Sep 202017
 
 September 20, 2017  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Automat 1927

 

Australia: A Delusional, Stuffed, Basket Case, Bubble, Third World Economy (MB)
With QT On The Way, This Market ‘Is Headed For A Brick Wall’ (Boockvar)
Where Deutsche Bank Thinks The Next Financial Crises Could Happen (CNBC)
Just 4% Own Over 95% Of Bitcoin (HowMuch)
MPs Want Public Inquiry Into UK’s £200 Billion Household Debt Crisis (G.)
Millennials Spend Three Times More Of Income On Housing Than Grandparents (G.)
New Zealand Jet Fuel ‘Debacle’ Disrupts Flights, Exports (G.)
Bain, KKR, Vornado Suffer Wipeout in Toys ‘R’ Us Bankruptcy (BBG)
Manafort Calls On DOJ To Release His Intercepted Phone Calls (ZH)
Trump Warned Saudis Off Military Move on Qatar (BBG)
Putin Orders To End Trade In US Dollars At Russian Seaports (RT)
Eurozone ‘Bouncing Back’? Tell That To The People Of Spain And Greece (DiEM25)
Greece’s Bailout Review Is Leaving Markets Jittery (BBG)
EU’s Dombrovskis: Greek Government Chose To Increase Taxes (K.)
Lesvos Mayor Issues Warning On Refugee Numbers (K.)

 

 

Now there’s a headline.

Australia: A Delusional, Stuffed, Basket Case, Bubble, Third World Economy (MB)

Australia is doomed to become a third-world country unless its government starts “something like the Apollo program” to inspire its citizens into becoming a technology economy, Freelancer.com chief executive Matt Barrie told the AFR Innovation Summit 2017. “Australia is basically a property bubble floating inside a mining bubble inside a commodities bubble inside a China bubble, and that lucky free ride is about to go pop,” he said. The government was focused on “new ways to tax things” in reaction to its looming revenue problem, while neglecting education with proposed cuts to university funding of $1.2 billion, the biggest in 20 years. “Why not try and grow the biggest line of tax, income tax, by encouraging people to study in the right areas like science and engineering, instead of making these cuts which will push the cost of an electrical engineering degree at UNSW above $34,000, while slashing the HECS repayment threshold at the same time,” Mr Barrie said.

…Where is the growth come from? Mr Barrie asks. Governments have achieved growth from a property bubble “like no other”, says Mr Barrie. To paint this picture he says there are cranes in Sydney right now than in most American states combined and that being in postcodes with restricted lending. He is trawling fast through a broad range of figures that highlight Australia’s “basket case” economy including figures around low wage growth, unaffordable housing, manufacturing losses. Mr Barrie [says] we are “delusional” after 26 years of growth based on bubbles: mining, commodities and now property. Mr Barrie is slamming the economy’s structure (it’s hard to keep up, he’s moving fast). “Our economy is completely stuffed. We can’t rely on property to make us…we need serious structural change.”

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It’s not rocket science.

With QT On The Way, This Market ‘Is Headed For A Brick Wall’ (Boockvar)

We’re finally here. About nine years after quantitative easing (QE) began, quantitative tightening (QT) is about to start. On Wednesday, after the Federal Open Market Committee releases its statement, Janet Yellen will follow with a press conference that she will do her best to make as boring as possible. Every Fed member I suppose is praying for boring because of the epic bubbles that QE and seven years of zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) has created in just about everything. They want this to unfold as orderly and as quietly as possible. Wishful thinking I believe. I also expect the FOMC to lay the groundwork for a December rate hike with the market currently 50/50 on that. If one believes that the stock market still is a discounting mechanism, then there’s nothing to fear with QT and maybe it will actually be like “watching paint dry” as Fed members so desperately want it to be. After all, the S&P 500 is at an all time high.

If you think, like me, that the stock market is not the same discounting tool as it once was because of the major distortion and manipulation of markets via central market involvement and the dominance of machines that are reactive instead of proactive in response to news, then we must review the previous experiences when major Fed changes took place. After all, they were all well telegraphed as this week’s likely news has been. I expect no different an outcome this time and I believe the market – with the S&P at an all-time high – is headed for a brick wall the deeper QT gets. Before I get to that, let me remind everyone that the third mandate of QE was higher stock prices. Ben Bernanke in rationalizing the initiation of QE2 in a Washington Post editorial back in November 2010 said in regards to QE1 and the verbal preparation for QE2, “this approach eased financial conditions in the past and, so far, looks to be effective again.

Stock prices rose and long term interest rates fell when investors began to anticipate the most recent action.” He then went on to say “higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.” Well, the belief in the wealth effect hasn’t worked in this expansion. Hence, the record high in stocks last week and the 2.9% year over year rise in core August retail sales, both below the 5 year average and well less than the average seen in the prior two expansions.

After QE1 ended when we knew exactly the full size and expiration date (March 31st, 2010), the market topped out three weeks after and then fell 17%. After QE2 ended when we also knew the exact amount and deadline (June 30th, 2011), the market peaked one week later and then fell about 20%. Around the time QE3 ended with the lead up being a very methodical process of tapering, stocks had a hissy fit of about 10% only saved by James Bullard who hinted that maybe they won’t end QE.

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And there’s more. Isn’t it great to have all these options?!

Where Deutsche Bank Thinks The Next Financial Crises Could Happen (CNBC)

The Great Central Bank Unwind Central banks including the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and Bank of England are embarking on what has been called the “Great Unwind” – the winding-down of quantitative easing programs which included trillions of dollars’ worth of asset purchases and record low interest rates that have bolstered economies, financial markets and banking systems. Calling the “Great Unwind” a “journey into the unknown,” the strategists warned that “history would suggest there will be substantial consequences of the move especially given the elevated level of many global asset prices” adding that “even if the unwind stalls as either central banks get cold feet or if the economy unexpectedly weakens, we will still be left with an unprecedented global situation and one which makes finance inherently unstable.”

Out of ammunition? The strategists said there was a danger that central banks and governments could find themselves without ammunition to tackle a recession should one occur, given their already near zero interest rates, creaking balance sheets, and a backdrop of high levels of government debt. “Could the next recession be the one where policy makers are the most impotent they’ve been for 45 years or will they simply go for even more extreme tactics and resort to full on monetization to pay for a fiscal splurge? It does feel that we’re at a crossroads and the next downturn could be marked by extreme events given the policy cul-de-sac we seem to be nearing the end of,” Reid et al warned.

More QE if inflation disappoints? Since the financial crisis of ten years ago, persistently low inflation has been a constant headache for central banks, the Deutsche Bank strategists noted, a situation they found “fairly incredible” given the phenomenal level of central bank and government stimulus. “Although not our base case, given the recent inflation and Trump’s fiscal challenges, it’s not infeasible that markets could be blindsided by a return to more QE rather than less…If central banks do end up conducting increased QE again, the risk is we again go back to negative rates and worries about the banking system and the plumbing of the financial system.”

Italy – Crisis ‘waiting to happen?’ Turning to the euro zone’s third largest economy, Deutsche Bank’s strategists warned of more political and economic uncertainty from Italy. “A country nearing an election and with high populist party support, with a generationally underperforming economy, a comparatively huge debt burden, and a fragile banking system which continues to have to deal with legacy toxic debt holdings ticks a number of boxes to us for the ingredients of a potential next financial crisis.”

A China crisis?Conceding that China’s economy had so far avoided a hard landing predicted by many economists, Deutsche Bank warned that China still needed to transition its economy “from manufacturing to services and investment to consumption,” a process with Deutsche Bank said “needs to take place in the context of also containing the rapid growth of credit in our view.” “Rapid credit expansion due to an insatiable demand for debt fuelled growth, compounded by a hugely active shadow banking system, as well as an ever expanding property bubble fuelled fears for economists that China could inevitably make a hard landing and send shockwaves through the world’s financial markets. However, the economy has seemingly defied the odds.” “However, future growth cannot forever rely on debt and investment alone…The warning signs are there and the fundamental vulnerabilities remain. The greater issue might be ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ the credit bubble pops.”

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That is scary.

Just 4% Own Over 95% Of Bitcoin (HowMuch)

Bitcoin has been making a lot of news lately. The cryptocurrency shot up in value by over 200% in 2017, making many people fear that the market is in a bubble. Last week, China decided to close its bitcoin exchanges, which caused investors around the world to panic about the currency’s long-term viability. But HowMuch.net asks, how many people own bitcoin, and how is the currency distributed around the world? Check out our new visualization. Our graph represents the entire bitcoin market, which has a value of around $60 billion. For comparison, that’s bigger than several well-known companies, like Fed-Ex and General Motors. We then divided the value of the bitcoin market by address. As you can see, over 95% of all bitcoins in circulation are owned by about 4% of the market. In fact, 1% of the addresses control half the entire market.

There are a couple limitations in our data. Most importantly, each address can represent more than one individual person. An obvious example would be a bitcoin exchange or wallet, which hold the currency for a lot of different people. Another limitation has to do with anonymity. If you want to remain completely anonymous, you can use something called CoinJoin, a process that allows users to group similar transactions together. This makes it seem like two people are using the same address, when in reality they are not. So it’s a complex situation. but let’s try to break bitcoin down as simple as possible. Bitcoin is just a type of money, like dollars and euros. The main difference is that there isn’t a sovereign government backing the currency, and it instead lives online. This is possible thanks to something called the blockchain.

Banks and companies must keep detailed records of where they send money, marking it possible to detect fraud and criminal activity. The blockchain works differently because it breaks each transaction into tiny components, routes the pieces through a computer network, and directs them to a recipient who can then re-assemble the code together. If you don’t have the right key, you can’t own a bitcoin. And if you aren’t at the right digital address (think your home network’s IP address), then you can’t receive bitcoin. The technology is hard to understand, and it presents challenges for companies and people who want to use it. That’s why folks typically turn to a vendor like Coinbase to handle their transactions. You know how you carry physical money in your personal wallet? Think of Coinbase as a digital wallet.

You use it to buy stuff and pay for services. But be careful—people can steal your digital wallet, and the thieves can be untraceable. And that’s the issue. There’s only a very limited number of bitcoin wallet providers out there. It’s not like you can just go to your local bank and buy some bitcoin. The big takeaway from all this is that if you are considering purchasing some bitcoin, you have very limited options. There are only a few key players in the game where you can park your investment. And if you do make that purchase, understand that it is highly speculative and unregulated, so prepare for a bumpy ride.

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And then what? Jubilee?

MPs Want Public Inquiry Into UK’s £200 Billion Household Debt Crisis (G.)

The chairs of two powerful parliamentary committees have urged the government to set up an independent public inquiry into the £200bn of debt amassed by households. The call by Rachel Reeves, the Labour chair of the business select committee, and Frank Field, the Labour head of the work and pensions select committee, comes as the Conservative-led Treasury select committee plans to hold meetings around the country to examine the impact of debt on individuals and households. “Debt is a huge emotional burden for people,” said Nicky Morgan, the Conservative MP who chairs the Treasury select committee. She added that “unstable personal finances” often emerged as problems raised by her constituents in Loughborough.

The £200bn of debt amassed on credit cards, personal loans and car deals is now at the same level it reached before the 2008 financial crisis and there are fears that rises in interest rates could put more households under pressure. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned on Monday that interest rates were likely to rise in response to rising inflation and skills shortages brought on by Brexit that will increase pressure on wages. Field said people in his Birkenhead constituency on the Wirral were being pushed into destitution by the actions of loan sharks and finance companies that heaped extra pain on low income households with sky-high interest charges. He said: “We need a commission to assess the current situation. There are so many moving parts that a proper investigation goes beyond the remit of any single committee.”

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Probably true in many countries.

Millennials Spend Three Times More Of Income On Housing Than Grandparents (G.)

Millennials are spending three times more of their income on housing than their grandparents yet are often living in worse accommodation, says a study launched by former Conservative minister David Willetts that warns of a “housing catastrophe”. The generation currently aged 18-36 are typically spending over a third of their post-tax income on rent or about 12% on mortgages, compared with 5%-10% of income spent by their grandparents in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite spending more, young people today are more likely to live in overcrowded and smaller spaces, and face longer journeys to work – commuting for the equivalent of three days a year more than their parents. The research by Willetts’ intergenerational commission at the Resolution Foundation thinktank also reveals that today’s 30-year-olds are only half as likely to own their own home as their baby boomer parents.

They are four times as likely to rent privately than two generations ago, a sector which has the worst record for housing quality, the report claims. The report’s authors argue that the housing crisis is a huge part of public anxiety about the country’s direction, a factor in the result of the EU referendum last year and in the general election in June. A young family today has to save for 19 years on average to afford a typical deposit compared with three years for the previous generation, the report states. “This is the biggest problem facing the younger generation,” said Willetts. “It depresses their living standards and quality of life. It is very important for the Tory party to open up the route to home ownership again. A lot of twentysomethings also have horror stories of bad landlords and we need to help them as well.”

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There’s a lesson about redundancy somewhere in here.

New Zealand Jet Fuel ‘Debacle’ Disrupts Flights, Cars, Exports (G.)

New Zealand’s jet fuel crisis is worsening by the day with airlines restricting ticket sales, politicians limiting travel to essential flights only on some routes in the final days of the election campaign and all but the most critical exports halted. Rationing is set to continue for another week after a digger on Thursday struck the sole jet fuel, diesel and petrol supply pipe to Auckland, the country’s biggest city and major transport hub for international visitors. Three thousand people a day are being affected by cancelled domestic and international flights. Another 6,000 people will be impacted by delays or disruptions to normal service, Air New Zealand said, and it had taken the “unusual” step of restricting ticket sales to all but essential or compassionate travel to try and manage the shortage.

As a result of the tightening fuel shortage, all airlines stopping in Auckland are only able to upload 30% of their normal capacity of jet fuel and the government has instructed its employees to cancel all non-essential travel. Export goods are being off-loaded from domestic and international flights unless they are at risk of rotting to lighten the load. Some international routes have been cancelled altogether or diverted to Australia and Fiji until the crisis is resolved.

Although the jet fuel supply pipe is privately owned and operated, opposition Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has criticized the government’s lack of investment in vital infrastructure in Auckland, as the ruling National party instructed its staffers and candidates around the country to restrict campaigning in the final days of the general election to save on jet fuel. “One pipeline and one digger and New Zealand grinds to a halt,” said Ardern on Tuesday. [..] Petrol and diesel supplies have also been affected by the damaged pipe, with both fuels being driven overland to Auckland from other supply points in the North Island, and the defence force called in to assist with transportation and logistics, including the naval tanker HMNZS Endeavour.

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Wait. They had written their investments down to zero, so how can they suffer a wipeout? is it possible they dumped a whole lot of losses into the black hole?

Bain, KKR, Vornado Suffer Wipeout in Toys ‘R’ Us Bankruptcy (BBG)

Bain Capital, KKR and Vornado Realty Trust stand to have their Toys “R” Us Inc. investment erased as the retailer they bought in 2005 for $7.5 billion seeks bankruptcy protection. The three firms and their co-investors sank $1.3 billion of equity into the takeover of the Wayne, New Jersey-based toy company, financing the rest with debt, according to company filings. The debt included senior loans in which they held a stake. Partly offsetting the loss is more than $470 million in fees and interest payments that Toys “R” Us awarded the firms over time. Toys “R” Us, which has 1,600 stores in 38 countries, filed for bankruptcy late Monday. The filing in Richmond, Virginia, estimated that the company has more than $5 billion in debt, which costs about $400 million a year to service.

The buyout was part of a vast wave of debt-enabled takeovers by private equity firms from 2005 to 2007 that saw deal prices soar to tens of billions of dollars. The wave crashed at the onset of the financial crisis in 2009. The biggest of that era’s private equity deals was the $48 billion buyout of Texas utility TXU, now called Energy Future Holdings Corp. The company went belly-up in 2014, obliterating $8.3 billion of equity put in by KKR, TPG Capital, Goldman Sachs and co-investors.

Toys “R” Us appeared stable out of the gate. The $7.5 billion price worked out to about 7.5 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization – not outlandish by today’s standards. With about $1 billion a year in Ebitda, the company was able to cover the interest on its $5.5 billion of debt and fund store improvements with more than $200 million to spare. But the ravages of the financial crisis, competition from online rivals and price wars blew up that safety cushion. KKR and Vornado, which are publicly traded, had previously written their investments in the company down to zero. As a result, the bankruptcy won’t affect their earnings going forward.

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“..it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged..”

Manafort Calls On DOJ To Release His Intercepted Phone Calls (ZH)

Less than 24 hours after CNN triggered the latest outbreak of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ by relaying information from anonymous sources that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manfort has been under surveillance by the FBI since 2014, Manafort has fired back by calling on the Department of Justice to release all transcripts of his tapped phone calls so that the American public “can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ — there is nothing there.” Per the Daily Caller: “Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is calling on the Justice Department to release transcripts of any intercepted communications he may have had with foreigners. Manafort, a longtime Republican political consultant, also called on the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the leak of details of secret surveillance warrants obtained by U.S. investigators.

“Mr. Manafort requests that the Department of Justice release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ — there is nothing there,” Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement. Manafort’s spokesman goes on to demand that the DOJ launch an immediate investigation into who continues to commit federal felonies with reckless abandon by leaking details of confidential FISA warrants to the media. Whether or not Manafort committed a crime — and he has not been charged with anything — the leak of information about FISA warrants is a federal crime, Maloni noted in his statement.

“If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” Maloni said. Information about FISA warrants is classified and tightly held by government officials and the federal judges that approve them. Unauthorized disclosures of FISA information is also a felony. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing in March, then-FBI Director James Comey testified that the leak of FISA information is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In his statement, Maloni called on the Justice Department’s watchdog to “immediately” open an investigation into the leak and to “examine the motivations behind the previous Administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent.”

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No, I’m not going to talk about his UN speech yesterday. That’s all just confirmation bias.

Everyone involved denies any of this ever actually happened.

Trump Warned Saudis Off Military Move on Qatar (BBG)

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates considered military action in the early stages of their ongoing dispute with Qatar before Donald Trump called leaders of both countries and warned them to back off, according to two people familiar with the U.S. president’s discussions. The Saudis and Emiratis were looking at ways to remove the Qatari regime, which they accused of sponsoring terrorism and cozying up to Iran, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were confidential. Trump told Saudi and U.A.E. leaders that any military action would trigger a crisis across the Middle East that would only benefit Iran, one of the people said. More recently, the Trump administration has quietly sent high-level messages to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. to try to defuse the quarrel.

Trump, who initially sided with the Saudi-led bloc, had a change of heart because of evidence that a prolonged dispute with Qatar will serve as an advantage to Iran, according to a U.S. official familiar with his thinking. Trump met with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. Asked by a reporter if he had warned Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. against military action in the country, Trump responded, “No.” At the same meeting, Trump confronted the Qatari leader with what one U.S. official said is evidence that Qatar is still engaged in terrorism-related activity and told him it has to stop.

[..] Trump said on Tuesday that the U.S. is pushing for an end to the Gulf dispute. “We are right now in a situation where we’re trying to solve a problem in the Middle East,” he said. “I have a very strong feeling that it will be solved, and pretty quickly.” Those comments reflected how Trump has changed his thinking on the Qatar dispute in the past 10 days or so, becoming more sympathetic with the Qataris after previously backing the Saudi-led bloc and saying his priority is to clamp down on terror financing, according to the U.S. official familiar with his thinking.

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There’s no reason for it to happen in other currencies.

Putin Orders To End Trade In US Dollars At Russian Seaports (RT)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed the government to approve legislation making the ruble the main currency of exchange at all Russian seaports by next year, according to the Kremlin website. To protect the interests of stevedoring companies with foreign currency obligations, the government was instructed to set a transition period before switching to ruble settlements. According to the head of Russian antitrust watchdog FAS Igor Artemyev, many services in Russian seaports are still priced in US dollars, even though such ports are state-owned. The proposal to switch port tariffs to rubles was first proposed by the president a year and a half ago.

The idea was not embraced by large transport companies, which would like to keep revenues in dollars and other foreign currencies because of fluctuations in the ruble. Artemyev said the decision will force foreigners to buy Russian currency, which is good for the ruble. In 2016, his agency filed several lawsuits against the largest Russian port group NMTP. According to FAS, the group of companies set tariffs for transshipment in dollars and raised tariffs from January 2015 “without objective grounds.” The watchdog ruled that NMTP abused its dominant position in the market and imposed a 9.74 billion rubles fine, or about $165 million at the current exchange rate. The decision was overturned by a court in Moscow in July this year.

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Everyone thinks corporate tax cuts are the solution?!

Eurozone ‘Bouncing Back’? Tell That To The People Of Spain And Greece (DiEM25)

EU citizens living under squeezed financial circumstances could be forgiven for wondering whether European Commission President Juncker was having a joke at their expense when he spoke recently about how Europe’s economy is finally bouncing back. After a tumultuous decade triggered by the global financial crisis in 2007, the Eurozone’s growth figures are being compared favourably to America’s, with production up 3.2% against last year. However, evidence points to a wide chasm between people’s lived experiences and Juncker’s message of triumph. It is doubtful that the citizens of Spain and Greece, for example, would agree with his assessment. According to the Commission, 30% of Spaniards are at risk of social exclusion due to poverty and income inequality.

The proportion of children in Spain living below the poverty line increased by 9% between 2008 and 2014, to 30.5%, and Spain is in 7th place on the OECD list of countries where inequality has risen the most since 2010. Greece, meanwhile, is at top of this ranking. Now, ‘growth’ may be used to express the success of a country’s economic performance. But how impressive is it really, when the Troika’s austerity-driven politics is causing so much human suffering in countries like Greece and Spain? According to the OECD, countries have continued the trend towards implementing tax policy reforms to boost growth. French President Macron is proposing to cut corporation tax from 33.3% to 25% by 2022. Yet the use of tax levers, primarily cuts to corporation tax, as a means to draw inward investment has been disputed by top economists.

“The way you get a productive economy is changing the fundamentals, says John Van Reenen of the LSE. “You get your people to be more skilled, or you have your infrastructure working efficiently. You’re never really going to get there just by reducing corporate tax.” So what’s the alternative? It is possible to pursue a successful strategy without crucifying ordinary people in the process, and Portugal is leading the way. The country adopted left wing alternatives to austerity policies in 2015 and is now reporting an impressive recovery. It is a model from which governments can learn.

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That’s the intention.

Greece’s Bailout Review Is Leaving Markets Jittery (BBG)

Greece faces two possible outcomes. Officials from both the government and creditors say the aim is to finish the third bailout review by the end of the year, giving the country time to raise more funds in the market and paving the way for its successful program exit. Concluding the review by the end of the year, or even in the early months of next year, would help Greece gain much-needed investor confidence. Prolonged negotiations, on the other hand, could weigh on investor sentiment and hamper the country’s effort to exit its bailout next summer and finance itself. “Investments are at a very low level and, as a result, Greece is growing much slower than it should and, in fact, slower than many of its eurozone partners,” Vettas said.

Greek investment was stagnant in 2016 and fell during the first two quarters of this year. If Greece’s bailout runs out before the country completes all the reforms it has agreed to, it could put at risk any plans for debt relief from the euro area, something the government has sought for years. Greece’s partners agreed to ease the country’s debt at the end of its bailout, provided agreed reforms are successfully concluded. Key sticking points in the review include Greece’s budget for 2018, and whether the country is taking sufficient measures to hit bailout-prescribed targets. Greece is expected to have a primary surplus, which excludes interest payments, of 3.5% of GDP next year, a target that seems more difficult as tax receipts have failed to yield expected revenue, Greek and EU officials say.

Meanwhile, politically contentious issues such as privatizations, the reform of public administration as well as an overhaul of the labor market may be raised in the upcoming talks. Greek banks’ handling of nonperforming loans is also expected to come under fire as is a restructuring of social benefits. Tsipras’s administration has yet to find resources in the budget to avoid cutting some popular benefits. The IMF’s demand for a new asset-quality review for Greek banks may be another bone of contention, this time between the Fund and the ECB. The Greek government and Frankfurt say that such a review will harm the nation’s lenders because they need to focus on addressing the NPL issue. A solution, they say, may be to wait for the results of the banks’ regular stress tests, which are expected before the end of the bailout program, without a new asset-quality review.

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Being blamed for being strangled.

EU’s Dombrovskis: Greek Government Chose To Increase Taxes (K.)

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis has told Kathimerini in an exclusive interview that a successful conclusion to the third review of Greece’s third international bailout by the end of the year would send money markets a convincing message that the program is on track and close to its end – although it’s still rather early to discuss a so-called “clean exit,” he said. The Latvian politician also explained it was the government’s decision to raise taxes instead of cutting public spending, and income tax has now failed to meet revenue expectations.

Regarding talk about a “clean exit” from Greece’s third bailout at the end of next summer, Dombrovskis indicated that such a discussion was “premature” and that the priority now is to focus on completing the third bailout review by the end of the year. He said 95 prior actions, some of which have been legislated, must still be implemented. The EU official underlined the importance of Greece meeting a primary surplus target of 3.5% next year and creating a more beneficial environment for potential investors as part of efforts to boost much-needed growth.

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And on and on.

Lesvos Mayor Issues Warning On Refugee Numbers (K.)

Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos has written to the government and the European Commission asking that immediate action be taken to reduce the number of refugees on the island. In the letter sent to European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos and Greek Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, Galinos says there are now more than 6,000 refugees and migrants on the island, which is far more than existing facilities can cope with. The Lesvos mayor attributed this to a steady rise in arrivals and insufficient efforts to reduce the numbers at hotspots. Galinos claimed the island is being “held hostage” and called for immediate action by authorities. He ruled out the possibility of more temporary facilities being built on the island. “Lesvos’s ability to offer hospitality is limited to its current infrastructure,” the mayor wrote.

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Sep 182017
 
 September 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso The old fisherman 1895

 

Muted Inflation A Trillion-Dollar Puzzle – BIS (R.)
Global Debt Underreported By $14 Trillion – BIS (ZH)
World’s Central Banks Can’t Ignore the Bitcoin Boom – BIS (BBG)
Dogecoin Creator On Cryptocurrencies: “Very Bubble. Much Scam. So Avoid.” (NYT)
The Future Of Cryptocurrency Is Not As It Seems (Eric Peters)
China’s $40 Trillion Banking System: “Largest Imbalances I’ve Ever Seen” (ZH)
Stockman: Trump’s Now ‘Blowing Kisses to Janet Yellen’
Spain’s Prosecutor Warns Over Catalonia Referendum As Leaflets Seized (R.)
After Single Payer Failed, Vermont Embarks On Big Health Care Experiment (WP)
Greek Government Told To Begin Online Auctions Or Face A Bank Bail-In (K.)
In Greece, Full-Time Work Is Not The Norm It Once Was (K.)
Hurricane Maria Heading For Caribbean (AFP)

 

 

Debt is the answer. They want you to think they don’t know that.

Muted Inflation A Trillion-Dollar Puzzle – BIS (R.)

The conundrum of stubbornly low inflation despite a pick-up in global growth and continued monetary stimulus is a “trillion dollar” question, the umbrella body for the world’s leading central banks said on Sunday. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said in its latest quarterly report that cheap borrowing rates and the rare simultaneous expansion of advanced and developing economies are driving financial markets higher, with signs of “exuberance” starting to re-emerge. U.S. corporate debt is much higher than before the financial crisis and a drop in the premiums investors demand for riskier lending has boosted sales of so-called covenant-lite bonds offering high yields. The BIS said this raises a question over the potential for another crisis if there is a significant rise in interest rates.

The body has called for a gradual return to higher rates, though central banks are being tentative because of persisting low inflation. “It feels like ‘Waiting for Godot’,” said Claudio Borio, the head of the monetary and economic department of the BIS, referring to a play in which the main characters wait for someone who never arrives. But the BIS says no one has yet worked out why inflation has remained so subdued while economies have approached or surpassed estimates of full employment and central banks have provided unprecedented stimulus. “This is the trillion-dollar question that will define the global economy’s path in the years ahead and determine, in all probability, the future of current policy frameworks,” Borio said. “Worryingly, no one really knows the answer.”

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The BIS is surprised by lack of inflation, or does it pretend that? And it’s also surprised by swaps and forwards? Really?

Global Debt Underreported By $14 Trillion – BIS (ZH)

In its latest annual summary published at the end of June, the IIF found that total nominal global debt had risen to a new all time high of $217 trillion, or 327% of global GDP…

… largely as a result of an unprecedented increase in emerging market leverage.

While the continued growth in debt in zero interest rate world is hardly surprising, what was notable is that debt within the developed world appeared to have peaked, if not declined modestly in the latest 5 year period. However, it now appears that contrary to previous speculation of potential deleveraging among EM nations, not only was this conclusion incorrect, but that developed nations had been stealthily piling on just as much debt, only largely hidden from the public eye, in the form of swaps and forwards.

According to a just released analysts by the Bank of International Settlements, “FX swaps and forwards: missing global debt?” non-banks institutions outside the United States owe large sums of dollars off-balance sheet through instruments such as FX swaps and forwards. The BIS then calculates what balance sheets would look like if borrowing through such derivative instruments was recorded on-balance sheet, as functionally equivalent repo debt, and calculates that the total “is of a size similar to, and probably exceeding, the $10.7 trillion of on-balance sheet dollar debt”, potentially as much as $13-14 trillion.

[..] “Every day, trillions of dollars are borrowed and lent in various currencies. Many deals take place in the cash market, through loans and securities. But foreign exchange (FX) derivatives, mainly FX swaps, currency swaps and the closely related forwards, also create debt-like obligations. For the US dollar alone, contracts worth tens of trillions of dollars stand open and trillions change hands daily. And yet one cannot find these amounts on balance sheets. This debt is, in effect, missing.”

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Who says they’re ignoring it? They’re frantically looking to control it.

World’s Central Banks Can’t Ignore the Bitcoin Boom – BIS (BBG)

The world’s central banks can’t sit back and ignore the growth in cryptocurrencies as it could pose a risk to the stability of the financial system, according to the Bank for International Settlements. It said central banks will need to figure out whether to issue a digital currency and what its attributes should be, though the decision is most pressing in countries like Sweden where cash use is dwindling. Institutions need to take into account of not only privacy issues and efficiency gains in payment systems, but also economic, financial and monetary policy repercussions, the BIS said in its Quarterly Review. The analysis comes at the end of a rough week for digital currencies, with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon calling bitcoin a “fraud” and China moving to crack down on domestic trading of cryptocurrencies.

But with bitcoin and others gaining in popularity as payment systems go mobile and investors pour in money, central banks are beginning to delve into them and their underlying blockchain technology, which promises to speed up clearing and settlements. At the Bank of England, Mark Carney has cited cryptocurrencies as part of a potential “revolution” in finance. To better understand the system, the Dutch central bank has created its own cryptocurrency, albeit for internal use only. U.S. officials are exploring the matter too, though in March Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell said there were “significant policy issues” that needed further study, including vulnerability to cyber-attack, privacy and counterfeiting.

According to the BIS, one option for central banks might be a currency available to the public, with only the central bank able to issue units that would be directly convertible with cash and reserves. There might be a greater risk of bank runs, however, and commercial lenders might face a shortage of deposits. Another question to be resolved would be the question of privacy.

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“It’s going to be like the dot-com bust, but on a much more epic scale.”

Dogecoin Creator On Cryptocurrencies: “Very Bubble. Much Scam. So Avoid.” (NYT)

Jackson Palmer no longer thinks it’s funny to imitate Doge, the internet meme about a Shiba Inu dog whose awe-struck expressions and garbled syntax (e.g. “Wow. So pizza. Much delicious.”) made him a viral sensation several years ago. But if he did, he might channel Doge to offer a few cautionary words for investors who are falling for cryptocurrency start-ups, Silicon Valley’s latest moneymaking craze: Very bubble. Much scam. So avoid. Mr. Palmer, the creator of Dogecoin, was an early fan of cryptocurrency, a form of encrypted digital money that is traded from person to person. He saw investors talking about Bitcoin, the oldest and best-known cryptocurrency, and wanted to find a way to poke fun at the hype surrounding the emerging technology. So in 2013, he built his own cryptocurrency, a satirical mash-up that combined Bitcoin with the Doge meme he’d seen on social media.

Mr. Palmer hoped to use Dogecoin to show the absurdity of wagering huge sums of money on unstable ventures. But investors didn’t get the joke and bought Dogecoin anyway, bringing its market value as high as $400 million. Along the way, the currency became a magnet for greed and attracted a group of scammers and hackers who defrauded investors, hyped fake products, and left many of the currency’s original backers empty-handed. Today, Mr. Palmer, 30, is one of the loudest voices warning that a similar fate might soon befall the entire cryptocurrency industry. “What’s happening to crypto now is what happened to Dogecoin,” Mr. Palmer told me in a recent interview. “I’m worried that this time, it’s on a much grander scale.”

[..] Mr. Palmer, a laid-back Australian who works as a product manager in the Bay Area and describes himself as “socialist leaning,” was disturbed by the commercialization of his joke currency. He had never collected Dogecoin for himself, and had resisted efforts to cash in on the currency’s success, even turning down a $500,000 investment offer from an Australian venture capital firm. [..] Mr. Palmer worries that the coming reckoning in the cryptocurrency market — and it is coming, he says confidently — will deter people from using the technology for more legitimate projects. “The bigger this bubble goes, the bigger negative connotation it’s going to have,” he said. “It’s going to be like the dot-com bust, but on a much more epic scale.”

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Peters is the CIO at One River Asset Management. “Once private markets perfect cryptocurrency technology, governments will commandeer it, killing today’s pioneers. Then with every cryptodollar, yen, euro and renminbi registered on their servers, they’ll have complete dominion over money, laundering, taxation.”

The Future Of Cryptocurrency Is Not As It Seems (Eric Peters)

“Any other thoughts on the matter?” he asked. We’d spent quite some time discussing Bitcoin, Ethereum, and copycat cryptocurrencies popping up faster than North Korean nukes. I mostly listened, he knew far more about the subject; blockchain, distributed ledgers, mining, halving, hash rates. Unlike the S&P 500 realized volatility’s collapse to 8%, these new creations are realizing at 90%. Which makes them attractive to day-traders, adrenaline junkies, who launched 100 crypto hedge funds just last month. It’s the millennial’s wild west. Like all generations, they’ve discovered a new frontier, with few rules, seedy saloons, gunfights, corpses. As our earthly unknowns disappear, we find new ones in the ether. Which is where money belongs; it’s not real, it’s an abstraction, an age-old illusion.

As a golden myth captured mankind’s imagination, we built our societies upon a rare yellow metal. For 2,500 years we fought, killed, conquered. Until governments tired of the arbitrary spending constraints imposed upon them by a scarce element. So they invented today’s fiction, a printed promise, fiat currency. Seigniorage is the difference between that currency’s market value and its cost of production – that spread is a source of vast wealth and power. And in all human history, not a single government has willingly forfeited such a thing. Nor will one ever. Only after a hyperinflationary depression, confronted with revolution, do governments sometimes relinquish their power to print (Zimbabwe most recently).

Consequently, the future of cryptocurrency is not as it seems. Once private markets perfect cryptocurrency technology, governments will commandeer it, killing today’s pioneers. Then with every cryptodollar, yen, euro and renminbi registered on their servers, they’ll have complete dominion over money, laundering, taxation. They’ll track every transaction. Imposing negative interest rates in an instant. There will be no hiding, no mattresses. And in a deflationary panic, they’ll instantaneously add an extra zero to every account, their own especially.

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“..we’re on a $40 trillion credit system on $2 trillion of equity on maybe $1 trillion of liquid reserves.”

China’s $40 Trillion Banking System: “Largest Imbalances I’ve Ever Seen” (ZH)

KB: We’re in the such late stages of a game that is the largest global imbalance I’ve ever seen in my life. When you look at on balance sheet and off balance sheets, you look at on balance sheet in the banks, you look in the shadow banks. The number of total credit in the system, China is right at $40 trillion. Think about the number I just said. $40 trillion. And that’s using an exchange rate of call it 6.7 to the dollar, right? So it’s grown 1,000% in a decade. And we’re on a $40 trillion credit system on $2 trillion of equity on maybe $1 trillion of liquid reserves.

RP: Where do you get the equity and liquid reserves from?

KB: Well, it’s the amount of equity in the banks of China. It’s right at about $2 trillion. So that’s kind of a stated number. The reserves is my own calculation, right? The Chinese magically have leveled their reserves out around $3 trillion, which happens to be the minimum level of IMF reserve adequacy as defined by the IMF rule.

RP: So what have they been doing now? So, they were under pressure, and then everything kind of eased off, I guess, as the dollar started weakening a bit.

KB: Yeah. Actually, they’ve done three things. Well, so four things have caused this, quote, easing off that you refer to. Three have been driven by SAFE and the PBOC, one that’s been driven by our illustrious Trump. So the first three are, number one, they essentially halted all cross-border M&A. So if you look at the parabola of M&A coming out of China from 2012 to 2016, it reached dizzying heights in 2016. In 2017, it’s like 15% of the 2016 number and no new deals being announced. Now, they’ll always be some outbound M&A that’s driven by really policy at the Communist Party level, right?

They’ll always buy copper mines in Uganda. They’ll always invest in ports in Greece. They’ll always do things that are from a strategic perspective and a policy perspective. The things that the Communist Party needs to procure resources for its people over the long-term. But when you look at the rampant M&A of money leaving China, they just put a halt to it in November of 2016. And the second thing they did was they made it impossible for multinational corporations to get their profits and or working capital out of China. And that’s something that has been a problem for a lot of the multinationals that do business in China.”

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Perma bear.

Stockman: Trump’s Now ‘Blowing Kisses to Janet Yellen’

Stockman: Trump’s ‘Done Nothing in Nine Months’ and Is Now ‘Blowing Kisses to Janet Yellen’ (Fox Business, September 15, 2017)

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EU, UN, US, nobody stands up for democracy. Revealing.

Spain’s Prosecutor Warns Over Catalonia Referendum As Leaflets Seized (R.)

Spanish authorities on Sunday pursued efforts to block an independence vote in Catalonia, seizing campaign materials as the chief prosecutor said jailing the region’s top politician could not be ruled out. The government in the northeastern region is intent on holding a referendum on October 1 that will ask voters whether they support secession from Spain, a ballot Madrid has declared illegal. In a raid on a warehouse in the province of Barcelona on Sunday, police confiscated around 1.3 million leaflets and other campaign materials promoting the vote issued by the Catalan government. The haul was the largest in a series of similar raids, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Spanish prosecutors, who have ordered police to investigate any efforts to promote the plebiscite, said last week that officials engaged in any preparations for it could be charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds. More than 700 Catalan mayors gathered in Barcelona on Saturday to affirm their support for it. Asked if arresting regional government head Carles Puigdemont was an option if preparations continued, Spain’s chief public prosecutor said in an interview: ”We could consider it because the principal objective is to stop the referendum going ahead. “I won’t rule out completely the option of seeking jail terms… It could happen under certain circumstances,” Jose Manuel Maza was quoted as also telling Sunday’s edition of newspaper El Mundo.

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Promising.

After Single Payer Failed, Vermont Embarks On Big Health Care Experiment (WP)

Doug Greenwood lifted his shirt to let his doctor probe his belly, scarred from past surgeries, for tender spots. Searing abdominal pain had landed Greenwood in the emergency room a few weeks earlier, and he’d come for a follow-up visit to Cold Hollow Family Practice, a big red barnlike building perched on the edge of town. After the appointment was over and his blood was drawn, Greenwood stayed for an entirely different exam: of his life. Anne-Marie Lajoie, a nurse care coordinator, began to map out Greenwood’s financial resources, responsibilities, transportation options, food resources and social supports on a sheet of paper. A different picture began to emerge of the 58-year-old male patient recovering from diverticulitis: Greenwood had moved back home, without a car or steady work, to care for his mother, who suffered from dementia. He slept in a fishing shanty in the yard, with a baby monitor to keep tabs on his mother.

This more expansive checkup is part of a pioneering effort in this New England state to keep people healthy while simplifying the typical jumble of private and public insurers that pays for health care. The underlying premise is simple: Reward doctors and hospitals financially when patients are healthy, not just when they come in sick. It’s an idea that has been percolating through the health-care system in recent years, supported by the Affordable Care Act and changes to how Medicare pays for certain kinds of care, such as hip and knee replacements. But Vermont is setting an ambitious goal of taking its alternative payment model statewide and applying it to 70% of insured state residents by 2022 which — if it works — could eventually lead to fundamental changes in how Americans pay for health care.

“You make your margin off of keeping people healthier, instead of doing more operations. This drastically changes you, from wanting to do more of a certain kind of surgery to wanting to prevent them,” said Stephen Leffler, chief population health and quality officer of the University of Vermont Health Network. Making lump sum payments, instead of paying for each X-ray or checkup, changes the financial incentives for doctors. For example, spurring the state’s largest hospital system to invest in housing. Or creating more roles like Lajoie’s, focused on diagnosing problems with housing, transportation, food and other services that affect people’s well-being.

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The Troika is in Athens to turn on the thumbscrews.

Greek Government Told To Begin Online Auctions Or Face A Bank Bail-In (K.)

The possibility that banks will need for a fresh recapitalization grows with every day the delay in the implementation of online property transactions drags on. This might lead to a deposit haircut, along with generating a major crisis in relations between the government and the country’s creditors. Creditor representatives are accusing the government of delay tactics, for party political purposes, in starting electronic auctions. This puts the sustainability of the credit system at risk as it denies them a crucial tool in efforts to tackle the problem of nonperforming loans (NPLs).

The creditors have explicitly warned Athens about the prospect of a new recapitalization and the risk of a bail-in for banks and their depositors unless the auctions proceed quickly, as their representatives told notaries and banks in Greece during the presentations of the auctions’ online platform, according to the president of the Notaries’ Association, Giorgos Rouskas. The creditors reacted strongly when told that the first online auctions would not take place before early 2018 even though during the second bailout review Athens had committed to start the auctions on September 1. The government claimed the system is in place but the law provides for a period of two months between the submission of an auction request and its realization.

Seeing that the government is again trying to renege on its commitments, the creditors put fresh pressure on Athens, which backed down and said the system may open in the coming days for banks, so that the first online auctions can take place by end-November. In an interview with Kathimerini, Rouskas stressed that “the online platform is ready and all technical tests have been completed.” The onus is therefore on the banks now, which Rouskas explains have to register the repeat auctions or any new ones in the system, being the party initiating the auctions. They will then get a date based on the new system. “We have prepared the platform. It is now up to the lender, be that a bank or a private individual, to issue a request for an online auction scheduling, which notaries are forced to follow. This has not happened yet, but I believe we are very close to its implementation,” said Rouskas.

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Why Greece will not recover. Money supply way down, money velocity way way down.

In Greece, Full-Time Work Is Not The Norm It Once Was (K.)

Official data by the Hellenic Statistical Authority point to an increase in employment by about 250,000 jobs in the last three years (from the second quarter of 2014 to this year’s Q2), but that is only part of the truth. The figures also reveal a constant decline in average salaries, an ongoing increase in the percentage of employed workers who earn less than 500 euros a month – at least one in four gets less than that amount – soaring temporary work (either due to project-specific hirings, subsidies being paid for a restricted period, or time contracts), and a rise in the rate of part-time employment.

Senior and top officials are no longer offered such handsome pay packages, the primary sector is being abandoned and any new enterprises that are being set up are mostly in the field of restaurants, hotels and retail stores. Greeks can only find jobs such as waiters, cleaners, maids or sales assistants, which as a rule are of a seasonal character and fetch a low salary. The 40-hour working week concerns ever fewer workers nowadays, and without the subsidies handed out by the Manpower Organization (OAED) and the increase in tourism flows the unemployment rate probably wouldn’t have declined at all.

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The season is far from over.

Hurricane Maria Heading For Caribbean (AFP)

Maria became a hurricane Sunday as it headed toward the storm-staggered eastern Caribbean with 75 mile (120 kilometer) per hour winds, the US National Hurricane Center said. Storm warnings and watches went up in many of the Caribbean islands still reeling from the destructive passage of Hurricane Irma earlier this month. As of 2100 GMT, Maria was a Category One hurricane, the lowest on the five point Saffir-Simpson scale, located 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Barbados, the NHC said, bearing west-northwest at 15 miles (24 kilometers) an hour. “On the forecast track, the center of Maria will move across the Leeward Islands Monday night and then over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea on Tuesday,” it said.

Hurricane warnings were triggered for St Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat, while lesser ‘watches’ were issued for the US and British Virgin Islands where at least nine people were killed during Irma. A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the first occurrence of tropical storm-force winds while watches are issued 48 hours in advance. Tropical storm warnings were, meanwhile, issued for Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St Eustatius and St Lucia. Barbuda was decimated by Hurricane Irma September 5-6 when it made its first landfall in the Caribbean as a top intensity Category Five storm. The NHC said Maria could produce a “dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves” that will raise water levels by four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) when it passes through the Leeward Islands.

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Sep 172017
 
 September 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Edward Hopper House tops 1921

 

Trade War With China Will End US Global Finance Monopoly – Jim Rogers (RT)
Pension Storm Warning (Mauldin)
S&P On The Verge Of History (ZH)
How Austerity Works (Steve Keen)
Why Bitcoin May Be Worth Only A Third Of Its Value (MW)
How Common is the Seneca Curve? (Ugo Bardi)
Greek Debt Write-Offs To Be Based On Properties (K.)
The Eurozone May Be Back On Its Feet. But Is Greece? (G.)
Chinese Capital Bans Winter Construction To Improve Air Quality (R.)
White House Denies EU Claim That It’s Shifting on Climate Deal (BBG)

 

 

“It will force the rest of the world to find an alternative to the US financial system.” They haven’t found one yet.

Trade War With China Will End US Global Finance Monopoly – Jim Rogers (RT)

RT : What is the likelihood that the US will go through with and actually impose economic sanctions on China if it does not implement the new sanctions regime against North Korea? Jim Rogers : Sanctions are sanctions. They could do sanctions which are not very important or don’t do much damage. And then they will have good public relations which says they have sanctions, but it is meaningless. I would suspect if anything, that is what they will start with. If they put sanctions on China in a big way, it brings the whole world economy down. And in the end, it hurts America more than it hurts China because it just forces China and Russia and other countries closer together. Russia and China and other countries are already trying to come up with a new financial system. If America puts sanctions on them, they would have to do it that much faster and in the end America will lose its monopoly on the financial system, which will hurt America more than anybody.

RT : What do you think, is it an empty rhetoric and saber-rattling from Donald Trump because he said “those [UN] sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen” without specifying what he meant by that. Do you think this is just mere bluff on the part of the US, or would it really use the ‘nuclear option’? JR : If it uses a nuclear option for sanctions, it will hurt America much more than will hurt North Korea, it will hurt America much more than it will hurt China, Russia and everybody else. It will force the rest of the world to find an alternative to the US financial system. If he does that, it is going to cause a lot of turmoil in the world financial economy and in the end it is going to hurt America more than it is going to hurt anybody else. I would give you an example, if you look at Russian agriculture right now – America put sanctions on Russian agriculture trying to hurt Russia, but it has helped Russian agriculture. Russian agriculture is booming now. In the end, America has hurt itself more than it has hurt anybody else.

RT : If that happens, what would the consequences be for the global economy? Could this end up becoming a global economic crisis? JR : We are probably going to have a global economic problem, maybe even crisis, in the next couple of years. This may be one of the things that start it. There is always something which starts a crisis. If America does something like this, this could be the thing that did it. In 1929, it started when America started a huge trade war with the rest of the world and the economists said, “please, this is a mistake,” but America did that anyway. And then we had a great collapse and The Great Depression of the 1930s.

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Pensions and hurricanes: lies and bad preparation.

Pension Storm Warning (Mauldin)

Total unfunded liabilities in state and local pensions have roughly quintupled in the last decade. You read that right – not doubled, tripled or quadrupled: quintupled. That’s nice when it happens on a slot machine, not so nice when it’s money you owe. The graph [shows] that unfunded pension liabilities for state and local governments was $2 trillion. But that assumes an average 7% compound return. What if we assume 4% compound returns? Now the admitted unfunded pension liability is $4 trillion. But what if we have a recession and the stock market goes down by the past average of more than 40%? Now you have an unfunded liability in the range of $7–8 trillion.We throw the words a trillion dollars around, not realizing how much that actually is. Combined state and local revenues for the US total around $2.6 trillion.

Following the next recession (whenever that is), the unfunded pension liabilities for state and local governments will be roughly three times the revenue they are collecting today, and that’s before a recession reduces their revenues. Can you see the taxpayer stuck between a rock and a hard place? Two immovable objects meeting? The math just doesn’t work. Pension trustees don’t face personal liability. They’re literally playing with someone else’s money. Some try very hard to be realistic and cautious. Others don’t. But even the most diligent can’t control when the next recession comes, or when the stock market will crash, leaving a gaping hole in their assets while liabilities keep right on rising. I have had meetings with trustees of various government pensions.

Many of them want to assume a more realistic discount rate, but the politicians in their state literally refuse to allow them to assume a reasonable discount rate, because owning up to reality would require them to increase their current pension funding dramatically. So they kick the can down the road. Intentionally or not, state and local officials all over the US made pension promises that future officials can’t possibly keep. Many will be out of office when the bill comes due, protected from liability by sovereign immunity. We are starting to see cities filing for bankruptcy. That small ripple will be a tsunami within 7–10 years.

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“..a market rally that goes deep into 2019..”

S&P On The Verge Of History (ZH)

U.S. stocks have risen more in the past eight years than in almost any other post-World War II time of economic growth, as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The logic here is that economic expansions fuel bull markets and so it’s reasonable to measure market recoveries after a period of macro contraction ends. Using that definition, let’s review how the S&P 500 has performed during the last ten economic recoveries. To be precise, the birth of the stock market’s bull market is dated as the first day after an NBER-defined recession has ended. The market run continues through the peak. The S&P 500 Index jumped 172% from July 2009, when the current expansion started, through Wednesday. The biggest advance was about 300% and occurred from April 1991 to March 2001, when Internet-related stocks soared.

As Capital Speculator blog’s James Picerno notes, the question before the house: Will the momentum of late endure long enough to overtake the 1991-2001 record in duration and/or magnitude? If so, the bull market in the here and now has to last another 463 trading days, which translates into a market rally that goes deep into 2019. There’s just one thing wrong… Remember – the ‘market’ is not the ‘economy’… or maybe it is in the new normal?

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It really is this simple.

How Austerity Works (Steve Keen)

I provide a simple numerical explanation of how austerity works at the micro (individual person, industrial sector, or country) and the macro level (country, or group of countries in a currency union).

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A thousand different views. At least this one took some homework.

Why Bitcoin May Be Worth Only A Third Of Its Value (MW)

Dan Davies, senior research adviser at Frontline Analysts, argued there’s no point in attempting to value bitcoin as if it were just another type of security. “It’s not a security with some intrinsic value, rather it’s a currency that in the long term is governed by an exchange rate driven by trade or volume of transactions,” Davies said. The fact that a significant proportion of bitcoins is hoarded or held for investment doesn’t disqualify it from being a currency, according to Davies. But the BTC/USD BTCUSD, -3.37% exchange rate is entirely determined by speculative portfolio capital flows right now, he said, leaving it difficult to assign fair value. Viewing bitcoin as a currency makes it possible, at least in theory, to come up with a long-term exchange rate by using the quantity theory of money.

The formula is: MV = PT, where money supply multiplied by its velocity equals the price level multiplied by the transaction volume. Since both price and transaction volume is expressed in U.S. dollars, the price of bitcoin would be 1/BTCUSD, Davies said. In this case, bitcoin’s supply is fixed at 21 million and money velocity for normal currencies is usually at around 10, according to Davies. So, the long-term fundamental value of bitcoin equals the long-term value of transactions that will be carried out in bitcoin divided by 210 million (21 million bitcoins multiplied by velocity). The hardest value to plug into this formula is the transaction volume. If, for example, bitcoin was used primarily for global trade in illicit drugs, the figure would be around $120 billion, which is an estimate the U.N. used in 2014.

“I used that number a few years ago, but we would have to come up with a different estimate, as bitcoin is clearly used for things other than illicit drugs now,” Davies said. Davies declined to offer an updated number, saying he needed to do more research. But doubling that transaction volume number to $240 billion, for example, and dividing by 210 million produces a value of $1,142, around a third of the current exchange rate of $3,569. That isn’t far from an estimate that Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz Global Investors, recently suggested as a fair value for bitcoin. In an interview with CNBC, El-Erian said the fair price should be about half or a third of what it is now. El-Erian argued the currency will only survive as a peer-to-peer means of payment and governments won’t allow mass adoption.

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It’s universal.

How Common is the Seneca Curve? (Ugo Bardi)

My talk at the Summer Academy of the Club of Rome was mainly a presentation of my latest book, “The Seneca Effect” (Springer 2017). In practice, of course, a book contains many more things than you can say in a 40 minute speech. So, I tried to concentrate on the idea that the behavior I call “the Seneca Curve” is very common, even universal. Below, you can see the Seneca Curve: things go up slowly but collapse rapidly, as the Roman philosopher Seneca said first some two thousand years ago. You may have heard the old Latin motto, “Natura non facit saltus” (Nature doesn’t make jumps) meaning that things change gradually, not abruptly. It may be true in many circumstances but, in practice, it is wholly normal that Nature accumulates energy potentials (as when you inflate a balloon) and then releases them all of a sudden (as when you puncture a balloon).

There are reasons why Nature behaves in this way, but the point I made at the school was not so much about why the curve is so common but how human beings are not normally aware of it. In fact, our thought is often shaped by the idea that things will continue evolving the way they have been evolving up to a certain point. Just think about economic growth, and you’ll notice how economists expect it to continue forever. It goes without saying that the economy is one of those complex systems which are most vulnerable to the Seneca collapse. So, I tried to stress that the understanding that the Seneca Curve exists and it is common is a recent discovery. Even though Seneca had understood it by intuition already almost 2000 years ago, in its modern form it is less than a century old. It was proposed for the first time by Jay Forrester in the 1960s and it was enshrined in “The Limits to Growth” study of 1972, even though the term “Seneca Effect” was not used.

During my talk, I showed this image to evidence how our ideas on the path that complex systems follow evolved over time. You see how modern the idea of “overshoot” (and the subsequent collapse) is. Malthus just didn’t have it. Despite being often accused of catastrophism, he couldn’t envisage societal collapse; he lacked the necessary intellectual tools. He was an optimist! Today, we have this concept. We know that complex systems tend not just to decline, they tend to collapse. But this perception is totally missing in the general debate. When you mention societal collapse, there are two possible reactions. The most common one is that such a thing will never happen.

Then, if you manage to convince people that it is possible, they endeavor to do everything they can to keep the system going; whatever it takes. They don’t realize that when you exceed the carrying capacity of the system, you have to come back, one way or another. And the more you try to stay above the limit, the faster and the harsher the return will be. What you have to do is to ease the collapse, follow it, not try to stop it. Otherwise, it will be worse.

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Is that corruption I smell?

Greek Debt Write-Offs To Be Based On Properties (K.)

Only business owners with no real estate properties will qualify for a partial write-off of corporate debts in the context of the extrajudicial settlement mechanism. This criterion excludes the owner’s main residence and the production properties, i.e. the professional properties used for the entrepreneurial activity. That was the decision that the technical experts of the country’s creditors are said to have reached with representatives of Greek banks and the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, while there was also convergence on setting the criteria for debt settlement for companies owing between €20,000 and €50,000. In this latter category of debtors, which mostly comprise small enterprises, a standardized procedure will be adopted for assessing repayment capacity and the determination of the amount that the debtor will have to pay on a regular basis.

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The Greece firesale will never come anywhere near the €60 billion, but everyone keeps mentioning the number. Their entire railway system went for €45 million. Selling off an entire country is a very bad idea. Europe will find out, but too late.

The Eurozone May Be Back On Its Feet. But Is Greece? (G.)

“It is obvious. Our policies have changed radically, ” says Stergios Pitsiorlas, the deputy economy and development minister, whose airy office is visited daily by bankers, hedge-fund managers and industrialists jockeying for bargains. “Being leftwing doesn’t mean you are also a fool. It doesn’t mean, in the words of Lenin, that we are useful idiots. Let’s speak seriously. Those who complain that Greece is being sold off, that Greece will lose out, don’t know what they are talking about.” Tall, bearded and bespectacled, Pitsiorlas is the point man in Athens’s attempt to raise €60bn (£53bn) through privatisations – sales that, increasingly, have become the focus of international creditors keeping the debt-stricken country afloat. In what has been called the most ambitious sell-off in modern European history, assets ranging from public utilities and transport companies to marinas and hotels are up for grabs.

[..] Privatisations are central to completion of a new round of bailout negotiations with the EU and IMF. Greece’s third, €86bn, rescue programme is due to end next summer and Tsipras has made a clean exit from it, which would herald Athens’s return to the markets, an overarching goal. But hurdles lie ahead. On Friday, eurozone finance ministers warned that continued persecution of the country’s former statistics chief, Andreas Georgiou, could dent international confidence and derail chances of recovery. Officials also raised the prospect of fresh austerity should Greece fail to hit the primary surplus target of 3.5% – a prospect made likely by a huge shortfall in tax revenues. But in a week when the Italians finally took control of Greece’s state-owned train network (acquired by Italy’s own state operator for a paltry €45m) Pitsiorlas is optimistic.

He cites the takeover of Piraeus port by the Chinese shipping conglomerate Cosco as an example of what privatisations can bring: “They will make it the biggest port in Europe and that will boost other professions, create thousands of jobs, revitalise shipyards, which they are also looking at, pave the way to better trains, roads and logistic centres, and trigger development and growth.” In five years, he enthuses, Greece will be a very different place, cosmopolitan and vibrant. “There are rules which need to be observed but ultimately everything will be solved,” he insisted, referring to the obstacles Eldorado and others have encountered. “A miracle will happen. There will be huge change … but the state can’t do it alone, the private sector has to be involved.”

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What happens to the bricklayers et al?

Chinese Capital Bans Winter Construction To Improve Air Quality (R.)

Beijing will suspend construction of major public projects in the city this winter in an effort to improve the capital’s notorious air quality, official media said on Sunday, citing the municipal commission of housing and urban-rural development. All construction of road and water projects, as well as demolition of housing, will be banned from Nov. 15 to March 15 within the city’s six major districts and surrounding suburbs, said the Xinhua report. The period spans the four months when heating is supplied to the city’s housing and other buildings. China is in the fourth year of a “war on pollution” designed to reverse the damage done by decades of untrammelled economic growth and allay concerns that hazardous smog and widespread water and soil contamination are causing hundreds of thousands of early deaths every year.

Beijing has promised to impose tough industrial and traffic curbs across the north of the country this winter in a bid to meet key smog targets. In the capital, it is aiming to reduce airborne particles known as PM2.5 by more than a quarter from their 2012 levels and bring average concentrations down to 60 micrograms per cubic metre. Last year the city experienced near record-high smog in January and February, which the government blamed on “unfavourable weather conditions” Some ‘major livelihood projects’ such as railways, airports and affordable housing may be continued however, providing they are approved by the commission, said the report.

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Paris is an empty deal.

White House Denies EU Claim That It’s Shifting on Climate Deal (BBG)

The European Union said President Donald Trump’s administration is shifting its approach to a landmark global agreement on climate change, an assertion which was quickly denied by the White House. The U.S. signaled that it’s no longer seeking to withdraw from the pact and then renegotiate it, but rather wants to re-engage with the Paris Agreement from within, said EU’s climate chief Miguel Arias Canete. He spoke in an interview from Montreal, where the U.S., China, Canada and almost 30 other countries gathered to discuss the most-sweeping accord to date to protect the environment. “Our position on the Paris agreement has not changed. @POTUS has been clear, US withdrawing unless we get pro-America terms,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter.

Announcing plans to quit the pact, Trump said in June that the agreement favored other countries at the expense of U.S. workers and amounted to a “massive redistribution” of U.S. wealth. Trump’s administration last month began the formal process of exiting from the climate accord, drawing fire from allies and foes alike. EU climate commissioner Canete made the comments about a change of stance after meeting with Everett Eissenstat, deputy director of the National Economic Council and deputy assistant to the president for international economic affairs. “Now we don’t see the messages that they are withdrawing from the Paris agreement radically,” Canete said, adding that the countries at Saturday’s meeting agreed not to seek a re-negotiation of the Paris deal.

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Downward volatility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GDP is a lousy measure.

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Earnings of Men (WS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China’s Economy Cools Again (BBG)

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

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

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

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An empire built on war.

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

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

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

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Not really. They’re just chasing illusions.

Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad? (Robert Parry)

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

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

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

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See my article yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Austerity May Be Ahead (K.)

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

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

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

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Sep 132017
 
 September 13, 2017  Posted by at 7:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Eugene Delacroix Greece expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi 1826

 

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, famous for his imbibition capacity and uttering -not necessarily in that order- the legendary words “when it becomes serious, you have to lie”, presented his State of the Union today. Which is of pretty much limited interest because, as Yanis Varoufakis’ book ‘Adults in the Room’ once again confirmed, Juncker is nothing but ventriloquist Angela Merkel’s sock puppet.

But of course he had lofty words galore, about how great Europe is doing, and how that provides a window for more Europe, in multiple dimensions. Juncker envisions a European Minister of Finance (Dutch PM Rutte immediately scorned the idea), and he wants to enlarge the EU by inviting more countries in, like Albania, Montenegro and Serbia (but not Turkey!).

Juncker had negative things to say about Britain and Brexit, about Poland, Prague and Hungary who don’t want to obey the decree about letting in migrants and refugees, and obviously about Donald Trump: Brussels apparently wants ‘to make our planet great again’.

What the likes of Jean-Claude don’t seem to be willing to contemplate, let alone understand or acknowledge, is that the EU is a union of sovereign countries. The meaning of ‘sovereignty’ fully escapes much of the pro-EU crowd. And if they keep that up, it will break the union into pieces.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary must accept their migrant ‘quota’, as decided in Brussels, and that, too, constitutes an infringement on these countries’ sovereignty. And don’t forget, sovereignty is not something that can be divided into separate parts, some of which can be upheld while others are discarded. A country is either sovereign or it is not.

The single euro currency is already shirking awfully close to violating sovereignty, if not passing over an invisible line, and a European Finance Minister would certainly constitute such a violation. At some point, the politicians in all these countries will have to tell their voters that they’re about to surrender -more of- their sovereignty and become citizens of Merkel Land. But they don’t want to do that, because as soon as people would realize this, the pitchforks would come out and the union would be history.

The EU will be able to muddle on for a while longer, but Europe is not at all doing great economically (however, to maintain the illusion ECB head Draghi buys €60 billion a month in ‘assets’), and when the next crisis comes people will demand their sovereignty back. It really is that simple. And what will the negotiations look like to make that happen? 27 times Brexit?

 

The real Europe is not the one Juncker paints a portrait of. The real Europe is Greece. That’s where you can see the economic reality as well as the political one. Greece has no sovereignty left to speak of, despite the fact that it is guaranteed it in EU law. Europe’s political reality is about raw power. About the rich waterboarding the poor, to the point that they are turned from sovereign citizens of their countries into lost souls in debt prisons.

This week, another chapter has been added to the dismal annals of the Greek adventures in the European Union. It’s like the Odyssee, I kid you not. Like the previous chapters, this one will not solve the Greek crisis, or even alleviate it, but instead it will deepen it further, and not a little bit. This chapter concerns the forced auctioning of -real estate- properties.

Not to Greeks, 90% of whom can’t afford to buy anything at all, let alone property, but to foreigners, often institutional investors. At the same time, bad loans, including mortgage loans, will be offloaded for pennies on the dollar to that same class of ‘investors’. Once the Troika is done with this chapter, Greece will have seen capital destruction the likes of which the world has seldom if ever witnessed.

People in the country have a hard time understanding the impact:

Greece Property Auctions Certain To Drive Market Prices Even Lower

Ilias Ziogas, head of property consultancy company NAI Hellas and one of the founding members of the Chartered Surveyors Association, said that the property market is certain to suffer further as a result of the auctions: “The impact on prices will be clearly negative, not because the price of a property will be far lower at the auction than a nearby property, but because it will diminish demand for the neighboring property.”

[..]Giorgos Litsas, head of the GLP Values chartered surveyor company, which cooperates with PQH [..] told Kathimerini that the only way is down for market rates. “I believe that unless there is an unlikely coordination among the parties involved – i.e. the state (tax authorities, social security funds etc.), the banks and the clearing firms – in order to prevent too many properties coming onto the market at the same time, rates will go down by at least 10%.”

He noted that “we estimate the stock of unsold properties of all types comes to 270,000-280,000, in a market with no more than 15,000 transactions per year. Therefore the rise in supply will send prices tumbling.” Yiannis Xylas, founder of Geoaxis surveyors, added, “I fear the auctions will create an oversupply of properties without the corresponding demand, which translates into an immediate drop in rates that may be rapid if one adds the portfolios of bad loans secured on properties that will be sold to foreign funds at a fraction of their price.”

A 10% drop? Excuse me? Even in the center of Athens, rental prices for apartments that are not yet absorbed by Airbnb have plummeted. With so many people making just a few hundred euro a month that is inevitable. You can rent a decent place for €200 a month, and if you keep looking I’m sure you can find one for €100. An 80% drop?! But property prices would only go down by 10% in a market that has 20 times more unsold properties than it sells in a year?

The Troika creditors found they had to deal with attempts to prevent the wholesale fire sale of Greek properties. They now think they’ve found the solution. First, they will force the government to lower official valuations concerning the so-called “primary residence protection”, which protected homes valued at below €300,000 from foreclosure. Second, they will bypass the associations of notaries who refused to cooperate in ‘physical’ auctions, as well as protesters, by doing the fire sale electronically:

E-Auctions Of Foreclosed Property For First Time This Month In Greece

Environment and Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis confirmed the development in statements to a local television station, announcing the relevant justice ministry is ready to begin electronic auctions in the middle of next week.At the same time, Stathakis noted that a law protecting a debtor’s primary residence from creditors will be expanded until the end of 2018. According to reports, the e-auctions will take place every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday over a four-hour period, i.e. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Some 5,000 foreclosed commercial properties will be up for sale by the end of the year, which translates into 1,250 properties per month, on average.

Currently, the primary residence protection against foreclosure extends to properties valued (by the State tax bureau) at under €300,000, a very high threshold that shields the “lion’s share” of mortgaged residential real estate in the country, if judged by current commercial property values in Greece. Creditors and local lenders have called for a decrease in the protection threshold, a prospect that is very likely.

The development is also expected to generate another round of acrimonious political skirmishing, given that both leftist SYRIZA, and its junior coalition partner, the rightist-populist Independent Greeks party, rode to power in January 2015 on a election campaign platform that included an almost universal protection of residential property from bank foreclosures and auctions.

Associations representing notaries – professionals who in Greece are law school graduates specializing in drawing up contracts and maintaining registries of deeds, property transactions, wills etc. – had also blocked old-style auctions from taking place in district courts by ordering their members not to take part. The e-auction process aims to bypass this opposition, as well as disruptions and occupations of courtrooms by anti-austerity protesters.

The claim is that Greek banks must be made healthy again by removing bad loans from their books. The question is if selling both properties and bad loans to foreign institutional investors for pennies on the buck is a healthy way to achieve that. But yeah, if 50% of your outstanding loans are bad, you have a problem. Still, at the same time, the problem with that is that many if not most of those loans have turned sour because of the neverending carrousel of austerity measures unleashed upon the country. It’s a proverbial chicken and egg issue.

If Brussels were serious about Greek sovereignty, it would make sure that Greek homes were to remain in Greek hands. You can’t be sovereign if foreigners own most of your real estate. By bleeding the country dry, and forcing the sale of Greek property to Germans, Americans, Russians and Arabs, the Troika infringes upon Greek sovereignty in ways that will scare the heebees out of other EU nations.

It’s not for nothing that the entire Italian opposition is talking about a parallel currency next to the euro. That is about sovereignty.

5,000 Greek Properties Under the Electronic Auction System by End of 2017

Auctions of foreclosed properties to settle bad debts are seen as key to returning Greek banks to health by helping reduce the burden of non-performing loans. These currently stand at roughly €110 billion, or 50% of the banks’ total loans. Under pressure from its lenders, in the summer of 2016 the Greek government passed measures allowing the sale of delinquent mortgages and small business loans to international funds, a move seen by many as yet another betrayal by the SYRIZA-led government.

Greek banks won’t return to health, they’ll simply shrink the same way the people do who can’t afford to rent a home or eat decent food. Austerity kills entire societies, including banks. If Mario Draghi would decide tomorrow morning to include Greece in his €60 billion a month QE bond-buying program, and Greece could use that money to stop squeezing pensions and wages, and no longer raise taxes and unemployment, both the people AND the banks could return to health. It would take a number of years, but still.

 


Attica! Attica!

 

Whatever you call what happens to Greece, and what’s been happening for nearly 10 years now, whether you call it fiscal waterboarding or Shock Doctrine, it is definitely not something that has a place in a union of sovereign nations bound together in mutual respect and dignity. And that will ensure the demise of that union.

 

Another aspect of the fire sale is the valuation of the properties austerity has caused to crumble (so many buildings in Athens are empty and falling apart, it’s deeply tragic, at times it feels like the entire city is dying). The press calls it a hard task, but that doesn’t quite cover it.

It’s not just about mortgages, many Greeks simply give up their properties because they can’t afford the taxes on them. People that inherit property refuse to accept their inheritance, even if it’s been in their families for generations, and it’s where they grew up. In that sense, it may be good to lower valuations to more realistic levels. But tax revenues will plunge along with the valuations, and the government is already stretched silly. Add a new tax, then?

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task

The government is facing a daunting task in adjusting the so-called objective values (the property rates used for tax purposes) to market levels by the end of the year, as its bailout agreement dictates. The huge slump in transactions and the forced sales of properties due to their owners’ debts do not lead to any safe conclusions for the values per area. One in four sales are conducted with prices that lag the objective value by 60-70%, and the prices of 2008 by 70-80%. The Finance Ministry must overcome all the obstacles to bring to Parliament all the necessary adjustments and regulations.

Moreover, once the objective values are brought in line with market rates, the government will have to maintain the same amount of revenues from the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) either by raising the tax’s rates or by introducing a new tax in the form of the old Large Property Tax.

Furthermore, once the objective values are reduced by 40-50% to match the going prices, banks may see problems with their capital adequacy, as lenders will incur losses by having to revise the collateral they get. Mortgage loans in Greece amount to €59.44 billion, of which 42%, or €25.4 billion are nonperforming.

Yeah, there’s the health of the banks again. And the government. And the people. A wholesale fire sale is the worst possible thing that could happen at this point in time. Greece needs help, stimulus, hope, not more austerity and fire sales. Juncker and his Berlin ventriloquist have this all upside down and backwards, squared. The one thing the EU cannot afford itself to do, is the one thing it engages in.

They may as well pack in the whole thing today, and go home. Actually, that would be by far the best option, because more of this will inevitably lead to the very thing Europe prides itself in preventing for the past 70 years: battle, struggle, war, fighting in the streets, and worse. If the EU cannot show it exists for the good and benefit of its people, it no longer has a reason to exist.

Saving the banks in the richer countries by waterboarding an entire other country is not just the worst thing they could have thought of, it’s entirely unnecessary too. The EU and ECB could easily have saved Greece from 90% of what it has gone through, and will go through going forward, at virtually no cost at all. But yes, German, French, Dutch banks would likely have had to cut the bonuses of their bankers, and their vulture funds couldn’t have snapped up the real estate quite that cheaply.

Summarized: the EU is a disgrace, morally, politically, economically. I know that French President Macron on the one side, and Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement on the other, talk about reforming the EU. But the EU is the mob, and you don’t reform the mob. You dismantle their organization and then you lock them up.

 

 

Sep 132017
 
 September 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Sergio Larraín Valparaiso Chile 1963

 

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)
Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)
US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)
Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)
Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)
JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)
America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)
IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)
UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)
We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)
Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)
China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)
Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

 

 

As EU President Juncker this morning unveils his vision of more Europe all the time, here’s what Europe is really like:

42% of Greek mortgage loans are non-performing. Today’s sale prices are 70-80% lower than in 2008. And that’s before 200-300,000 homes will be forced onto the market this fall.

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)

The government is facing a daunting task in adjusting the so-called objective values (the property rates used for tax purposes) to market levels by the end of the year, as its bailout agreement dictates. The huge slump in transactions and the forced sales of properties due to their owners’ debts do not lead to any safe conclusions for the values per area. One in four sales are conducted with prices that lag the objective value by 60-70%, and the prices of 2008 by 70-80%. The Finance Ministry must overcome all the obstacles to bring to Parliament all the necessary adjustments and regulations.

Moreover, once the objective values are brought in line with market rates, the government will have to maintain the same amount of revenues from the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) either by raising the tax’s rates or by introducing a new tax in the form of the old Large Property Tax. Furthermore, once the objective values are reduced by 40-50% to match the going prices, banks’ may see problems with their capital adequacy, as lenders will incur losses by having to revise the collateral they get. Mortgage loans in Greece amount to €59.44 billion, of which 42%, or €25.4 billion are nonperforming.

Read more …

Forget about more Europe, or you’ll wind up with a whole lot less Europe.

Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)

Technical experts representing the country’s creditors started visiting the country’s ministries in Athens on Monday, paving the way for the third bailout review, which has long ceased to be viewed as a simple matter and is increasingly burdened with problems. Pressure for a satisfactory conclusion to the review will grow with the planned visit on September 25 of Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who will meet with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. Responding to a question by Kathimerini, Dijsselbloem’s spokesman said that the head of the Eurogroup will discuss eurozone issues and certainly the progress of the adjustment program. Government officials estimate that the discussion on the course of the review and the Greek program may be combined with the expiry of Dijsselbloem’s mandate at the Eurogroup chair at year-end.

The Dutch minister – whose last visit in Athens and his meeting with his counterpart at the time, Yanis Varoufakis, was quite eventful – would obviously like to leave on a positive note in regards to the Greek program. It has been rumored that he may seek another office in the eurozone. Sources from Brussels also say that the top European Commission’s top representative, Declan Costello, will also be coming to Athens in the next few days. In addition to the main cluster of 113 prior actions, of which 95 should be implemented by year-end, the creditors have expressed their objections and doubts about recent legislative moves made by the government, such as the labor law passed last Thursday.

Sources say that the creditors have also expressed concerns about clauses related to the reduced value-added tax on agricultural supplies, the opening up of closed professions, as well as the civil service. A large number of the 95 prior actions the government must implement in record time have a high degree of difficulty, and government officials believe this may require revisions on family benefits, the operation of the sell-off hyperfund and its subsidiaries, the opening up of the energy market, etc.

Read more …

How would the US pay for all the shiny trinkets?

US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)

In an unexpectedly strong diplomatic escalation, one day after China agreed to vote alongside the US (and Russia) during Monday’s United National Security Council vote in passing the watered down North Korea sanctions, the US warned that if China were to violate or fail to comply with the newly imposed sanctions against Kim’s regime, it could cut off Beijing’s access to both the US financial system as well as the “international dollar system.” Speaking at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference on Tuesday, Steven Mnuchin said that China had agreed to “historic” North Korean sanctions during Monday’s United Nations vote. “We worked very closely with the U.N. I’m very pleased with the resolution that was just passed. This is some of the strongest items. We now have more tools in our toolbox, and we will continue to use them and put additional sanctions on North Korea until they stop this behavior.”

In response, Andrew Ross Sorkin countered that “we haven’t been able to move the needle on China, which seems to be the real mover on this, in terms of being able to apply the real pressure. What do you think the issue is? What is the problem?” The stunner was revealed in Mnuchin’s answer: “I think we have absolutely moved the needle on China. I think what they agreed to yesterday was historic. I’d also say I put sanctions on a major Chinese bank.That’s the first time that’s ever been done. And if China doesn’t follow these sanctions, we will put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system. And that’s quite meaningful.”

And to underscore his point, the Treasury Secretary also said that “in North Korea, economic warfare works. I made it clear that the President was strongly considering and we sent a message that anybody that wanted to trade with North Korea, we would consider them not trading with us. We can put on economic sanctions to stop people trading.” In other words, to force compliance with the North Korean sanctions, Mnuchin threatened Beijing with not only trade war, but also a lock out from the dollar system, i.e. SWIFT, something the US did back in 2014 and 2015 when it blocked off several Russian banks as relations between the US and Russia imploded. Of course, whether the US would be willing to go so far as to use the nuclear option, and pull the dollar plug on its biggest trade partner, in the process immediately unleashing an economic depression domestically and globally is a different matter.

So far Washington has been reluctant to impose economic sanctions on China over concerns of possible retaliatory measures from Beijing and the potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy. Washington runs a $350 billion annual trade deficit with Beijing, while the PBOC also holds over $1 trillion in US debt. Ironically, the biggest hurdle to the implementation of the just passed sanctions may be the president himself. “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. “I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

Read more …

Xi demands peace for the Party Congress. Brokerages have been told: no holidays during Congress.

Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)

China’s yuan fixing is back in focus, with a run of surprises moving the market in recent days. The central bank set its reference rate – which limits onshore moves to 2% on either side – at a weaker than expected level for the third day in a row Wednesday. The rates, and the removal of a reserve requirement rule on the trading of foreign-exchange forwards, are fueling bets that authorities want to limit gains after the onshore yuan surged more than 4% against the dollar in the three months through Sept. 7. The People’s Bank of China set Wednesday’s fixing at 6.5382 per dollar, compared with the average forecast of 6.5355 in a Bloomberg survey of 19 traders and analysts. The authorities have had greater opportunity to sway the fixing either way since May, with the introduction of a “counter-cyclical factor” to the rate-setting mechanism.

“The PBOC still wants a relatively stable yuan,” said Nathan Chow at DBS. “Even if it strengthens or weakens, the pace needs to be controlled, and in an orderly and gradual manner. This will be easier for exporters to manage risks. The market expectation is that there should be no big changes or surprises before the party congress next month.” The yuan’s rally began to falter on Friday as the removal of the reserve rule made it less expensive to bet on yuan declines. The monetary authority weakened Tuesday’s fixing by the most in eight months following an overnight surge in a gauge of the greenback, pushing the onshore spot rate lower.

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“There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas..”

Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)

China’s move last week to ban initial coin offerings (ICO) has caused chaos among start-ups looking to raise money through the novel fund-raising scheme, prompting halts, about-turns and re-thinks. China is cracking down on fundraising through launches of token-based digital currencies, targeting ICOs in a market that has ballooned this year in what has been a bonanza for digital currency entrepreneurs. The boom has fueled a jump in the value of cryptocurrencies, but raised fears of a potential bubble. “This is not unlike the dotcom bubble of 2000,” said a partner at a venture capital fund in Shanghai, who didn’t want to be named because of the issue’s sensitivity. “There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas, and these will eventually be weeded out. But even from the big dotcom bust, you still have gems.”

“One of the reasons regulators stepped in was that the ICO fever extended beyond the traditional crypto community. The timing was an attempt to pre-empt this before it goes into a much broader mass market in China,” the partner said. Investors in China contributed up to 2.6 billion yuan ($394 million) worth of cryptocurrencies through ICOs in January-June, according to a state-run media report citing National Committee of Experts on Internet Financial Security Technology data. Pre-ICO roadshows featuring elaborate standing room-only presentations at 5-star hotels drew a diverse crowd, including grandmothers – a likely tipping point for regulators. The hype and subsequent crackdown came as China focuses on economic and social stability ahead of next month’s congress of the Communist Party, a once-in-five-years event.

Beijing is also waging a broader campaign against fraudulent fundraising and speculative investment, which analysts attribute to China’s underdeveloped financial regulation and lack of legitimate investment options. While several start-ups said the exuberance had got out of control and they had expected Beijing to act, they said last week’s move panicked investors and caused confusion.

Read more …

Worse than tulip bulbs.

JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)

Bitcoin “is a fraud” and will blow up, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said on Tuesday. Speaking at a bank investor conference in New York, Dimon said, “The currency isn’t going to work. You can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart.” Dimon said that if any JPMorgan traders were trading the crypto-currency, “I would fire them in a second, for two reasons: It is against our rules and they are stupid, and both are dangerous.” Dimon’s comments come as the bitcoin, a virtual currency not backed by any government, has more than quadrupled in value since December to more than $4,100.

[..] “It is worse than tulips bulbs,” Dimon said, referring to a famous market bubble from the 1600s. JPMorgan and many of its competitors, however, have invested millions of dollars in blockchain, the technology that tracks bitcoin transactions. Blockchain is a shared ledger of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet. Dimon said such uses will roll out over coming years as it is adapted to different business lines. Financial institutions are hoping blockchain can be adapted to simplify and lower the costs of processes such as securities settlement, loan trading and international money transfers. Dimon predicted big losses for bitcoin buyers. “Don’t ask me to short it. It could be at $20,000 before this happens, but it will eventually blow up.” he said.

Read more …

From Reagan’s Budget Director.

America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)

Maybe the Democrats did win the 2016 election. Or at least the the Deep State and its accomplices among the beltway political class, K-Street lobbies and the media did. That’s because the media won a giant victory against something they deplore and despise more than anything else — the public debt ceiling. They sanctimoniously admonish that it’s a relic of the nation’s fiscally benighted past. They operate on a belief that this is an episodic tendency to threaten America’s credit and to offer Capitol Hill an opening to grandstand about the fiscal verities is a blight on orderly governance. So the Donald’s latest burst of impetuosity — agreeing with Sen. Schumer to permanently abolish the public debt ceiling — has descended on the beltway like manna from heaven.

Not Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter or even the Great Texas Porker, Lyndon Johnson, dared to utter the thought of it — at least not in polite company. Suddenly, and notwithstanding all the good he has done disrupting the status quo, the Donald has become the foremost enemy of America’s very financial survival. The Federal budget is a Fiscal Doomsday Machine. The depository of American wars and entitlements have run rampant. Under the pile drivers of a global empire and the retiring baby boom, it is rapidly propelling the nation toward fiscal catastrophe. That grim outcome is virtually guaranteed if the only remaining safety brake — the debt ceiling — is summarily abolished. Due to entitlements, debt service and the slow pipeline of appropriated spending there is no such thing as an annual Federal budget or accountability for how much Uncle Sam spends and borrows.

Instead, the $4.1 trillion that Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the Federal government will spend in FY 2018, and the $563 billion it will borrow, reflects the dead hand of the past. Entitlements and other mandatory spending alone is projected to reach $2.566 trillion or 63% of total FY 2018 outlays. Another $307 billion will be required for interest on the nation’s $20 trillion public debt, while upwards of half the $1.22 trillion for so-called “discretionary” or appropriated programs also reflects funds appropriated years ago. Altogether, $3.5 trillion, or 85% of outlays, will be essentially baked into the cake before a single Congressional vote is taken on anything regarding the FY 2018 budget.

Read more …

They just want to lend more.

IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)

The IMF is resisting putting a moratorium on Barbuda’s sovereign debt repayments in the wake of the devastation left by Hurricane Irma on the tiny Caribbean island. Barbuda is said to have lost around 90% of its structures in the wake of the storm and the national repair and reconstruction bill has been estimated at $150m. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has also said that around half or the island’s population of 1,600 is now homeless. Yet Antigua and Barbuda have debt with the IMF of around $15.8m and a coalition of US faith institutions have been calling on the Fund to pause the repayments of states battered by the hurricane. However, the IMF’s special representative to the UN, Christopher Lane, reportedly suggested late last week that the Fund would rather lend more money to the island, rather than stop collecting the repayments due.

“Our general view is that we’d rather put new money in than to have moratoria,” he said, according to Court House News. Stressing that were technical and political difficulties in simply stopping the debt collection he said: “We borrow money from our members who lend. So we’d have to get agreement from the lending parties.” “We might borrow money from the United States and loan that to Antigua. If we don’t get paid back on time, we’d have to make an arrangement with the source of the funds themselves. It gets a bit arcane, but there’s a number of constraints on how we operate. We’re like a bank. We borrow and lend.”

In a letter to the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on 7 September the Jubilee USA network wrote: “We invite the IMF to implement an immediate moratorium on debt payments for countries severely impacted by the Category 5 storm until they have rebuilt and recovered.” “For example, the nation of Antigua and Barbuda has almost $3m in debt payments due to the Fund today and a debt payment moratorium could immediately be put into rebuilding Barbuda where almost the entire population is homeless.” The group also urged that further IMF reconstruction payments to Barbuda, and other affected islands, should be in the form of grants, rather than loans.

Read more …

All major banks are.

UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)

The UK’s high street banks are an accident waiting to happen and could struggle in another financial crisis, according to a report published on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the run on Northern Rock. The report criticises the annual health checks – stress tests – that have been conducted by the Bank of England since the crisis and concludes that the methodology used by Threadneedle Street is flawed and the tests not gruelling enough. [..] Kevin Dowd, a professor of finance and economics at Durham University and a long-standing critic of the stress tests, said the Bank does not use the correct measures to assess the health of the banking system. Dowd is also a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a rightwing thinktank. His analysis – which the Bank of England has previously rejected – focuses on the health check of the major lenders published last November.

Those tests were based on a number of hypothetical scenarios including house prices falling and the global economy contracting by 1.9%. Royal Bank of Scotland failed the test and Barclays and Standard Chartered would both have struggled to cope. Dowd argued that the scenarios were “hardly doomsday” and disputes the way banks’ capital strength is measured. “The stress tests are about as useful as a cancer test that cannot detect cancer. They seek to demonstrate a financial resilience on the part of UK banks that simply isn’t there,” said Dowd in the report. “Our banking system is an accident waiting to happen.” The Bank uses the value of assets as calculated by the banks rather than their value on the markets which, he argued, would give a more accurate assessment of their financial health. “It is disturbing that 10 years on from Northern Rock, the best measures of leverage – those based on market values – indicate that UK banks are even more leveraged than they were then,” said Dowd.

Read more …

“American warfare in 7 different countries..”

We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)

As Congress takes up the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will insist it vote on my amendment to sunset the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force. Why? Because these authorizations to use military force are inappropriately being used to justify American warfare in 7 different countries. Sunsetting both AUMFs will force a debate on whether we continue the Afghanistan war, the Libya war, the Yemen war, the Syria war, and other interventions. Our military trains our soldiers to be focused and disciplined, yet the politicians who send them to fight have for years ignored those traits when developing our foreign policy. The result? Trillions spent in seemingly endless conflicts in every corner of the globe, while we find ourselves 16 years into the war in Afghanistan wondering what our purpose there even is any more, or if we’ll ever bring our troops home.

If we don’t get this rudderless foreign policy under control now, we’ll still be asking the same questions another 16 years down the road. It’s time to demand the policymakers take their own jobs as seriously as the men and women we ask to risk it all for our nation. Doing so means restoring constitutional checks and balances. Congress has no greater responsibility than defending our country, and the Founders entrusted it with the power of declaring war because they wanted such a weighty decision to be thoroughly debated by the legislature instead of unilaterally made by the Executive branch. Yet Congress has largely abdicated its role anyways, and its sidekick status was plainly evident when former President Obama proposed a new AUMF for the fight against ISIS while insisting he really had all the authority he needed – it being more of a “wouldn’t it be nice” afterthought than an acknowledgement of any required step.

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Not a lot of insight into what’s wrong with US Democrats.

Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)

When U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ introduces his Medicare-for-All legislation on Wednesday, advocates of a single-payer, government-sponsored health care hope it will be the end of a bitterly fought policy battle that has roiled the Democratic Party for generations. Since Democratic President Harry Truman first proposed a government-sponsored universal health care system in 1945 — and since a Democratic president and Democratic congress first enacted Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s — progressives have hoped that the United States would follow other industrialized countries by guaranteeing health care to all citizens. Indeed, many of the original proponents of Medicare hoped the system would ultimately be expanded to cover the entire country — as former Social Security commissioner Robert Ball wrote, “We expected Medicare to be a first step toward universal national health insurance.”

And although the intervening years saw the rise of Republican President Ronald Reagan, who derided “socialized medicine,” some Democrats continued to champion the idea. The party’s 1992 presidential contender Jerry Brown ran for the White House promising to support single-payer. But when Bill Clinton defeated him and won the presidency, the Clinton administration opted to back health care reforms that preserved the existing private insurance system — even as Hillary Clinton made favorable comments about single-payer. A generation later, Barack Obama also retreated from single-payer, and instead pushed the Affordable Care Act, which subsidizes the private insurance system.

Now, things appear once again to be shifting. Even as Sanders has declared that his Medicare-for-All bill is not a litmus test, Democrats from across the party’s ideological spectrum are flocking to his legislation. On the progressive side, Democratic senators such as Elizabeth Warren (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Al Franken (MN) have signed onto the legislation. Within the party establishment, former Vice President Al Gore has expressed support, as has conservative former Sen. Max Baucus — one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act whom single-payer advocates saw as a nemesis. With polls showing rising support for government-sponsored health care, the party’s long civil war over the issue may be over, potentially allowing a more unified party to campaign on Medicare-for-All in 2018.

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China has hardly enough land to feed its people.

China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)

China plans to roll out the use of ethanol in gasoline nationally by 2020, state media reported on Wednesday citing a government document, as Beijing intensifies its push to boost industrial demand for corn and clean up choking smog. It’s the first time the government has set a targeted timeline for pushing the biofuel, known as E10 and containing 10% corn, across the world’s largest car market, although it has yet to announce a formal policy. Mandates requiring that a minimum amount of biofuel must be blended into fuel for the nation’s cars, similar to the United States and Brazil, are currently set at a provincial level. “This news has greatly boosted confidence inside the industry,” said Michael Mao, analyst with Sublime China Information, adding that without government support ethanol would likely be too expensive to survive in the market.

Shares in biofuel producers rallied on the news, with Shandong Longlive Bio-Technology Co surging 10%, on track for its biggest one-day gain since December 2015. Major producer COFCO Biochemical Anhui Co, a listed unit of state-owned grains trader COFCO, was up almost 6%. A renewed effort to promote the nation’s fledging biofuels industry will be a further blow to major oil producers. On Saturday, the government said it has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels. The news comes after the government said late last year it would aim to double ethanol output by 2020 amid growing pressure to whittle down mountains of ageing corn in state warehouses.

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Some good points, but needs much more work.

Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

There was “a flaw” in the theory: this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had proved wrong. Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting some time. For, as in Greenspan’s theory of the financial system, there cannot be a problem. The market is meant to be self-correcting: that’s what the theory says. As Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required.

Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided. But there’s a flaw. Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo. The unregulated market is as powerless in the face of these forces as the people in Florida who resolved to fight Hurricane Irma by shooting it. It is the wrong tool, the wrong approach, the wrong system. There are two inherent problems with the pricing of the living world and its destruction. The first is that it depends on attaching a financial value to items – such as human life, species and ecosystems – that cannot be redeemed for money. The second is that it seeks to quantify events and processes that cannot be reliably predicted.

[..] A system that depends on growth can survive only if we progressively lose our ability to make reasoned decisions. After our needs, then strong desires, then faint desires have been met, we must keep buying goods and services we neither need nor want, induced by marketing to abandon our discriminating faculties, and to succumb instead to impulse. [..] Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a byproduct of this system: it is a necessary element.


Illustration: Sebastien Thibault

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Sep 122017
 
 September 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Juan Gris Grapes 1913

 

People ‘Fighting In The Streets’ For Last Remaining Food In Caribbean (Ind.)
20 Miles Made A $150 Billion Difference In Hurricane Irma’s Damage Bill (BBG)
The Role Of Climate Change In Extreme Weather Events (Rapier)
Stormy Weather (Davis)
US National Debt Tops $20 Trillion For First Time In History (Fox)
None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See (Steve Keen)
Behind the Potemkin Village (Hussman)
Market Cap to GDP: An Updated Look at the Buffett Valuation Indicator (AdPe)
After Roads And Railways, China’s Silk Road Dealmakers Eye Financial Firms (R.)
China Is Performing A High-Wire Balancing Act On The Yuan (CNBC)
2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart (Visual C.)
Italy’s Main Opposition Parties Call For New Currency To Flank Euro (EN)
UK Landmark EU Withdrawal Bill Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle (Ind.)
Greek Taxpayers Failed To Pay €2 Billion In July (K.)
Austerity Is Laying Waste To Athens’ Architectural Heritage (G.)
Greece Ranked As The Worst Country To Live As An Expat (K.)

 

 

They could see Irma coming a week ahead. And nobody thought of storing extra food and water on the island? And police or soldiers? There are 70,000 people living on the combined St. Martin/St. Maarten island, and there were 6,000 American tourists alone -plus many others. St. Maarten has a ‘status aparte’ in the Dutch Kingdom: it’s self-governing. So much so, though, that no help can arrive until the Governor has explicitly asked for it. But all communication had broken down for days… Smart cookies.

People ‘Fighting In The Streets’ For Last Remaining Food In Caribbean (Ind.)

At dawn in St. Martin, people began to gather, quietly planning for survival after Hurricane Irma. They started with the grocery stores, scavenging what they needed for sustenance: water, crackers, fruit. But by nightfall on Thursday, what had been a search for food took a more menacing turn, as groups of looters, some of them armed, swooped in and took whatever of value was left: electronics, appliances and vehicles. “All the food is gone now,” Jacques Charbonnier, a 63-year-old resident of St. Martin, said in an interview on Sunday. “People are fighting in the streets for what is left.” In the few, long days since the storm Irma pummelled the north east Caribbean, killing more than two dozen people and levelling 90% of the buildings on some islands, the social fabric has begun to fray in some of the hardest-hit communities.

Residents of St. Martin, and elsewhere in the region, spoke about a general disintegration of law and order as survivors struggled in the face of severe food and water shortages, and the absence of electricity and phone service. As reports of increasing desperation continued to emerge from the region over the weekend, governments in Britain, France and the Netherlands, which oversee territories in the region, stepped up their response. They defended themselves against criticism that their reaction had been too slow, and insufficient. Both the French and Dutch governments said they were sending in extra troops to restore order, along with the aid that was being airlifted into the region. After an emergency meeting with his government on Sunday, President Emmanuel Macron of France said he would travel on Tuesday to St. Martin, an overseas French territory.

Macron also announced late on Saturday that he would double France’s troop deployment to the region, to 2,200 from 1,100; officials say the increase is in part a response to the mayhem on St. Martin. St. Maarten, the Dutch territorial side of the island, which uses a different spelling, has also experienced widespread looting of shops, though the problem was reported to have subsided by Sunday, though not completely. “There was some looting in the first few days, but the Dutch marines and police are on the street to prevent it,” Paul De Windt, publisher of The Daily Herald, a newspaper in St. Maarten, said Sunday. “Some people steal luxury things and booze, but a lot of people are stealing water and biscuits.”

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The Bermuda High.

20 Miles Made A $150 Billion Difference In Hurricane Irma’s Damage Bill (BBG)

Twenty miles may have made a $150 billion difference. Estimates for the damage Hurricane Irma would inflict on Florida kept mounting as it made its devastating sweep across the Caribbean. It was poised to be the costliest U.S. storm on record. Then something called the Bermuda High intervened and tripped it up. “We got very lucky,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If Irma had passed 20 miles west of Marco Island instead of striking it on Sunday, “the damage would have been astronomical.” By one estimate, the total cost dropped to about $50 billion Monday from $200 billion over the weekend. The state escaped the worst because Irma’s powerful eye shifted westward, away from the biggest population center of sprawling Miami-Dade County.

The credit goes to the Bermuda High, which acts like a sort of traffic cop for the tropical North Atlantic Ocean. The circular system hovering over Bermuda jostled Irma onto northern Cuba Saturday, where being over land sapped it of some power, and then around the tip of the Florida peninsula, cutting down on storm surge damage on both coasts of the state. “The Bermuda High is finite and it has an edge, which was right over Key West,” Masters said. Irma caught the edge and turned north. For 10 days, computer-forecast models had struggled with how the high was going to push Irma around and when it was going to stop, said Peter Sousounis, director of meteorology at AIR Worldwide. “I have never watched a forecast more carefully than Irma. I was very surprised not by how one model was going back and forth – but by how all the models were going back and forth.”

For 10 days, computer-forecast models had struggled with how the high was going to push Irma around and when it was going to stop, said Peter Sousounis, director of meteorology at AIR Worldwide. “I have never watched a forecast more carefully than Irma. I was very surprised not by how one model was going back and forth – but by how all the models were going back and forth.” “With Irma, little wobbles made a huge difference,”said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. With a tightly-wound storm like Andrew coming straight into the state, “a 30-mile wobble isn’t going to matter.” Still, when it comes to damage, “Irma may bump Andrew,” Watson said. The company’s most recent estimate is for $49.5 billion in Irma costs for Florida; Andrew’s were an inflation-adjusted $47.8 billion.

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Too many voices blaming Irma on climate change. Don’t make claims you can’t prove, it doesn’t help. Our former Oil Drum co-collaborator Robert Rapier takes a careful approach.

The Role Of Climate Change In Extreme Weather Events (Rapier)

First, is the climate changing? Almost everyone would agree that this is the case. What some would dispute is whether human activity is a significant contributor. I accept that it is, but I won’t attempt to make that case here. If you don’t accept that human activity is impacting the climate, I won’t be able to convince you in a short article here. But let’s agree that the climate is changing. There are multiple lines of evidence that indicate that the earth is warming. One piece of evidence is that the surface temperature of the oceans is climbing. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has determined that since 1880, the average global surface temperature of the ocean has increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (°F). Relative to the average temperature from 1971 to 2000, the surface temperature over the past five years has risen about 0.5°F.

These measurements aren’t controversial, as they have been confirmed by many different studies. But the temperature change varies depending on where it is measured. For example off the coast of Greenland, the surface temperature has actually declined by about 1°F. But according to data from NOAA and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), across much of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the surface temperature has risen 1.5°F-2.0°F since 1900. Again, you might dispute the reason, but there is really no disputing the measurements (other than perhaps the magnitude of the increase). There are some effects we can expect from a warmer ocean surface. I will discuss two, that are based on physics. Warmer water will lead to greater evaporation, which should show up as higher humidity in the atmosphere.

That has been observed, although as with the ocean surface temperature, some areas have seen humidity decline. The net effect is that more water vapor in the air means more rainfall on average. This helps explain why Houston, for example, could experience three “500-year” flood events in three years. Since there’s more water in the atmosphere, the probability of these heavy rainfall events has increased. In other words, they aren’t really “500-year” floods anymore. Normal has shifted. Some areas are going to experience more rain and some less, but on average precipitation is on the rise. The other impact of warmer ocean surfaces is stronger hurricanes. Hurricanes (as well as typhoons and cyclones elsewhere in the world) are massive heat engines that convert warm water into strong winds.

Hurricanes are fueled by warm seawater, which is why you see them dissipate when they move over land, or into cooler ocean waters. Thus, it would be expected that we would see stronger storms as a result of warmer ocean surfaces. That was certainly the case with Hurricane Irma, which set a record with top winds of 185 miles per hour (mph) for 37 hours. While some are quick to blame climate change any time there is an extreme weather event, these events have been taking place throughout history. It is wrong to blame any particular event on climate change, but the physics of why we can expect some of these events to become more extreme is well understood – even if some still reject that human activity is driving it.

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Great piece: “America is a delusion, the grandest one of all”

Stormy Weather (Davis)

In Capitalism: A Ghost Story, 2015, Arundhati Roy writes, “the middle class in India live side-by-side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeist of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 250,000 debt ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for them”. Is it any different in the good ol’ U.S. of A? Other than clarifying class-calibration whereby India’s emergent middle class can be equated with America’s mostly white ten-percenters, or upper-class, I suspect not. Indeed, as the precipitated waters of the gulf coast inundate the sunken oil and chemical lands of Texas and Louisiana, we are experiencing our own sub-continental, Bangladeshi nightmare.

The spirits of dead dinosaurs have arisen to re-arrange geographies and elide the physical certainties that used to exist between solid and liquid, between water and land, between salt water and fresh, and between the potable and the poisoned. Nature and Society now share equal billing. The elephant of climate change trumpets, as it rampages through what we used to think of as our room. Here and elsewhere, we are castaways amidst the hobgoblins of our own horror show. It is not only the demonic cries of over 100,000 suicides amongst Vietnam Vets and a further 25,000 ex-service men and women dead by their own hand since 2012 – from our more recent wars of empire – that we hear: the psychic airwaves tremor not only with their suffering, their sacrifices and their condemnations but also, as Roy writes of her country, are rent with screams from our own mountain-top lobotomies, sickened streams, clear-cut forests and our daily extinctions.

That pounding rhythm you may hear is propelled by the sonorous bass notes of our deeply troubled history. We too have a nether world populated with those trapped in the purgatory of three jobs, a superannuated car and sub-standard housing; or of those a step below them, who roam the black-top parking-lots and streets amidst shuttered malls and fast-food emporia, car-lots and other materially manifest survivors of our digital age; or lurk at night in the shadows between the mercury vapor security lights and surveillance cameras, thinking idle thoughts, perhaps, of what makes America great or, more pressingly, of where they might spend the night.

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And counting.

US National Debt Tops $20 Trillion For First Time In History (Fox)

The national debt surpassed $20 trillion Opens a New Window. for the first time in U.S. history on Friday. According to data released Monday, the total national debt climbed about $318 billion to $20.162 trillion as of Friday, the same day President Donald Trump signed a bill suspending the debt ceiling and allowing the federal borrowing limit to extend until Dec. 8. The deal Trump signed, which also allocated more than $15 billion in disaster aid for Hurricane Harvey, was passed 316-90 in a House vote; all opposed to the measure were Republicans. “Surpassing $20 trillion in debt is the latest indicator of our nation’s dire fiscal condition,” Michael A. Peterson, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, said in a statement.

“As a result of our inability to address our growing debt, we are now on pace to spend $6 trillion on interest alone over the next 10 years.” The U.S. debt ceiling had been capped at around $19.84 trillion since March 15. The 2017 fiscal year budget expires at the end of September. “America’s debt is projected to grow and compound rapidly in the years ahead. Our budget deficit is on track to exceed $1 trillion annually in just five years,” Peterson said. “The good news is that many solutions exist. In the coming months, Congress and the administration have a critical opportunity to enact fiscally responsible tax reform that grows the economy, not the debt.”

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As you know by now, it’s not national debt that is most important. Private debt is.

None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See (Steve Keen)

The phrase “There are none so blind as those who will not see” normally turns up in religion, but there is no other way to describe the dominant sect in economics today as wilfully blind. One decade after the crisis, most still repeat their mantra that, though a Nobel Laureate had asserted in 2003 that such crises were now impossible, the one that occurred in 2008 could not have been predicted. Nonsense. The data that showed what would cause the crisis, and arguments by empirically oriented economists, were available before it hit: there was a runaway bubble in asset markets caused by too much credit being created by the banks. Credit—your capacity to buy something with money borrowed from a bank, rather than from your own cash—is exactly equal to the increase in private debt every year.

The bigger this is compared to GDP, the more the economy is dependent on credit; and the bigger the accumulated debt is when compared to GDP, the more likely it is that a reduction in credit will cause an economic crisis. The data, if you look at it, is incontrovertible—especially if you consider the epicentre of the 2008 crisis, the USA, in historical context. The Great Depression was preceded by a margin-debt-fuelled bubble on the US stockmarket, with private debt blowing out during the crisis and then collapsing. That’s exactly what happened in the Great Recession.

Private debt affects the economy in two ways: the higher debt is, relative to GDP, the more that a change in credit impacts on total demand. And credit adds to total demand by allowing people in the aggregate to spend more than just the money they currently have—with the price of leading to a higher level of debt in the future. The correlation between credit and employment is staggering—not just because it is so big (the correlation coefficient, for those who follow these things, is 0.8), but because according to mainstream economists like Ben Bernanke, the correlation should be close to zero.

Bernanke, who got the job as Chairman on the Federal Reserve because he was supposed to be the expert on what caused the Great Depression, didn’t even consider similar data that was available at the time, nor the “Debt Deflation Theory of Great Depressions” put forward by Irving Fisher at the time, because he believed that credit was a “pure redistribution”, and “pure redistributions should have no significant macro¬economic effects” (Bernanke 2000, p. 24). Empirically, this is manifestly untrue, but economists turn a blind eye (and not a Nelsonian one) to this data because it doesn’t suit their preferred model of how banks operate. They model them “as if” they are intermediaries who introduce savers to borrowers, not as originators of both money and debt.

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Growth keeps shrinking.

Behind the Potemkin Village (Hussman)

Market returns don’t just emerge from nowhere. They are driven by the sum of three factors: growth in fundamentals, income from cash distributions, and changes in valuations (the ratio of prices to fundamentals). Since 1960, for example, the S&P 500 has enjoyed an average rate of return of about 10% annually, which derives from three main components: growth in earnings (and the overall economy) averaging about 6.3% annually, dividend income averaging about 3.0% annually, and a gradual increase in price/earnings multiples that has contributed about 0.7% annually to total returns. One can also make a similar attribution using other fundamentals.

For example, the 10% annual total return of the S&P 500 since 1960 also derives from growth in S&P 500 revenues averaging 5.7% annually since the 2000 peak, dividend income averaging about 3.0% annually, and a much steeper increase in the S&P 500 price/revenue ratio contributing 1.3% annually (taking the current price/revenue multiple to the same level observed at the 2000 market peak). Consider these drivers today. Combining depressed growth prospects with an S&P 500 dividend yield of just 2.0%, the likelihood is that over the coming 10-12 years, even a run-of-the-mill reversion of valuations will wipe out the entire contribution of growth and dividend income, resulting in zero or negative total returns in the S&P 500 Index on that horizon, with an estimated interim market loss on the order of -60%.

Here are the facts: over the past several decades, due to a combination of demographic factors and persistently slowing productivity growth, the core drivers of real U.S. GDP growth have declined toward just 1% annually, with a likely decline below that level in the coming 10-12 years. Indeed, in the absence of any recession, U.S. nonfarm productivity growth has averaged just 0.8% annually since 2010 and 0.6% over the past 5 years, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates labor force growth of just 0.3% annually in the coming years (which would be matched by similar growth in employment only if the unemployment rate does not rise from the current level of 4.3%). Add 0.6% to 0.3%, and the baseline expectation for real GDP growth is just 0.9%.

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Thanks QE!

Market Cap to GDP: An Updated Look at the Buffett Valuation Indicator (AdPe)

Market Cap to GDP is a long-term valuation indicator that has become popular in recent years, thanks to Warren Buffett. Back in 2001 he remarked in a Fortune Magazine interview that “it is probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.” The four valuation indicators we track in our monthly valuation overview offer a long-term perspective of well over a century. The raw data for the “Buffett indicator” only goes back as far as the middle of the 20th century. Quarterly GDP dates from 1947, and the Fed’s balance sheet has quarterly updates beginning in Q4 1951. With an acknowledgment of this abbreviated timeframe, let’s take a look at the plain vanilla quarterly ratio with no effort to interpolate monthly data.

The denominator in the charts below now includes the Second Estimate of Q2 GDP. The latest numerator value is extrapolated based on the quarterly change in the Wilshire 5000. The current reading is 131.6%, up from 128.7% the previous quarter and an interim high. Here is a more transparent alternate snapshot over a shorter timeframe using the Wilshire 5000 Full Cap Price Index divided by GDP. We’ve used the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s FRED repository as the source for the stock index numerator (WILL5000PRFC). The Wilshire Index is a more intuitive broad metric of the market than the Fed’s rather esoteric “Nonfinancial corporate business; corporate equities; liability, Level”. This Buffett variant is also at its interim high.

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China is exporting its Ponzi. China is having a hard time attracting international institutions to get involved” in Belt and Road projects, Huo said. “If that persists it will become an one-man show, which is not sustainable.”

After Roads And Railways, China’s Silk Road Dealmakers Eye Financial Firms (R.)

After ports and industrial parks, the dealmakers leading China’s trillion-dollar push to build a modern Silk Road are turning to the financial sector, targeting Europe’s banks, insurers and asset managers to tap funds and expertise. Last week, sources familiar with the matter said two of China’s most acquisitive conglomerates, HNA and Anbang, had separately considered bidding for the German insurer Allianz. Neither of the two made an offer, but the talks marked a new level of ambition for China: Allianz is a German stalwart, a pillar for local pensions and a global powerhouse with €1.9 trillion ($2.3 trillion) of assets under management. HNA already owns a stake of just under 10% in Deutsche Bank.

Bankers, lawyers and company executives say more financial deals will come, led by state behemoths such as China Life and China Everbright, as well as private firms including Legend Holdings and China Minsheng Financial. “The message from the regulators is clear – they want these companies to go out and get access to large amount of funds and expertise,” said a financial M&A adviser at a global bank, who works with Chinese regulators and companies. “They would look very favorably at transactions that have some links to the Belt and Road program, because the country needs to boost its financial muscle,” the banker said. But Beijing “will ensure the excesses of the past couple of years do not happen again.” The banker said his firm was currently working on several “mid-sized to large” foreign financial takeover deals.

[..] “China is having a hard time attracting international institutions to get involved” in Belt and Road projects, Huo said. “If that persists it will become an one-man show, which is not sustainable.” [..] Chinese companies will not be expanding into the financial services sector at will, of course. Acquisitions of stakes in foreign banks – never mind full ownership – are already closely monitored by overseas regulators. But while banks may be tough targets, bankers and executives say Chinese institutions and conglomerates could instead target asset management, insurance or wealth managers. China Everbright plans to allocate $1.5 billion of its 2017 spending to the purchase of a fund manager, private bank or insurer overseas to help it raise cash more easily and extend its presence abroad.

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What happened to currency manipulation? “Policymakers have demonstrated that they have more control over the exchange rate in the short run than many people believed..”

Or is it the US who’s the manipulator these days?

China Is Performing A High-Wire Balancing Act On The Yuan (CNBC)

China’s yuan weakened against the U.S. dollar on Monday after the government scrapped measures meant to prop up the currency. The central bank removed reserve requirements for financial institutions settling currency forwards, and for foreign banks holding yuan deposits offshore, reversing actions put in place a few years ago to quash depreciation pressures. The actions were always meant to be temporary and scaled back when the yuan regained firmer footing. But the currency’s immediate market reaction to the rule unwinding is a reminder of how precarious Beijing’s high-wire balancing act really is when it comes to the yuan. “Policymakers have demonstrated that they have more control over the exchange rate in the short run than many people believed,” wrote Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, in a note.

“But they still struggle to manage the expectations that determine medium-term exchange rate pressures.” That’s because China is balancing a number of priorities when it comes to its currency, including engineering stability in the markets ahead of a major leadership shuffle next month. A stronger yuan prompts investors to keep money onshore to chase returns at home. It also lets China defend against long-standing critics, including the U.S., that claim the world’s second-largest economy purposefully keeps the value of the yuan low in order to get a leg up in global trade with cheaper exports. The move is well-timed, as it comes ahead of an expected visit by U.S. President Donald Trump to China later this year, said Callum Henderson, managing director at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Trade tensions have been bubbling between the U.S. and China. But the scales can tip easily the other way — a stronger yuan, coupled with waning demand, is already hurting trade activity. August exports were up 5.5%, posting weaker growth than the 7.2% increase seen in July. On Tuesday, the government lowered its official yuan parity rate to 6.5277 per dollar, snapping an 11-day climb, supporting analyst calls that depreciation worries are subsiding. Despite Monday’s weakness, the yuan is still up 6.5% so far this year against the greenback, and holding onto its erasure of last year’s losses.

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Mind the time scales. But nice graph.

2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart (Visual C.)

Long before the invention of modern day maps or gunpowder, the planet’s major powers were already duking it out for economic and geopolitical supremacy. Today’s chart tells that story in the simplest terms possible. By showing the changing share of the global economy for each country from 1 AD until now, it compares economic productivity over a mind-boggling time period. Originally published in a research letter by Michael Cembalest of JP Morgan, we’ve updated it based on the most recent data and projections from the IMF. If you like, you can still find the original chart (which goes to 2008) at The Atlantic. It’s also worth noting that the original source for all the data up until 2008 is from the late Angus Maddison, a famous economic historian that published estimates on population, GDP, and other figures going back to Roman times.

If you looked at the chart in any depth, you probably noticed a big problem with it. The time periods between data points aren’t equal – in fact, they are not close at all. The first gap on the x-axis is 1,000 years and the second is 500 years. Then, as we get closer to modernity, the chart uses mostly 10 year intervals. Changing the scale like this is a big data visualization “no no”, as rightly pointed out in a blog post by The Economist. While we completely agree, we have a made an exception in this case. Why? Because getting good economic data from the early 20th century is already difficult enough – and so trying to find data in regular intervals before then seems like a fool’s errand. Likewise, a stacked bar chart with different years also doesn’t really do this story justice.

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How to make Brussels nervous. And Berlin.

Italy’s Main Opposition Parties Call For New Currency To Flank Euro (EN)

Italy’s leading opposition parties are calling for the introduction of a parallel currency to the euro, which they say will boost growth and jobs. Three of the country’s four largest parties – the Five Star Movement, the Northern League and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – have proposed introducing a new currency following an election scheduled for next year. The proposals for a parallel currency have replaced the opposition parties’ previous calls to leave the euro completely. By settling on a dual currency, analysts say the parties hope to appeal to anti-euro sentiment in the country while avoiding, for now, the upheaval of an outright exit.

While some lawmakers have said the primary goal of the new currency is to persuade Brussels to change European fiscal rules to allow them to spend more and cut taxes, others backing the scheme have admitted they hope it will help make an eventual euro exit more likely. The proposal is opposed by the European Commission, which says there can only be one legal tender in the eurozone. When the euro was introduced in Italy in 1999, it enjoyed widespread support. However, this has since waned, with many blaming the single currency for drops in living standards and rising unemployment. A poll by the Winpoll agency in March showed that only around half of Italians back the euro. As the election nears, and with opinion polls currently pointing to a hung parliament, only the ruling Democratic Party is not proposing changes to the current euro set-up.

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By the slimmest of margins. A deeply flawed idea, and dangerous, to push through things that way.

UK Landmark EU Withdrawal Bill Passes First Parliamentary Hurdle (Ind.)

Theresa May’s landmark EU (Withdrawal) Bill has passed its first parliamentary hurdle, paving the way for greater powers to be handed to ministers through the first major piece of Brexit legislation. MPs passed the legislation – often referred to as the Repeal Bill – by 326 votes to 290, giving the Government a majority of 36 after no Conservatives rebelled and several Labour politicians defied Jeremy Corbyn’s instruction to vote against. The Prime Minister described the vote as a “historic decision to back the will of the British people”, adding: “Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.”

Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, said it was “a deeply disappointing result” and described the Bill as as “an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab” by Government ministers. The Bill’s aim is to transpose relevant EU law onto the UK statute book when the UK formally leaves the bloc in March 2019 and will also overturn the 1972 act that took Britain into the European Economic Community. Major concerns had been raised, however, over the so-called Henry VIII powers in the Bill which grants ministers the power to amend law without normal parliamentary scrutiny – the reason for Labour’s decision to oppose the legislation. But as MPs concluded debates at midnight a series of votes were then held. The Bill passed while Labour’s amendment – attempting to block the legislation – was defeated by 318 votes to 296.

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Overtaxed. They don’t have it. This is the Shock Doctrine.

Greek Taxpayers Failed To Pay €2 Billion In July (K.)

The figure of €2 billion in unpaid taxes in July alone, shown the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, is a sharp illustration of the fatigue gripping tax-paying individuals and businesses in Greece. The slump in tax payments has brought expired debts to the state since the start of the year from €5.475 billion by end-June to €7.483 billion by end-July. IAPR officials explain that the debts of three enterprises that went bankrupt expanded the expired debts in July; they say that €700 million of debts concern those three companies that happened to have gone bankrupt in July, while the remaining €1.3 billion concerns unpaid taxes.

If this nightmarish picture continues into the rest of the year, the hole in budget revenues will grow considerably, having already come to €700 million in the first seven months of 2017. What concerns the government most is whether the taxpayers who failed to pay in July enter the Finance Ministry’s 12-installment payment plan. Otherwise – if they refrain from paying their taxes, for example – state coffers will find themselves in serious trouble after the addition of 172,704 taxpayers who added their names to those who defaulted on their obligations in July.

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I can attest to the demise of large swaths of the city. Utter insanity.

Austerity Is Laying Waste To Athens’ Architectural Heritage (G.)

Not that long ago I received a questionnaire through my door. How had the 1930s Bauhaus building in which I live survived the rigours of time? Who had designed it? Who was its first owner? And, the form went on, what were my memories of it? Circulated far and wide across Athens, the questionnaire and its findings are part of a vast inventory of 19th- and early 20th-century buildings that now stand at the heart of a burgeoning cultural heritage crisis in Greece. At least 10,600 buildings in the capital are under threat, as the country navigates its worst economic crisis in recent times. Under the weight of austerity – with bank loans frozen, repeated budget cuts and tax rises kicking in – many buildings have already been allowed to fall into disrepair, or have been pulled down altogether.

“In the present climate, people just don’t have the money to restore them,” says Irini Gratsia, co-founder of Monumenta, the association of archaeologists and architects that is collating the database. “There is a great danger that many will be demolished not because their owners want new builds, but because they want to avoid property taxes announced since the crisis began.” Monumenta estimates that, since the 1950s, as many as 80% of Athens’ buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries have been destroyed. Now at risk are some of the last surviving examples of Greek neoclassical architecture and Greek modernism, the latter scorned as “cement boxes” when they began to fill the great Attic plain. Mostly constructed between 1830 and 1940, these buildings comprise the rich architectural mosaic of a city – dominated by the 5th-century BC Acropolis – that often goes unnoticed.

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Salary considerations? People making €500 a month is normal now. That’s third world.

Greece Ranked As The Worst Country To Live As An Expat (K.)

Greece was at the bottom of this year’s ranking of the top countries for expats, according to InterNations’ Expat Insider survey. The survey, carried out between February and March this year, asked nearly 13,000 expats about their quality of life and to rank 43 different aspects of life abroad. Factors included job opportunities, salary considerations, quality of life, and safety. Greece was ranked as the worst country to live in mostly due to the financial situation, with half of the respondents saying that their household income was not enough to cover their daily expenses. Bahrain, Costa Rica, and Mexico were ranked the top three destinations for expats.

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Sep 072017
 
 September 7, 2017  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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St. Maarten seen through the eye of Irma

 

Irma Devastates The Caribbean (AlJ)
Trump Sides With Democrats On Debt Limit In Rare Bipartisan Deal (R.)
Fed’s Fischer Resigns, Leaving Trump Earlier Chance To Shape Central Bank (R.)
Deutsche Bank Boss Calls On ECB To Halt Cheap Money (R.)
New Leak Of Brexit Papers Reveals Fissures Between Britain And EU (G.)
Consumption Exhaustion (Lebowitz)
China Realizes It Needs Foreign Companies (Balding)
Apple Needs iPhone 8 To Solve A Giant Financial Headache (BI)
Catalonia Launches Its Independence Challenge Against Spain (AFP)
Emmanuel Macron To Outline Vision For Europe’s Future In Athens Speech (G.)
Crisis-Ridden Greek Households Cut Even On Milk And Bread (KTG)

 

 

Too early to say much of anything. Barbuda is gone. So is much of St. Martin. Close to uninhabitable.

If Irma hits Puerto Rico anywhere near full force, that would be exceedingly dramatic. Ditto for Haiti, Miami. This has just started.

NOAA Hurricane Hunters flight director Richard Henning on CNN: “Irma “is actually getting stronger. … You can’t overhype this storm”.

Irma Devastates The Caribbean (AlJ)

Nearly every building on the island of Barbuda has been damaged and almost 900,000 people have been left without power in Puerto Rico as the Category 5 Hurricane Irma continues its journey towards mainland US. About 60 percent of Barbuda’s roughly 1,400 people were left homeless, Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, told the Associated Press news agency, when the eye of the storm passed almost directly overhead early on Wednesday. “Either they were totally demolished or they would have lost their roof,” Browne said after returning to Antigua from a plane trip to the neighbouring island. “It is just really a horrendous situation.” Browne said roads and telecommunications systems were destroyed and recovery will take months. A two-year-old was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm, he said.

Puerto Rico was buffeted by powerful winds and heavy rain as authorities struggled to get aid to small Caribbean islands already devastated by the storm. The US National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida. But as the storm moved west, it devastated the small islands in its path. Significant effects were reported on St Martin, an island split between French and Dutch control. Photos and video circulating on social media showed major damage to the airport in Philipsburg and the coastal village of Marigot heavily flooded. The US National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds would fluctuate, but the storm would probably remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it moves past just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and touches Cuba on Friday night.

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“Less than an hour before the meeting, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan had called the Democratic proposal that Trump later embraced a “ridiculous and disgraceful” idea..”

Trump Sides With Democrats On Debt Limit In Rare Bipartisan Deal (R.)

President Donald Trump forged a surprising deal with Democrats in Congress on Wednesday to extend the U.S. debt limit and provide government funding until Dec. 15, embracing his political adversaries and blindsiding fellow Republicans in a rare bipartisan accord. Trump, living up to his reputation for unpredictability, met at the White House with congressional leaders from both parties and overruled Republicans and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who wanted a longer-term debt-limit extension rather than the three-month Democratic proposal the president embraced. “We could have done a one-year deal today,” Mnuchin told reporters aboard Air Force One later in the day en route back to Washington from an event in North Dakota where Trump spoke about taxes.

Mnuchin said Trump chose a short-term deal to keep his options open on possibly raising military funding later this year, suggesting a longer-term government funding deal might have blocked that. Trump is very focused on military spending, “particularly with what’s going on in North Korea and other parts of the world today,” Mnuchin said. “The president wasn’t willing to give up his need for additional military spending.” If passed by the Republican-led Congress, the three-month agreement would avert an unprecedented default on U.S. government debt, keep the government funded at the outset of the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and provide aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey. “It was a really good moment of some bipartisanship and getting things done,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said. Less than an hour before the meeting, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan had called the Democratic proposal that Trump later embraced a “ridiculous and disgraceful” idea that would “play politics with the debt ceiling.”

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Curious timing. Note that Reuters has fully entered the anti-Trump echo chamber.

Fed’s Fischer Resigns, Leaving Trump Earlier Chance To Shape Central Bank (R.)

U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer, a veteran central banker who helped set the course for modern monetary policy, said on Wednesday he will step down from his position in mid-October, potentially accelerating President Donald Trump’s opportunity to reshape the direction of the central bank. In a letter to Trump, Fischer, 73, said he was resigning for personal reasons effective on or around Oct. 13, eight months before his term as vice chair expires in June. In the letter, Fischer said jobs growth had returned to the United States and that “steps to make the financial system stronger and more resilient” had been taken – actions that may now be weakened by the Trump administration.

His departure leaves the seven-person board of governors with as few as three sitting members, depending on whether and when the Senate confirms Trump nominee Randal Quarles to the role of vice chair for supervision, a job distinct from Fischer’s vice chairmanship. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination on Thursday. The White House said it had no immediate comment on Fischer’s departure or on the timing for filling his spot or other positions at the Fed. Though the Fed often operates with fewer than its full complement of seven governors, it has never dipped as low as three. Fischer’s earlier-than-expected departure intensifies the urgency for Trump to decide how deeply he wants to overhaul U.S. monetary policy. Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s term expires in February. While Trump has spoken approvingly of her performance he has also kept the door open to naming his top economic adviser Gary Cohn, or someone else, to the job.

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He thinks he’s taken all he’s going to get.

Deutsche Bank Boss Calls On ECB To Halt Cheap Money (R.)

Deutsche Bank chief executive John Cryan has called on the European Central Bank to change course on providing cheap money, warning he sees price bubbles in stocks, bonds and property. “The era of cheap money in Europe should come to an end – despite the strong euro,” Cryan told a room full of bankers in Frankfurt on Wednesday, a day before the ECB’s governors meet to discuss policy. Low interest rates, money printing and a penalty charge for hoarding cash have been at the heart of attempts by the central bank to reinvigorate the 19-country euro zone economy in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. But the policy, which has seen the ECB print more than €2 trillion ($2.4 trillion) so far, has been politically divisive, prompting fierce criticism from famously thrifty Germans.

It has also imposed a heavy cost on still fragile banks, turning deposits into a hot potato that many would rather avoid so as not to pay charges to their central bank for storing them. The head of Germany’s largest commercial bank warned of the fallout from cheap money, cautioning against using the strong euro as a justification for printing more. “We are now seeing signs of bubbles in more and more parts of the capital market,” he said. Cryan also said Frankfurt was the most natural location as a financial hub as banks move from London after Britain’s decision to leave the European Union – ahead of Paris, Dublin and Amsterdam. “There is only one European city which can fulfil these requirements and that city is Frankfurt,” he said, pointing to Frankfurt’s supervisory authorities, law firms, consultancies and airport.

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Multiple papers have been leaked in recent days. They won’t be the last.

New Leak Of Brexit Papers Reveals Fissures Between Britain And EU (G.)

The EU will risk heightening tensions with the UK on Brexit by publishing five combative position papers in the coming days, including one that places the onus on Britain to solve the problem of the Irish border, according to documents leaked to the Guardian. The Irish document shows that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, will call on the UK to work out “solutions” that avoid the creation of a hard border and guarantee peace on the island. The leaks come a day after the Guardian obtained a draft memo showing the British government’s position on post-Brexit EU migration, which has been denounced as “completely confused”, “economically illiterate” and “a blueprint on how to strangle London’s economy”. The Ireland paper is one of five due to be published by the European commission in the coming days. Each is dated 6 September and was drawn up by Barnier’s article 50 taskforce in Brussels.

Together, the papers lay bare the complexity of disentangling Britain from the European Union. Each paper is focused on withdrawal day, 29 March 2019, delving into technical minefields not dealt with during the referendum campaign. EU proposals include:
• A demand – likely to inflame Brexiters – for the UK to legislate for the “continued protection” of special foods such as Parma ham and feta cheese, as well as French burgundy and Spanish cava. Brussels wants to ensure that more than 3,300 food and drink products are protected from British copycats after Brexit.
• Ensuring that any goods in transit on Brexit day would be subject to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice. In effect, British companies and the British government would be liable to fines from Brussels for breaking EU VAT and customs rules.
• A warning to the government that it must guarantee EU data protection standards on classified EU documents. If not, the EU wants these documents erased or destroyed.
• Asking Britain not to discriminate against EU companies which are carrying out state-funded infrastructure projects that began before Brexit day.

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How to spell deflation.

Consumption Exhaustion (Lebowitz)

Debt serves as a regulator of economic growth and is the focus of ill-advised fiscal and monetary policy. It is no coincidence that no matter what economic topic we explore, debt is usually a central theme. Illustrated in the chart below is the actual trajectory of total U.S. debt outstanding (black) through March 2017 and a calculated parabolic curve (red). The parabolic curve uses 1951 as a starting point and a quarterly 1.82% compounding factor to create the best statistical fit to the actual debt curve. If we start with the $434 billion of debt outstanding on December 1951 and grow it by 1.82% each quarter thereafter, the result is the gray line. If debt outstanding continues to follow this parabolic curve, it will exceed $60 trillion by the first quarter of 2020, or nine quarters from now.

Many economists point to the stability of debt service costs as a reason to ignore the parabolic debt chart. Despite rising debt loads, falling interest rates have served as a ballast allowing more debt accumulation at little incremental cost. While that may have worked in the past, near zero interest rates makes it nearly impossible to continue enjoying the benefits of falling interest rates going forward. Importantly, social safety net obligations, demographics, and political dynamics argue that debt growth is likely to continue accelerating as implied by the chart above. Without interest rates falling in step with rising debt burdens, debt service costs will begin to rise appreciably.

The power of compounding, extolled by Albert Einstein as the eighth wonder of the universe, is as damning in its demands as it is merciful in its generosity. Barring negative interest rates, debt service costs will be an insurmountable burden by 2020. However, if the debt trajectory slows as it did in 2008 that too will bring about painful consequences. In other words, all roads lead to trouble.

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“China maintains a quasi-pegged exchange rate, which requires balancing the inflow and outflow of capital. That means attracting foreign investment is a necessary precondition for investing abroad..”

China Realizes It Needs Foreign Companies (Balding)

China is increasingly desperate for foreign investment. Yet foreign companies are less and less interested in what it has to offer. How this problem gets resolved may be one of the most important questions facing China’s economy. After China joined the World Trade Organization, in 2001, overseas investors couldn’t wait to jump in. Foreign direct investment grew at an annualized rate of 10.8% from 2000 to 2008. Enticed by China’s market size and development capacity, companies were willing tolerate almost any kind of restriction. They turned over intellectual property; entered into joint ventures as junior partners, essentially training their eventual competitors; and accepted restricted access to wide swathes of the economy. Since the financial crisis, however, things have changed.

Wages in China have risen by an average of 11% a year, making it less attractive for outsourcing. Despite years of complaints, intellectual property theft hasn’t abated (just ask Michael Jordan, who had to wage a four-year court battle to get ownership of his own name in China). Add in an increasingly hostile business environment, and it’s not surprising that overseas companies are losing enthusiasm. Since 2008, utilized foreign direct investment has increased by an average rate of only 4% a year. According to quarterly balance-of-payment data, FDI has amounted to only $55 billion this year through June. The last time China’s mid-year inflows were that low was in 2009, the year after the financial crisis. This could have serious economic consequences.

Due to shady invoicing – which many firms use to evade capital controls – the money flowing into China through its trade surplus has shrunk. From 2010 through 2014, banks reported net settlement inflows from goods trade of nearly $1.7 trillion. Since January 2015, net settlement by banks has amounted to only $278 billion, while the official trade surplus is $1.3 trillion. For a country that relies on capital accumulation to sustain growth, this is a significant problem. Making matters worse, China maintains a quasi-pegged exchange rate, which requires balancing the inflow and outflow of capital. That means attracting foreign investment is a necessary precondition for investing abroad, which is China’s main method of advancing its foreign-policy objectives.

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All on red.

Apple Needs iPhone 8 To Solve A Giant Financial Headache (BI)

Apple will launch its next-generation iPhone (expected to be called the iPhone 8 or the iPhone Edition) on September 12, and this chart from Guggenheim Securities analyst Robert Cihra gives you a good idea of the giant headache Apple needs that new phone to solve. The graph is interesting because it shows Apple’s business in a seldom-seen way: It charts only the revenue growth of the company, broken out by product. The chart does a good job of showing how Apple’s various product lines have increasingly stalled over the years. In each of the last four years, Apple had one or more major product lines with shrinking sales. In 2016, that came to a head, and Apple’s overall revenue went into decline for the first time ever.

Note that in 2016, Apple’s worst year, the only division growing revenues was Services — apps, content, and software in iTunes. The stakes for iPhone 8 and its kindred models — iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus — couldn’t be higher. If they don’t grow revenues, then the company as a whole doesn’t grow. The task facing Apple is not trivial. As this chart from Deutsche Bank shows, the iPhone tends to grow more slowly than the smartphone market as a whole — and the smartphone market has flatlined.

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Spain threatens criminal charges for people seeking self-determination.

Catalonia Launches Its Independence Challenge Against Spain (AFP)

Catalonia’s regional parliament passed a law on Wednesday (Sep 6) paving the way for an independence referendum on Oct 1 which is fiercely opposed by Madrid, setting a course for Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades. The looming showdown comes three weeks after militant attacks in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and a seaside resort which killed 16 people and wounded more than 120. The law was adopted with 72 votes in favour and 11 abstentions after 12 hours of often stormy debate in the regional assembly. Lawmakers who oppose independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain quit the chamber before the vote. After the law was passed, separatist lawmakers, who have a majority in the assembly, sang the Catalan anthem, “Els Segadors”, which recalls a 1640 revolt in the region against the Spanish monarchy.

Lawmakers approved the bill despite a February ruling by Spain’s Constitutional court declaring it would be unconstitutional. Shortly after the law was passed the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and the rest of his cabinet signed a decree calling the referendum, presenting a show of unity in the face of threats of legal action by Madrid, which deems the plebiscite illegal. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said before the law was passed that the government had asked the Constitutional Court to declare “void and without effect the agreements adopted” by the Catalan parliament. She also denounced the regional assembly’s agreement to quickly vote on the bill with little debate as an “act of force” characteristic of “dictatorial regimes”. At the same time, public prosecutors announced they would seek criminal charges for disobedience against the president of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and other Catalan officials for allowing the vote on the referendum law.

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Macron can only do what Merkel allows him.

Emmanuel Macron To Outline Vision For Europe’s Future In Athens Speech (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will make Greece the launchpad for a major policy speech on the future of Europe as he starts his first official trip to the country on Thursday. From the dramatic setting of the ancient Pnyx in Athens, the French president is expected to outline his vision for the continent in what is being called his most important overseas address since taking office in May. Amid the rocky hills of the Pnyx beneath the Acropolis, the speech will focus on the virtues of democracy as the European Union – and Greece – finally show signs of economic revival. “It will be a message of confidence in Greece but also a European symbolic message, given that in many ways Greece has been a symbol of Europe’s crisis,” said an Élysée Palace source. “The restart of Greece is the restart of the eurozone.”

It is a measure of the significance the Greek government is attaching to the visit that Macron is making the address from such an august setting. From the earliest days of Athenian democracy, the Pnyx was a meeting place for popular assemblies. In more modern times its use has been limited to the rare photo op. The young president will be the first French leader to speak from it, in what Greeks are also calling a subliminal message of hope. Macron has been criticised at home for his carefully choreographed media appearances evoking the grandeur of eras past, and has seen his approval ratings drop dramatically. But officials say the rich symbolism of Macron’s Athens speech will underscore the argument that, despite its battle to stay in the eurozone and keep bankruptcy at bay, Greece remains at the heart of Europe’s tradition and history.

“We see it is as a very important visit,” said the deputy minister of economy and development, Stergios Pitsiorlas. “We are very much hoping it will not only deepen economic cooperation but also herald a change in the political dynamic in the EU which for so long has been dominated by a single state, Germany.” France has stood by Greece, often defending it in fraught negotiations, since international creditors, led by Berlin, were forced to come to the debt-stricken country’s rescue issuing the first of three bailouts in return for tough reforms in May 2010. Macron, a former economy minister, has long advocated debt relief for Athens – echoing the view of its leftist-led government that without it the Greek economy can never fully recover.

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While politicians on all sides cheer the ‘recovery’.

Crisis-Ridden Greek Households Cut Even On Milk And Bread (KTG)

The economic crisis continues to plague Greek households struggling too make ends meet – month in, month out. A survey conducted by Nielsen shows a decline in consumption and therefore the plight of thousands of families. Greeks cut on essential goods like milk and bread. The drop in the category of milk in the organized retail market reached 8.6% in the first half of 2017. Sales of essential consumer goods continue to drop, according to a Nielsen survey of the Greek market. Sales of milk, bread and alcoholic beverages are among the goods that suffer most. In the first half of 2017 the drop in the sale of milk reached 8.6%, while sales of packaged bread shrank by 5.3%. Sales of alcoholic beverages also recorded significant losses, as whiskey sales dropped by 6.8% over the same period.

Overall, retail trade lost 1.1% in value in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year. More pronounced downward trends were recorded in personal care products at 4.4%, and household goods at 3.5%. Sales of deodorants and diapers dropped by 7.3% and 7.2% respectively. In household goods, chlorine dropped by 8.9% and kitchen paper towel by 7.7%. The only positive trend in all sectors was in fresh / bulk products where sales increased by 2.0%. An earlier Nielsen survey has shown that food sales in Greece have dropped by 18 percent since 2009, when the current economic crisis begun. In 2009, food sales reached a record high, totalling 13.15 billion euros. However, as Greece entered the first bailout program in 2010, the demand for food items started to drop. The decrease was also attributed partly to the closing down of small grocery and convenience stores..

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Sep 042017
 
 September 4, 2017  Posted by at 3:34 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Detail of a fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, 2nd century BC

 

About a month ago, I finished reading former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’ book “Adults in the Room”, subtitled “My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment”, and published by The Bodley Head. I started writing about it right away, but noticed I was writing more about my personal ideas and experiences related to Greece than about the book. So I let it rest a bit.

I read the book in, of all places, Athens, sitting outside various old-style cafés. That got me a lot of reactions from Greeks seeing the cover of the book, most of them negative, somewhat to my surprise. Many Greeks apparently do not like Varoufakis. Of course I asked all the time why that is. “He’s arrogant” was/is a frequent one.

That’s not very helpful, I find, since first of all, it’s a purely subjective judgment, and second, I’m convinced their views come to a large extent from Greek media coverage, not only during Yanis’ term as finance minister from January to July 2015, but also in the years leading up to it. And Greek media are all controlled by ‘oligarchs’ et al, who certainly do not like either Yanis or the Syriza party he represented as minister.

The irony is that Varoufakis received more -individual- votes in the January 2015 election that brought Syriza to power than any other party member. And in the July 5 referendum 61.3% of Greeks voted against -yet- another bailout, very much in line with what Varoufakis had proposed. So there was a time when he was popular.

One guy said: ”he should be in jail”. When I asked why, the response was something like “they should all be in jail”, meaning politicians. Which is a bit curious, because whatever Varoufakis may be, a politician he is not. And the Greeks know that. They are very disappointed, and often depressed, by what has happened to them, of course they are. But why they would think Yanis is responsible for that is much less clear. Other then: “they’re all responsible”.

The best line in my opinion came from someone who said he thought Varoufakis was wrong for getting involved with Greek politics in the first place, a pit -as is the EU- replete with slithering venomous snakes. That I understand. That he should never have become minister since it could only have ended badly because of the corruption and backstabbing at all levels. I’m guessing Yanis himself has thought that too at times.

But at the same time, I remain convinced, as I’m sure he does, that he genuinely did it to help his people -who were already in terrible shape in late 2014 when he decided to run, and are much worse off now. And that’s not all. He would never have done it if he hadn’t had a plan to make things better. He did. If anything, that’s the key to his story.

And if his one-time friend, PM Tsipras, had not been paralyzed with fear at the last moment, that plan might well have worked. Yanis is an economist, and a game theorist at that. And though he has always insisted game theory was not the basis of what he did as minister, and rightly so because it’s not a game, there’s one aspect of what happened that comes straight from that field.

That is, before he agreed to run for finance minister, as he writes in the book, he tells Tsipras and his closest Syriza confidants that because Greece is very weak vs the Troika, they are not in any position to bluff. Meaning, if they are going to follow ‘the plan’, they must follow it to the end, in other words, they must be willing to walk away from the Troika, from the EU.

Not because they want to, but because the rules of the game demand it. When you’re weak, you cannot afford to blink. Yanis based his plan on letting the other side blink first, as he felt they would have to if only Greece did not. That’s what the whole thing was based on. And then, after -or rather, even before- winning the NO referendum, Tsipras blinked.

And yes, you can blame Varoufakis for that: for not making sure that would not happen. For putting trust where none was warranted. But the alternative would have been to stay in Texas and see his country perish. He was asked to join, he had a plan he believed in, what was he supposed to do?

 

“[The book] reads like a train”, says a Dutch review of Adults in the Room. And it does. Yanis proves a talented writer in the ‘genre’, which is not his by trade -so to speak-, of a day-to-day description of a series of events, conversations, confrontations with Greek, European and global political elites -with the occasional economist thrown in here and there-. The fact that he recorded many of the conversations on his iPhone, and undoubtedly made notes of many things as they happened, makes it a very compelling read. It’s obvious he’s not making it up, that he wrote down what actually happened -much of it word for word-. Seen through his eyes, of course.

As much as it reads like a train though, it also reads like a trainwreck. The portraits Yanis paints of many of the individuals he encounters, as well as of the institutions they represent, are often as painful as they are damning. Still, that is not what he sets out to do, as many of those who find their names in the book will undoubtedly claim. They are simply the portraits that emerge as events unfold.

In the world of power politics, this should not be a great surprise. But the picture of the dynamics that ‘control’ the European Union and it representatives, as well as the Troika institutions, the IMF, ECB, Eurogroup and European Commission, becomes, as we read along, more and more that of one familiar to us through the Godfather and the Sopranos. For many of the ‘players’ that appear on the scene, a comparison to ‘made men’ in the mafia is hard to avoid. Only, without a proper code of honor. A conversation Yanis describes in the introduction of the book makes this ‘analogy’ even more striking. He’s talking to Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary, who talks about insiders and outsiders.

“I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People – powerful people – listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.”

That’s obvious stuff. Except that this quote is from another book, US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s “A Fighting Chance”, and it’s almost verbatim the same as the one in Yanis’ book. It’s just politics. In the same way that Vito Corleone says: “it’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business”. And Larry Summers is a consiglieri who spreads the gospel. Like it was once spread to him.

How do you become an insider, a made man? By committing to ‘the cause’, the family, through performing acts, initiation rituals. In the mob, that act is mostly murder, in the EU it’s something else, like obliterating the Greek economy. Or, in the case of European Council president Donald Tusk or First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, incessantly badmouthing Vladimir Putin. That gets you in. We know this because neither Tusk nor Timmermans had any other outstanding achievements to their names before they landed their top jobs.

So that gets you in. But into what, exactly? That’s a very opaque issue, and Varoufakis’ book doesn’t shine much light on it. Which is not a criticism, that’s not what he set out to do. Still, when he writes that in many occasions, as he tries to talk to for instance the assembled Eurogroup (all EU finance ministers plus -often- ECB head Mario Draghi and IMF head Christine Lagarde) about actual policies and plans, he “might as well have been singing the Swedish national anthem”, the opaqueness is the only thing that does ‘shine’.

A question that occurred to me, repeatedly, was how many of the people he tries to discuss issues with, actually understand what he’s talking about. For instance, once you delve into the specifics of debt swaps, what the benefits of one sort of bond are over others, you need a specific kind of knowledge, something an experienced investment banker or economist would have.

Schäuble’s a lawyer. Dijsselbloem’s an ‘agricultural economist’, whatever that may be. If you want to prevent any discussion on issues, what better than to put people in place who are -by education, by intelligence- simply not able to discuss them?

 

Not even Yanis, in my view, condemns Merkel and Schäuble and Dijsselbloem and a whole host of other characters in Brussels, Athens and beyond, strongly enough. Because the mob truly resides in Brussels -and Athens is truly corrupt. And Berlin. No matter how many times you may hear, or say, that something is simply politics, or it’s simply business, and nothing personal, it is very much personal and we should never accept it as normal human behavior.

That is the most damning issue Varoufakis brings up, but he doesn’t do that strong enough. When he seals a deal with China’s ambassador to Greece for Beijing to invest in Greece’s ports and railways, Angela Merkel calls the Chinese to tell them to back off; Germany’s not done with Greece yet. When current French President Emmanuel Macron, who was Economy Minister in 2015, sought to help Greece, Merkel called then-President Hollande to order him to get Macron ‘off the case’.

The European Union is undemocratic in myriad ways. What Varoufakis lays bare in his book, and then fails to utterly condemn, is that it is also undemocratic in the ‘ultimate’ way. That is, no country has anything to say except Germany. The EU’s largest member country decides everything. Not that Berlin sweats the small stuff, mind you, others are allowed to keep the illusion of democracy alive there.

But as soon as big decisions are made, finance, defense, there is one voice only that counts. That is the final nail in Europe’s coffin, even if it remains hidden very well. But spell that out loud and clear to the French people, or the Italians, that they have nothing at all to say about their own country and their own laws anymore, that the Germans decide FOR them, and what do you think they will say?

The very concept of a sovereign country, and the Union officially has 27 of them left, has turned into a joke inside the EU. Plus, Merkel and Macron and Brussels are calling for more Europe. Go to a supreme court in any EU country and tell them their own governments have lost all power over money and economics, and what do you think their constitutions will say? Care to define sovereignty?

So tell people that. Tell them that in reality Angela Merkel is their ‘leader’, not the people they have voted for. Ironically and unfortunately, the right wing regimes in eastern Europe may prove to be the ones who point this out first. Which is in line with how Brexit came about, and Trump, but in the end what all this really exposes is that we are all lied to three ways to Sunday, every day of the week.

Perhaps just as ironically, Varoufakis now leads a movement, named DiEM 25, that seeks to democratize the EU. I wish him all the good and then some with that, but I don’t see it. Because you would have to ‘overthrow’ Germany’s dictatorship of Europe, and get Germany to agree to being voluntarily ‘overthrown’. Why would Berlin ever agree to that? That’s even less likely than them agreeing to Varoufakis’ ideas about saving the Greek economy.

I’ve said it many times before, Europe’s nations can work together in many different ways, and the EU is just one of them, and it’s a very bad option. But reforming the EU from within does not look to me to be the way to go. It’s like reforming the US Republican or Democratic parties: they’re rotten to the core; why not start something new that doesn’t come with the whole deep-state-style burden?

 

You will hear and see a lot about how Yanis is naive and/or didn’t know what he was doing and proposing. But the only way in which he may have been naive is that he believed common sense would ultimately rule Europe. He might still have been right, if Tsipras et al had not choked. Which he told them repeatedly before he became Finance Minister would be fatal for Greece. He was right on that too, but he’ll find no pleasure in it.

His fault is that he didn’t – and doesn’t- want to ‘play the game’. That game is the only one in town, and it consists of keeping the established order in charge of everything, and of enhancing that power. It’s about politics, not economics. Or rather, the prevalent economic models suit the power elite just fine, so much so that their very faults help them stay in power, and nobody wants better models.

For trying to swim against that stream, you can blame Yanis, but that is the world turned upside down. Because if you look just a little bit closer, you can see that the present model is not only riddled with nonsensical assumptions, it is, because it is, destroying formerly sovereign nations.

For trying to prevent his country, Greece, from becoming the first nation in the formerly rich world to fall prey to that new-fangled colonialist model, Varoufakis deserves praise, not scorn. Do remember that when you see yet another ‘serious’ reviewer ridicule him for being naive. As in: who’s naive, you or Yanis? Is one naive for not kneeling before dictatorship disguised as democracy?

 

One last issue. It is often mentioned that the reason Brussels acts the way it does towards Greece is to scare off other EU members from ‘trying the same’, i.e. go against the rules set by the EU -which we, thanks to Yanis, know means Germany, and Germany only. But I don’t think that is true. It’s not about going against the EU; it’s doing anything. whatever it is, that would endanger the banks.

What the -scandalous- treatment of EU member and sovereign country Greece reveals is that it’s in the end not even Angela Merkel who calls the shots, but the main German, French, Dutch banks. Why the British would want to remain members of that kind of cabal will never cease to amaze me, but why their banks would does not in the least.

But yeah, so, the banks. That’s where it all started. Europe’s main banks lent Greek banks and corporations, all as corrupt as can be, money ‘up the wazoo’. When that could not be paid back this debt was not restructured, as it would be in any normal bankruptcy case, it was transferred first to the EU and then directly to Greek pensioners and other citizens. That is why Greece is in such a deplorable state.

The banks who made the loans were made whole, through a trick that hadn’t been tried before -and may not have been 100% legal but who cares about law in the EU?- and the entire mess was unloaded upon Greek society. Which is now in an even much bigger mess, with no end in sight, than when Varoufakis became finance minister. He knew that was coming and tried to prevent it.

What Merkel et al have done is to make sure that this ‘salvation’ of Deutsche Bank, Crédit Agricole et al will not be in peril. That’s more important to the system than Portugal or Italy questioning the powers of Berlin or Brussels. It’s not about scaring off other countries, it’s about safe-guarding the banks. It’s not about economics, it’s about raw political power.

In the next economic downfall, watch that dynamic. I’ve often said that the general principle of globalization/centralization, of which the EU is a good example, cannot stand in times of negative growth, because people won’t accept decisions about their lives being taken by far-away ‘leaders’ unless they think they can profit from it.

Wait till the realization dawns that Europe, like the rest of the world, only looks sort of okay because debt levels are rising everywhere. Mario Draghi still buys tens of billions of euros in ‘paper assets’ every month. That’s the European economy, that’s all that keeps it looking good, that’s the pig and that’s the lipstick, right there.

But forst and foremost, read the book. Yanis Varoufakis: “Adults in the Room”, subtitled “My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment”, published by The Bodley Head. If you’re at all interested in Greece, politics, economics, Michael Corleone, the EU, the IMF and/or the Sopranos. It reads like a train.

And it tells you a lot about how the world does (not) work. From the inside, and you don’t get to have a lot of views from the inside. “Adults in the Room” is a rare chance. The ruling powers will keep trying to discredit Yanis, but the more they do, the more you should be alerted.

 

 

Sep 042017
 
 September 4, 2017  Posted by at 7:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Edouard Manet Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s Mistress, Reclining (Lady with a Fan) 1862

 

How To Make The Financial System Radically Safer (AM)
Funding Battle Looms As Texas Sees Harvey Damage At Up To $180 Billion (R.)
Canadians Are Borrowing Against Real Estate At The Fastest Pace Ever (BD)
China Battles “Impossible Trinity” (Rickards)
Socialism For The Best Of Us, Capitalism For The Rest Of Us (CC)
Britain’s Addicted To Debt And Headed For A Crash (G.)
Global Negative Yielding Debt Hits One Year High Of $7.4 Trillion (ZH)
Greece Property Auctions Certain To Drive Market Prices Even Lower (K.)
Italy FinMin Says The Euro Zone Still Faces Problems – Even In Germany (CNBC)
Italy’s 5-Star Says Euro Referendum Is ‘Last Resort’ (R.)
Turkey Will Never Become EU Member, Says Angela Merkel (Ind.)
How Our Immune Systems Could Stop Humans Reaching Mars (Tel.)

 

 

Take away the political power of central banks.

How To Make The Financial System Radically Safer (AM)

At the same time, the new financial reforms haven’t minimized risk. Moreover, they’ve set taxpayers – that’s you – up for a future fleecing. Congressman Robert Pittenger elaborated this fact in a Forbes article last year: “Even Dodd-Frank’s biggest selling point, that it would end “too big to fail,” has proven false. Dodd-Frank actually created a new bailout fund for big banks–the Orderly Liquidation Authority–and the Systemically Important Financial Institution designation enshrines “too big to fail” by giving certain major financial institutions priority for future taxpayer-funded bailouts.” What gives? Regulations, in short, attempt to control something by edict. However, just because a law has been enacted doesn’t mean the world automatically bends to its will. In practice, regulations generally do a poor job at attaining their objectives. Yet, they often do a great job at making a mess of everything else.

Dictating how banks should allocate their loans, as Dodd-Frank does, results in preferential treatment of favored institutions and corporations. This, in itself, equates to stratified price controls on borrowers. And as elucidated by Senator Wallace Bennett over a half century ago, price controls are the equivalent of using adhesive tape to control diarrhea. The dangerous conceit of the clueless… the house of cards they have built is anything but “safe” and they most certainly can not “fix anything”. Listening to their speeches that seems to be what they genuinely believe. A rude awakening is an apodictic certainty, but we wonder what or who will be blamed this time. Not enough regulations? The largely absent free market? As they say, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (this quote is often erroneously attributed to Mark Twain: we think it doesn’t matter whether he created it, it is often quite apposite and this is a situation that certainly qualifies).

The point is that planning for future taxpayer-funded bailouts as part of compliance with destructive regulations is asinine. In this respect, we offer an approach that goes counter to Fed Chair Janet Yellen and the modus operandi of all central planner control freaks. It’s really simple, and really effective. The best way to regulate banks, lending institutions, corporate finance and the like, is to turn over regulatory control to the very exacting, and unsympathetic, order of the market. That is to have little to no regulations and one very specific and uncompromising provision: There will be absolutely, unconditionally, categorically, no government funded bailouts. Without question, the financial system will be radically safer.

Read more …

Want to bet it’ll be a lot more?

Funding Battle Looms As Texas Sees Harvey Damage At Up To $180 Billion (R.)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday challenged Congress to raise the government’s debt limit in order to free up relief spending for Hurricane Harvey, a disaster that the governor of Texas said had caused up to $180 billion in damage. Harvey, which came ashore on Aug. 25 as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, has killed an estimated 50 people, displaced more than 1 million and damaged some 200,000 homes in a path of destruction stretching for more than 300 miles (480 km). As the city of Houston and the region’s critical energy infrastructure began to recover nine days after the storm hit, the debate over how to pay for the disaster played out in Washington. Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimated damage at $150 billion to $180 billion, calling it more costly than Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, which devastated New Orleans in 2005 and New York in 2012.

The administration of President Donald Trump has asked Congress for an initial $7.85 billion for recovery efforts, a fraction of what will eventually be needed. Even that amount could be delayed unless Congress quickly increases the government’s debt ceiling, Mnuchin said, as the United States is on track to hit its mandated borrowing limit by the end of the month unless Congress increases it. “Without raising the debt limit, I am not comfortable that we will get money to Texas this month to rebuild,” Mnuchin told Fox News. Republican lawmakers, who control both houses of Congress, have traditionally resisted raising the debt ceiling, but linking the issue to Harvey aid could force their hand with people suffering and large areas of the fourth-largest U.S. city under water. Beyond the immediate funding, any massive aid package faces budget pressures at a time when Trump is advocating for tax reform or tax cuts, leading some on Capitol Hill to suggest aid may be released in a series of appropriations.

Katrina set the record by costing U.S. taxpayers more than $110 billion. In advocating for funds to help rebuild his state, Abbott said damage from Harvey would exceed that. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city expected most public services and businesses to be restored by Tuesday, the first day after Monday’s Labor Day holiday. “Over 95% of the city is now dry. And I‘m encouraging people to get up and let’s get going,” Turner told NBC News. Even so, Houston mandated the evacuation of thousands of people on the western side of town on Sunday to accommodate the release of water from two reservoirs that otherwise might sustain damage. The storm stalled over Houston, dumping more than 50 inches (1.3 m) on the region. Houston cut off power to homes on Sunday to encourage evacuations. The area was closed off on Sunday and military vehicles were stationed on the periphery to take people out.

Read more …

What Canada learned from history.

Canadians Are Borrowing Against Real Estate At The Fastest Pace Ever (BD)

Canadian real estate prices have soared, and so did borrowing against that value. Our analysis of domestic bank filings from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) shows that loans secured against property has reached an all-time high. More surprising is the unprecedented rate of growth experienced this year.

Loans secured against residential real estate shattered a few records in June. Over $313.66 billion in real estate was used to secure loans, up 3.43% from the month before. The rise puts annual gains 11.16% higher than the same month last year, an increase of $31.51 billion. The monthly increase is the largest increase since March 2012. The annual gain is unprecedented according to an aggregate of domestic bank filings. Not all borrowing against residential property is all bad, sometimes it’s a calculated risk. For example, someone may need to secure a business loan, and use the loan for operating risks. It doesn’t mean the property is safe, but it’s a risk that could potentially boost the economy.

This is opposed to non-business loans, which is used as short-term financing. This type of financing is often used for things like renovations, and putting a fancy car in the driveway. Experts have observed that more homeowners are using these to prevent bankruptcy. Bottom line, it’s not typically healthy looking debt. So let’s remove loans obtained for business reasons, and take a peek at higher risk debt. The majority of these loans are non-business related according to bank filings. The current total is over $266 billion as of June 2017, a 1.01% increase from the month before. This is a 4.9% increase from the same month last year, which works out to $12.49 billion more. Fun fact, that’s around $23,763 per minute. The number is astronomical.

Read more …

“..no country can have an open capital account, a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy at the same time..”

China Battles “Impossible Trinity” (Rickards)

The Impossible Trinity theory was advanced in the early 1960s by Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell. It says that no country can have an open capital account, a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy at the same time. You can have one or two out of three, but not all three. If you try, you will fail — markets will make sure of that. Those failures (which do happen) represent some of the best profit-making opportunities of all. Understanding the Impossible Trinity is how George Soros broke the Bank of England on Sept. 16, 1992 (still referred to as “Black Wednesday” in British banking circles. Soros also made over $1 billion that day). The reason is that if more attractive total returns are available abroad, money will flee a home country at a fixed exchange rate to seek the higher return.

This will cause a foreign exchange crisis and a policy response that abandons one of the three policies. But just because the trinity is impossible in the long run does not mean it cannot be pursued in the short run. China is trying to peg the yuan to the U.S. dollar while maintaining a partially open capital account and semi-independent monetary policy. It’s a nice finesse, but isn’t sustainable. China cannot keep the capital account even partly closed for long without drying up direct foreign investment. Similarly, China cannot raise interest rates much higher without bankrupting state-owned enterprises. China is buying time until the Communist Party Congress in October. It’s important to realize that for Beijing, the Chinese economy is more than about jobs, goods and services. It’s a means of ensuring its legitimacy.

The Chinese regime is deeply concerned that a faltering economy and mass unemployment could threaten its hold on power. Chinese markets are wildly distorted by the actions of its central bank. Given the problems inherent in trying to manage an economy without proper price signals, the challenge facing Beijing gets harder by the day. China has a long history of violent political fracturing, and the government is deeply worried about regime survival if it stumbles. Many in the West fail to appreciate Beijing’s fears and overestimate the support it has among the disparate Chinese people. What does China do next? Under the unforgiving logic of the Impossible Trinity, China will have to either devalue the yuan or see its reserves evaporate. In the end, China will have to break the yuan’s peg to the dollar in order to stop capital outflows without killing the economy with high rates. The Impossible Trinity really is impossible in the long run. China will find this out the hard way.

Read more …

How do we make government independent?

Socialism For The Best Of Us, Capitalism For The Rest Of Us (CC)

To the elected darlings of the free market: I hate to burst your bubble but – you have been living a lie. Your lifetime government pensions: socialism. Overly generous retirement packages, Superannuation and 401ks: socialism. Travel budgets, expense accounts, access to private drivers and town cars, government reimbursement for travel and living arrangements: socialism, socialism, socialism, socialism, socialism. Central banking: socialism. Not to mention fossil-fuel & mining subsidies and tax concessions: socialism, socialism, socialism. The bank bail-outs of 2008: One of the greatest acts of socialism of all time. Where were our free-market representatives then? When the financial system went into melt-down, the banks were not told to suck it up and stand on their own two feet. More than a trillion dollars were poured into the banks, most of which went towards profit margins and CEO bonuses.

These so-called champions of capitalism have the nerve to claim that it is social welfare recipients that are a drain on the system while government representatives take home all kinds of state-provided benefits the rest of us could only dream of: the best health insurance the country has to offer, lifetime pensions and generous retirement packages which drain many more billions from the economy than social welfare ever will. Moreover, corporate welfare pales in comparison to either. The private sector has its own dole system paid for by Federal Governments. Yet many Congressmen, Representatives and MPs still have the nerve to stand before the people who elected them and rail against social spending, claiming people ought to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when no such obligation has ever existed for the corporate sector. Most of the world’s most successful corporations don’t get out of bed without a subsidy.

Read more …

If it makes you feel better: Britain’s not alone.

Britain’s Addicted To Debt And Headed For A Crash (G.)

[..] if the debtors at the bottom aren’t at crisis point yet, the signs of a surfeit of debt are everywhere. Alex Brazier, executive director of financial stability at the Bank of England, warned last month that consumer loans had gone up by 10% in the past year, with average household debt having already eclipsed 2008 levels. He warned against the economy having to sit through “endless repeats of the ‘Debt Strikes Back’ movie”. There is something obscurely insulting about being warned about household debt by the Bank of England. It never warns employers about stagnant wages, or the government about the benefit freeze. It only ever mentions these in terms of the impact of inflation, as if any consideration of the human decisions behind them are too political for comment. But personal debt, miraculously, isn’t political at all.

But that doesn’t make Brazier wrong. Edward Smythe of the campaign group Positive Money, breaks it down: “If you look at total outstanding consumer loans, in July, they’re at £200bn, an £18.5bn net increase every year.” Households spent more than their income by £17.5bn in the first quarter of this year. Economists are interested in where that money comes from – whether it’s access to credit, selling assets or spending savings. The government is presumably, in some dusty corner, interested in why that money is needed, whether it is a result of pauperised wages– real wage growth is negative and looks set to decrease – benefit changes, or some rush of blood to the head where we all suddenly need Sky Sports and cigarettes but aren’t prepared to work for them.

The sources of all this debt are changing: about half the net increase was in personal contract purchase car loans. Four in five new cars are now bought by PCP – an inherently unstable system that leaves both consumers and car manufacturers exposed. It’s a bit like a mortgage system for cars, except you don’t own it at the end, ideally you wouldn’t be living in it, and while a housing crash has been seen before, nobody yet knows what a car crash would look like. Student loan debt is counted separately from consumer loans, and stands at £13bn a year. However much you think you’ve accommodated student fees into your picture of Britons’ finances, it is always astounding to consider how life-changing that decision has been for the younger generation.

Read more …

“What global recovery?!”

Global Negative Yielding Debt Hits One Year High Of $7.4 Trillion (ZH)

Two weeks ago, we were surprised to find that despite the recent “growth promise” of what has been called a coordinated global recovery, the market value of bonds yielding less than 0% had quietly jumped by a quarter in just one month to the highest since October 2016. Since then, the paradoxical divergence between the reported “strong” state of the “reflating” global economy and the amount of negative yielding debt, has only grown, and as JPM reports as of Friday, Sept. 1, the global market value of government bonds trading with negative yield within the JPM GBI Broad index rose to $7.4 trillion, up 60% from its low of $4.6 trillion at the beginning of the year. Some more details from JPM:

We calculate the market value by multiplying the dirty price with the amount outstanding for each bond within JPM GBI Broad Index and then convert it to US dollars at today’s exchange rate. The market value of bonds trading with negative yield,including central banks’ purchases, stands at 30% of the total JPM GBI Broad index. What makes the latest rise in negative yielding debt especially bizarre is that it was mainly driven by Japan, where 10-year government bond yields have fallen significantly over the past month and have turned negative this week for first time since the US presidential election, even as the Bank of Japan has twice in the past month reduced the amount of JGB debt it purchases in the open market in the 5-to-10 year bucket, following on Friday, by a 30BN yen reduction of buying in the 3-to-5 year debt range.

As a result, the total universe of Japanese bonds trading with negative yield within the JPM global government bond index (GBI Broad) now stands at $4.6tr, or 62% of the outstanding amount. The remaining government bonds trading with negative yields worth $2.8 trillion are from Europe, of which more than half are from France and Germany.

Read more …

Capital destruction 101 (thanks, Schaeuble!):

“..the stock of unsold properties of all types comes to 270,000-280,000, in a market with no more than 15,000 transactions per year..”

BTW, the only buyers left are those who want to profit from Airbnb. Mostly foreigners.

Greece Property Auctions Certain To Drive Market Prices Even Lower (K.)

Professionals in the property sector are warning that the auctioning of tens of thousands of buildings in the next few years could evolve into an unknown – probably negative – factor regarding the course of prices in the market. It is estimated that a wave of auctions expected to begin soon will see market rates drop at least 10%. Clearing firms are currently involved in an extensive program of property valuations to establish starting prices for the auctions. Ilias Ziogas, head of property consultancy company NAI Hellas and one of the founding members of the Chartered Surveyors Association, said that the property market is certain to suffer further as a result of the auctions: “The impact on prices will be clearly negative, not because the price of a property will be far lower at the auction than a nearby property, but because it will diminish demand for the neighboring property.”

He added that a market with already reduced demand that receives more supply at more attractive rates through auctions will definitely see buyers turn to the latter. He also said that they will only look at other buildings if they are not satisfied with what the auctions have to offer. This view is also shared by Giorgos Litsas, head of the GLP Values chartered surveyor company, which cooperates with PQH. He told Kathimerini that the only way is down for market rates. “I believe that unless there is an unlikely coordination among the parties involved – i.e. the state (tax authorities, social security funds etc.), the banks and the clearing firms – in order to prevent too many properties coming onto the market at the same time, rates will go down by at least 10%.”

He noted that “we estimate the stock of unsold properties of all types comes to 270,000-280,000, in a market with no more than 15,000 transactions per year. Therefore the rise in supply will send prices tumbling.” Yiannis Xylas, founder of Geoaxis surveyors, added, “I fear the auctions will create an oversupply of properties without the corresponding demand, which translates into an immediate drop in rates that may be rapid if one adds the portfolios of bad loans secured on properties that will be sold to foreign funds at a fraction of their price.”

Read more …

He sounds confused.

Italy FinMin Says The Euro Zone Still Faces Problems – Even In Germany (CNBC)

Italy’s finance minister delivered an upbeat tone on his country’s banking sector but highlighted that major hurdles still remain in the euro zone, including in Germany. Germany might be known as the powerhouse of the euro zone economy but it has its own banking problems to deal with, Pier Carlo Padoan told CNBC on the sidelines of the Ambrosetti Forum on Sunday. “I think that there are some German banking problems and I’m confident the German authorities will deal with them,” Padoan said when asked about remarks made by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last year. “Germany has been the country that has by far poured much more public money into the banking sector in terms of the hundreds of billions of euros in the past when the rules where different of course.

This is a sign that maybe we all have to recognize that we have problems and we all have to recognize that we need to cooperate much more effectively to provide European solutions to those problems,” he said. Though Italy keeps making headlines due to its financial sector, analysts have also warned on banking problems in Germany. These include the reliance on the shipping industry, which used to be a stable investment before the euro zone debt crisis. Other issues include the sheer number of banks in Germany with very little consolidation. There are approximately 2,400 separate banks with more than 45,000 branches throughout the country and over 700,000 employees, according to Commercial Banks Guide, an industry website.

As such, Padoan told CNBC that it is crucial to conclude the banking union – a project created in 2012 in response to the sovereign debt crisis that aims to have one single set of rules for all banks across the European Union. He told CNBC that so far the banking union hasn’t been fully implemented, not because of resistance from certain countries, but because of different national perspectives. “We are however making progress in one thing: That we are building trust among ourselves and we are also recognizing that we have to reconcile historically-driven different traditions in banking sectors and they have to merge into a new European banking culture,” Padoan said.

Read more …

He sounds like Varoufakis.

Italy’s 5-Star Says Euro Referendum Is ‘Last Resort’ (R.)

A referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro currency would be held only as a “last resort” if Rome does not win any fiscal concessions from the European Union, a senior lawmaker from the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement said on Sunday. Luigi Di Maio’s comments reflect a striking change of tone by some senior officials in the party in recent months as they have retreated from 5-Star’s original pledge. Seeking to reassure an audience of bankers and business leaders, Di Maio – widely tipped to be 5-Star’s candidate for prime minister at a general election due by next year – played down the referendum proposal, calling it a negotiating tool with the EU. “Austerity policies have not worked, on monetary policy we deserve the credit for triggering a debate… this is why we raised the issue of a referendum on the euro, as a bargaining tool, as a last resort and a way out in case Mediterranean countries are not listened to,” he said.

Two years ago the party gathered the signatures from the public needed to pave the way for a referendum that it said was vital to restore Italy’s fiscal and monetary sovereignty. But now, running neck-and-neck with the ruling Democratic Party (PD) in opinion polls and with the election in sight – scheduled to be held by May 2018 – it is hitting the brakes on the idea. This underlines the crucial challenge facing the party as it seeks to please some core supporters, while trying to shed its populist image and convince foreign capitals and financial markets that it can be trusted in office. [..] The party wants several changes to the euro zone’s economic rules to help its more sluggish economies, like Italy. These include stripping public investment from budget deficits under the EU’s Stability Pact and creating a European “bad bank” to deal with euro zone lenders’ bad loans.

“We are not against the European Union, we want to remain in the EU and discuss some of the rules that are suffocating and damaging our economy,” said Di Maio, who serves as deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. An opinion poll in La Stampa daily on Sunday had 24% of respondents saying Di Maio most deserved to run the country in the next five years, against 17% for former PD Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and 12% for center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi.

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Schulz and Merkel are the same person.

Turkey Will Never Become EU Member, Says Angela Merkel (Ind.)

Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said Turkey should categorically not become a member of the European Union in comments that are expected to further inflame tensions between the Nato allies. Speaking at a televised election debate with her rival, Martin Schulz, she said she would seek a joint EU position with other leaders to ensure Turkey never became a member. “The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU,” she said after Mr Schulz said he would stop Turkey’s bid to join the EU if he was elected chancellor. “Apart from this, I’ll speak to my colleagues to see if we can reach a joint position on this so that we can end these accession talks,” she added.

[..] Her comments are likely to worsen already strained ties between the countries after Ms Merkel said Berlin should react decisively to Turkey’s detention of two more German citizens on political charges. It comes just weeks after German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Turkey it will never become a member of the EU as long as it is governed by the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “It is clear that in this state, Turkey will never become a member of the EU,” Mr Gabriel said. Mr Erdogan has urged German Turks to boycott Germany’s main parties in next month’s general election.

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Good to know. Still, if people really want to go, maybe we should just let them.

How Our Immune Systems Could Stop Humans Reaching Mars (Tel.)

The astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson commented that ‘dinosaurs are extinct today because they lacked the opposable thumbs and brainpower to build a space programme’ Yet although we now have the technological ability to leave Earth, scientists have found another stumbling block to colonising new worlds – our own immune system. Although it is said we are all made of ‘star stuff’ when it comes to travelling away from our home planet humans are far more vulnerable to the rigours of space than our interstellar origins might suggest. Billions of years of evolution has effectively backed mankind into a corner of the Solar System that it may be now be tricky to leave. A team of scientists from Russia and Canada analysed the effect of microgravity on the protein make-up in blood samples of 18 Russian cosmonauts who lived on the International Space Station for six months.

They found alarming changes to the immune system, suggesting that they would struggle to shake off even a minor virus, like the common cold. “The results showed that in weightlessness, the immune system acts like it does when the body is infected because the human body doesn’t know what to do and tries to turn on all possible defense systems,” said Professor Evgeny Nikolaev, of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and theSkolkovo Institute of Science and Technology. The effects of spaceflight on the human body have been studied actively since the mid-20th century and it is widely known that microgravity influences metabolism, heat regulation, heart rhythm, muscle tone, bone density, the respiration system. Last year research from the US also found that astronauts who travelled into deep space on lunar missions were five times more likely to have died from cardiovascular disease than those who went into low orbit, or never left Earth.

Astronauts are fitter than the general population and have access to the best medical care, meaning that their health is usually better than the general population. Those of comparable age but who never flew, or only achieved low Earth orbit, had less than a one in 10 chance of death from cardiovascular disease. [..] To gain a deeper understanding of the changes in human physiology during space travel, the research team quantified concentrations of 125 proteins in the blood plasma of cosmonauts. Proteins change as the immune system alters and so can be used as a measure of how it is functioning. Blood was taken from the cosmonauts 30 days before they travelled to the ISS and then on their immediate return to Earth. They were also tested seven days after touchdown. Individual proteins were then counted using a mass spectrometer.

”When we examined the cosmonauts after their being in space for half a year, their immune system was weakened,” said Dr Irina Larina, the first author of the paper, a member of Laboratory of Ion and Molecular Physics of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. “They were not protected from the simplest viruses. We need new measures of disorder prevention during a long flight.

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