky depths of our oxygen-deprived bowels. Prof Rob Knight, from University of California San Diego, told the BBC: “You’re more microbe than you are human.” Originally it was thought our cells were outnumbered 10 to one. “That’s been refined much closer to one-to-one, so the current estimate is you’re about 43% human if you’re counting up all the cells,” he says. But genetically we’re even more outgunned. The human genome – the full set of genetic instructions for a human being – is made up of 20,000 instructions called genes. But add all the genes in our microbiome together and the figure comes out between two and 20 million microbial genes.

[..] Antibiotics and vaccines have been the weapons unleashed against the likes of smallpox, Mycobacterium tuberculosis or MRSA. That’s been a good thing and has saved large numbers of lives. But some researchers are concerned that our assault on the bad guys has done untold damage to our “good bacteria”. Prof Ley told me: “We have over the past 50 years done a terrific job of eliminating infectious disease. “But we have seen an enormous and terrifying increase in autoimmune disease and in allergy. “Where work on the microbiome comes in is seeing how changes in the microbiome, that happened as a result of the success we’ve had fighting pathogens, have now contributed to a whole new set of diseases that we have to deal with.”

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Mar 202018
 
 March 20, 2018  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Times Square at night 1954

 

Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies (Sky)
Alzheimer Care For Americans Alive Today Projected To Cost $47 Trillion (BBG)
The Stock Market Meltup Is Over: Morgan Stanley (MW)
It’s Not Just Tech. Credit Markets Give Fuel to Equity Rout (BBG)
How Economies Could Insure Themselves Against The Bad Times (Shiller)
US Expected To Impose Up To $60 Billion In China Tariffs By Friday (R.)
Facebook Stock Value Down $35 Billion On Cambridge Analytica Controversy (Ind.)
Former Obama Campaign Director: Facebook Was “On Our Side” (ZH)
How Facebook Made Its Data Crisis Worse (BBG)
Tech World Experiencing A Major ‘Trust Crisis’ – Futurist (CNBC)
If You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It (Jim Kunstler)
Over 70% of US Citizens Believe America Is Controlled By A ‘Deep State’ (RT)
UK Tories Set To Slump To Record Low At Local Elections (G.)
Former French President Sarkozy In Custody Over Libya Funding Probe (F24)
Greece Undermining EU-Turkey Migrant Deal, German Report Says (K.)

 

 

Is there anything sadder in the world?

Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies (Sky)

The last male northern white rhino has died in Kenya, keepers have confirmed. The 45-year-old animal died from “age-related complications”, leaving only two females of his subspecies alive. In a statement, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya said the rhino, called Sudan, was put down after his condition “worsened significantly” and he was unable to stand. Scientists have gathered his genetic material and are working on developing in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to save his subspecies. In a statement, the zoo wrote: “Sudan will be remembered for his unusually memorable life. “In the 1970s, he escaped extinction of his kind in the wild when he was moved to Prague Zoo. Throughout his existence, he significantly contributed to survival of his species as he sired two females.

“Additionally, his genetic material was collected yesterday and provides a hope for future attempts at reproduction of northern white rhinos through advanced cellular technologies. “During his final years, Sudan came back to Africa and stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength.” Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s CEO, said: “We on Ol Pejeta are all saddened by Sudan’s death. “He was a great ambassador for his species and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity. “One day, his demise will hopefully be seen as a seminal moment for conservationists worldwide.”

The northern white rhino population in Uganda, Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic was largely wiped out by poachers in the 1970s and 1980s, fuelled by a demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine and dagger handles in Yemen. Four fertile northern white rhinos, two male and two female, were moved from a zoo in the Czech Republic to Ol Pejeta with high hopes they would breed in an environment similar to their native habitat. Although they were seen mating, there were no successful pregnancies.

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To be fair, we’re killing our own species too. Where is the US going to find the $47 trillion?

Alzheimer Care For Americans Alive Today Projected To Cost $47 Trillion (BBG)

Alzheimer’s disease is among the most expensive illnesses in the U.S. There’s no cure, no effective treatment and no easy fix for the skyrocketing financial cost of caring for an aging population. Spending on care for people alive in the U.S. right now who will develop the affliction is projected to cost $47 trillion over the course of their lives, a report issued Tuesday by the Alzheimer’s Association found. The U.S. is projected to spend $277 billion on Alzheimer’s or other dementia care in 2018 alone, with an aging cohort of baby boomers pushing that number to $1.1 trillion by 2050. Research so far has been stymied by clinical failures. By one count, at least 190 human trials of Alzheimer’s drugs have ended in failure.

No company has successfully marketed a drug to treat it, though many big pharmaceutical companies, including Merck and Pfizer, have tried. Biogen, a company based in Cambridge, MA, saw its shares dive last month after it said it was expanding the number of participants in its trial for the drug aducanumab. However, significant cost savings can be achieved, according to the new report, by the simple act of early diagnosis. Currently, individuals are typically diagnosed in the dementia stage, rather than when they have developed only mild cognitive impairment [MCI]. Identifying the disease early can allow it to be better managed, in part with existing drugs that treat its symptoms. In doing so, the study postulates, America could save $7.9 trillion over the lifetimes of everyone alive right now.

The Alzheimer’s Association commissioned researchers at Precision Health Economics to study the potential savings of obtaining an earlier diagnosis. It used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a “nationally representative sample of adults age 50 and older,” run by the University of Michigan and supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration. The $7.9 trillion in savings was derived from a scenario in which all adults who develop Alzheimer’s receive an early diagnosis in the MCI stage. The cumulative cost in such a circumstance is projected at $39.2 trillion—far below the $47.1 trillion that would be spent under current diagnostic patterns.

[..] There are now an estimated 5.5 million Americans aged 65 or older with Alzheimer’s. In 2025, that number is projected to be 7.1 million. By 2050, it could reach 13.8 million. Along with the increasing costs, the report also found Alzheimer’s to be increasingly lethal. It’ss currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and deaths attributed to it jumped by 123% between 2000 to 2015, the report found.

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What stock market?

The Stock Market Meltup Is Over: Morgan Stanley (MW)

The stock market meltup is over. At least, that’s the prognosis of one prominent Wall Street strategist who believes the torrid January rally that gave way to a correction may have been the market’s short-term apex. The S&P 500 jumped 7.5% between the end of 2017 and Jan. 26, when it notched the last in a string of record closes at 2,872.87. “We think January was the top for sentiment, if not prices, for the year. With volatility moving higher we think it will be difficult for institutional clients to gross up to or beyond the January peaks,” said Michael Wilson, chief U.S. equity strategist at Morgan Stanley Institutional Securities, in his weekly note on Monday. “Retail sentiment indicators also look to have peaked in January and we do not see anything on the horizon to get retail investors more bullish than they were following a tax cut.”

As a result, the much-anticipated meltup in stocks that numerous strategists had been forecasting since last year won’t likely happen in 2018, he said. A meltup is an unexpected rise in asset prices as investors surge into the market on fear of missing out. “When we look at our internal data combined with industry flows and sentiment, we think there is a strong case that January was the melt-up, or at least the culmination of it,” Wilson added. One key point in Wilson’s thesis is that gross leverage by Morgan Stanley’s hedge fund clients hit an all-time high in January. Gross leverage, according to the strategist, is a good measure of investor willingness to assume risk.

The record was also set right before the early February “volatility shock” forced investors to scale back their exposure to risk and Wilson does not expect gross leverage to return to January levels any time in the near future.

Going forward, Wilson expects U.S. stock returns to be mostly driven by increase in earnings estimates. “If we just roll forward the current bottom-up estimates, the forward earnings per share would be $166 and $170 by June 30 and September 30, respectively. That is approximately 3% and 5% higher than today’s $161. Not exciting, but not very bad either,” he said. “However, those numbers might need to come down if we start to see some evidence of lower margins since consensus forecasts assume no operating margin degradation. That is another reason why we think the S&P 500 makes its highs for the year this summer. It’s also a wild card that has big idiosyncratic risk at the stock level in our view.”

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The many faces of debt.

It’s Not Just Tech. Credit Markets Give Fuel to Equity Rout (BBG)

Equity investors grappling with a technology selloff, trade tensions and hawkish monetary chatter have a new foe to contend with: growing angst in credit markets. After resisting the full force of the gales that swept through markets earlier this year, corporate bonds are sending ominous messages. Traders are jumping out of the asset class as investment-grade spreads sit near their widest in six months and yields rise to the highest in more than six years – just as stock investors seek to recover from the first S&P 500 correction in two years. “If credit spreads widen, the equities with bad balance sheets will underperform,” said Louis de Fels at Raymond James Asset Management. “We’re quite cautious on the quality of the assets.”

Corporate bonds held by smart money have historically proven a leading indicator for the direction of stocks. That may spell disappointment for investors heeding Wall Street advice to shift towards equity, a late-cycle outperformer. “Credit leads equities and will underperform,” said Andrew Brenner at Natalliance Securities in New York, citing Federal Reserve hikes, signs of softer U.S. output and corporate sales of short-term U.S. debt. “We expect equities to catch up on the downside.” For now, stock investors appear sanguine. U.S. equity funds took in a record $34.5 billion in the week to March 14, compared to just $2.4 billion for bonds, according to Stanford C Bernstein. That brings the quarterly total for debt funds to $37.3 billion, the slimmest quarterly addition since the three months ending in December 2016, the data show.

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But in the end it’s just another form of debt.

How Economies Could Insure Themselves Against The Bad Times (Shiller)

The time has come for national governments around the world to start issuing their debt in a new form, linked to their countries’ resources. GDP-linked bonds, with coupons and principal that rise and fall in proportion to the issuing country’s GDP, promise to solve many fundamental problems that governments face when their countries’ economies falter. And, once GDP-linked bonds are issued by a variety of countries, investors will be attracted by the prospect of high returns when some of these countries do very well. This new debt instrument is especially exciting because of its monumental size. Although issues may start out small, they will be very important from the outset. The capitalised value of total global GDP is worth far more than the world’s stock markets and could be valued today in the quadrillions of US dollars.

[..] I have been advocating something like GDP-linked bonds for 25 years. In my 1993 book Macro Markets, I described the world’s GDPs as the “mother of all markets” and emphasised a form of debt called “perpetual claims”. But I did not work out a real plan of implementation and advocacy. [The book] ‘Sovereign GDP-Linked Bonds’ does just that. The basic idea is simple enough. Governments issue GDP-linked bonds to raise funds, just as corporations issue shares. By issuing such bonds, governments pledge to pay in proportion to the resources they have, measured by their countries’ GDP. The price-to-GDP ratio of GDP-linked bonds is essentially analogous to the price-to-earnings ratio of corporate shares. The difference is that GDP is an order of magnitude larger than corporate profits represented by the stock market.

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Well, it won’t be boring.

US Expected To Impose Up To $60 Billion In China Tariffs By Friday (R.)

The Trump administration is expected to unveil up to $60 billion in new tariffs on Chinese imports by Friday, targeting technology, telecommunications and intellectual property, two officials briefed on the matter said Monday. One business source, who has discussed the issue with the administration, said that the China tariffs may be subject to a public comment period, which would delay their effective date and allow industry groups and companies to lodge objections. This would be considerably different from the quick implementation of the steel and aluminum tariffs, which are set to go into effect on March 23, just 15 days after President Donald Trump signed the proclamations.

A delayed approach could allow time for negotiations with Beijing to try to resolve trade issues related to the administration’s “Section 301” probe into China’s intellectual property practices before tariffs take effect. The White House declined to comment Monday. China has vowed to take retaliatory measures in response. A source who had direct knowledge of the administration’s thinking told Reuters last week that the tariffs, authorized under the 1974 U.S. Trade Act, would be chiefly targeted at information technology, consumer electronics and telecoms and other products benefiting from U.S. intellectual property. But they could be much broader and hit consumer products such as clothing and footwear, with a list eventually running to 100 products, this person said.

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But Zuckerberg sold just in time.

Facebook Stock Value Down $35 Billion On Cambridge Analytica Controversy (Ind.)

Facebook stock dropped $35bn (£25bn) by close of trading on Wall Street, as the company deals with questions over its privacy rules in the wake of a scandal involving data firm Cambridge Analytica harvesting a vast repository of user information. The social media giant’s stock value declined by around 7%, paralleling losses throughout the technology industry and raising questions about the controversy inflicting lasting damage to Facebook’s bottom line. It amounted to the largest single-day%age decline for Facebook stock since 2014, with the drop outpacing broader declines across Wall Street.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite all shed more than a percentage point in value by market’s close. Prominent tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet all saw declines as political pressure on Facebook intensified, building on months of deepening scrutiny of the tech sector by elected officials.

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Six degrees of Facebook.

Former Obama Campaign Director: Facebook Was “On Our Side” (ZH)

The recent controversy and escalating scandal over Facebook’s decision to ban Trump-linked political data firm Cambridge Analytica over the use of data harvested through a personality app under the guise of academic research has opened a veritable Pandora’s box of scandal for the Silicon Valley social media giant. Carol Davidsen, who served as Obama’s director of integration and media analytics during his 2012 campaign (in her LinkedIn profile she says she was responsible for “The Optimizer” & “Narwhal” big data analytics platforms), claims – with evidence, that Facebook found out about a massive data-mining operation they were conducting to “suck out the whole social graph” in order to target potential voters.

After Facebook found out, they knowingly allowed them to continue doing it because they were supportive of the campaign. “[M]ore than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the [Facebook-based app] gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists. In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85% of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them,” reads an article Davidsen posted as a prelude to her postings.

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I doubt that it can make it worse. We haven’t seen the beginning of it.

How Facebook Made Its Data Crisis Worse (BBG)

Facebook tried to get ahead of its latest media firestorm. Instead, it helped create one. The company knew ahead of time that on Saturday, the New York Times and The Guardian’s Observer would issue bombshell reports that the data firm that helped Donald Trump win the presidency had accessed and retained information on 50 million Facebook users without their permission. Facebook did two things to protect itself: it sent letters to the media firms laying out its legal case for why this data leak didn’t constitute a “breach.” And then it scooped the reports using their information, with a Friday blog post on why it was suspending the ad firm, Cambridge Analytica, from its site. Both moves backfired.

On Friday, Facebook said it “received reports” that Cambridge Analytica hadn’t deleted the user data, and that it needed to suspend the firm. The statement gave the impression that Facebook had looked into the matter. In fact, the company’s decisions were stemming from information in the news reports set to publish the next day, and it had not independently verified those reports, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. By trying to look proactive, Facebook ended up adding weight to the news.

On Saturday, any good will the company earned by talking about the problem first was quickly undone when reporters revealed Facebook’s behind-the-scenes legal maneuvering. “Yesterday Facebook threatened to sue us. Today we publish this,” Carole Cadwalladr, the Observer reporter, wrote as she linked her story to Twitter, in a post shared almost 15,000 times. The Guardian said it had nothing to add to her statement. The Times confirmed that it too received a letter, but said it didn’t consider the correspondence a legal threat.

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You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Tech World Experiencing A Major ‘Trust Crisis’ – Futurist (CNBC)

Big brands have to reestablish trust with consumers on data safety, futurist Chris Riddell told CNBC at Credit Suisse’s annual Asian Investment Conference on Tuesday. Riddell, who describes his job title as “fundamentally seeing how technology is changing humanity,” said the world is currently experiencing a severe “trust crisis.” “People now are more willing to share data than ever before” but the of data breaches at major companies break “trust and confidence,” he stated.

Social media platform Facebook is currently under fire amid allegations that private data firm Cambridge Analytica lied about deleting user data it had improperly obtained from a Russian-American researcher in 2015. “We’re in an era of category killers, where one organization is dominating in an industry,” Riddell said, pointing to Facebook and Google as examples. The challenge for those businesses is to rebuild trust and use technology to create transparency, he continued.

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RussiaRussiaRussia

If You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It (Jim Kunstler)

Various readers, fans, blog commenters, Facebook trolls, and auditors twanged on me all last week about my continuing interest in the RussiaRussiaRussia hysteria, though there is no particular consensus of complaint among them — except for a general “shut up, already” motif. For the record, I’m far more interested in the hysteria itself than the Russia-meddled-in the-election case, which I consider to be hardly any case at all beyond 13 Russian Facebook trolls.

The hysteria, on the other hand, ought to be a matter of grave concern, because it appears more and more to have been engineered by America’s own intel community, its handmaidens in the Dept of Justice, and the twilight’s last gleamings of the Obama White House, and now it has shoved this country in the direction of war at a time when civilian authority over the US military looks sketchy at best. This country faces manifold other problems that are certain to reduce the national standard of living and disrupt the operations of an excessively complex and dishonest economy, and the last thing America needs is a national war-dance over trumped-up grievances with Russia.

The RussiaRussiaRussia narrative has unspooled since Christmas and is blowing back badly through the FBI, now with the firing (for cause) of Deputy Director Andrew McCabe hours short of his official retirement (and inches from the golden ring of his pension). He was axed on the recommendation of his own colleagues in the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and they may have been influenced by the as-yet-unreleased report of the FBI Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, due out shortly.

The record of misbehavior and “collusion” between the highest ranks of the FBI, the Democratic Party, the Clinton campaign, several top political law firms, and a shady cast of international blackmail peddlars is a six-lane Beltway-scale evidence trail compared to the muddy mule track of Trump “collusion” with Russia. It will be amazing if a big wad of criminal cases are not dealt out of it, even as The New York Times sticks its fingers in its ears and goes, “La-la-la-la-la….” It now appears that Mr. McCabe’s statements post-firing tend to incriminate his former boss, FBI Director James Comey — who is about to embark, embarrassingly perhaps, on a tour for his self-exculpating book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.

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Going mainstream doesn’t seem to fit the deep state’s preferences.

Over 70% of US Citizens Believe America Is Controlled By A ‘Deep State’ (RT)

Over 70% of US citizens in the Republican and Democratic parties believe America is controlled by a “deep state” of unelected government officials, according to a new poll. They also fear state surveillance, it reveals.
Although most Americans interviewed are not familiar with the term ‘deep state’, when they heard the definition as a cadre of unelected government and military officials who secretly influence government policies, a majority expressed belief in its ‘probable existence’ according to the Monmouth University poll released Monday.

Additionally six in 10 of those polled think that these unelected government figures wield too much power when it comes to shaping federal policy. “We usually expect opinions on the operation of government to shift depending on which party is in charge. But there’s an ominous feeling by Democrats and Republicans alike that a ‘deep state’ of unelected operatives are pulling the levers of power,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Donald Trump has popularized the term ‘deep state’ over the course of his presidency. In January he blasted the ‘deep state’ Department of Justice for allegedly shielding a Hillary Clinton aide who used a non-secure private email account while conducting government business. The poll also highlights widespread fears of state surveillance, with 80% of Americans believing that the US government currently spies on the activities of its citizens. “This is a worrisome finding. The strength of our government relies on public faith in protecting our freedoms, which is not particularly robust. And it’s not a Democratic or Republican issue. These concerns span the political spectrum,” Murray added.

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When incompetence shines through. They’re pitching anti-Corbyn attack ads on…Facebook.

UK Tories Set To Slump To Record Low At Local Elections (G.)

Conservative party support in London looks set to slump to a record low at the local elections on 3 May as the young, ethnically diverse electorate turns to Labour in increasing numbers. Projections from the Tory peer and psephologist Robert Hayward indicate the Conservatives will lose about 100 council seats. If they lose more than 93 – less than three seats in each of London’s boroughs – the Tories would fall below their previous low of 511 councillors in the capital. That came in 1994, just after the pound had fallen out of the exchange rate mechanism and Labour had begun the recovery that led to its 1997 general election landslide. “I’d be surprised if the Tories did not have an all-time low number of councillors,” Hayward said.

“Labour were very successful in London in the general election last year and I’d expect that to continue in 2018.” The Tories could even lose their two flagship boroughs of Wandsworth, which has been in Conservative control since 1978, and Westminster, which has been Tory since the last local government reorganisation in 1964. More likely, Barnet in north London might go Labour and the Liberal Democrats could triumph in Kingston in south-west London where they are also targeting the neighbouring council, Richmond. The most spectacular reverse would be the loss of Kensington and Chelsea, the Conservative heartland won by Labour with the narrowest of margins at last year’s general election, where the Tory council has come under fire for its mishandling of the Grenfell Tower fire.

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He took the money and then killed him.

Former French President Sarkozy In Custody Over Libya Funding Probe (F24)

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been called in for questioning by investigators looking into suspected Libyan financing of his 2007 election campaign, an official in the French judiciary said Tuesday. Libyan officials from the Gaddafi era have claimed they helped finance Sarkozy’s election campaign. An investigation into the case has been underway since 2013. It is the first time Sarkozy has been questioned in the inquiry. The hearing comes several weeks after a former associate, Alexandre Djouhri, was arrested in London as part of the investigation and later released on bail. Investigators are examining claims that Gaddafi’s regime secretly gave Sarkozy €50 million overall for the 2007 campaign. Such a sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time of €21 million.

In November 2016, French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine said he delivered three suitcases from Libya, containing five million euros in cash, to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff and campaign director, Claude Guéant, between 2006 and 2007. Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, has always denied the allegations. A lawyer for the former French president could not be reached immediately for comment on Tuesday. Sarkozy had a complex relationship with Gaddafi. Soon after his election to the presidency, Sarkozy invited the Libyan leader to France for a state visit and welcomed him with high honors. But Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against Gaddafi’s troops that helped rebel fighters topple his regime in 2011.

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In other news: war is peace.

Greece Undermining EU-Turkey Migrant Deal, German Report Says (K.)

Data published by the German newspaper Die Welt suggest that Greece has been undermining the European Union-Turkey deal signed two years ago to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to the continent. Citing unnamed officials in Berlin, Brussels and the EU’s border agency Frontex, the report alleges that the Greek government has moved a large number of asylum seekers from the Aegean islands to the mainland, effectively preventing their return to Turkey. The message is that any asylum seeker who manages to land on one of the Greek islands, he can then move on to central Europe, officials told the newspaper.

According to EU figures cited by the newspaper, between March 2016 and January 2018, 62,190 asylum seekers landed on the Aegean islands, of whom 27,635, or 45%, were subsequently transferred to mainland Greece. German officials told the newspaper that only a very small number of people whose asylum request had been turned down by authorities had been returned to Turkey. Greece, the same officials said, is effectively creating an incentive for migrants hoping to enter the continent which could lead to a spike in arrivals.

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Mar 162018
 
 March 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Women of Algiers (after Delacroix) 1955

 

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)
UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)
Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)
Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)
UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)
UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)
More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)
European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)
Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)
Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)
EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)
The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)
Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

 

 

Yesterday was a travel day, hence no post. I’m back in Greece for talks about the Automatic Earth for Athens project.

 

 

Nafeez takes no prisoners. There must be a strong counter narrative to the UK government’s attempt to deflect attention from its dismal performance by conjuring up a common enemy for all Britons. Either show proof or hold your tongue.

The British Government’s Russia Nerve Agent Claims Are Bullshit (Nafeez Ahmed)

[..] far from offering a clear-cut evidence-trail to Vladimir Putin’s chemical warfare labs, the use of Novichok in the nerve gas attack on UK soil points to a wider set of potential suspects, of which Russia is in fact the least likely. Yet a concerted effort is being made to turn facts on their head. No clearer sign of this can be found than in the statement by Ambassador Peter Wilson, UK Permanent Representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in which he claimed that Russia has “failed for many years” to fully disclose its chemical weapons programme.

Wilson was parroting a claim made a year earlier by the US State Department that Russia had not made a complete declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile: “The United States cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention.” Yet these claims are contradicted by the OPCW itself, which in September 2017 declared that the independent global agency had rigorously verified the completed destruction of Russia’s entire chemical weapons programme, including of course its nerve agent production capabilities. [..] The OPCW’s press statement confirmed that:

“The remainder of Russia’s chemical weapons arsenal has been destroyed at the Kizner Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility in the Udmurt Republic. Kizner was the last operating facility of seven chemical weapons destruction facilities in Russia. The six other facilities (Kambarka, Gorny, Maradykovsky, Leonidovka, Pochep and Shchuchye) completed work and were closed between 2005 and 2015.” [..] According to Craig Murray, former US Ambassador to Uzbekistan and prior to that a longtime career diplomat in the UK Foreign Office who worked across Africa, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the British government itself has advanced capabilities in Novichok:

“The ‘novochok’ group of nerve agents – a very loose term simply for a collection of new nerve agents the Soviet Union were developing fifty years ago – will almost certainly have been analysed and reproduced by Porton Down. That is entirely what Porton Down is there for. It used to make chemical and biological weapons as weapons, and today it still does make them in small quantities in order to research defences and antidotes. After the fall of the Soviet Union Russian chemists made a lot of information available on these nerve agents. And one country which has always manufactured very similar persistent nerve agents is Israel. ”

[..] A secret British intelligence unit is actively arranging ‘honey trap’ propaganda operations to incriminate ‘adversaries’

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People are subject to abuse for questioning the official story. At least Corbyn has the decency to ask for evidence.

UK Claims Questioned About Source Of Salisbury Novichok (G.)

It was a historic moment largely ignored at the time by most of the world’s media and might have remained so but for the attack in Salisbury. At a ceremony last November at the headquarters of the world body responsible for the elimination of chemical weapons in The Hague, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the destruction of the last of Russia’s stockpiles. Gen Ahmet Üzümcü, the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which works closely with the UN, was fulsome in his praise. “This is a major achievement,” he said. The 192-member body had seemingly overseen and verified the destruction of Russia’s entire stock of chemical weapons, all 39,967 metric tons.

The question now is whether all of Russia’s chemical weapons were destroyed and accounted for. Theresa May – having identified the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack as novichok, developed in Russia – told the Commons on Wednesday that Russia had offered no explanation as to why it had “an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law”. Jeremy Corbyn introduced a sceptical note, questioning whether there was any evidence as to the location of its production. The exchanges provoked a debate echoing the one that preceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq over whether UN weapons inspectors had overseen the destruction of all the weapons of mass destruction in the country or whether Saddam Hussein had retained secret hidden caches.

[..] The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who visited the site at Nukus, said it had been dismantled with US help. He is among those advocating scepticism about the UK placing blame on Russia. In a blog post, he wrote: “The same people who assured you Saddam Hussein had WMDs now assure you Russian ‘novichok’ nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil.” [..] Murray, in a phone interview, is undeterred, determined to challenge the government line, in spite of having been subjected to a level of abuse on social media he had not experienced before. “There is no evidence it was Russia. I am not ruling out that it could be Russia, though I don’t see the motive. I want to see where the evidence lies,” Murray said. “Anyone who expresses scepticism is seen as an enemy of the state.”

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Casino.

Buying Stocks Now Is Betting On Buybacks (F.)

It is no secret that a large portion of the rally in equities over the last few years, and especially the rebound from the lows of early February, has been bolstered by the record amounts of capital sitting in the coffers of American corporations which, has naturally found its way into the stock market. This cash had three main sources. First, corporations built a large precautionary hoard of cash in the aftermath of the financial crisis to prevent being buffeted by credit markets, choosing to recycle their income into savings rather than spending. Some of this cash is now being unleashed. Second, the extremely low level of yields and spreads in the corporate bond markets allows the issuance of longer term bonds to willing yield-starved bond buyers and take in even more cash.

And finally, the tax reform unlocked foreign cash that came flowing back into the U.S. – a good fraction of which has gone into the stock market. This trifecta of positives (for the stock market) has created a systematic bid whenever markets correct downwards. The big question for investors is whether we can count on the buybacks to continue to provide the support on dips as the economic cycle matures. The question really is whether “Buying the Dip” is the same as “Buying the Buyback.” Just like the yield of a bond is the income that an investor receives from cash, the most important component of the yield on a stock is the dividend that the investor receives as the company pays out cash dividends.

The total yield from holding a stock is the sum of the dividend yield and the “buyback” yield. The buyback yield is simply the capital returned to investors divided by the market value of the stock. To compare the relative yield value of stocks and bonds, then, we should compare the yield on bonds and the total yield on stocks. What has been a direct consequence of the large buying of bonds by central banks until recently is that investors have been buying stocks for their total yield since this yield has been much higher than the comparable bond yields. One could also argue that investors have been buying bonds for capital appreciation, not yield. Otherwise why would one hold negatively yielding securities in Europe? Bonds for capital gains, equities for yield – very interesting!

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Household debt. That’s the focal point.

Has Europe Really Recovered From Its 2008 Financial Meltdown? (Steve Keen)

There’s no doubt that Europe is recovering, and those factors have been part of it. But so is another element which economists, especially Krugman himself, continue to ignore: credit. Not only Europe’s crisis, but America’s and the UK’s as well in 2008, was due to a collapse in credit-based demand. In fact, Europe is back largely because credit is back: European (and American and British) consumers and firms are borrowing once again and unleashing that borrowed money into their economies, boosting demand and lowering unemployment. This means the recovery can continue only so long as households and firms can keep getting into debt. Yet, given private debt levels are still high when compared to GDP, it won’t be long before the national credit cards are maxed out again. Then the borrowing will stop, and the recovery will run out of steam.

So why aren’t economists warning of this dark lining in the silver cloud of economic recovery? It’s because they don’t think that credit matters, and they ignore it when making forecasts about where the economy is likely to go. Their logic is that credit simply transfers spending power from one person to another, so changes in the level of private debt only affect the economy if the borrower has substantially different spending patterns to the lender. To use Krugman’s own language here, rising private debt will only affect demand if the borrowers are “impatient people” who spend a lot, while the lenders are “patient people” who spend very little. This implies that large changes in private debt should have only small effects on the macroeconomy.

I could get all theoretical here and prove why this belief is false, but it’s rather easy to show what the biologist Thomas Huxley once described as “no sadder sight in the world,” which is “to see a beautiful theory killed by a brutal fact.” If the theory that credit doesn’t matter were true, then credit and unemployment would be unrelated to each other. But they are! Here’s a killing of this beautiful theory by a brutal fact that’s worthy of a Game of Thrones beheading: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the relationship between credit (the annual change in private debt, measured as a percentage of GDP) and unemployment in Spain, between 1990 and July 2017 (the latest quarter for which there is data on debt from the Bank of International Settlements).

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You can see the wall ahead that hey’re about to crash into.

UK Household Debt Levels Close To 2008 Peak (Ind.)

Worrying numbers of householders may be “in too deep” with their borrowing, a city regulator boss has told a credit conference. Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision for retail and authorisations at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said credit levels were close to a peak seen in 2008. He said the FCA would take action against firms whose businesses were based on people being unable to clear their debts. More can be done to pre-empt future harm to customers, he said, warning: “There are a significant number of households that are in so deep that the slightest sign of rough weather could see them in over their heads.” He said it was “far from certain” that some customers who could just manage to afford loans now would be able to do so in future.

Mr Davidson told the audience: “A business model that is predicated on selling products to customers who can’t afford to repay them is not acceptable. “We will take action against firms who run their businesses this way.” He said that while most borrowers could still comfortably afford their credit, the industry should “think strategically about the issues facing your customers”, adding that this was “the right thing to do, not only for your customers, but for the future of your businesses”. Mr Davidson said the consumer credit sector, which comprises nearly 40,000 firms registered with the FCA, was part of everyday life, serving around 39 million people, whether it was to help finance a car, a big purchase or to make ends meet towards the end of the month.

He said some arrears and default rates, while still low, were on the rise, begging the question: “If we’re seeing this pattern now, what would happen if there was an economic downturn?” Speaking at the Credit Summit in London, Mr Davidson said: “Total credit lending to individuals is currently very close to its September 2008 peak.

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What QE has brought us. This is a global phenomenon revealed stronger and sooner in Britain because of, but not caused by, Brexit.

UK Economy In Grip Of Most Feeble Recovery On Modern Record – IFS (Ind.)

The UK has been living through the most feeble and protracted economic recovery in modern British history, leaving people on course to be almost £9,000 worse off on average by 2022-23 relative to the pre-crisis trend, according to calculations by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In its analysis of the Government’s Spring Statement on Tuesday, which contained no new tax or spending measures, the think tank took a longer term perspective on the performance of the UK economy in the decade since the UK economy first sank into recession in 2008. It has long been noted that the UK’s recovery from that slump has been the slowest since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

But, analysing historic data on UK GDP per capita, the IFS showed on Wednesday that it has been weaker even than what followed the agonising slump of the early 1920s. In that era output per person fell by 10%, as global industrial overcapacity in the wake of the First World War ravaged once mighty UK firms, resulting in mass unemployment. The UK recession after the global financial crisis was shallower, with GDP per capita falling by around 7% as banks failed and global trade fell off a cliff. Yet a decade after the 1920-21 recession UK output per person was more than 10% higher than before the crisis. Today it is only around 3% higher than it was in 2008-09. “The history matters,” said Paul Johnson, the IFS’s director.

“It matters in part because we should never stop reminding ourselves just what an astonishing decade we have just lived through and continue to live through.” The UK has avoided the mass unemployment that scarred the 1920s and indeed employment has grown strongly since 2010, but the chronic weakness of UK GDP and productivity growth since 2008 is the reason why average real wages are still below where they were a decade ago – and are not set to return to their peak until well into the next decade. The IFS also produced calculations showing that if the pre-crisis trend of GDP per capita growth had continued national income per person would today be £5,900 higher this year. By 2022-23, on current official projections, the financial hit per person will grow to £8,600.

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Third world here we come.

More Than 600,000 Britons Sought Help From Debt Charity Last Year (G.)

More than 600,000 people in financial difficulties last year sought help from the debt charity StepChange, including disproportionate numbers of single parents and those in rental accommodation. The charity said 619,946 new clients contacted it for debt advice last year – 3.5% more than in 2016, and 22% more than four years earlier. There has been a notable increase in recent years in the number of young people seeking debt advice: about one in seven new clients was under 25, and nearly two-thirds were under 40. Most people (80%) contacting the charity were tenants, even though only a third of UK households rent. More than a fifth (21.5%) of new clients, though only 6% of UK households are single-parent families.

The average couple with children owed £16,834 last year, while single parents had unsecured debts of £10,033. Unemployment was the most common reason why people were in financial difficulty, cited by 18.7%, followed by injury or illness (16.4%) and lack of budgeting (14.3%). About two-fifths of people have fallen behind on at least one of their priority household bills when they contact the charity, typically on council tax. Borrowing on credit cards remains the most common debt, with more than two-thirds of new clients having accumulated credit card debts. Other borrowings included store cards, overdrafts, personal loans, doorstep and payday loans.

[..] Phil Andrew, the chief executive of StepChange, said: “It is both striking and shocking that last year about one in every 100 UK adults contacted StepChange alone for debt advice. “Our clients show that the debt problem is far from solved. With the prospect of higher interest rates ahead, it would be a mistake to take too much reassurance from the gradual improvement in the wider economy.”

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This is Brussels. Simple as that. The next crony case is already known in the person of Selmayr. More on that soon. There are a few decent people in Brussels, but they don’t have much time left.

European Commission Rebuked Over Ex-Chief Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (G.)

An EU watchdog has rebuked the European commission for failing to prevent potential lobbying by a former president who took a job at Goldman Sachs. In a stinging report, Emily O’Reilly, the European ombudsman who acts as the EU’s public administration watchdog, said the commission had committed “maladministration” by not taking any decision after an ethics inquiry into its former president, José Manuel Barroso. O’Reilly called on the commission to refer Barroso’s appointment to its internal ethics committee, while raising questions about the independence of that body. “Ex-commissioners have a right to post-office employment, but as former public servants they must also ensure that their actions do not undermine citizens’ trust in the EU,” said O’Reilly, Ireland’s former national ombudsman.

She said Barroso’s new post had “generated serious public disquiet”, which should have raised commission concerns about whether he had complied with the “duty of discretion” incumbent on all former officeholders under EU treaties. “Much of the recent negative sentiment around this issue could have been avoided if the commission had at the time taken a formal decision on Mr Barroso’s employment with Goldman Sachs. Such a decision could at least have required the former president to refrain from lobbying the commission on behalf of the bank,” she said.

[..] Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, led the commission for a decade until 2014. He took a job at Goldman Sachs in July 2016, after an 18-month cooling-off period during which ex-officials are required to notify the commission of any new jobs and are banned from lobbying. His decision to become a Brexit adviser at the bank triggered an avalanche of criticism, especially as Goldman Sachs had come under fire for its alleged role in the Greek debt crisis that dominated Barroso’s final years in Brussels. More than 150,000 people signed an EU staff petition calling for Barroso to lose his EU pension..

The commission has been set a deadline of 6 June 2018 to make a formal response to the ombudsman. Responding to the report, which followed a one-year investigation, the commission’s chief spokesman said: “The former president joined his current employer after the then applicable cooling-off period of 18 months. “The commission drew a political conclusion from the situation that we inherited by extending this cooling-off period for former presidents from 18 months to three years.”

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Abe had better leave while he can.

Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Cronyism Scandal Worsens (G.)

A cronyism scandal engulfing the Japanese government has taken a dark turn, with reports that a finance official left a note before his suicide saying that he was forced to rewrite crucial records. The finance ministry admitted this week that it had altered 14 documents surrounding the sale of public land at an 85% discount to a nationalistic school operator with links to prime minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie. The revisions, made early last year, included removing references to Abe and the first lady before the records were provided to parliamentarians investigating suspicions of influence-peddling. An official from the local finance bureau that oversaw the transaction was found dead at his home in Kobe last week.

Now it has been revealed the man, aged in his 50s, left a detailed suicide note stating he was worried he might be forced to take all the blame. He said his superiors had told him to change the background section of the official documents surrounding the Osaka land sale because they were supposedly too specific, according to public broadcaster NHK. He reportedly made it clear that he did not act alone but in line with finance ministry instructions. His family described him as an honourable man who “hated to do anything unfair”. He had told relatives in August last year that he was “worn out both mentally and physically” and his “common sense has been destroyed”. “I hope everything will be revealed. I don’t want his death to be wasted,” said a family member…

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How to spell recovery.

Greece’s Jobless Rate Jumps To 21.2% In Fourth Quarter (K.)

Greece’s jobless rate rose by a full %age point to 21.2% in October-to-December from 20.2% in the third quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT showed on Thursday. About 71.8% of Greece’s 1.006 million jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%. Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through December, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. Greece’s economy grew for a fourth straight quarter in October-December, driven by stronger investment spending, but the pace was slower than in the previous quarter.

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That EU-Turkey refugee deal looks darker by the minute. Dirty politics.

EU Provides Financial Support For Turkey Amid Ethnic Cleansing (ANF)

The European Commission gave a green light to a second financial aid package for Turkey on the grounds of Syrian refugees. The 3 billion euros allocated for Turkey will be given in the scope of the controversial refugee deal. Several human rights organizations protested the renewed financial aid package for Turkey, arguing that it is not humanitarian as Turkey has openly used refugees as a means of blackmail against the European Union. Turkey had received another 3 billion euros of financial aid before. The European Commission defended that this second package will be granted to Turkey to provide convenience for the refugees.

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No, really, it’s an industry.

The Oxfam Scandal: There Is No Reward For Honest Charities (Crack)

Abuse thrives under two conditions: when victims are afraid to speak out, and when those in power do not listen. Oxfam have been condemned for not listening to demands that they do more to address sexual violence before the Haiti scandal hit the headlines. However, the net of blame needs to be cast wider than NGOs. Those at the top of the aid chain – donor governments – did not listen to warnings of wrongdoing. Donors do not have a good record of being proactive when presented with evidence of abuse. It has emerged that the Dutch Foreign Ministry was given an internal Oxfam report in 2012 detailing the use of prostitutes by staff in Haiti. No action appears to have been taken.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), was told by one of its own officials in 2008 that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the former Oxfam employee at the centre of the Haiti allegations, left another NGO following an investigation into sexual misconduct. Rather than take action, SIDA awarded more than £500k to Oxfam in Chad, where Van Hauwermeiren was county director. In the UK, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Charity Commission were told by Oxfam in 2011 that staff had been sacked for sexual misconduct, with assurances that no beneficiaries were involved. Priti Patel, former international development secretary, claims that she raised the issue of sexual violence with DFID officials, only for it to be “dismissed as only a problem with UN peacekeepers”.

My research into NGO regulation has led me to ask: do government donors create the impression that they will only fund organisations with glowing track records? NGOs that receive aid money are expected to complete detailed reports that assess measurable outcomes. I have interviewed several senior managers in leading NGOs who described how the pressure to demonstrate value for money drives a tick-box culture where all the incentives are to make the reports as positive as possible. Respondents felt there was very little tolerance for charities that make mistakes.

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There are still a few smart people left.

Bali Switches Off Internet Services For 24 Hours For New Year ‘Reflection’ (G.)

Internet services on Bali will go dark this Saturday, with providers switching off mobile services for 24 hours to mark the Indonesian island’s annual day of silence. Nyepi, or New Year according to the ancient Balinese calendar, is a sacred day of reflection on the Hindu-majority island. Even the international airport shuts down. This year authorities have called on telecommunications companies to unplug – a request Bali says firms have promised to honour. “It was agreed that internet on mobile phones will be cut. All operators have agreed,” Nyoman Sujaya, from the Bali communications ministry, told tirto.id. The plan, based on an appeal put forward by Balinese civil and religious groups, was announced following a meeting at the ministry in Jakarta.

This is the first time internet services will be shut down in Bali for Nyepi, after the same request was denied last year. However, wifi connection will still be available at hotels and for strategic services such as security, aviation, hospitals and disaster agencies. Phone and SMS services will be operational, but the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association is reviewing whether wifi at private residences will be temporarily cut. Indonesia is one of the most connected nations on earth, with more than 132 million internet users. Balinese governor Made Pastika said it would not hurt to refrain from using the internet for one day. “If the internet is disconnected, people will not die,” he joked to reporters. “I will turn off my gadgets during Nyepi.”

Read more …

Mar 042018
 
 March 4, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea 1871

 

Global Bond Markets Have Become Grotesquely Distorted – Jim Grant (ZH)
From Currency War To Trade War To Shooting War (Rickards)
Central Banks Are The Agents Of Baby Boomers (G.)
Osborne’s Austerity Has Left UK Social Fabric In Tatters (Pettifor)
How America’s Clean Coal Dream Unravelled (G.)
Putin’s Megyn Kelly Interview (ZH)
Germany’s SPD Votes For Coalition Handing Merkel Fourth Term (G.)
Europe’s Band-Aid Ensures Greece’s Debt Bondage (Varoufakis)
Modern Food Farming Puts UK Wildlife Species At Risk Of Extinction (Ind.)
Three Billboards In Hollywood, California (TAM)

 

 

It’s all just one giant distortion.

Global Bond Markets Have Become Grotesquely Distorted – Jim Grant (ZH)

Jim Grant, the world’s most famous interest rate observer, ventured on CNBC this week to expose and explain the utterly farcical world of financial markets (and in particular, risk assets) and how grotesquely distorted global bond markets have become. He began with an example… “As an example of where the world is mispricing interest rates… look to Italy, which is having a big [potentially disruptive] election on Sunday… …there is a speculative grade Italian security, Telecom Italia, the 5 1/4’s of 2022 are trading at 0.61 percent, that is a junk bond with a zero handle.” This bond traded with almost a 6 handle just 5 years ago… Thank you Mr Draghi. But it doesn’t stop there, Grant warns…

“…and since interest rates are critical in the pricing of financial instruments, these distortions preceded the uplift in all asset values.. and the manifestation of this manipulation is in many ways responsible for what we are now seeing in the markets.” These distortions and the chaotic aftermath of their withdrawal are exactly what current Fed Chair Powell warned of in 2013… “[W]hen it is time for us to sell, or even to stop buying, the response could be quite strong; there is every reason to expect a strong response. So there are a couple of ways to look at it. It is about $1.2 trillion in sales; you take 60 months, you get about $20 billion a month. That is a very doable thing, it sounds like, in a market where the norm by the middle of next year is $80 billion a month. Another way to look at it, though, is that it’s not so much the sale, the duration; it’s also unloading our short volatility position.

“I think we are actually at a point of encouraging risk-taking, and that should give us pause. Investors really do understand now that we will be there to prevent serious losses. It is not that it is easy for them to make money but that they have every incentive to take more risk, and they are doing so. Meanwhile, we look like we are blowing a fixed-income duration bubble right across the credit spectrum that will result in big losses when rates come up down the road. You can almost say that that is our strategy.”

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But history merely rhymes.

From Currency War To Trade War To Shooting War (Rickards)

Currency wars do not exist all the time; they arise under certain conditions and persist until there is either systemic reform or systemic collapse. The conditions that give rise to currency wars are too much debt and too little growth. In those circumstances, countries try to steal growth from trading partners by cheapening their currencies to promote exports and create export-related jobs. The problem with currency wars is that they are zero-sum or negative-sum games. It is true that countries can obtain short-term relief by cheapening their currencies, but sooner than later, their trading partners also cheapen their currencies to regain the export advantage. This process of tit-for-tat devaluations feeds on itself with the pendulum of short-term trade advantage swinging back and forth and no one getting any further ahead.

After a few years, the futility of currency wars becomes apparent, and countries resort to trade wars. This consists of punitive tariffs, export subsidies and nontariff barriers to trade. The dynamic is the same as in a currency war. The first country to impose tariffs gets a short-term advantage, but retaliation is not long in coming and the initial advantage is eliminated as trading partners impose tariffs in response. Despite the illusion of short-term advantage, in the long-run everyone is worse off. The original condition of too much debt and too little growth never goes away. Finally, tensions rise, rival blocs are formed and a shooting war begins. The shooting wars often have a not-so-hidden economic grievance or rationale behind them.

The sequence in the early 20th century began with a currency war that started in Weimar Germany with a hyperinflation (1921–23) and then extended through a French devaluation (1925), a U.K. devaluation (1931), a U.S. devaluation (1933) and another French/U.K. devaluation (1936). Meanwhile, a global trade war emerged after the Smoot-Hawley tariffs (1930) and comparable tariffs of trading partners of the U.S. Finally, a shooting war progressed with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931), the Japanese invasion of Beijing and China (1937), the German invasion of Poland (1939) and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941). Eventually, the world was engulfed in the flames of World War II, and the international monetary system came to a complete collapse until the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944.

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We’re going to be watching this unfold until it’s too late.

Central Banks Are The Agents Of Baby Boomers (G.)

The greatest threat to our economy comes from its ageing population. With the baby-boomer generation making up a large proportion of society, we find ourselves in a situation where public policy is mostly geared towards shoring up the gains made by boomers over the past 40 years, and industrial disputes are driven by an ageing union membership most worried about its pension entitlements. It is a problem that Britain shares with its continental cousins, the US and Japan, now that all are struggling with a situation where a fifth of their populations is aged over 65 and the proportion is rising fast. Ageing populations have many effects on an economy, not least the desire among those nearing retirement age to save excessively.

Each country’s baby boomers pursue the holy grail of wealth slightly differently, but in the main, property and pensions are the twin pillars supporting decades of retirement. When wealth is your goal, there is one evil monster that needs slaying, and that is inflation. This is one of the main reasons that since the 1990s the Bank of England is under instruction to keep inflation anchored around 2%. A recent blog by economists at the Bank has caused a stir by arguing that far from the baby-boomer savings glut being a passing phase – or at least a situation that will fade as the boomers die off – it will be with us for decades to come.

They argue that boomers have shown that they want to keep saving even as they move into their 80s and 90s, to fund possible extra health and care costs, and to pass on the maximum amount of wealth they can to their heirs. Some academics have argued that boomers will be forced to spend more than they save in later life to pay for health and long-term care, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. The $100 trillion of savings sloshing round the global financial system just keeps growing. This is not just because people in young nations such as Indonesia and India are starting to build up savings, but because older Brits, Germans and Swedes are doing the same when there had been an expectation that they would switch to spending.

[..] The Bank of England blog argues that the persistent glut of savings in stocks, bonds and property will maintain the trend of the past 30 years – of an excess of money chasing too few investment opportunities. And if older savers resist spending some of their pension, demand for goods is lower than expected, and inflation stays low. Central banks, in seeking to maintain a 2% inflation target, are the agents of baby boomers. It is their savings and wealth that are protected, not those of the young, who have much less, if any.

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This is not typical for Osborne or the UK. ‘Saving’ the economy by making the poor, poorer, is widely accepted.

Osborne’s Austerity Has Left UK Social Fabric In Tatters (Pettifor)

There is growing consensus among economists that Osborne’s post-crisis austerity programme deepened and lengthened Britain’s post-crisis recession, causing public and private investment to fall further and real wages to decline. Making large reductions to government spending is itself a major reason why the economy has been so slow in recovering. (Consider the multiplier effect where an injection of public money helps generate income and tax revenues.) In his first budget (June 2010) Osborne told parliament: “We are on track to have debt falling and a balanced structural current budget by the end of this parliament” (ie March 2015).

He slashed welfare as promised, but the economy slowed further. While employment revived, jobs have been recast as part-time, temporary and insecure. As a result, productivity stalled. These declines will cause permanent damage to the British economy. Convinced that a chancellor should “never let a crisis go to waste”, Osborne used the opportunity to shrink the state, as cuts to government spending tore into welfare provision and public services. Real spend per head of population fell, and the real spend per head was particularly felt by the vulnerable citizen, as the population grew older and more fragile. Under his watch, total managed expenditure was cut in real terms by £14bn (2016-17 prices).

These cuts were made worse by a 3-4% rise in population, and by the increasing needs of an ageing population. Public sector net investment was allowed to fall from £60bn in 2010 to £35bn in 2016. It caused intense suffering to small and large firms and suppliers, many of which went and are going bust, laying off staff. The insistence on balancing the current budget also hurt millions of individuals innocent of the causes of the crisis.

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Oxymoron self-immolation.

How America’s Clean Coal Dream Unravelled (G.)

High above the red dirt and evergreen trees of Kemper County, Mississippi, gleams a 15-story monolith of pipes surrounded by a town-sized array of steel towers and white buildings. The hi-tech industrial site juts out of the surrounding forest, its sharp silhouette out of place amid the gray crumbling roads, catfish stands and trailer homes of nearby De Kalb, population: 1,164. The $7.5bn Kemper power plant once drew officials from as far as Saudi Arabia, Japan and Norway to marvel at a 21st-century power project so technologically complex its builder compared it to the moonshot of the 1960s. It’s promise? Energy from “clean coal”. “I’m impressed,” said Jukka Uosukainen, UN director for the Climate Technology Centre and Network, after a 2014 tour: “maybe using coal in the future is possible”.

Kemper, its managers claimed, would harness dirt-cheap lignite coal – the world’s least efficient and most abundant form of coal – to power homes and businesses in America’s lowest-income state while causing the least climate-changing pollution of any fossil fuel. It was a promise they wouldn’t keep. Last summer the plant’s owner, Southern Company, America’s second-largest utility company, announced it was abandoning construction after years of blown-out budgets and missed construction deadlines. “It hit us hard,” said Craig Hitt, executive director of the Kemper County Economic Development Authority. Some 75 miners, roughly half living inside Kemper County, have already been affected in a region where unemployment is 7.1% compared to a national average of just 4.1%. “It was going to be the biggest project in the history of the county, possibly in the state of Mississippi,” Hitt said.

Instead, this year, Kemper County was home to one of the first large coalmining layoffs of the Trump era. It’s failure is also likely to have a profound impact on the future of “clean coal”. “This was the flagship project that was going to lead the way for a whole new generation of coal power plants,” said Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. “If the initial project doesn’t work then who’s going to invest in any more like it?” [..] a review by the Guardian of more than 5,000 pages of confidential company documents, internal emails, white papers, and other materials provided anonymously by several former Southern Co insiders, plus on- and off-record interviews with other former Kemper engineers and managers, found evidence that top executives covered up construction problems and fundamental design flaws at the plant and knew, years before they admitted it publicly, that their plans had gone awry.

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“If you were to speak about an arms race, then an arms race began exactly at the time and moment the U.S. opted out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty..”

Putin’s Megyn Kelly Interview (ZH)

NBC’s Megyn Kelly has tried to establish herself as the US media’s preeminent “Putin whisperer” since confronting the Russian president last year over allegations he sanctioned interference by hacking groups in the 2016 US presidential election. In a formal interview with the Russian president, Kelly asked the Russian leader about the latest development in the ongoing controversy, Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities for election meddling. Ignoring that the indictment stated that the alleged activities of the trolls at the Internet Research Agency had no impact on the outcome of the election, Kelly insisted on pressing the Russian president about why Russia hadn’t acted to prosecute the men – including Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a wealthy Russian businessman.

Putin pointed out that no formal requests had been made by the US government, and no effort to share the incriminating information had been made. “I have to see first what they’ve done. Give us a document, give us an official request” Putin said in the NBC interview adding that “We can not respond to that if they do not violate Russian laws.” Kelly responded by listing some of the allegations, before Putin insisted that they shouldn’t be presented to him personally – but to Russia’s general prosecutor. “This has to go through official channels, not through the press, or yelling and hollering in the United States Congress,” Putin said. The broadcast aired a day after Putin grabbed headlines in Western media by revealing that Russia had recently finished testing a range of nuclear weapons that were capable of evading US anti-ballistic missile batteries, showing animated footage and digital representations of the missiles’ capabilities striking Florida which prompted an uproar at the US State Department.

Meanwhile, even though Russia has repeatedly criticized the US and NATO for installing anti-ballistic missile shields in Eastern Europe that Russia says more closely resemble offensive missile batteries, Putin pushed back against questions about whether the US and Russia were entering a new Cold War. The Russian leader said anybody spreading these accusations are more concerned with propaganda than accurate representations of the relationships between the two countries. “My point of view is that the individuals that have said that a new Cold War has started are not analysts. They do propaganda.” Repeating a claim that has been made by many Russian officials, Putin said the arms race between the US and Russia began when George W Bush withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2002. “If you were to speak about an arms race, then an arms race began exactly at the time and moment the U.S. opted out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,” he said.

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Never a good idea for a party that losses big in elections to be in government; what are elections for? The SPD is so divided now it could turn its back on Merkel at literally any moment over the nexy 4-5 years.

Germany’s SPD Votes For Coalition Handing Merkel Fourth Term (G.)

Germany’s Social Democratic party has agreed to form another “grand coalition” government with the conservative CDU, ending months of political uncertainty in Europe and guaranteeing Chancellor Angela Merkel a fourth term in office. Sunday’s announcement by the party’s leadership ends almost six months of uncertainty in German politics, the longest the country has been without a government in its postwar history. A majority of 66.02% members of 463,723 eligible SPD members voted in favour of renewing the constellation that has governed Germany for the last four years, its treasurer, Dietmar Nietan, confirmed at the party’s headquarters in Berlin.

“We now have some clarity”, said the Social Democrats’ caretaker leader, Olaf Scholz, a contender for the role of finance minister, speaking at the Willy Brandt House. “The SPD will enter into government”. The leadership of the SPD had initially ruled out joining Merkel in government in the wake of historically disappointing results at federal elections in September last year. But the collapse of talks to form an unorthodox “Jamaica” coalition between Merkel’s conservatives, the pro-business Free Democrats and the Green party forced the German centre-left back to the negotiating table, where it managed to secure a surprising victory in getting the chancellor to cede control of the influential finance ministry.

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“..to borrow that €3 billion on behalf of its creditors, the Greek state added €816 million in interest payments to its debt repayments for 2025. Germany’s cost for rolling over the same sum, on the same day, was a mere €63 million…”

Europe’s Band-Aid Ensures Greece’s Debt Bondage (Varoufakis)

The big moment, it is said, will come in August, when Greece will be pronounced a “normal” European country again. Recently, in preparation for the government’s return to the money markets – from which it has been effectively excluded since 2010 – Greece’s public-debt authority has been testing the waters with a long-term bond issue. Unfortunately, all the happy talk about impending “debt relief” and a “clean exit” from Greece’s third “bailout” obscures an uglier truth: the country’s debt bondage is being extended to 2060. And, by ossifying Greece’s insolvency, while pretending to have overcome it, Europe’s establishment is demonstrating its dogged refusal to address the eurozone’s underlying fault lines. This augurs ill for ALL Europeans.

For an EU country to be considered “normal,” it should be subject to the scrutiny facing countries that were never bailed out. That means the standard twice-yearly checks of compliance with the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, as performed by the European Commission under the so-called European Semester procedure. Nevertheless, for countries like Ireland or Portugal, a tougher “post-program surveillance” procedure was designed following their bailouts: quarterly checks conducted not only by the European Commission but also by the European Central Bank.

It is plain to see why Greece’s road will be much bumpier than Ireland’s or Portugal’s. The ECB had already begun purchasing Irish and Portuguese debt in the secondary markets well before these countries’ bailout exit, as part of its “quantitative easing” program. This enabled the Irish and Portuguese governments to issue large quantities of new debt at low interest rates. Greece was never included the ECB’s quantitative easing program, for two reasons: its debt burden was too large to service in the long term, even with the help of ECB-sponsored low interest rates, and the ECB was under pressure, mainly from Germany, to wind down the program. Moreover, the post-program surveillance procedure does not give the “troika” of official creditors the leverage over Greece that they desire.

In celebrating Greece’s “clean exit,” while retaining its iron grip on the Greek government and withholding debt restructuring, Europe’s establishment is once again displaying its skill at inventing neologisms. Until 75% of Greece’s public debt is repaid – in 2060, at the earliest – the country, we are told, will be subject to “enhanced surveillance” (a term with unfortunate echoes of “enhanced interrogation”). In practice, this means 42 years of quarterly reviews, during which the European Commission and the ECB “in collaboration with the IMF” may impose new “measures” on Greece (such as austerity, fire sales of public property, and restrictions on organized labor). In short, the next two generations of Greeks will grow up with the troika and its “process” (perhaps under a different name) as a permanent fixture of life.

The celebration of Greece’s return to normality began a few weeks ago with the government’s oversubscribed €3 billion issue of its first seven-year bond in years. What the revelers failed to note, however, was that, to borrow that €3 billion on behalf of its creditors, the Greek state added €816 million in interest payments to its debt repayments for 2025. Germany’s cost for rolling over the same sum, on the same day, was a mere €63 million. Will Greece’s income rise by a similar amount between now and 2025 to make this sustainable?

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“The agricultural feed companies, the chemical companies, the pharmaceutical companies that provide the antibiotics fed en masse to factory-farmed animals, the equipment manufacturers that sell cages and tractors – they all benefit.”

Modern Food Farming Puts UK Wildlife Species At Risk Of Extinction (Ind.)

Some of Britain’s favourite wildlife is at risk of becoming extinct unless there is a new, 21st-century agricultural revolution, experts are warning. Species from hedgehogs to skylarks and birds of prey are being wiped out – in part by companies with vested interests in “destructive” factory farming, it was claimed on World Wildlife Day, which takes place today. The “alarming” declines in wildlife will threaten not just the richness of the planet but also our ability to grow food, according to the RSPB. After scientists warned last year that the world is facing a sixth mass extinction, turtle doves are on the brink of being wiped out, the latest survey figures show. Numbers of grey partridges, corn buntings and tree sparrows have dropped by at least 90 per cent in 40 years, leaving them all at risk of vanishing from Britain.

Earlier this month, a new report revealed that the number of hedgehogs in the countryside had more than halved since 2000. Nearly two-thirds of Britain’s skylarks and lapwings have disappeared, the European bird census showed, while Birdlife International says 95 per cent of turtle doves have vanished in 20 years. Just days after Environment Secretary Michael Gove unveiled plans to reward farmers who care for the environment, ornithologist Philip Lymbery warned of a culture among government policymakers and scientists of blaming biodiversity declines on climate change – instead of tackling those with “vested interests” in “disastrous” modern farming practices – because it was easier to avoid blaming anyone.

Mr Lymbery, head of charity Compassion in World Farming (CiWF), said changes in farming in the past half-century to drastically and artificially push up quantities of food produced were destroying species from nightingales to butterflies and peregrines. “I’m worried that policymakers and some scientists duck the issue by blaming all the things damaging nature on climate change,” he told The Independent. [..] “The agricultural feed companies, the chemical companies, the pharmaceutical companies that provide the antibiotics fed en masse to factory-farmed animals, the equipment manufacturers that sell cages and tractors – they all benefit. “It’s not the average farmer who benefits from industrial agriculture. And it needs to change.”

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Hollywood mirrors international charities like Oxfam. Pedophilia rules both.

Three Billboards In Hollywood, California (TAM)

Just days before the first Academy Awards ceremony since Hollywood was hit with allegations of rampant sexual harassment, assault, and pedophilia, a Los Angeles street artist made a bold statement just a few miles from the Dolby Theater where the Oscars will be held. Sabo, a conservative-leaning artist who has previously tagged the city with art referencing former President Obama’s drones, purchased three billboards, echoing the sentiment of a Academy Award-nominated film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which tells the story of a mother who seeks accountability for her daughter’s rape and murder, which police in her small town have failed to solve. In the film, the mother purchases three billboards that read:

“RAPED WHILE DYING”

“AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”

“HOW COME CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”

In Sabo’s version, the billboards plastered in Hollywood read:

“AND THE OSCAR FOR BIGGEST PEDOPHILE GOES TO…”

“WE ALL KNEW AND STILL NO ARRESTS”

“NAME NAMES ON STAGE OR SHUT THE HELL UP!”

Kevin Spacey’s career went down in flames last year amid the fallout of widespread allegations of abuse by now-scorned producer Harvey Weinstein. Anthony Rapp accused the actor of making advances on him in 1986, when Rapp was only 14. Other accusations against Spacey followed, including some others that alleged Spacey attempted to take advantage of the victims when they were under the age of 18. Further, Corey Feldman, who has long warned of predatory, pedophilic behavior in Hollywood, revealed several of his accused abusers last year, citing John Grissom, former talent manager Marty Weiss, and Alphy Hoffman, who was the son of a high-power producer and ran the trendy Soda Pop Club, where Feldman claims widespread harassment took place in the 1980s.

Feldman claimed there were six abusers total, saying one is an A-list actor who might kill him. He has previously said his fellow child star, Corey Haim, now deceased, received worse abuse than he did. In a 2011 appearance on Nightline, Feldman said: “[T]he No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia…that’s the biggest problem for children in this industry… It’s the big secret.”

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Mar 012018
 
 March 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paramount Theater, Times Square NYC 1956

 

Donald Trump Stuns Allies By Signalling Backing For Tighter Gun Control (G.)
Members of Congress Are Petrified of The NRA, Says Trump (Ind.)
Where Did The Republican Trump-Haters Go? (BBC)
This Has Predicted Every Market Crash in History (Bonner)
US January Pending Home Sales Crash Most Since 2010 (ZH)
Hawk Or Dove? Fed’s Powell Showed Markets Both Sides In Debut (R.)
Trump Says US Will Use “All Available Tools” To Pressure China On Trade (BBG)
South Korea Cuts 68-Hour Working Week (G.)
John Major Tears Into Theresa May’s ‘Grand Folly’ Brexit Strategy (Ind.)
Russia Says US Is Training Europe To Use Nuclear Weapons Against It (CNBC)
American Hellenic Institute Urges Trump To Condemn Turkish Aggression (K.)
Greece Loosens Capital Controls, Raises Cash Withdrawal Limit (R.)
Greek Jan-Feb 2018 Retail Sales Down 8.8% y-o-y (K.)

 

 

I don’t normally like to open Debt Rattles with politics, but this leads the news.

Trump’s stance here should be a huge opening for Democrats, but it can’t be: they‘re too far gone in their demonizing of him. So if nothing happens -again- you’re going to have to wonder whose fault that is.

Note: a first reaction to a school shooting is easy, but you are talking fiddling with about the US constitution here.

Donald Trump Stuns Allies By Signalling Backing For Tighter Gun Control (G.)

Donald Trump has repeatedly endorsed a series of gun control proposals that put the Republican president at odds with the National Rifle Association and stunned lawmakers within his own party. The president made the remarks during an extraordinary, hour-long White House meeting on Wednesday with congressional Republicans and Democrats who are under pressure to address gun violence in the aftermath of the massacre at a Florida high school earlier this month. During the meeting, Trump called for a “beautiful” comprehensive bill that would expand background checks on gun purchases, remove guns from the hands of the mentally ill, bolster security on school campuses and restrict young people from purchasing certain weapons.

Within hours of the meeting’s conclusion, conservatives and some Republicans turned on Trump, who was elected with broad support from the gun lobby and claimed on Wednesday that the National Rifle Association had “no bigger fan”. Breitbart, the far-right news organization that fanned the flames of Trump’s rise, denounced the president as a “gun grabber” who “cedes” to Democrats. [..] Trump, who ran the meeting like a boardroom CEO, pointing at lawmakers for updates on their legislation, called on Congress to be “very strong” on background checks, repeatedly offering his support for a plan that failed to pass the Senate in April 2013, months after a gunman killed 20 young children and six staff members at Sandy Hook elementary school.

“You have to be very, very powerful on background checks. Don’t be shy,” Trump said during the televised session. He added: “I’d rather have you come down on the strong side than the weak side. The weak side is easier to do.” Two senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey, both of whom attended the meeting, plan to reintroduce their bill that would have imposed universal background checks for commercial gun purchases, including at gun shows and over the internet. 84% of Americans favor such a law [..] In a surprising exchange with Toomey, Trump asked if his measure included a provision to raise the age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21. Toomey replied that it did not, and Trump shot back: “You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA.”

Trump rejected a demand by conservatives in the House that this so-called Fix Nics bill be paired with controversial concealed carry legislation, which is favoured by the NRA and would loosen restrictions by enabling gun owners with concealed-carry permits in their home states to take their firearms across state lines. “If you add concealed carry to this, you’ll never get it passed,” Trump told Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, who was last summer by a gunman targeting a congressional baseball practice. “Let it be a separate thing.” Trump repeatedly berated his Republican colleagues, accusing them of being afraid of the NRA, and appeared to take pleasure in stating his willingness to take on the gun lobby. “Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified,” he said.

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And they get their funding there.

Members of Congress Are Petrified of The NRA, Says Trump (Ind.)

President Donald Trump has accused members of Congress of being afraid of the National Rifle Association (NRA), as he called for an increase in the minimum age for buying a rifle. “[The NRA] has great power,” Mr Trump said at a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress on school safety. “They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it. What do I need? But I’ll tell you, they are well-meaning … We have to do what is right.” Members of Congress have again been anxious to find a solution to prevent mass shootings after an alleged 19-year-old gunman on Valentine’s Day open fired at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida, killing 17 people.

On the first day students of the school resumed their lessons following the shooting, several legislators gathered at the White House to discuss school safety and legislation aimed at combatting gun violence. One such proposal, drafted by Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, is primarily focused on expanding background checks for gun purchases. Mr Trump asked Mr Toomey about a proposal to raise the age limit for purchasing assault weapons from 18 to 21, a measure the NRA does not support.

“Now, this is not a popular thing in terms of the NRA, but I’m saying it anyway,” Mr Trump said. “Right now, you have to wait to buy a handgun until you’re 21, but you can buy the type of weapon used in a school shooting at 18. I can say the NRA is opposed to it… These are great patriots, they love our country, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on it.” Mr Toomey said the age issue is not addressed in his bill with Mr Manchin. “You know why, because you’re afraid of the NRA,” the President responded.

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This fits in nicely with the gun issue. Scott “Dilbert” Adams’ view on Twitter: “Persuasion Phase 1 is complete. He’s coming for Democrats next.”

Where Did The Republican Trump-Haters Go? (BBC)

Once upon a time there was an active, vocal resistance among conservatives to the prospect of Donald Trump’s presidency. One year in, and the signs of dissent are rapidly fading. On Friday morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference on the outskirts of Washington, DC, Donald Trump took the stage and reminded the packed hall just how far he’d come. “Remember when I first started running?” the president asked. “People said, ‘Are you sure he’s a conservative?’ I think I proved I’m a conservative.” Mr Trump then launched into nearly an hour and a half of his trademark campaign-style oratory, often acknowledging that he was deviating from his “boring” speech text. On script and off, however, it was clear his intended objective was to drive home the point that he has governed as a true conservative.

He boasted of his tax cuts, right-wing judicial nominations, regulatory rollbacks and defence of religious liberty. Those are the sort of accomplishments attendees of this annual conference of young Republicans, grassroots activists, party functionaries, conservative media pundits, assorted merchants and special interests longed for through eight years of the Obama presidency, and now they’re getting. That’s got to make them thrilled, right? Well, sort of. According to straw poll of conference attendees, 93% approve of the job Mr Trump is doing in the White House. It’s a number not too far from the 80% of Republicans across the US who continue to tell pollsters they support the president. That, as the president acknowledged, was not always the case.

In 2016 – at the beginning of his long march to the Republican nomination and the presidency, Mr Trump abruptly cancelled an appearance at Cpac when faced with the prospect of a walkout from “never-Trump” conservatives. [A 2015] straw poll had Mr Trump as the presidential pick of just 3.5% of attendees, in eighth place, far behind libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul’s 25.7%. Another Republican presidential hopeful at that conference, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, would just a handful of months later describe Mr Trump’s politics as “a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense” and call his candidacy a “cancer on conservatism”. Last week, Mr Perry – now Mr Trump’s energy secretary – was back at Cpac, referring to himself as “footsoldier in the army”. Donald Trump’s army, that is.

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Should that say “predicted after the fact”? (From Bill Bonner, Mish and Semper Augustus)

This Has Predicted Every Market Crash in History (Bonner)

“Buy the dip” has worked for the last 38 years. And now, investors are more than 100% convinced that it will work again. But they are wrong. Semper Augustus: “Every major stock market decline and every recession in the last 100 years was preceded by the Federal Reserve raising short-term interest rates by enough to provide the pin to prick the balloon. Note the emphasis on every. Yes, there have been periods where the Fed raised rates and a recession didn’t ensue. Everyone knows the famous saying about the stock market having predicted nine of the past five recessions! That may be true, that rising rates don’t necessarily cause a recession. But as an investor, you must be aware that every major stock market decline occurred on the heels of a tightening phase by the Fed. More importantly, there have been no substantive Fed tightening phases that did not end with a stock market decline”.


Going back to 1950, every U.S. recession (gray shaded area) has been preceded by the Fed hiking interest rates

A little debt may be a good thing; a lot of it is not. At a certain point, you have more than “too much debt,” and it becomes toxic. Where exactly in the cycle we are, we don’t know. But our guess is we are already way beyond the place where we are fully indebted. This is an economy built on debt. The whole capital structure – stocks, bonds, and real estate – now depends on excess debt… and more of it. In a correction, the only way to stop stock prices from falling and the economy from shrinking is to bring in some more debt. But when you do that a few times, you are soon beyond Peak Debt… which is to say, you’re way over the legal limit.

Debt has been growing three to six times faster than income for more than an entire generation. This makes the old 1.5-to-1 ratio of debt to income seem quaint. It is now 3.5-to-1 nationwide. Which is why deficits still matter. Every penny in debt that we add now is a penny that cannot be repaid, not by any plausible combination of economic projections. Because there is no way to “grow your way out of debt” when your income is falling while your debt is still increasing. Instead, you have to suffer the indignities of a correction, including a major reset in the stock market. That’s what happens when stocks that are more than fully priced meet a debt load that is beyond 100% of capacity.

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As noted earlier, new home sales were down 33.3% in the northeast. Pending home sales feel by 9% there.

US January Pending Home Sales Crash Most Since 2010 (ZH)

After New- and Existing-Home-Sales have already disappointed, Pending Home-Sales just collapsed too (to the lowest since Oct 2014) to confirm January was a bloodbath for the real estate market. Pending Home Sales plunged 4.7% in January (massively below the 0.5% expected rise in sales) – this is the biggest drop since May 2010. Year-over-year Pending home sales are down 1.7%. Purchases fell 9% in the Northeast, 6.6% in the Midwest, 3.9% in the South and 1.2% in the West.

NAR is desperate to convince home-buyers and sellers that this is nothing but an inventory issue, but it is affordability that is the real driver here. “There’s little doubt last month’s retreat in contract signings occurred because of woefully low supply levels and the sudden increase in mortgage rates,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. “With the cost of buying a home getting more expensive and not enough inventory, some prospective buyers are either waiting until listings increase come spring or now having to delay their search entirely to save up for a larger down payment.” So, will higher rates break housing market momentum? The following chart suggest ‘yes’ – that surge in rates will have a direct impact on home sales (or prices will be forced to adjust lower) as affordability collapses…

And Homebuilder stocks are starting to look a lot less invincible…

As Bloomberg notes, economists consider pending sales a leading indicator because they track contract signings; purchases of existing homes are tabulated when a deal closes, typically a month or two later.

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Something for everyone. Useless.

Hawk Or Dove? Fed’s Powell Showed Markets Both Sides In Debut (R.)

Financial markets barely batted an eye on Tuesday when Jerome Powell’s first public statement as Federal Reserve chief saw daylight, interpreting it as a steady-handed commitment to the U.S. central bank’s policy of gradual interest rate increases. The calm evaporated about a couple of hours later, at 10:42 a.m. EST, when Powell, testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives committee, struck a bullish, and personal, tone on the strength of the economy. U.S. bond yields jumped as investors raised their bets for four rate increases this year, rather than the three that Fed policymakers projected in late December, and began asking one key question: Is a hawk or a dove now running the Fed?

“The message coming from the written portion of the testimony did not signal any change,” analysts from Barclays wrote on Tuesday, drawing a contrast with Powell’s live remarks that “point to a risk of a steeper policy rate path.” Fed policymakers consider their public statements an important tool in shaping public perceptions and, in doing so, making monetary policy more effective. Fed chiefs try to avoid off-the-cuff remarks that cause impromptu repricing, preferring to hew close to their job of representing the views of the Fed’s rate-setting committee and avoiding disclosing much about their personal opinions. Veteran Fed analysts were split over whether Powell had broken that unwritten rule in his remarks, which came just weeks after he took over from Janet Yellen.

“The tone of the testimony was definitely NOT hawkish,” said Cornerstone Macro economist and former Fed staffer Roberto Perli, who emphasized Powell’s written comments might be read as a willingness to allow the economy to run hot in order to boost inflation to the Fed’s 2% target on a sustained basis. “Powell more confident on growth, putting 2018 dots in play,” is how JP Morgan’s Michael Feroli summed up the day, referring to the quarterly “dot plot” of projected interest rates that Fed policymakers submit. Feroli argued that Powell’s “modestly hawkish” appearance in Congress strengthened the chance that policymakers’ rate outlook would rise when the central bank issues its next set of economic projections next month.

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Xi advocating against protectionism is a keeper.

Trump Says US Will Use “All Available Tools” To Pressure China On Trade (BBG)

President Donald Trump is warning the U.S. will use “all available tools” to prevent China’s state-driven economic model from undermining global competition, the latest warning to Beijing as America readies a host of trade actions. China hasn’t lived up to the promises of economic reforms it made when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and actually appears to be moving further away from “market principles” in recent years, according to the president’s annual report to Congress on his trade-policy agenda. China’s “statist” policies are causing a “dramatic misallocation” of global resources that is leaving all countries poorer than they should be, said the report. Chinese President Xi Jinping has dispatched one of his top economic advisers, Liu He, this week to Washington to meet with senior administration officials amid signs of growing tension between the world’s two biggest economies.

“China is free to pursue whatever trade policy it prefers. But the United States, as a sovereign nation, is free to respond,” according to the report, which is prepared by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. Xi has called for countries to avoid protectionism and stick to the current path of globalization. At the same time, Chinese officials are weighing raising tariffs on U.S. soybeans as tensions escalate. Trump’s warning comes as his administration considers a range of actions either directly aimed at China, or that could impact the Asian power. The president is weighing several options for curbing imports of steel and aluminum, and Trump has told confidants he’s considering a global tariff on steel of 24%, the most punitive alternative recommended by his officials. The administration is ready to act unilaterally if necessary to fight unfair trading practices, according to trade report.

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Well, it did get them the Olympics…

South Korea Cuts 68-Hour Working Week (G.)

Employees in one of the most overworked countries in Asia are about to get a break after South Korea passed a bill to reduce the typical work week in an effort to improve quality of life and boost employment. South Korea’s National Assembly overwhelmingly passed the law which cut the maximum weekly work hours to 52, down from 68. The law comes into force in July and will apply to large companies before being rolled out to smaller businesses. The cut was a campaign promise by President Moon Jae-in, who also secured a 16% increase in the minimum wage this year. The law faced opposition from businesses but was seen as necessary to improve living standards, create more jobs and boost productivity. It is also aimed at increasing the country’s birth rate, which hit record lows last year.

As South Korea’s economy boomed in the 80s and 90s, a workaholic culture took hold and the birth rate plummeted. Chung Hyun-back, the gender equality and family minister, has called the country’s working hours “inhumanely long” and said they were a factor in the South’s rapidly ageing society. South Koreans workers have some of the longest weeks in the developing world, behind only Mexico, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The group of mostly developed economies does not include countries such as China and India, and developing countries tend to work more. But South Koreans still work about 400 more hours a year compared with workers in the UK and Australia, about 10 additional standard work weeks, despite having relatively similar average incomes.

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Just as she tries to strike a defiant pose…

John Major Tears Into Theresa May’s ‘Grand Folly’ Brexit Strategy (Ind.)

Former Conservative leader John Major has launched a devastating attack on Theresa May’s approach to Brexit, just 48 hours before the Prime Minister sets out her plans for future relations with the EU. In a significant intervention, Mr Major tore into Ms May’s negotiating red lines as “bad politics” and “grand folly” dictated by “ultra Brexiteers”. He demanded MPs be freed from the party whip and allowed to vote with their conscience on her final deal, and said Britain may need a second referendum to avoid years of damaging rows over Brexit. His explosive speech sparked a ferocious backlash from Tories that back hard Brexit, with one saying his arguments were “grubbing around in the weeds”.

The surgically timed intervention comes as Ms May prepares to reveal the final text of her next big Brexit speech to the Cabinet, before meeting European Council president Donald Tusk in Downing Street on Thursday. Mr Major’s intervention also appears to have been choreographed with another speech from ex-prime minister Tony Blair in Brussels on Thursday, in which the ex-Labour leader will address European politicians on Brexit. When the ex-Tory leader stood to make his speech on Wednesday, Ms May had already locked horns with Brussels negotiators who had in the morning published what she called an “unacceptable” draft withdrawal agreement.

Despite Ms May having repeatedly claimed she settled the withdrawal agreement last year, she argued in the Commons that a new draft had crossed her Brexit red lines. It was those very “red lines” that Mr Major took aim at when he began talking in London minutes later, claiming they had “boxed” Ms May in. He said: “They are so tilted to ultra-Brexit opinion, even the Cabinet cannot agree them – and a majority in both Houses of Parliament oppose them. “If maintained in full, it will be impossible to reach a favourable trade outcome.”

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The western press will simply continue to claim that Russia’s the aggressor, not NATO or the US. Case solved.

Russia Says US Is Training Europe To Use Nuclear Weapons Against It (CNBC)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the U.S. was still deploying “strategic arms” in Europe and was training European countries to use nuclear weapons, violating a major nuclear arms agreement called the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Lavrov said that nuclear disarmament was impossible without taking into account factors which destabilize “strategic stability and international security today,” including, he said, “the deployment of a global anti-missile system” and “the deployment of U.S. strategic arms in Europe and the continuing destabilizing practice of ‘joint nuclear missions,’ as they call them.” “As we all know, these nuclear missions violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty and non-nuclear states plan and take part in the U.S. exercises and learn how to use the nuclear weapons,” he said.

For its part, he said Russia had reduced its nuclear arsenal by 85% compared to the Cold War era. The Russian Foreign Ministry has complained about what it calls “joint nuclear missions” and says the U.S. has many nuclear weapons located in Europe. It also says the U.S. is training European countries to use these weapons. Last April, the foreign ministry issued a statement in which it said that “Washington’s approach to compliance with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is still of great concern. The U.S. and its non-nuclear NATO allies continue their nuclear skill training as part of the so-called “nuclear sharing”,” it said.

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But Merkel wants her refugee treaty. Or she’s done.

American Hellenic Institute Urges Trump To Condemn Turkish Aggression (K.)

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) sent a letter to US President Donald J. Trump in the wake of acts of Turkish provocation and aggression in the eastern Mediterranean and broader region that have dire implications to American security interests. In the February 27 letter, AHI President Nick Larigakis requests President Trump to condemn strongly Turkish aggression and acts of provocations that have been directed at the United States, Greece, Cyprus, and international oil and gas companies – all of which have occurred in the month of February.

Larigakis cites: a Turkish coastguard vessel colliding with a stationary Greek coastguard vessel, the harassment of Italian oil company Eni’s surveying vessel by Turkish warships, which threatened to sink Eni’s surveying vessel because it was on its way to survey for energy resources in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus; and Turkish President Erdogan’s threat of an “Ottoman slap” to United States military forces if they continued to partner with Syrian Kurds in Syria.

In addition, Larigakis raised the concern among NATO allies about Turkey’s purchase of four divisions of S-400 missiles from Russia and how it potentially subjects Turkey to US sanctions. “Turkey’s aggressive and provocative actions directed at the United States and U.S. allies, Greece and Cyprus, are overt, egregious and dangerous. I urge the administration to act to uphold the rule of law and to call on Turkey, the provocateur of these tensions, to cease and desist with its aggressive actions that are a threat to peace and stability and are not in the best interests of the United States,” Larigakis concludes.

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Just about nobody has that kind of cash to withdraw anymore. Thanks a lot.

Greece Loosens Capital Controls, Raises Cash Withdrawal Limit (R.)

Greece on Wednesday moved to ease capital restrictions imposed since the summer of 2015, raising the monthly limit of cash that can be withdrawn from bank accounts by 28%. Athens first imposed capital controls in July 2015 to stem a flight of cash from its banks at the height of a debt crisis which led to its third financial bailout since 2010. Based on a finance ministry decree published in the government’s gazette, individuals will be allowed to withdraw lump sums of up to 2,300 euros in cash per month from bank accounts from 1,800 euros currently, effective from March 1.

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Just imagine the added job losses that come with this. And still, as I keep on saying, things can still only get worse from here.

Greek Jan-Feb 2018 Retail Sales Down 8.8% y-o-y, Up To 20% In Cities (K.)

Retail sales in the first two months of the year were down some half a billion euros on the same period in 2017, as households were left with less spending money after their Christmas shopping and purchases made during the Black Friday promotional event at the end of November. According to a survey conducted by the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Enterprises (ESEE), retail turnover declined this past January and February by 8.8% compared to 2017. In absolute figures, this reduction translates into the loss of 484 million euros, with turnover up until Wednesday amounting to 5.02 billion, against 5.5 billion in January-February 2017.

In certain areas of the country the drop in sales turnover in the first two months of the year reached up to 40%, while out of Greece’s 65 traders’ associations, only one reported an increase from last year. In the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, sales declined between 11 and 20% year-on-year. The ESEE survey showed that one in three enterprises offered discounts of between 21 and 40%, while two out of five offered discounts in excess of 40%.

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